21 Latin American Flags And The Stories Behind Them
Latin America hasn’t been the same since Europeans arrived some several hundred years ago – but through the long and complicated stories of colonization, liberation, and resistance, most countries eventually found their way to independence from Spain and are on the way to loosening the grip of Europe and the U.S. on their people.
Each and every country that broke away got the chance to design its own flag and bring a narrative to their new-found freedom. Some of them might even surprise you!
Mexico’s beautiful tricolor flag features an eagle eating a snake high atop a prickly pear cactus. This is actually an Aztec legend behind the building of Tenochtitlan – now Mexico City. The Aztecs described a leader named Tenoch having a dream brought to him by Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, that dictated where to settle his people. In the dream, he was to settle where the eagle landed, eating his snake.
2. El Salvador
The Salvadoran flag shines in blue and white, representing the two oceans that flank Central America, the Atlantic and the Pacific. The white middle represents peace. In the center shines the Coat of Arms, consisting of a triangle with five volcanoes rising out of the sea, representing the five states of the United Provinces of Central America.
The blue in the flag, however, hosts another secret meaning. El Salvador’s history is deeply tied to indigo because of its use by Native Mesoamericans. When Europeans invaded, they referred to it as “blue gold.” In fact, the indigo plant and the dye it produces dominated the country’s economy until it was replaced by coffee cultivation. Even so, El Salvador remains one of the few countries in the world that farms indigo specifically for its precious blue dyes.
Argentina’s beautiful flag also prominently features the blue and white colors present in many Latin American flags. The Sun of May that smiles down from the heart of the flag also features in the Paraguay flag and represents Inti, the Incan sun god.
Why is it called the Sun of May though? The month is a reference to the May Revolution, which took place in 1810 and marked the beginning of independence of many Latin American countries from Spain. A legend claims that as the people broke away from their colonizers, the sun broke through the clouds and was a sign of victory for the independence movement.
Brazil’s beautiful green flag pays a homage to its Portuguese history with the yellow rhombus in the middle. The blue globe in the middle is the key to the more unique story, with the white stars within representing the Brazilian Federative Units (or states). According to Brazilian, the number of stars must always be updated to reflect the number of recognized states. When the flag was first adopted in 1889, it boasted 21 stars. Today, it shines with 27.
While Panama, like many countries today, lives in a state of rival parties, the flag tries to do them justice as shared parts of a history. The stars and quarters stand for the competing political parties, blue representing the conservatives and red representing progressives. The white in between the colors represents peace.
Cuban history is fraught with revolution, and its flag carries that turbulent history with it. The red triangle harkens to the French Revolution and the three ideals of liberty, equality, and brotherhood. The white stripes represent peace in between the three blue lines, which represent the three departments in which Cuba was divided years ago. The real topper? The white star was once the vision the United States had of adding the island as its new state. Even though Cuba would never become an American territory, it proudly held on to the star amidst the revolutionary red for years to come.
The lush nature of Latin America is not lost on the Bolivians, who made sure to feature a bright green stripe on their flag to honor fertility and forestry. The yellow is another homage to the country’s abundant natural resources, reflecting Bolivia’s mineral deposits. The red reminds citizens of the brave soldiers who fought for the country’s independence from Spain.
Despite being landlocked, Bolivia keeps a naval design at its heart to honor its rivers and lakes. But that’s not all – because Bolivia has a dual flag, and that’s means this is a two-part story.
8. The Wiphala
The Wiphala flag is the Quechuan emblem and flag that represents the native people of the Andes, and not only is it recognized as the second national flag of Bolivia, it is also embraced by the people of Peru, Ecuador, and parts of Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. The seven colors represent the visible spectrum, with it’s highlighting color of violet representing Andean government and self-determination.
The Honduran flag, like other Central American flags, highlights a white stripe in between two blue ones, representing the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The white also presents peace and prosperity for its people, along with the purity of their thoughts and hopes. The five stars arranged in an X pattern at its center highlight the five nations of the former Federal Republic of Central America – El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala.
10. Costa Rica
The French Revolution had a deep impact on the Costaricans, as is evidenced by their flag’s story. The flag was designed by Pacífica Fernández, wife of former president José María Castro Madriz, back in 1848. Inspired by what she saw happening in Europe, she saw fit to incorporate the French tricolor – red, white, and blue. The blue represents idealism, the white represents purity, and the red represents those who died in the fight for independence. At its heart, the flag shows off an isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea with three volcanoes.
11. Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic’s flag also features the popular red, white, and blue colors, with blue standing for liberty, white for salvation, and red for the blood of heroes and martyrs to the cause independence. In the middle of it all, the national coat of arms shows off a palm frond and a bay laurel branch, dedicated to the country’s tropical habitat and splendor.
The beautiful Venezuelan flag is relatively recent in its current state, having been last updated in 2006. The original design, however, dates back to early revolutionary Francisco de Miranda and his 1806 attempt to liberate Venezuela from Spanish rule. Although he did not succeed, he is widely revered for his perseverance as he laid the groundwork for the country’s independence which came later. Miranda’s flag, brightened by blue, yellow, and red would later also become the inspiration for the flags of Colombia and Ecuador.
Miranda claimed his flag colors were inspired by the fact that these were considered the primary colors in color theory. It is said that when discussing the revolution with German writer and philosopher Johann Wolfgang con Goethe, Miranda shares his account of the United States Revolutionary War along with his travels throughout Europe and the Americas. Goethe told him that, “Your destiny is to create in your land a place where the primary colors are not distorted.”
Later, the words would follow Miranda and he kept true to them when designing the flag. It is also said that the yellow represents the riches and wonder of Venezuela, while blue presents the seas surrounding the country and red represents the bloodshed in the revolution.
Chile’s flag might remind you of another flag: Texas? Anyone?
The two flags even share a similar name, with The Lone Star being the name of both of them (in Chile, it is referred to as La Estrella Solitaria).
However, the stories and colors behind the flags are different – and Chile’s flag refers to something that Texas definitely doesn’t have: the Andes. The white on Chile’s flag represents the snow covering the enormous mountain range that runs like a spine down the country. The blue represents the oceans, and the red represents the lives lost in the country’s fight for independence from Spain.
The star in the Chilean flag represents a guide to progress and honor, and sometimes it is also seen as a symbol of an independent state. And that rebellious nature may be the one thing that ties La Estrella Solitaria to The Lone Star.
At first glance, the Nicaraguan flag and Salvadoran flag may look very similar, but there is one key difference: the Nicaraguan flag features a rainbow. The rainbow is a symbol of the country’s bright future, surrounded by the white that represents peace and the blue that represents the seas surrounding Central America. Like the Salvadoran flag, this flag features the five volcanoes to commemorate the United Provinces of Central America.
And here’s a little-known fact: that tiny stretch of purple included in the rainbow makes Nicaragua one of only two flags from a sovereign state to include the color, alongside the flag of Dominicana.
The Peruvian flag is distinct in its absence of a lot blue, something most Latin American flags have at a lot of. Instead, red features prominently, representing the blood spilled to gain independence from Spain. White represents purity and peace amidst the chaos and gives a backdrop the country’s coat of arms.
In the heart, the coat of arms shows off Peru’s abundant natural resources. The vicuña, Peru’s national animal, sits next to the chinchona tree, the source of quinine, a powerful anti-malaria medicine. On the bottom, a bag overflowing with coins represents the abundance of minerals that Peru has to offer.
Inspired by the primary colors and Francisco de Miranda’s design for the Venezuelan flag, the Ecuadorian shows off the primary colors in an effort to remember the primary ideals of the independence, and of the country’s resources. The yellow represents the crops and fertile soil, the blue represents the ocean and clear skies, and the red again here stands for the fallen who gave their lives to secure independence from Spain.
At the heart of the Ecuadoran flag is the coat of arms, which features Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador. The mountain is also part of the Andes, the mountain range that runs down Latin America. Down below the mountain runs a bright blue river, and atop it all flies a condor stretching out its wings to symbolize power and strength for the country.
Guatemala honors its beautiful natural landscape and fauna with the resplendent quetzal, their national bird and symbol of liberation. The bird graces a piece of parchment declaring the date of Guatemalan independence from Spain in 1821 and also features a daring pair of crossed rifles. The rifles are a homage to the country’s indomitable people, who are willing to defend themselves and their humanity by any means necessary. The crossed swords at the bottom echo the sentiment and represent honor, and are surrounded by a bay laurel crown to celebrate victory against their colonizers.
Yet another beautiful flag featuring the primary colors, the Colombian flag is inspired by revolutionary Francisco de Miranda’s work in Venezuela and throughout Latin America to free people from Spain’s rule. In this specific flag, the yellow has come to represent the richness of Colombian soil, along with harmony and agriculture. It also represents the sun, a source of light and joy. The blue, as is custom, represents the sea and the sky, while the red represents the blood spilled in the quest for independence from Spain. It also represents the fact that although Columbia’s people have had to struggle, they have thrived.
If ever there was a flag to say “we are serious here, stop trying to colonize us” it is definitely the Belizean flag. Featuring a Mestizo and African man in unity bearing an ax and an oar, the coat of arms also pays homage to the country’s logging history and the tools of the trade – including a mahogany tree. Below a ship sails, and below still an important motto to remember on any hot summer Belizean day: Sub Umbra Floreo, or “Under the Shade I Flourish.”
Uruguay’s bright flag features the Sun of May, just like the Argentinian flag does. The Sun of May is a prominent symbol of the revolution against Spanish rule in Latin America in May of 1810, as legend has it the sun came out from the clouds portending a victory for the rebels. The sun also represents Inti, the sun god of the Incan religion, and is a point of indigenous pride.
Paraguay, inspired like so many countries by the French Revolution, boasts red, white, and blue as its flag’s colors. A more unique feature of the Paraguayan flag? It differs on its obverse and reverse sides, with one showing the national coat of arms, and the other showing the seal of the treasury. The national coat of arms features a bright yellow star surrounded by a green wreath of palm and olive leaves tied with ribbons in the flag’s official colors. The branches are widely accepted as symbols of peace of victory.
The other side hosts the symbol of the treasury – a lion in front of a staff and the Phrygian cap, a hat associated with freed slaves in Ancient Rome and democracies, usually shown in contrast to crowns, a symbol of monarchies.