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Article

Lauren Frances Turek

The category of “evangelical” is a broad one, encompassing a range of different Christian denominations, nondenominational groups, and subcultures. Evangelicalism in the United States has evolved considerably over time and varies greatly by geographic region as well as by ethnicity and race. Although the evangelicals of the First Great Awakening in the 18th century have a genealogical connection with the neo-evangelicals of the post–World War II years and the Pentecostals preaching out of strip mall churches in urban and suburban areas of the United States in the early 21st century, much has changed in terms of evangelical practices, demographics, and even beliefs over the intervening centuries. This diversity and evolution notwithstanding, evangelicals share a basic faith in Biblical authority, a conversion or “born-again” experience, and a commitment to evangelism according to sociologist Mark Shibley. The latter commitment, which derives from Jesus Christ’s Great Commission to his followers in Matthew 28:19 to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” has long spurred evangelicals to undertake missionary work throughout the world. The first evangelical missionaries arrived in Guatemala in the 19th century, and since then, the country has seen a steady influx of evangelists of all stripes. While some US missionaries worked in Guatemala on a short-term basis, many resided there for extended periods of time—decades in some cases—planting churches, building schools and medical facilities, and providing aid to alleviate suffering brought on by natural disasters or poverty. Evangelical missionaries also forged close relationships with some Guatemalan leaders, at times involving themselves in local and national politics and interacting with diplomatic officials and intelligence agents from the United States. The relationship between US evangelicals and General José Efraín Ríos Montt, a right-wing evangelical dictator who came to power in 1982 and oversaw a brutal genocide against the Indigenous Maya, has attracted particular attention. The evangelical presence in the country contributed to a dramatic shift in Guatemala’s religious demographics. In the 19th century, the country was (at least nominally) almost exclusively Catholic, though many Guatemalans also continued to practice indigenous faith traditions. As of 2019, Guatemalan Protestants, most of whom are evangelicals, made up approximately 35 to 42 percent of the population according to estimates from the Pew Research Center and the United States Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The ongoing relationship between US evangelicals, their counterparts in Guatemala, and Guatemalan leaders has influenced Guatemalan politics as well as relations with the United States into the present day.

Article

During the Cold War’s earliest years, right-wing governments and oligarchic elites in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua fostered closer relationships with the Catholic Church. Dictatorial leaders like Guatemala’s Carlos Castillo Armas and dynastic regimes like Nicaragua’s Somoza family regarded the Church as an ally against supposed Marxist influence in the region. Those ties began to fray in the late 1960s, as the Second Vatican Council’s foundational reforms moved Catholicism farther to the political and social left around the globe. This shift was especially prominent in Central America, where Catholics like El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero and Guatemala’s Father Stanley Rother were among Central America’s most visible critics and reformers as political violence increased across the region during the 1970s. Relatedly, evangelical Protestants, particularly Pentecostal groups based in the United States, flooded Central America throughout that decade. Their staunch anticommunism and established ties to influential policymakers and political lobbyists in the United States, among other factors, gave evangelical Protestants greater influence in US-Central American relations. Their influence was strongest during the early 1980s, when José Efraín Ríos Montt, an ordained Pentecostal minister with Eureka, California’s Verbo Ministries, seized Guatemala’s presidency via a coup in March 1982. Notable US evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson praised Ríos Montt’s regime for its rabid anticommunist ideology, while President Ronald Reagan claimed that the dictator had received a “bum rap” in the global press. Concurrently, some US evangelical missioners and pastors also foregrounded the Sandinista government’s anti-Protestant activities as additional justification for US support for Nicaragua’s Contra forces. Religious actors were also instrumental to Central America’s peace processes after the Cold War, as Catholic and Protestant leaders alike worked closely with regional governments and the United States to end decades of political violence and enact meaningful socioeconomic reforms for the region’s citizens.

Article

Throughout the 20th century, Central America experienced two key waves of communist-party formation. The first wave lasted from 1923 to 1931 and the second from 1949 to 1954. The first-wave parties actively participated in four fundamental historical processes: in El Salvador, in the rebellion of 1932; and in Costa Rica, in the banana strike of 1934, in the reforms of 1940 to 1943, and in the civil war of 1948. The second-wave parties participated decisively in the radicalization of the Guatemalan social reforms (1951–1954) and in the 1954 Honduran banana strike. These parties had a differentiated impact on Central American societies. In Costa Rica and Panama, the communists promoted social changes whose success worked against the communists themselves. In Belize, an active Labor party prevented a communist party from developing there. In Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, repression neutralized the role that communist parties could play as institutional modernizers. In the mid-1940s, the military assumed this modernizing role: in Guatemala, with the collaboration of the communists; and in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, against the communists. The most radical of these reformist experiences was the Guatemalan, which ended in 1954 due to a US-backed coup. In the other countries, the military endorsed socially limited reforms without political democratization. In this context, the communist parties began to be displaced by guerrilla movements from 1959 to 1963. In Honduras, the military managed to stop this displacement in the early 1960s through broader reformist policies, but the guerrillas in the other countries led a successful revolution in Nicaragua (1979), fought lengthy civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, and turned Central America into one of the main battlefields of the Cold War in the 1980s. Beginning in the 1990s, these guerrilla movements became political parties, electorally strong in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and marginal in Guatemala, but different from the communist parties that preceded them. At the beginning of the 21st century, the communist parties that still exist in Central America barely maintain a presence on Facebook.

Article

The magnitude and brutality of the internal armed conflict of Guatemala led to its becoming infamous worldwide. Although the militarized state became a monster that brutalized many different groups, indigenous communities suffered at a rate far greater than the Ladino or non-indigenous population. It is pertinent to note that the term “Ladino” in Guatemala has a long and complex history that stems from the colonial period. Its meaning has morphed through time, from being used by colonial authorities to define indigenous peoples fluent in the conqueror’s language—Spanish—to its current meaning that defines all peoples, from white to mestizo, who are not part of the elite class and do not identify as indigenous. It is important to note that while not a formal social scientific term, “Ladino” was included in the latest Guatemalan census (2018) and, as posited by social scientists, is a contested term the meaning of which might continue to change. Nevertheless, the dichotomy of Ladino and indigenous has underscored issues of power and wealth in Guatemalan society since the early colonial period and continues to do so. During the bloodiest years of the conflict, the military stepped up its repression and violence, leading to a series of massacres and displacements of tens of thousands of highland villagers and the razing of hundreds of communities. The focus on indigenous ethnicities as a factor of war allowed the massacres to be categorized as a genocide. What often gets lost in the recount is the historical foundations that made such atrocities possible. The cost of the war in Guatemala is ongoing and immeasurable. However, partial approximations can be made in both human and economic costs. What remains clear is that the war came at a great cost to future Guatemalan generations, as its repercussions continue to impact Guatemalan society.

Article

Throughout their history, the countries of Central America have attempted several forms of political and economic integration. After declaring independence in the 19th century, the region lacked its earlier cohesion vis-à-vis Spanish colonial governance. The former provinces aligned themselves in favor of either centralizing regional power in a federal republic or establishing complete political autonomy through the formation of new nation-states. Forces in favor of the latter eventually prevailed. An attempt at economic integration began in the mid-20th century. It was actively backed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and eventually led to the creation of the Central American Common Market (CACM). Despite favorable economic conditions in the Post-World War II period, a number of complications undermined integration efforts: war, political crises, and interests that ran contrary to those of the United States. Integration was postponed until the end of the 1980s, after the Esquipulas II Accord reestablished peace in the region. After the countries of Central America signed the Guatemala Protocol in 1993, economic integration was promoted under the banner of free trade. This was done by regional economic groups with the goal of reconnecting the region to global commerce under the most advantageous circumstances possible.

Article

Between 1944 and 1954, Guatemala had a radical democratic experience that significantly impacted its closest neighbors. During that time, two revolutionary governments, one led by Juan José Arévalo and the other by Jacobo Árbenz, promoted a set of political, economic, and social reforms unprecedented in Central America. These reforms did not follow a linear process but were made possible within a framework of broad freedoms. Surrounded by dictatorships and authoritarian rulers, Guatemala was gradually becoming a kind of democratic refuge for many exiled and persecuted people from different locations, though most came from Central American and Caribbean countries. The reform cycle accelerated remarkably after the approval of agrarian reforms in mid-1952, which radicalized the conservative stance of Guatemala’s neighbors and angered the United Fruit Company, the country’s major agriculture company. After numerous attempts to overthrow both leaders, local forces, in convergence with their regional counterparts, managed to convince the new US administration, headed by Dwight Eisenhower, of the danger of Guatemala’s role. The success of the covert coup in Iran (1953) also acted as a catalyst and facilitated the execution of a similar, secret plan to finally cause the collapse of the Árbenz government. The coup, which ultimately achieved its objective in June 1954, constitutes one of the most explored and emblematic themes of international relations in Latin America during the Cold War. Its consequences have endured into the 21st century.

Article

Proposals challenging male authority gained strength in Costa Rica during the 20th century and, especially at the turn of the 21st century, and questioned naturalized sexual and gender identities. The effects of these discursivities are varied. The experience of feminists, of middle-class women outside these discursivities, and of women of the subaltern classes demonstrate the plurality of meanings attributed to gender relations as filtered through subjective experience. The introduction of alternative identity proposals destabilizes the established parameters of sexual and gender identities, but, at the same time, produces new conservative discursivities that limit the potential for change. Two feminist movements, one that reached its peak in the 1920s and a second that arose in the final decades of the 20th century, brought about substantive changes in female identities, revealing the power relations that underlie the discursive representation of patriarchal power as eternal and immutable. An assessment of contemporary feminism based on the experiences of its protagonists shows the movement’s significant gains as well as the challenges and weaknesses it has faced over its history, the most important of which may be how to reach beyond the sphere of well-educated, heterosexual, middle-class women. In conclusion, public discourses that have politicized gender and sexuality in Costa Rica are creatively constituted in the social world, according to what changes appear attainable at different moments of history. Carved out by actors committed to change, these discourses have achieved substantive transformations in institutional structures and subjectivities. However, present experience shows clearly that every affirmation of identity is precarious, and that the gains achieved require the ongoing, active engagement of civil society.

Article

The 1969 conflict between Honduras and El Salvador signaled the weakening of the Central American economic integration process; marked an end to an era of economic growth, industrialization, and political openness; and inaugurated a new chapter, characterized by growing political polarization and violence. There is a prevailing consensus about the significance that this conflict had as a breaking point and historical turnaround. The roots of the crisis between both states, commercial partners and members of a regional political-military alliance, lie in the drastic changes introduced by the Honduran government in its migratory and agrarian policies. These changes sought to contain the massive migration from El Salvador and to reduce by all means necessary, including by violent dispossession, the Salvadoran presence in Honduras. A ferocious anti-Salvadoran media campaign preceded and accompanied the massive expulsion of Salvadorans. Alarmed by the destabilizing effect that a return en masse of poor Salvadoran peasants could bring to the country, and facing an intransigent Honduran government, the leadership in El Salvador decided to resolve the conflict through war. Once this began, both countries mobilized their military forces for over one hundred hours of bloody fighting in July 1969. Although neither country won a decisive victory on the battlefield, at the moment the ceasefire was imposed the military situation amply favored El Salvador. The political, economic, military, and diplomatic consequences of the war had a profound impact during the 1970s and beyond the signing of the peace agreement early in the 1980s. On the one hand, the recounting of the war, full of falsifications and half-truths, continues to play an important role in Honduran nationalism. On the other hand, for Salvadorans the war is an almost forgotten memory.

Article

Throughout the 1980s, Central America was wracked by conflict. El Salvador faced a guerrilla insurgency, Guatemala’s long conflict festered, and Nicaragua faced a continually escalating U.S.-led proxy war that used fighters, loosely referred to as the Contras, to wage war on the Nicaraguan government through cross-border raids that implicated Costa Rica and Honduras in persistent violations of sovereignty. The Treaty of Esquipulas, spearheaded by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, ended these conflicts and brought stability to the region. The Treaty of Esquipulas stands as one of the most significant and understudied peace agreements of the late Cold War. These accords ran counter to the will of the more powerful United States, which throughout the 1980s had sought to use military force as the key to achieving regime change in Nicaragua. The United States policy of supporting guerrillas that waged a war of regime change in Nicaragua fanned the flames of conflict and destabilized the region. Esquipulas undermined this destructive policy. For the first time, the small nations of Central America, so long considered the imperial servants of the United States, thwarted an aggressive U.S. military policy. Through intense diplomatic meetings, and in the wake of the controversy that developed from the Iran–Contra scandal, President Arias of Costa Rica succeeded in creating a peace agreement for Central Americans and authored by Central Americans. The Esquipulas accords were a blanket repudiation of the near decade-long Contra war policy of the United States. Central America created diplomatic unity and facilitated a successful opposition to the military policy of its more powerful neighbor. This agreement was a great triumph of peace and diplomacy created in the face of what seemed like overwhelming odds.

Article

Eric Rutkow

The Pan American Highway, a successor project to the unfinished Pan American Railway, originated as an interwar initiative among member nations in the Pan American Union and is generally considered to comprise the longest road in the world. The highway network’s longitudinal through-route—complete save for the sixty-mile “Darien Gap” between Panama and Colombia—crosses eleven countries and, with the inclusion of its unofficial northernmost leg, covers more than 12,500 miles in total, from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay to South America’s Tierra del Fuego. Additional spur roads in the pan-American network radiate to the capitals of other South American nations, adding an additional four thousand miles to the system. While the nearly finished Pan American Highway never achieved the hoped-for goal of linking the Americas (and still faces constant maintenance challenges), it stands as a concrete symbol of pan-Americanism and a “trunk line” for the Western Hemisphere, an overland corridor for trade, tourism, cultural exchange, and migration throughout the region.

Article

Saint Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (b. Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, El Salvador, August 15, 1915; d. San Salvador, El Salvador, March 24, 1980) was the seventh Archbishop of San Salvador. During his episcopate (February 22, 1977–March 24, 1980), Romero gained international renown for his human rights activism, advocacy for the poor, and denunciation of El Salvador’s political repression and violence. Romero was one of Latin America’s most influential political and social voices and routinely drew thousands of people to San Salvador’s Metropolitan Cathedral, while his homilies were broadcast across Central America on shortwave radio. In 1978, members of Britain’s Parliament, the United States Congress, and the US press supported Romero’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to halt the economic, political, and social violence that plagued El Salvador and, more broadly, Central America, during the late 1970s. In his final homily, delivered on March 23, 1980, Romero directly addressed members of the Salvadoran military and police forces, “in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.” The following day, Romero was murdered by Salvadoran government forces while he celebrated Mass at the Church of Divine Providence in San Salvador. His assassination sent shockwaves through Central America, and over one hundred thousand people attended his funeral. In May 2015, Pope Francis beatified Romero and elevated him to sainthood on October 14, 2018.

Article

Severo Martínez Peláez is the most important figure in the founding of contemporary Guatemalan historiography. His work, in particular La patria del criollo (The Homeland of the Criollo), has been viewed by historians as a starting point for advancing the reconstruction of Central American history. Additionally, his work continues to have a broad readership, who consider it a factor in understanding the present. His contributions are essential to the understanding of the colonial period in Latin America, including debates that inspired his theses concerning the character of society in that period and his historical views on indigenous peoples. Like other thinkers of the 1960s and 1970s, his focus was primarily on economic and social history, in particular class struggles. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the intellectual, political, social, and even personal conditions relevant at the time he was writing in order to thoroughly understand and appreciate his work.

Article

Natalia Sobrevilla Perea

The wars of Spanish-American independence were a series of military campaigns that took place in the Americas between 1809 and 1825, which resulted in the creation of more than a dozen republics in the territories that had previously been part of the Hispanic monarchy. Triggered in the short term by the Napoleonic invasion of the Spanish peninsula in 1808, there were more deep-seated reasons, however, that led to the collapse of an empire that had existed for three hundred years. Classic historiography has stressed the importance of the Bourbon Reforms that brought to the fore the contradictions within the Hispanic monarchy and gave rise to a sense of proto-nationalism. These interpretations have given much importance to the role of the Enlightenment and the fear brought by possible social revolution. Some authors consider that these wars were the result of the Americans’ long-held contempt for Europeans. These views consider that struggle for liberation had begun much earlier, possibly as far back as the 1780s, inspired by the American and French Revolutions. More recent historiography has highlighted the war that engulfed Spain itself between 1808 and 1814 as the crucial event that led to fighting in the Americas. This event is seen as not just the trigger for the events to unfold, unleashing conflicts that had been simmering for much longer, but what shook to the ground the archaic but surprisingly durable composite Hispanic monarchy. This article will discuss the main events that caused the wars, the moments each national historiography has identified as the ones linked to the independence of their particular region, as well as the events themselves. It begins by looking at the historical antecedents, including the Bourbon Reforms, the American, French, and Haitian revolutions, and at the Napoleonic invasion of the Spanish peninsula. It then discusses the creation of juntas in the Americas and how the confrontation between different jurisdictions resulted in war. The article discusses who were the people involved in the wars and the main events that took place.