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Central America

Central America is the group of coun- tries between North and South Amer- ica: Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico. Although Mexico is geographically located in North Amer- ica, the country is considered par of Central America. Because of its histo- ry as a Spanish colony, Mexico share many common social and cultural traits with other countries in Central America. The ratio of indigenous peo- ple to the overall population varies in the different countries, from 40% in Guatemala to circa 5% in El Salvador.

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Both in Mexico and Guatemala there is great land scarcity today. The best land is in the hands of large land owners. Many Mayan farmers depend on poorly paid seasonal work on large plantations to manage economically; they are very poor compared to the rest of the population in Mexico and Guatemala. State services, such as school and health services are poorly developed in Mayan and other indigenous communities. Social injustice was part of the reason for the civil war in Guatemala in the 1980s and the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico in 1994.

For many groups land and local resources are central to their religion and performance of rituals and fes- tivals. This is an important symbol of identity and cultural survival.

The Past in Central America

Corn, which is one of the most important agricultural products for American indigenous people, has its ori- gins in Central America. Already more than 7000 years ago, Central American indigenous groups farmed. Eventually when farming became more effective, the population increased. High population density and a surplus of production created the foundation for the first large societies and empires in Central America.

A number of different societies made their mark on the cultural development in Central America. Before the Spanish conquest (1521) most of the groups in Central America were divided into states and empires, such as the Olmec, Zapotec, Teotihuacan, Maya and Aztec. The Aztec State flourished between the 1400 and 1600s, in an area that now lies in central Mexico. Other groups created smaller empires, among others Mi- choacán, and elsewhere, such as in Guatemala.

Contact and colonialism

Hernan Cortez arrived in Mexico in 1519. Many of the groups that the Aztecs oppressed collaborated med the Spanish in the war against the Aztecs because they wanted to be released from the dominance of the Aztecs. The groups could not foresee what the consequences of the Spaniards’ victory would be.

The Spanish changed Central America

In Central America more than 90% of the indigenous people were eradicated as a result of contact with Eu- ropeans. Indigenous peoples died because of the smallpox and other diseases that the Spanish brought with them. Forced labor also killed many indigenous people and the population fell drastically.

The Spanish created new societies in Central America, where indigenous people were at the bottom of the hierarchy. This existed also in the regions in America.

Published Dec. 11, 2020 1:11 PM - Last modified Dec. 14, 2020 8:29 AM