CENTRAL AMERICA: THE CHALLENGES OF TRADE, INDUSTRIALIZATION, AND INTEGRATION IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Irma T. de Alonso Bernadette West
Central America has become an important area of study in the Western Hemisphere because of recent events within the region and around the world. The area has been ravaged by internal conflicts, natural disasters, and an economic recession that has spanned the entire decade of the 1980s--a stretch of time referred to by many as the "lost decade." In a recent publication by the Commission for Central America Recovery and Development ( 1989), one of the main recommendations for reversing the recession and achieving sustained economic growth in the future was to expand and diversify regional exports through a revitalized and restructured Central American Common Market (CACM). Unfortunately, even now as the region attempts to carry out these recommendations--and, at the same time, overcome profound social and economic disruptions--exports will face increasingly stiffer competition from Mexico with the recent signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA is expected to narrow the region's possibilities for increasing exports to North America, and hence to limit its potential for economic growth.
Given the Commission's recommendation, this book attempts to examine the viability for Central America of trade expansion, diversification, and integration in the current world market by evaluating the region's past performance at these various tasks. Before proceeding further, though, a little background information about the region that has captured our attention would see to be in order. What follows, therefore, is a brief characterization of Central America from a social, economic, geographic and cultural perspective.
Central America, which covers the isthmian land mass connecting North and South America (see Figure 1), extends along the isthmus from Mexico, on