It’s Independence Day in Costa Rica and around the rest of Central America tomorrow.
September 15th marks the date when, in 1821, the five provinces under Spanish control since the 16th Century threw the buggers out and set off on their own.
Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua were all administered by an iron-fisted independently appointed Captain General, headquartered in Antigua Guatemala. Under the control of the Capitania, the provinces grew increasingly restless.
You would too.
I guess when a distant power controls all the commerce, collects excessive taxes, and burns people at the stake for crimes against the Church, people become unhappy. Those that weren’t incinerated by the Inquisition were required to tithe 10% to the Catholic Church, in cahoots with the monarchy of Spain. It was an untenable situation and bound to explode sooner or later.
By the fall of 1821 angry crowds gathered in the streets of towns all over Central America, graffiti covered the walls, and leaflets blew through the streets. Fear bubbled up among the nobility of a mass uprising.
On September 15, 1821 the then governor of the Capitania, one Gavino Gainza, held a meeting in Antigua with military leaders, the Church, and members of the aristocracy to decide what to do.
Outside an angry crowd grew steadily more uncontrollable, rattling windows and banging on doors. Then came the unexpected. Apparently fireworks were set off outside by the mob. The delegates, thinking the crowd had finally erupted with blood on their minds, hastily drew up a document of independence.
And so it happened.
I knew most of this. What I did not know was that it was the intension of a group of liberal thinkers in those five countries– then provinces– to form a federal republic modeled after the United States, The United Provinces of Central America.
They had high hopes for the republic, which they believed would evolve into a modern, democratic nation, enriched by trade crossing through it between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. But their dreams were crushed and the Union dissolved in a civil war between 1838 and 1840. Its disintegration began when Honduras separated from the federation on November 5, 1838.
Various attempts were made to reunite the federation during the 19th Century but no one was successful for long. Those who tried were assassinated or died trying. Perhaps this would have been our fate in the United States had we not had a relatively stable Union before the Southern States decided to secede. One wonders what would have happened if we had had our Independence for a mere ten years before the Civil War threatened to tear our country apart?
Central America remains a ragtag bunch of countries unsuccessfully trying to go it alone. Only since the late 20th Century have they begun to work with each other to gain strength in numbers in the global economy. But there are still squabbles among them.
I wonder what it would have been like had they succeeded in forming The United Provinces of Central America? With all the riches and natural resources of these countries, had they banded together to form a united republic, would much of their troubled past been a figment of someone’s imagination? Would the United Fruit Company have been able to dominate the financial future of the countries for so many years?
I think about this today, this day of independence, this day celebrated all over Central America… but done so separately.
We will have parades and road races here in Costa Rica. The Tico Times says: “Watch for road closures as torch runs and parades fill the streets. Be prepared to drop everything at 6 p.m. Sunday to sing the Tico national anthem. And on Monday, plan on government offices, as well as banks and most small businesses, to be closed.”
Photo by Ronald Reyes, Tico Times
But it could have celebrated so much more.