Independence and Hispanic Heritage Month: Seven Latin American Countries Celebrate Their Freedom

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump commemorate National Hispanic Heritage Month, October 6, 2017

Among the events celebrated during Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 through October 15) are the independence days of seven countries of Latin America.

As diverse and different that the peoples and cultures of the countries south of the United States are, some may find it a bit surprising that seven of those countries – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Chile – celebrate their Independence Day within three days of each other. The first five countries all observe September 15th as their country’s birthday. Mexico and Chile celebrate their freedom on the 16th and 18th of September, respectively.

Historical Significance of 1821

The year 1821 has great significance in many Latin American countries. It was in that year, that after 11 long years of revolutionary war with Spain, Mexico was finally recognized as independent. It was also then that after years of colonial rule, the countries that today make up Central America joined together in declaring their independence from Spain, eventually bringing about the formation the Republica Federal de Centroamerica (Federal Republic of Central America).

Federal Republic of Central America

The Federal Republic of Central America came into being following the provinces of that region’s annexation to the newly formed Mexican Empire. Formally created in 1823, the Federal Republic of Central America was comprised of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Los Altos. Due in part to a lack of a common enemy and purpose, infighting ultimately brought down this short-live union in 1838.

Facts About Costa Rica

  • Costa Rica is Spanish meaning “rich coast”
  • Capital – San Jose
  • Geographically, it’s nestled between Nicaragua and Panama and borders the Pacific to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east
  • May 10, 1850 is the date it was officially recognized as independent
  • On his fourth and final voyage, Christopher Columbus came upon Costa Rica in September of 1502
  • Guyabo is its largest archeological site. Pottery and metalwork found there have been dated from 1000 B.C. to 1400 A.D.

Facts About El Salvador

  • El Salvador, also Spanish, means “the Savior”
  • Capital – San Salvador
  • Shares a border with Honduras to the northeast, Guatemala to the north-northwest and the Pacific Ocean on the south
  • El Salvador is the smallest country in size of Central America (about the size of Massachusetts), but it’s the most densely populated
  • 1992 El Salvador ended its 12 year civil war

Facts About Guatemala

  • Capital – Guatemala City
  • Guatemala comes from the Mayan word “Guhatezmalha” meaning “land of trees”
  • Guatemala sits directly under Mexico, flanked by the Pacific Ocean on the west and Belize and the Caribbean Sea on the east. It shares it’s south-southeastern border with Honduras and El Salvador
  • Suffered through a 36 year long guerrilla war which finally ended in 1996

Facts About Honduras

  • Honduras comes from the Spanish word meaning “depths”
  • Capital – Tegucigalpa
  • Honduras is bordered by the Caribbean Sea on the north and sits between Guatemala to the northwest, El Salvador to the west and Nicaragua to the southeast
  • It’s coastline stretches 820 kilometers (509 miles)
  • In the 1950s, Honduras came under military rule which lasted until 1982

Facts About Nicaragua

  1. Capital – Managua
  2. There are two possible origins for the name of Nicaragua. One being that it came from the joining of the name of the local port chief, Nicarao and the Spanish word for water. The other being that it came from the Nahuatl word meaning “surrounded by water”.
  3. Nicaragua borders the Caribbean Sea, Pacific Ocean, Honduras to the north, and Costa Rica to the south
  4. Largest country of Central America (roughly the size of New York state)
  5. The coastal region bordering the Caribbean Sea was occupied by Britain in the mid 1800s
  6. Spain recognized Nicaragua’s independence on July 25, 1850
  7. The Sandinistas were so named in honor of Augusto Nicolas Calderon Sandino, a revolutionary leader in the 1920’s and 1930s killed by General Anastasio Somoza Garcia two years prior to seizing power.

Latin America Frees Itself of Spain

Spain lost its strangle-hold in Latin America in the early 1800s. The factors contributing to the revolutionary winds that swept across the land included the success in both the American and French Revolutions and Napoleon’s overall weakening of the powerhouse that was the Spanish military.


  1. “Costa Rica”. Funk & Wagnall’s New World Encyclopedia. 2002
  2. “El Salvador”. CIA World Fact Book Online.
  3. “Guatemala”. CIA World Fact Book Online.
  4. “Honduras”. CIA World Fact Book Online.
  5. Muldoon, James. “Christopher Columbus”. Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History. 2005. Vol. 2 p390
  6. “Nicaragua”. Funk & Wagnall’s New World Encyclopedia. 2002