Latin American Independence
Latin American Independence
Throughout history, there were many countries exploited by means of invasion. For example, Napoleons’ invasions, the Nazi rule over the Jewish race, and so on. Colonies that are no exception to this are the Latin America colonies. During the Age of colonization (1492- 1600), Europeans imposed many things on the Latin American territory that have had a long and devastating effect on the indigenous people. Europeans invaded and controlled much of South America and the Caribbean islands for means of trading, acquiring goods, and expanding their Christian religion through forced conversions. Resulting in an imposed foreign culture upon the already established civilizations that existed before their arrival. The indigenous people of South America, which included the Aztec, Olmec, Maya, and the Inca of South America, had developed complex civilizations which made use of calendars, writing, mathematics, astronomy, the arts, and advanced architecture. They had their own religious beliefs complete with their own Gods and rituals. Unfortunately for them, the Europeans cared little about the culture they would be obliterating, and cared more about their own ulterior motives. After many years of exploitation of these people, they finally decide to rebel. From the years 1807-1824, political and military movements ended colonial rule by Spain and Portugal over Mexico, Central America, and South America and gave birth to the modern independent nations of Latin America. There were many contributing factors that ultimately led to the uprising of Latin American colonies, but the ultimate reason why Latin America decided to attain independence was because they were tried of being oppressed by Europe and the Spanish Crown. In the following paragraphs, I will explain the causes of the movements of independence and prove that this was the uprising of an oppressed nation.
One of the many causes of Latin American independence was of the resentment of lower caste colonists and the Peninsular Spaniards. Spanish America was racially divided by a hierarchy called the Caste System imposed by the Spanish Crown .This system sets certain rules on which color skin gets the most privileges in society. The whites who were at the top, next were the Creoles, beneath them were the Native Americans, who were the official wards of the Crown but yet they were still greatly exploited and abused. Mestizos, who are people of mixed Native American and white heritage, and they suffered legal and social discrimination. Both mestizos and free people of color were barred from serving in bureaucracies of the church, state, or military. In the lowest caste were the African slaves who had no right and were considered as property. The lower castes wanted a say in their society. “Designations, either colorful or derogatory, that defined the degree of racial mixture, helped to maintain a sullen resentment and a sense of ethnic inferiority.” (Radin, 76) The wealthy Creoles were able to get positions of authority, but were always a step lower in the social ladder from the natural white Spanish people. They were tried of being racially oppressed and denied high government positions and privileges just because of the color of their skin. When Spain, in an attempt to centralize their administration and began replacing Creoles with Spaniards in judicial and legislative offices, the tension escalated even more. This challenged the wealthy Creoles, and motivated them to support independence. “The antagonism and bitter feelings between American Creoles and those Spaniards born in the Iberian Peninsula, who came to Latin America, helped ignite the emotional tinderbox that flared in 1810.” (Clayton & Conniff, 20) At this point, the Creoles wanted control. So they affirmed their loyalty to imprisoned Fernando VII. They convinced the viceroy to call a representative assembly to provide the Creoles with legitimacy while the King was out the picture. But when the Spanish peninsular found out, they actually unseated the viceroy to forestall the assembly. This got the Creoles extremely angry. Then a Creole priest by the name of Father Miguel Hidalgo spoke to a crowd of many using motivational religious language to how they need to defend Mexico from the Peninsular. So 20,000 peasants went after the Peninsulares in the mines. This rebellion gave them the power to make changes in the government.
Another cause for Latin American independence was the ideas of Enlightment. Since Latin Americans at the time were not satisfied by the control that Europe and the Spanish Crown had on the colonies, they were willing to see what the enlightment had to offer. “The frustration of the Spanish Americas was fueled by the intellectual movement of the enlightment.” (Encarta) The enlightment questioned political and social institutions like monarchy, religion, mercantilism, and class distinctions. The enlightment strongly changed the ideas of people in Europe, America, and Latin America. New ideas that challenged old truths began to develop. Ideas that praised individual rights for example, like the notion that ultimate authority in society resides with the people, not with the king. Also, the idea that all people are created equal in nature, and that every person (no matter of race) can possess equal rights. “Dissatisfaction had been given ideological form by the enlightment; awhile the crown and peninsulares had thoroughly antagonized Creoles for decades by denying them what they considered their legitimate aspirations.” (Clayton & Conniff, 22) Many Creoles read the works of Enlightment writers like the biweekly newspaper made in Lima called the “Mercurio Peruano”. The Mercurio published articles on health, supported advanced mining techniques, and analyzed the viceroyalty’s commerce. Another enlightened publicist that influenced many colonists was Jose Antonio Alzate y Ramierez, who wrote Gaceta de Literatura, which provided informative articles on the applied sciences. Many future leaders of the Spanish American independence movements spent time in Europe as students of the enlightened ideas. In the late 1700’s, the enlightment provided inspiration for some Spanish American and Brazilian colonists to seek more control over their economic and political affairs. Therefore, leading to the Latin American uprising of the colonies.
Yet another cause of Latin American independence was due to economic injustice. European economic aspects which made Latin America have a great dependency towards them. “The economic system that elite Latin Americans obviously associated with progress was European capitalism” (Burns, 9). One article suggests that the economic system of that time was “an unbalanced an asymmetrical system. It is based on monopolies sustained by dominant groups and nations” (Ribeiro). Through this unbalanced economic system in which Latin America colonists had no kind of control over kept them on the line between extreme poverty a mediocrity. Peninsular Spaniards continued to dominate the export- import trade and provincial trade. Spaniards organized in powerful consulados or merchant guilds, also played a key role in financing mining and the repartimiento business. Creoles were mostly confined to domestic market-oriented agriculture. The lower castes were not satisfied with the little to no power they had on economics. They felt like they were being used and seeing nothing in return but poverty. So they decided to rebel by The Bourbon reforms and the upsurge of the European economy in the 18th century.
The outcomes of the oppression of Latin Americans lead to many rebellions and uprisings for independence. In the early 19th century massive rebellions against Europe and Spaniards broke out in Latin America. First, slaves in Haiti revolted against their French masters. Led by former slave Toussaint L’ Overture the Haitians defeated France making Haiti the first independent country in Latin America. In 1810, as mentioned before, Father Miguel Hidalgo called upon Mexicans to rise up and fight the Spanish, this was known as grito de Dolores . After moderate success Hidalgo was defeated by a band of Royalists and while fleeing the country for the United States he was disowned by one of his fellow companions and killed. Another priest by the name of Jose Morelos continued the battle and led the fighting. He led Mexico to independence from Spain in 1821. Other Latin American uprising occurred with Simon Bolivar, who led the South American independence. Bolivar was a wealthy Creole born in Venezuela. Influenced by the enlightment ideas, he called for independence for all South Americans. He gained strong control over Venezuela in 1819. His armies then turned toward Columbia and Ecuador. In the South, Jose de San Martin rallied Argentinean forces against Spain. Bolivar and San Martin then met in Peru, which became independent along with upper Bolivia in 1824.
In conclusion, the consequences of independence were due to oppressed and exploited colonies. Latin America was oppressed economically, socially, and politically for many years, leading to inevitable events like uprisings, rebellions, and the search of independence. There was a strong forgein culture that was imposed on a already running government. This lead to the dependency of Latin American to Europe and Spain for many years to follow. These imposed ideas left the continent weak and resulted in the loss of culture, the dependence on European countries, and a long standing ethnic tension between natives and settlers which is evident to this day. The struggle towards independence was also a struggle for self identity as their own nations. Latin American still continues to move toward modernization but it has been long and tough road filled with tension, turmoil, and struggles to regain the independence that they once had before colonization.
Burns, E. Bradford. The Poverty of Progress, University of California Press, 1980
Ribeiro, Claudio de Oliveria. “Has Liberation Theology Died?” The Ecumenical Review Jul. 1999: 304
Toplin, Robert Brent. Slavery and Race Relations in Latin America, Greenwood Press, 1940
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2002. 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation
Chasteen, John Charles. Born in Blood and Fire. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001.
Clayton, Lawerence A. & Michael L. Conniff. A History of Modern Latin America. Harcourt Brace College Publishers. 1999.
Burkholder, Mark A. & Johnson, Lyman L. Colonial Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press. 2001