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By Francisco Villagran Kramer

Central America has undergone basic and important changes during the past two decades. Those changes serve to explain the present turmoil in an area which was once considered to consist of "banana republics" and which today faces dynamic  processes and ideological confrontations. Changes began taking shape as a result of an economic-integration program originally sponsored by ECLA (United Nations), in which the region embarked on an effort to modify the traditional agricultural export model of one or two basic products (coffee and/or bananas), moving toward diversification and import substitution, and establishing a common market for these purposes.

Liberal sectors in the region agreed that economic integration would allow Central America, on one hand, to move from pre-capitalistic systems to capitalism, and, on the other, to modernize its societies and pursue a course of democratization and greater popular participation. The United States lent its support within the framework of the Alliance for Progress, and the region soon faced the preliminary effects of its economic efforts, coupled with high population growth, expanding urbanization, and a growing labor force demanding higher wages and social benefits, including the right to organize into urban and rural trade unions.

As the economic, social, and political spectrum broadened, new ideologies entered the region, resulting in the formation of Social-Democratic and Christian-Democratic parties closely related to European and Latin American parties. However, the more traditional elements, still predominant in agriculture, associated themselves more closely with their national armies and began to take stronger anti-communist stands on most of the important political and social issues, restricting the activities of the

trade unions and the electoral participation of the center-left parties, limiting land- distribution projects, and controlling those organs of the State directly related to economic, financial, and social policies adopted at the regional level. As a result , with the exception of Costa Rica, civilian governments came under siege, and military regimes became paramount .

Throughout the 1970s, contradictions continued to develop, and insurgency and armed struggle--with strong ideological connotations--became the predominant factor in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The cycle of economic integration, which led forces of the market and national armies to control the social and political processes that had been set in motion, seems now to be coming to a close.


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