15th September is a historic day in Central America, a date which marks the anniversary of the Independence of five Latin American countries. On this day in 1821, Spanish colonial rule officially came to an end for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
The occasion is celebrated in all of the countries of the region with an eruption of parades, festivals and street parties, many of which begin earlier in the month and reach a peak on the day itself. Festivities include dancing, fireworks, marching bands and ceremonies, from the lantern parade in Costa Rica to the nationwide flourishing of the blue and white flag in Nicaragua.
To symbolise the bond between these nations, which fought for freedom and now work together for prosperity, there is the famous passing of the Independence Torch. This is lit in Guatemala and over the course of five days passes through the other countries of the region: Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, where it eventually reaches its destination in the capital of Cartago on 14th September.
Central American solidarity in London
It was in a similar spirit of camaraderie and unity that representatives of the five nations, along with Belize, came together in London to mark the 195th anniversary of Independence. The event, which was held on 15th September at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, London, was attended by many dignitaries, including the Heads of State of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and the High Commissioner of Belize, along with other diplomats, guests and press, including Kreol Magazine.
Speaking at the event, His Excellency Ivan Romero Martinez, the Ambassador of Honduras, and the Dean of the Diplomatic Heads of Mission of Central and Latin America, spoke warmly of the strong ties that exist between the nations of Central America. He expressed his opinion that the cultural and economic exchanges between the nations represented at the event set an example of international co-operation to the wider world.
The dinner celebrated the many successes of the last 195 years in a region that has a unique cultural, ethnic and natural diversity. From humble beginnings, and through economic and political difficulties the nations of Central America have increasingly worked together, emphasising what they have in common, for the benefit of all the peoples of the region.
1951: a key year for Central America, and beyond
The creation of the Organisation of Central American States in 1951 was a crucial moment in solidifying the partnership between the governments of the region, and 10 years later, the signing of the Treaty of Central American Economic Integration, designed to create a Central American Common Market, deepened these links. These important international agreements laid the foundations for a regionalisation of economic and political matters, giving all the nations of Central America a stronger voice in the world through co-operation in their policy making and political activity.
The further reforms of the 1990s were built on these foundations, and spread the benefits of regional co-operation into new areas of endeavour, including health care, education, tourism, women’s rights, culture and finance, tightening the links between the countries of the region. In recent years, an rise in foreign investment and partnerships with foreign trading entities has brought increasing prosperity to Central America.
The diversification of economies of the region are a hallmark of its recent development, and have led to a boom in external and intra-regional trade, which will benefit future generations as the fruits of economic growth are shared. This growing economic power is a direct result of the co-operation between countries who could be rivals, but which have chosen to work in harmony, building on their shared past and a common future vision.
Independence, but challenges remain
There is no doubt that the region still faces many challenges. Poverty, social inequality and exclusion still affects many citizens of Central America, and there are wider social and security concerns, particularly associated with the illegal drug trade and migration. However, the close co-operation of these nations, and their historic connection, which is celebrated every year on Independence Day, means that they will be better able to tackle these problems than many other areas of the globe, and gives cause for optimism.
At the London Independence event, and speaking on behalf of the UK government, who hosted the event, the Marshall of the Diplomatic Corps, Alistair Harrison, paid tribute to the co-operation of the nations of Central America, describing it as an example to the rest of the world.
Proposing a toast to all the countries of Central America, and to the health of their people, he also congratulated the governments of the six nations represented at the event for the way they have co-operated to tackle problems of poverty and development, and for being a link, not just between North and South America and between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, but also a link between the Spanish and English speaking worlds.