Flag of San Lorenzo
Coat of arms of San Lorenzo
|Motto: "Libertas Nos Allucet"|
("Freedom Shines Upon Us")
|Anthem: Himno nacional de San Lorenzo|
|Capital (and largest city)|| Fortaleza de San Lorenzo|
|Official Languages||Spanish (de facto)|
|Secretary of the Republic||Joaquín Vincente Alvarez (since 2006)|
|Seal Holders|| Antonio Salazar (since 1999)|
Carlos Weinstein (since 2004)
Claudia Mandujano (since 2006)
|Area|| 73,263 km²|
28,287 sq mi
(July 2008 estimate)
43/km², 112/sq mi
|Independence|| September 15, 1821, from Spain;|
March 13, 1839 from United Provinces of Central America;
May 26, 1865, from United Kingdom
|GDP|| $20.43 billion|
$4,363 per capita
|Currency|| Quido (SZQ)|
= 100 centavos
|Time zone||CST (UCT-6)|
San Lorenzo (Spanish: República Centroamericana de San Lorenzo) is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Guatemala to the south.
After the coup of 1980 San Lorenzo remains the unique specimen of a triumvirate republic (República de los tres sellos). The country's capital is Fortaleza de San Lorenzo, widely known as simple Fortaleza. Abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems makes the country a biodiversity hotspot.
Pre-Columbian period Edit
The history of San Lorenzo can be traced back to the arrival of the first human settlers, presumed to have migrated from the north at least 12,000 years ago. There is archaeological proof that early Lorencian settlers were hunters and gatherers, but pollen samples indicate that maize cultivation was developed by 3500 BCE. For much of that time, the civilization that developed there flourished, with little to no contact with cultures from outside of Mesoamerica.
The Maya civilization dominated the region for nearly 2000 years before the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, although most of the Great Classic Maya cities of nowadays San Lorenzo (most prominent of them being Tikal, Bonampak, Piedras Negras, and Bomochenal) were abandoned after eruption of Cabeza del Fuego followed by series of earthquakes in about 1000 CE. Numerous architectural monuments of the Maya located in the country, most of them concentrated around Tikal. Tezcoamatl, a pyramid-like monument, was the highest artificial structure in Pre-Columbian America (its height is estimated to have been about 70 meters) till it was destroyed in an earthquake and deliberately partially pulled down for unknown reason. Stylized Tezcoamatl is pictured on the national flag and coat of arms.
Ojos Verdes Edit
Other important culture of the region was the Ojos Verdes civilization (Yaracainim, also known as "Green Eyes" or "Green-Eyed" in English) that developed in the area of Lago de Flores. Due to reliance on wood in architecture and instruments few evidences exist about its ancient history, but despite being obviously influenced by Maya it evinces distinct origin.
The Ojos Verdes differ in appearance from other Amerindians, and are notable for high percentage of people having green eyes. A popular but disputable theory (supported by such explorers as Thor Heyerdahl) states that the Ojos Verdes arrived from Europe or Africa two or three thousand years ago. Many Mormons believe that they are descendants of Lehi and his family, and according to the limited geography model San Lorenzo is plausible site of the land of Zarahemla, which makes the country major attraction for Mormon tourists. The recent genetic research inflamed new theories but did not answer the question of the origin of the Ojos Verdes.
Colonial period Edit
The Maya states of the southern highlands were still flourishing until the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors Gonzalo and Pedro de Alvarado, who subjugated the native states, beginning in 1523. Spanish contact resulted in an epidemic that devastated native populations. Using the quarrels between local tribes the Spanish eventually took the entire region under their domination.
Fortaleza ("fortress" in Spanish), the future capital of San Lorenzo, was founded in 1525 on the site of an abandoned Maya settlement on the bank of Usumacinta River surrounded by rocky "walls", which served as natural fortifications. The city was virtually destroyed in the earthquake of 1720 and was rebuilt several miles down the river. Antigua Fortaleza (the old city within the walls) remains an important historic site of Maya and old colonial period.
During the colonial period San Lorenzo was part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala (Capitanía General de Guatemala), which in its turn was part of New Spain (Mexico). The Captaincy General extended from the modern Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas (including the then separate administration of Soconusco) to Costa Rica. The region was nor as rich in minerals as Mexico and Peru, and therefore was not considered to be as important. Its main products were precious woods used in artwork for churches and palaces in Spain.
The Mayans and Ojos Verdes who lived in the northern and eastern areas of San Lorenzo enjoyed autonomy from Spanish rule till 1697, when the Spanish commenced pacification of the territory. After the resistance was suppressed, the British colonists were becoming increasingly interested in settling the area. The Caribbean coast remained an object of rivalry between Spain and Britain till late 18th century when the area (later known as British Honduras) fell under British control.
Post-colonial period Edit
On September 15, 1821, the Captaincy General of Guatemala (formed by Chiapas, San Lorenzo, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica) officially proclaimed its independence from Spain and its incorporation into the Mexican Empire, which was dissolved two years later.
The provinces of the former Captaincy General formed the Central American Federation (Federación de Estados Centroamericanos). That federation dissolved in civil war of 1838-1840. San Lorenzo was reluctant to leave the federation but declared its independence in 1839 after being invaded by the army of Guatemalan leader Rafael Carrera.
The country remained independent for just two years, and was annexed by Mexico in 1841. It never succeeded in taking under control the whole area, and San Lorenzo became scene of fighting between Mexican, Guatemalan, and pro-independence forces. In the 1860s, when Mexico underwent military occupation by France, Great Britain, a French ally, "liberated" the territory of San Lorenzo and declared it a British protectorate. The British forces were eventually driven away from the country, and in 1865 San Lorenzo declared its independence again. The war between San Lorenzo and the British continued till about 1870 when fighting ceased, and what now is the boundary between San Lorenzo and Belize was de facto established. The officials of San Lorenzo never recognized the British claim though, and continued to consider the territory of British Honduras as part of San Lorenzo under foreign occupation.
In 1866 General Miguel Ángel Mendoza became the first democratically elected president of the republic. Under his leadership the country was modernized, manufacture and agriculture was rapidly developing. During this era coffee became the most important crop of San Lorenzo.
In 1878 Miguel Ángel Mendoza was succeeded by Óscar Octavio Vázquez. In 1880 when the country faced brief invasion of Guatemalan forces, Vázquez revoked the constitution, and remained the country's dictator till he was assassinated in 1891. After his death the constitution was restored, and Francisco Ríos Ágreda was elected the new president. In 1893 the new constitution was passed, and the first national parliament convened. Majority of seats was gained by Justice and Progress Party (Justicia y Progreso), which protected interests of agrarians and clergy.
20th century's regimes Edit
Since early 1900s the economics of San Lorenzo was dominated by US companies, above all by the United Fruit Company. The Company became the major political power in the country. During the same period the People's Will Party (Voluntad del Pueblo) that opposed US influence and protected interests of workers and small land-holders gained popularity. In 1915 when People's Will Party was about to win both presidential and parliamentary elections, the amendments to the constitution were passed: the office of president became non-eligible, and the power of the parliament was reduced. The 1920s became period of struggle between People's Will Party-controlled parliament on one side, and the president and foreign companies on the other, while the army remained neutral. In 1925 when the parliament passed a law about nationalization of docks and taking the port activity under state control, USA sent marines to Puerto Gordo to ensure that US companies would not be alienated of property and driven out from the port by force. Puerto Gordo remained occupied by US marines till 1929 when a compromise agreement was achieved.
Despite the economic crisis, 1930s were period of relative political stability.
In 1942 a coup lead by a group of officers headed by Colonel Elías Enrique Morales overthrew the government of the President Gerardo Serrano, and the parliament was forced to dissolve. Many agrarians and companies were forced to renounce of their property in favor of the state. The Junta kept the power till 1952 while democratic institutions were gradually restored.
A new parliament convened 1948, and the presidential election took place in 1949 which was won by Eugenio Cornejo, a socialist. In the 1952 parliamentary election 83 seats of 120 were won by the Socialist Party. The new constitution was passed, according to which San Lorenzo was declared a socialist republic. All the industry was nationalized, and foreign trade was taken under state control. Since 1959 the Republic enjoyed close relationship with revolutionary Cuba and the Soviet Union. In 1961 after the death of President Eugenio Cornejo, Luis Elías Camacho assumed the office. During his rule the socialist regime was strengthened, political parties that "endangered the socialist destiny" were banned, and people's dissatisfaction grew.
In 1966 the local governments of the cities of Cabán and San Pedro Carchá, refused to held the parliamentary elections, and declared that that the laws passed by socialists don't apply to them. Camacho attempted to regain control over the cities by force, but the army was reluctant to execute his orders. In 1967 the rebel cities were occupied by the Guatemalan army, and US marines occupied Puerto Gordo for the second time. In 1968 the rebel forces backed by Guatemalan and US troops took Fortaleza and declared formation of the Provisional Government with General Juan Carlos Hermández at the head. The northern regions of the country were held by leftist troops till 1976.
In 1969 the Provisional Government passed the new constitution. San Lorenzo was declared a democratic republic with multi-party system, however the leftist groups were considered terrorist organizations and were banned. In 1970 Hermández was elected the president. He was a fierce ally of the United States, during his rule the Lorencian troops were participating in the armed conflicts in Guatemala and Nicaragua. In one of his speech Hermández stated that he was going to start a military landing operation against Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba even if his actions would not be supported by the United States. After a large scale privatization, most of the national economic enterprises became owned by US companies and members of Hermández family. In 1978, the United States president, Jimmy Carter, ordered a ban on all military aid to the army of San Lorenzo due to the widespread and systematic abuse of human rights. In 1979 an earthquake that struck the southwest regions of the republic killed over 3,000 people and left 150,000 homeless. A great deal of international relief was sent to the nation, however it was alleged that Hermández and other officials were embezzling the money.
The Triumvirate Republic period Edit
On August 19, 1980, army troops commanded by three junior officers Alejandro Rodríguez, Felipe Arredondo, and Benjamín Pérez staged a coup d'état that overthrew the Hermández government. The officers formed the Committee of National Salvation, and convened the Institutional Congress. The congress condemned any kind of authoritarian government and political ideology, and proclaimed isolationism and neutrality the key principles of policy of San Lorenzo (the political parties were legalized only two years later). The members of the Committee of National Salvation were given the three Seals of the Republic that gave them the power to enact legislation and decrees. Capital punishment was abolished. Activity of foreign economic agents was banned and their property nationalized and/or privatized between citizens of San Lorenzo. A special agency was created to control the foreign trade.
Clashes between the army and rightist paramilitary organizations continued till late 1982. The same year US marines were forced to leave their military base near Puerto Gordo.
Relations with the United States remained tense till early 1990s. In 1994 the country was visited by US president Bill Clinton, in 1998 by the Pope John Paul II. The country's economics became open for foreign investments. In September 2001, the Secretary of the Republic Marcelo Moreno Pacheco expressed his full support to the United States' War on Terrorism.
The central regions of the country were struck by an epidemic of nystagmenia (so-called "sleeping sickness") in 1992. The affected area remains quarantined since then. The regime of quarantine still is not lifted due to reluctance of the Ojos Verdes tribesmen, who see the quarantine as an instrument for wider autonomy. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration the quarantined area became key point of production and transiting of illicit drugs, but Lorencian officials deny it, cultivation of coca is a traditional practice of the native population.
The Sovereignist Alliance (La Alianza Soberanista), was formed in 1999 as the union centrist and leftist political groups with Joaquín Vincente Alvarez at the head, and soon became the major political force of the Republic. Since 2000 its members held two Seals of the Republic.
In summer of 2004 after the parliamentary election the opposition accused the government in forging the election results. Protests begun as peaceful rallies, but soon took form of violent riots. The government used police and special paramilitary units to suppress resistance of opposition groups, scores of people are presumed to have been killed on both sides. Opposition leaders and several US citizens accused in being CIA agents plotting a coup d'état were arrested. US embassy staff was accused in supplying the opposition with weaponry, and diplomatic relations with the United States were severed. In November of 2004, when the new parliament finally convened the Sovereignist Alliance took over all the three Seals of the Republic.
In April of 2006 Joaquín Vincente Alvarez unexpectedly left the position of a Seal Holder in favor of Claudia Mandujano, the representative of the Christian Youth Association in parliament, who became the first woman and the youngest person to hold a Seal of the Republic. Two weeks later Alvarez was appointed the Secretary of the Republic.
In February of 2009 issuing visas to US citizens was resumed, but diplomatic relations with the United States remain restricted.
Formally the republic has no constitution because a law that establishes power of one person or state body is considered an element of authoritarianism.
The White Book of Fundamental Acts (El Libro Blanco de los Hechos Fundamentales) that comprises the basic three-sealed laws describing the functioning of the state is de facto constitution.
The parliament (Chamber of Representatives, Cámara de diputados) consists of 68 members:
- Forty members are elected once in four years by proportional representation system.
- Fifteen members are elected by majority system in the fifteen electoral districts. They are elected either directly, or by local municipal bodies.
- Five members are elected from the city of Fortaleza.
- One member is appointed by the Roman Catholic Church.
- One member is appointed by the General Staff of the army.
- One member is appointed by the Federation of Trade Unions (La Federación de los Sindicatos).
- One member is appointed by the National federation of Working Women (La Federación Nacional de las Trabajadoras).
- One member is appointed by the Christian Youth Association (La Asociación Cristiana de la Juventud).
- One member is appointed by the Mining and Industry National Association (La Asociación Nacional de Industria y Minería).
- One member is appointed by the Farming National Association (La Asociación Nacional de Agricultura).
- One member is appointed to represent the Native American tribes. He does not have the voting right because the tribes refuse to be taxed.
The parliament has the right to initiate and discuss legislation, but does not have the right to enact it.
Traditionally most members of parliament also serve as secretaries (ministers) or hold other public or state offices.
The Three Seals Edit
The highest offices of the republic are the Holders of the Seals of the Republic (Tenientes de los Sellos de la República). There are three Seals, they are known as el Sello de rubí (Ruby Seal), el Sello de zafiro (Sapphire Seal), and el Sello de esmeralda (Emerald Seal). Even though it is not formally required, so far all the Seal Holders were acting members of parliament.
Any law or decree to be enacted has to be sealed with at least one of the Seals of the Republic. A law or decree may be revoked or modified only by a law sealed with the same number of seals or higher. If statements of two laws/decrees conflict with each other, the one more recently approved prevails.
Traditionally the Seal Holders divide between themselves the secretariats (ministries) and other executive organs of the republic, and every one of them issues decrees within his responsibility. Any decree may be revoked by another Seal Holder, but it is re-enacted when the third Seal Holder supports it. Seal Holder may grant a secretary an "iron seal", which gives him the power to enact his own regulations in the name of a Seal Holder who gave him the seal. These regulations may be revoked by any of the three Holders of the Seals of the Republic.
Normally the laws are discussed and composed in parliament and then sent to the Seal Holders, by whom they should be sealed with two seals. Later a law may be modified or revoked by another two-sealed law. One-sealed law may be passed only when other two Seal Holders don't object.
Three-sealed acts (hechos trisigilados) are identical to constitutional laws in other countries. They may be passed, modified, or revoked only with unanimous consent of all the three Seal Holders (i.e. by another three-sealed act).
Demanda de Sello Edit
The members of parliament are divided into four factions: Ruby Seal Faction, Sapphire Seal Faction, Emerald Seal Faction, and Neutral Faction. Every member of parliament is free to join or leave any faction any time he wants, his membership in one of the factions has to be registered.
A group of neutral faction members larger than smallest of the three Seal Factions may put forward a candidate for Seal Holder position and demand a Seal — this procedure is known as demanda de Sello. During the procedure the parliament is presided by the Secretary of the Republic. When a candidate receives support of larger group of candidates than the smallest support group of a Seal Holder he takes away the Seal from him. During demanda de Sello members of parliament can change their faction membership several times. Usually the procedure is accompanied by heated debates (in 1992 two members of parliament were seriously injured).
The Secretary of the Republic Edit
The Secretary of the Republic (El Secretario de la República) formally is the head of the state. He's very important figure in the functioning of the state, and his participation is required in many official procedures, even though formally he has no legal power to influence policy of the republic. This is one of the few offices that are forbidden to be occupied by a member of parliament. The Secretary of the Republic represents the republic on international level, and often acts as de facto foreign minister.
Since 2006, when Joaquín Vincente Alvarez left the position of Seal Holder to occupy the office, the Secretary of the Republic is both de jure and de facto national leader.
Table of the highest state office holders Edit
The table below shows the holders of the highest offices of the republic (simplified):
|Holders of the Seals of the Republic||Secretary of the Republic|
|Emerald Seal||Ruby Seal||Sapphire Seal|
|1980||Alejandro Rodríguez||Felipe Arredondo||Benjamín Pérez||Mario Leonardi||1980|
|1981||José Benito Santovena||1981|
|1988||Francisco Salas||Felipe Arredondo||1988|
|1990||Salvador Castro||Augustín de la Fuente||1990|
|1991||Tomás Rojo||Francisco Fernandez Muro||1991|
|1998||Joaquín Vincente Alvarez||Alfredo Ignacio Lopez||1998|
|2000||Antonio Salazar||Marcelo Moreno Pacheco||2000|
|2004||Carlos Tomás Weinstein||2004|
|2006||Claudia Mandujano||Joaquín Vincente Alvarez||2006|
|Politicians considered rightists|
|Politicians considered leftists|
|Neutral and other politicians|
Administrative division Edit
San Lorenzo is a unitary republic. For administrative purposes it is divided into 6 regions: 5 departments (departamentos) and one autonomous municipality (municipio autónomo) — the city of Fortaleza de San Lorenzo. The departments are further subdivided into 35 municipalities (municipios).
|Code||Region||Center||Population (2008)||Area, km²||Municipalities|
|F||Fortaleza||Fortaleza de San Lorenzo||802,870||456||—|
|C||Chachapanango||Barillas||705,295||16,254||C1. Aldama • C2. Domínguez • C3. Huitiupán • C4. Mazatán • C5. La Libertad • C6. Santa Cruz Barillas • C7. Villa Corzo|
|P||Petén||Flores||330,664||32,327||P1. Flores • P2. Lacandón • P3. Melchor de Mencos • P4. San Andrés • P5. San José • P6. San Francisco • P7. Santa Ana • P8. Sayaxché|
|Q||Queqchí||Chajul||434,927||5,559||Q1. Chajul • Q2. Ixcán • Q3. Nebaj • Q4. San Juan Cotzal • Q5. Uspantán • Q6. Villa Comaltitlán • Q7. Villaflores|
|T||Toledo||Poptún||177,795||10,640||T1. Chahal • T2. Dolores • T3. Poptún • T4. Puerto Gordo • T5. San Luis|
|V||Verapaz||Cobán||717,317||8,027||V1. Cahabón • V2. Cobán • V3. Chisec • V4. Fray Bartolomé de las Casas • V5. Lanquín • V6. San Juan Chamelco • V7. San Pedro Carchá • V8. Tamahú|
The southwest of the country is mountainous, while the northern and eastern areas are lowlands. All major cities are located in the highlands in the south of the country, while Petén and Toledo departments remain sparsely populated.
Volcano Cabeza del Fuego, at 3007 meters (9865 feet), is the highest point, and the only acting volcano of San Lorenzo. It erupted last time in 1990.
San Lorenzo has long claimed all or part of the territory of neighbouring Belize, formerly part of the Spanish colony, and currently an independent Commonwealth Realm. San Lorenzo recognized Belize's independence in 1990, but their territorial dispute is not resolved.
Natural disasters Edit
San Lorenzo is target for hurricanes, even though they are not as severe as in neighboring countries due to mostly landlocked position of the nation. Heavy rains are more harmful than the wind due to significant flooding and resulting mudslides.
San Lorenzo's highlands lie along the Montagua Fault, part of the boundary between the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates. This fault has been responsible for several major earthquakes in historic times, including a 7.2 magnitude tremor on January 2, 1979 which killed more than 3,000 people.
The volcano Cabeza del Fuego is responsible for catastrophic explosions in the historical past, and is feared to explode again.
Despite influence of leftists in policy of San Lorenzo in the recent years, its economy remains exceptionally free for residents of the country.
According to different sources San Lorenzo's GDP per capita is about US$4,000-5,000. Hower due to inequality in distribution of income it remains one of the poorest countries in America, with approximately 22% of the population living below the poverty line. 60% of the indigenous people live on less than US$1 per day. Lorencian diaspora in the United States constitutes large source of foreign income, more than value of exports. About 3% of the population are unemployed, about 40% are underemployed.
Some of the main products for export are organic coffee, sugar, textiles, fresh vegetables, flowers, bananas, handicrafts, tobacco, and others. Tourism became important source of income in the 1990s.
The Lorencian monetary unit is Quido (SZQ), divided into 100 centavos. Its name comes from a Mayan word meaning "stone", and originally was used for a local unit of mass. British slang term for pound sterling "quid" comes from this monetary unit.
| USD/SZQ exchange rate|
Over the course of the twentieth century the population of San Lorenzo grew from 230,000 to 3,000,000.
The majority of the population is Ladino (mixed Amerindian and Spanish), and Whites (Spanish with admixture of other European nations), they make up combined total of about 60%. Amerindian population includes peoples of Mayan descent and Ojos Verdes. Most Mayans belong to Q'eqchi people (about 800,000). Small Black community descended from African slaves exists in Toledo department. Influx of workers who came to the construction of the railroad between Fortaleza and Puerto Gordo in the 1900s originated contemporary small English, Italian, and German communities.
The civil war and instability forced many citizens of San Lorenzo to leave the country. About 100,000-200,000 Lorencians live abroad, most of them in the United States, with other significant diaspora present in Mexico.
There is no law in San Lorenzo that would establish official language, even though Spanish de facto functions as one. Significant number of Lorencians don't speak Spanish, even as second language, it's virtually unknown by most Ojos Verdes. Since late 1990s Q'eqchi language was admitted to be used for some official documents.
Just a hundred years ago virtually all Lorencians except citizens of small secluded jungle communities were Catholics. Roman Catholic Church traditionally is protected by the state, and may be considered state religion; its representative is granted one seat in the parliament. Protestantism has increased remarkably in the last decades and now is practised by about 25% of the population. Most Mayans are Catholics, but include traditional Mayan practices into Christian ceremonies. Ojos Verdes remain adherents of indigenous beliefs. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints claims over 50,000 members in San Lorenzo.
The government runs a number of public elementary and secondary-level schools. These schools are free, though the cost of uniforms, books, supplies, and transportation makes them less accessible to the poorer segments of society. Many middle and upper-class children go to private schools.
The National University of San Lorenzo (La Universidad Nacional de San Lorenzo, UNSL) was established in 1870 and remains the most prominent educational institution in the country. Three private universities were organized in the 1990s.
The literacy level has increased since 1980 from 60% to 80% but still remains exceptionally low, especially among Amerindians. The state is implementing the special program for "alphabetization" of the adult population of San Lorenzo.
References in popular cultureEdit
- San Lorenzo is the country where Arnold, the protagonist of the American animated series Hey Arnold!, was born, and where his parents got lost. For more information see the article about San Lorenzo on Hey Arnold Wiki.
- Contrary to the popular opinion it's very unlikely that San Lorenzo has anything to do with the fictional country where the events of Kurt Vonnegut's book Cat's Cradle are set.