Central America and the U.S.A.

May 5, 1978

Report Outline
New Focus from Canal Debate
History of U.S. Involvement
Economic and Political Prospects
Special Focus

New Focus from Canal Debate

Region's Relations With the United States

The recently concluded Senate debate on the Panama Canal treaties has drawn unaccustomed American attention to what may be the least known region in Latin America. The countries of Central America and Panama, which link the North and South American continents, have been a true backwater in American eyes for more than a century. Alternatively labeled “banana republics” and “two-bit dictatorships,” the Central American nations have presented a classic panorama of political stagnation and economic underdevelopment since winning their independence from Spain in 1821. To Americans in general, Central America has seemed remote, unimportant and vaguely troublesome.

The view from north of the border is deceptive. The United States, both through its government and its private citizens and business, has been more deeply involved in Central America, and for a longer time, than in any other part of the hemisphere, with the possible exception of Mexico and Cuba. In Panama at the turn of the century, the United States built a vital waterway linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and thereby entwined itself for the next 75 years in the destiny of a republic it helped create.

U.S. investment in and trade with Central America have been dominant in the region's economy since the latter half of the 19th century. At various times, American citizens have led free-booting private armies on rampages through Central America and once even installed an American as president of Nicaragua. Within recent memory, the U.S. government has covertly helped overthrow an anti-American government in Guatemala and has used that country and Nicaragua as a staging ground for a CIA-backed invasion of Cuba.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Latin America
Sep. 14, 2018  Turmoil in Central America
Jun. 05, 2012  China in Latin America
Mar. 2008  The New Latin America
Jul. 21, 2006  Change in Latin America
Mar. 14, 2003  Trouble in South America
Nov. 09, 2001  U.S.- Mexico Relations
Sep. 19, 1997  Mexico's Future
Jul. 19, 1991  Mexico's Emergence
May 05, 1989  New Approach to Central America
Mar. 06, 1987  Soviets' Latin Influence
Dec. 26, 1986  Pinochet's Chile
Nov. 08, 1985  Troubled Mexico
Apr. 10, 1981  Latin American Challenges
May 05, 1978  Central America and the U.S.A.
Sep. 23, 1977  Mexican-U.S. Relations
Jun. 04, 1976  Relations with Latin America
Oct. 21, 1970  Chile's Embattled Democracy
Jun. 24, 1970  Mexico's Election and the Continuing Revolution
Apr. 02, 1969  Economic Nationalism in Latin America
Jul. 19, 1967  Guerrilla Movements in Latin America
Dec. 28, 1966  Militarism in Latin America
Oct. 20, 1965  Common Market for Latin America
Aug. 04, 1965  Smoldering Colombia
Jun. 23, 1965  Inter-American Peacekeeping
Dec. 11, 1963  Progress of the Alianza
Oct. 05, 1962  Arms Aid to Latin America
Dec. 13, 1961  Land and Tax Reform in Latin America
Jul. 26, 1961  Commodity Agreements for Latin America
Jan. 11, 1961  Revolution in the Western Hemisphere
Feb. 10, 1960  Inter-American System
Feb. 10, 1960  Inter-American System
Jan. 13, 1960  Expropriation in Latin America
Jul. 02, 1958  Economic Relations with Latin America
Mar. 02, 1954  Communism in Latin America
Jun. 20, 1952  Political Unrest in Latin America
Sep. 18, 1950  War Aid from Latin America
Oct. 31, 1947  Arming the Americas
Jul. 24, 1946  Inter-American Security
Jan. 02, 1942  Latin America and the War
Jul. 10, 1941  Export Surpluses and Import Needs of South America
Jun. 04, 1941  Economic Defense of Latin America
Jun. 25, 1940  Politics in Mexico
Nov. 01, 1939  Pan American Political Relations
Oct. 10, 1939  United States Trade with Latin America
Apr. 07, 1938  Protection of American Interests in Mexico
Mar. 04, 1936  Peace Machinery in the Americas
Sep. 27, 1933  Trade Relations with Latin America
Oct. 16, 1928  Pan American Arbitration Conference
Jan. 12, 1928  The Sixth Pan American Conference
Jan. 10, 1927  American Policy in Nicaragua
Dec. 27, 1926  Relations Between Mexico and the United States
Regional Political Affairs: Latin America and the Caribbean