Germany in Central America
Competitive Imperialism, 1821-1929
Publication Year: 2010
Using previously untapped resources including private collections,
the records of cultural institutions, and federal and state government
archives, Schoonover analyzes the German role in Central American domestic
and international relations.
Of the four countries most active in independent Central America-Britain,
the United States, France, and Germany- historians know the least about
the full extent of the involvement of the Germans.
German colonial expansion was based on its position as an industrialized
state seeking economic well-being and security in a growing world market.
German leaders were quick to recognize that ties to the cheap labor of
overseas countries could compensate for some of the costs and burdens of
conceding material and social privileges to their domestic labor force.
The Central American societies possessed limited resource bases; smaller
and poorly educated populations; and less capital, communications, and
technological development than Germany. They saw the borrowing of development
as a key to their social, economic, and political progress. Wary Central
American leaders also saw the influx of German industrialists as assurance
against excessive U.S. presence in their political economies and cultures.
Although the simplistic bargain to trade economic development for cheap
labor appeared to succeed in the short term, complex issues of German domestic
unemployment and social disorder filtered to Central American countries
and added to their own burdens. By 1929, Germany had recovered most of
its pre-World War I economic position.
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
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After research on the interaction of ideology, the political economy, and social change in U.S.-Mexican relations during the 1860s, the study of ideology and change related to the liberal revolutions of Central America seemed a logical second project. From fifteen years' work in the archives and libraries of Central America, Europe, and...
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Since the sixteenth century, when the European maritime nations first realized that only a narrow strip of land separated the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at the Panama isthmus, Middle America (the Panama and Tehuantepec isthmuses and those states forming the Central American Federation-Guatemala, EI Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua...
1. Foundations of German Interest in Central America, 1820–1848
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The alliance of European powers that defeated Napoleon twice dissolved in the post-1815 years. In a series of congresses, conferences, and confidential negotiations, the great and near-great powers of Europe, Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Prussia, Spain, and Savoy each hoped to facilitate a (favorable) balance of power. The Napoleonic...
2. Prussia and Commerce with the Pacific Basin, 1848–1851
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The revolutions of 1848, especially the Frankfurt Parliament, profoundly affected Prussia and Austria. German liberals were discredited for their indecisive conduct in 1848-1849. The Frankfurt Parliament swayed between a gross and kleindeutsch resolution to stabilize the German political order. Since the Parliament...
3. Franz Hugo Hesse's Mission to Central America, 1851–1858
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During the decade of the Hesse mission, German interests were permanently established in Middle America. Mid-nineteenth century Prussian policy and activity revealed much about the worldwide nature of imperialism and about the integration of industrializing centers with peripheral agrarian and raw material producing areas...
4. Bismarck and the Foundations of the German Empire, 1858–1871
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In the 1860s and 1870s, the Prussian government unified most Germanspeaking states into an empire. After decades of group activity sponsored by bodies ranging from political clubs to singing associations, a series of wars-against Denmark in 1864, Austria-Hungary in 1866, and France in...
5. Defining Germany's Role in Central America, 1871–1885
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Prussian success in guiding a kleindeutsch unification into an empire ruled by the Hohenzollern family was a marvel of insight, determination, and slyness. The peace signed at Versailles in the Hall of Mirrors in 1871 extracted a large gold indemnity from France. Historian Wolfgang Zank...
6. Aggressive Participation in the New World, 1885–1898 [Includes Image Plate]
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Unified Germany was a great power in the center of Europe. With several great powers and a dozen ethnic minorities, most politically organized, near its borders, Wilhelmine Germany pursued vigorous economic growth to cover the material costs of security and to establish a living...
7. Aggressive Penetration and National Honor, 1898–1906
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In 1898, after several decades in which U.S. authorities commonly used firm language or ship movements to enhance their desired policy in the Caribbean, the U.S. government underscored its willingness and intention to use force to define and extend its control in the Caribbean. It went to war with Spain to secure access to the Caribbean basin...
8. Apogee of German Power in Central America, 1906–1914
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Germany needed to sustain its economic growth to satisfy the demands of its capitalists, workers, and those various patriotic groups that considered security and well-being a byproduct of the nation's material growth. Historian Wolfgang Mommsen recognized that "German banks...
9. U.S. Displacement of German Economic Power during World War I
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Before the Great War the German government had used colonization, investment, trade, and cultural institutions to compete for influence and prestige on the periphery. It expected these ingredients to generate the mix of popular, elite, and governmental influences necessary to expand...
10. Reestablishing Germany's Role, 1920–1925
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German reentry into Central America's political economy and culture faced obstacles. The U.S. government remained determined to dominate the Caribbean-isthmian area. The loss of political and economic power by Britain, Germany, and France during the war eased the ability of the...
11. A Revived German Presence in Central America, 1924–1929
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Germany's leaders labored to continue the nation's recovery in international trade and investment. They promoted economic and political stability and the maintenance of an elevated living standard. The leaders of the German political economy dreamt of a great Soviet market early...
Conclusion and Epilogue
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The focus on British and U.S. relations with Central America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has veiled German involvement in Central America. German relations with Central America changed between 1823 and 1929. From 1823 to the 1850s, several German states...
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Research Resources on Germany in Central America
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Primary Materials and Published Sources
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Publication Year: 2010