During the twentieth century, the countries of Central America were characterised by remarkably different political regimes: military-authoritarianism in Guatemala and El Salvador, progressive democracy in Costa Rica and traditional-authoritarianism in Honduras and Nicaragua. This article explains these contrasting regime outcomes by exploring the agrarian and state-building reforms pursued by political leaders during the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century liberal reform period. Based on differences in the transformation of state and class structures, three types of liberalism are identified: radical liberalism in Guatemala and El Salvador, reformist liberalism in Costa Rica and aborted liberalism in Honduras and Nicaragua. It is argued that these types of liberalism set the Central American countries on contrasting paths of political development, culminating in diverse regime outcomes.
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