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Definition: Central America from Philip's Encyclopedia

Geographical term for the narrow strip of land that connects North America to South America and divides the Caribbean Sea from the Pacific Ocean; it consists of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Belize and Panama. Highly developed by the Mayas, the region (excluding Panama) was conquered and ruled by the Spanish from the 16th century until 1821. In 1823 the Central American Federation was formed, but broke up in 1838, the individual states (except Belize) declaring themselves independent. The terrain is mostly mountainous; the climate tropical. It enjoys an economic, ethnic and geological unity. Spanish is the main language. Area: 715,876sq km (276,400sq mi).

Summary Article: Central America
From Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary

The S portion of North America from S boundary of Mexico to NW Colombia, South America; 228,578 sq. mi. (592,017 sq. km.); pop. (1992e) 29,901,000; includes the countries of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama (qq.v.); bordered on SW by Pacific Ocean and on NE by Caribbean Sea. By some geographers regarded as beginning at Isthmus of Tehuantepec and thus incl. also five states of Mexico: Quintana Roo, Yucatán, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas. Its many mountains a connecting link bet. W North American system and the Andes; numerous volcanoes, many of them active; highest point Volcan Tajumulco, W Guatemala, 13,845 ft. (4220 m.). See middle america.


Area long inhabited by indigenous peoples; among Indians with established civilizations were Maya who were influential through much of first millennium a.d.; Atlantic coast from Honduras to Gulf of Darien skirted by Christopher Columbus 1502; first European settlement 1510 on Gulf of Darien; explored by agents of Spanish soldier and administrator Pedro Arias Dávila (also known as Pedrarias) from Panama; coast of Nicaragua explored and Lake Nicaragua visited by Spanish historian Gil González Dávila 1522; Granada and León founded by Spanish conquistador Fernández de Córdoba 1523; Gulf of Honduras explored 1524 by Spaniards Olid and Las Casas sent by Hernán Cortés from Mexico; Guatemala and El Salvador conquered by Spanish soldier Pedro de Alvarado 1524; organized (except for Chiapas and Panama) into Spanish captaincy general of Guatemala; English arrived 17th cent. settling what would become British Honduras (now Belize); independent in 1821; joined Mexico under Mexican Emperor Augustín de Iturbide for brief period during 1822–23; loosely united as United Provinces of Central America 1823–39; separated into independent republics 1838–39; from 1848 control of Isthmian transit an issue bet. U.S. and Great Britain (see nicaragua panama); organized as Greater Republic of Central America 1895–98; treaties of amity drawn up by Washington conference of Central American states 1923. See central american common market.

Copyright © 2007 by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

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