HISTORY OF GUATEMALA
Meanwhile political life has returned to a semblance of normalcy with a new constitution in 1985 and the election in that year of the first civilian president for fifteen years (though this change does not subsequently prevent the military from intervening when it suits them). Early in 1996 the centrist Alvaro Arzú Irigoyen is elected president by a narrow margin over a right-wing candidate.
The transition to statehood is far from smooth, for the other constituent provinces of the old captaincy general of Guatemala (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica) have intentions which are often at odds with the central government in Guatemala City. And even when established, the new nation is soon in political chaos. There is almost permanent civil war between Liberal and conservative factions.
The long narrow strip of central America, known in its entirety to the Spanish as Guatemala, is among the earliest of colonial conquests on the mainland. Pedro de Alvarado, a leading member of Cortés' small party in the conquest of Mexico (1519-21), is sent south in 1523 to subdue the smaller area now known as Guatemala. In 1524 he pushes on into El Salvador. In the same year Spanish conquistadors enter Costa Rica and Nicaragua from the east, invading from Panama.
Honduras, the buffer region between east and west, is disputed between the rival groups of Spaniards. An advance guard from Panama gets there first. Cortés sends a force from Mexico, which eventually prevails.
These rivalries persuade the Spanish crown to treat central America as a special case. In 1539 it is established as the captaincy general of Guatemala. This is part of the wider viceroyalty of New Spain (administered from Mexico City) but the captain general, operating from his own capital at Antigua, has considerable autonomy in local affairs.
The region from the southern border of Mexico to Panama now declares itself to be a new nation. It is to be known as the Central American Federation, with its capital in Guatemala City.