History of Central America

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The history of Central America is the study of the past of the region known as Central America.


Before European contact

In pre-Columbian times, most of modern Central America was part of the Mesoamerican civilization. The Native American societies of Mesoamerica occupied the land ranging from central Mexico in the north to Costa Rica in the south. The pre-Columbian cultures of Panama traded with both Mesoamerica and South America, and can be considered transitional between those two cultural areas.

Spanish Colonial Era

Central America is composed of seven independent nations: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. After the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, most of the inhabitants of Central America shared a similar history. The exception was the Western Caribbean Zone, which included the Caribbean coast and encompassed both semi-independent indigenous polities, runaway slave communities, and settlers, especially English settlers who would eventually form British Honduras (the modern-day nation of Belize), a sparsely populated area that was leased by the Spanish Crown to Great Britain for freedom. British Honduras for the English and Belice for the Spaniards and Guatemalans gained its independence from Great Britain in 1981 and adopted the name "Belize".

From the 16th century through 1821 Central America formed the Captaincy General of Guatemala, sometimes known also as the Kingdom of Guatemala, composed by a part of the state of Chiapas (nowadays Mexico), Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Officially, the Captaincy was part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain and therefore under the supervision of the Spanish viceroy in Mexico City. It was, however, administered not by the viceroy or his deputies, but by an independently appointed Captain General headquartered first in Antigua Guatemala and later in Guatemala City.


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