Actions

Regimes of Order and Progress in Latin America: 1875 - 1910

From Baripedia


We are going to discuss the regimes of order and progress in Latin America and then we will see the consequences of these regimes in Mexico with the Mexican Revolution.

The importance of the Western ideologies of the time, racism, social Darwinism, justified the social status quo and allowed the disproportionate exploitation of workers, especially after the abolition of slavery.

The economic liberalism that developed in the last quarter of the 19th and early 20th centuries was in fact developed thanks to state protection and subsidies. It is the State that finances the communication routes, that finances exports and that puts the police at the service of hacendados and industrialists in order to suppress any protests by workers and small farmers. Finally, the state subsidizes the migration of Europeans to "launder" the population.

The positivist ideology[edit | edit source]

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Latin American states watched with a mixture of fear and fascination the rapid development of the United States, which was reflected in its growing imperialism throughout the Americas.

Raw material production and exports from Latin America have increased since the mid-nineteenth century thanks to the development of communication channels and the growing population.

The gap between Latin America and the Northern and Western United States has widened enormously; Latin America's dependence is beginning to shift from England to the United States.

If in the United States the ideology of Social Darwinism is used to explain their economic success by the "superiority" of the Anglo-Saxon race, in Latin America this same ideology tries to make the elites believe that the backwardness of their nation is due to the "inferiority" of their populations with a majority of African and Amerindian descent.

However, for most elites this backwardness may be the law of nature, but it is not the law of God, which is a big difference with their Protestant counterparts in the United States; if it is not the law of God then it can be remedied.

Lithograph of Count by Tony Touillon.

Latin American elites composed mostly of whites consider Indians, mestizos and non-whites as inferior and the cause of Latin America's backwardness. However, they believe that this backwardness can be made up for by establishing regimes of order and progress influenced by positivism.

Positivism is a philosophy that was elaborated by the Frenchman Auguste Comte around 1840, according to which human societies would evolve in a linear way from the military and then religious stage to the supreme stage, which would be the scientific stage. In this race for modernity, only the best endowed societies will survive.

However according to positivism the evolution of societies can be accelerated by economic liberalism, by a strong government of a small elite and by the absence of protection of the working classes.

Positivism attempts to reconcile progress with the traditional order, which is very pleasing to Latin American elites who have no intention of changing the country's economy and overthrowing its socio-racial hierarchy in the name of modernity, especially since they do not want to accept the working classes as full citizens.

Positivism spread among all the capitals of Latin America; its philosophy takes up some of the characteristics of Latin America around 1860. The elites continue to sacrifice or betray on the altar of progress the great majority of their fellow citizens who are mainly non-white. On the other hand, they continue to manipulate the principles of economic and political liberalism in order to maintain a colonial socio-racial hierarchy that ensures them control of economic resources, including control of land through the concentration of land ownership and control of labour through the repression of any contestation.

Flag of Brazil with the notion "ORDEM E PROGRESSO" which is the motto of positivism founded by the French philosopher Auguste Comte.

From the last quarter of the 19th century we have the era of freedom for the powerful, but no longer the democratic fiction for the majority of the population, because the rights of the vast majority disappear.

The progress for these elites is the growth of exports of tropical products and mining, but also the seizure of land of small farmers and Amerindian communities by the big landowners, it is also the opening of the country to foreign investment through the railways and the modernization of cities.

Order is the development and modernization of the army, often thanks to military missions, especially from Germany, but also the restoration of many prerogatives of the Catholic Church that were suppressed under liberal governments, the muzzling of opposition, the return of the censal vote and the brutal repression of workers and small farmers who mobilized against these changes.

These positivist regimes were to influence most Latin American countries towards the end of the 19th century, such as the regimes of Rafael Reyes in Colombia or that of Manuel Estrada Cabrera in Guatemala. Two countries, however, that proclaim themselves to be regimes of order and progress are that of the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz from 1876 to 1911 and the first republic of Brazil from 1889 to 1930, which is when the Brazilian flag was inscribed "ordem e progresso".

The Porfiriato or Porfirio Díaz regime in Mexico: 1876 - 1911[edit | edit source]

General Porfirio Díaz.

No other regime has declared itself more positivist than that of Porfirio Diaz is that will last 35 years until the explosion of the Mexican revolution.

The Mexico of 1876 is much smaller than the Mexico of independence, since the United States cut off a large part of its territory. It is also a Mexico that underwent great changes with the Lerdo Law of 1856 that allowed the privatization of the properties of the Catholic Church, but also the lands of the Indian communities and villages.

Porfirio Diaz is a half-breed of modest origin, his parents were innkeepers, he was born in the provinces and received a Catholic education before joining the army, becoming a regional and then national leader. In 1876, he was elected president on a liberal programme, but thanks to fraudulent elections he imposed himself as a dictator with a philosophy of order and progress.

He soon surrounded himself with a group of positivist intellectuals who took the name "científicos" as the last stage of evolution of positivism embodying modernity in the state of Mexico.

Progress[edit | edit source]

Progress means first of all the seizure of land that is still in the "primitive" hands of Indians and small farmers for the benefit of big hacendados and foreign operators. This seizure was accelerated by the fact that in 1884 a new law decreed that the surface and subsoil wealth of the land belonged to its owner; this accelerated the willingness of industrialists and miners to acquire new land. Another law of 1884 stipulates that any parcel of land whose occupant cannot show a title deed may be seized by the first purchaser.

The result of these two laws was a dramatic concentration of land ownership. Around 1900, 20% of the land in Mexico was taken from its occupants and at the same time 90% of the Indian villages in the central plateau lost their communal lands.

These laws increase financial speculation, but they do not increase agricultural productivity because more and more peasants and Indians are landless, adding to the landless labour force which has the effect on the labour market of not encouraging the mechanization of agriculture. More and more land is being cultivated for export and less and less to feed Mexicans, who feed mainly on maize and beans. All this at a time when the population is increasing from 10 million in 1877 to 15 million in 1900, thanks in particular to medical advances.

As fewer goods are produced for food and citizens, the price of food is rising while wages are falling because there are too many job seekers at the same time as living conditions are deteriorating.

The government of Diaz invested heavily in the railroads, increasing from 800 kilometres for the whole territory in 1877 to 24,000 kilometres in 1900. These railroads were used both for export and to link the North to the South, and some of their achievements were extremely audacious.

The railway represented one of the advances in the economy of the Porfiriato and was exposed to the world as a symbol of progress. The Mexican culture of Díaz's time had economic characteristics, such as this painting by José María Velasco, which reflects the railroad in the Valley of Mexico.

Thanks to the train, Diaz managed to expand the state apparatus and the mobility of the army, it also means that he is expanding the number of civil servants; in this race for progress there are attempts to bring in European migrants, but in fact very few come to Mexico, since the population cannot be whitewashed, Diaz' government promotes public primary education and hygiene, which are ways of "improving race".

The economic figures of this period are impressive; between 1884 and 1900, the gross national product increased by 8% per year and a true national economy was formed with a domestic market.

What must be seen is that the vast majority of Mexicans are excluded by this progress while the economy is increasingly dominated by foreigners. Many tropical plantations, mines, railroads, the oil industry, banks and light industry are owned by foreigners who largely come from the United States.

Regional disparities are growing; for the whole central region of Mexico it continues to be Mexico's breadbasket, producing mainly corn, wheat and beans, but this is not enough for the population, which is increasing, although small industries are developing in these valleys. Most of the land is taken over by large landowners especially for export crops through sugar cane.

The North is becoming a mining region, the production of copper, lead, zinc in addition to silver is being developed, along with the cultivation of cotton and the establishment of some light industries. The population of the North increases, 300,000 impoverished Mexicans and especially central Mexican peasants who have lost their land will migrate, but also 15,000 Americans who settle and who are investors, owners of mines and large haciendas.

The Order[edit | edit source]

This development cannot take place without order; it is a kind of domination of the state over almost all sectors of society. To this end Diaz postulates two principles of domination: divide and rule and "bread or stick.

A detachment of Rurales in field uniform during the Diaz era.

For the elite, he offers "bread or a stick". Diaz thought "a dog with a bone in his mouth couldn't bite". This is what he does with part of the elite, but also with the pillars of the regime, the army and the church. Towards the popular classes, the stick is enough since the army is being developed in a huge way.

For the army, this is a special instruction, because Diaz is a man of the army and he knows that he must control it so that it does not overthrow him. To do this he will create a parallel force, the "rurales" who report directly to the central government and will be in charge of controlling all the campaigns. The army is also pampered, the soldiers' salaries have gone up as well as those of the intermediate corps, at the same time new weapons are acquired; Diaz plays on the competition of the two corps to avoid an overthrow.

Uprising of the Yaqui Indians - Yaqui Warriors in Retreat, by Frederic Remington, 1896.

With the Catholic Church, Diaz makes a kind of informal agreement, he does not reform the constitution, but ignores the anticlerical articles of the liberal constitution of 1857, returns the monasteries and religious schools that had been confiscated under the liberal to religious communities, in return the Catholic Church supports him.

Diaz plays a double game with the elites, letting the big landowners, bankers and entrepreneurs get richer and richer as long as they do not threaten his own power. To do this, he gives certain haciendas to those who support him politically, but he launches a repression against those who oppose him.

With the growth of the state, new civil servant positions are created. The vast network of railways allows the army and the rural population to be transported to the places where the revolts are taking place.

In some border areas, revolts were taking place, particularly among Indians. yaquis in the north, whose economy was based on agriculture, which was necessary to feed the mining areas; their land was seized and they revolted, the army was sent to massacre them while the survivors were deported to serve as quasi-slaves in the Yucatán. The operation is an operation that benefits the government and also the army officers. A single colonel manages to deport 15,700 men, women and children in three years. For each yaquis, the planters of Yucatán pay 65 pesos, 10 to the colonel and 55 to the War Ministry.

The Indians were not the only ones to be massacred and deported, especially workers and political opponents.

If Diaz succeeded in eliminating and muzzling the opposition until 1900, several factors were accumulating that would precipitate the Mexican revolution in 1911.

The First Republic of Brazil: 1889 - 1930[edit | edit source]

The Proclamation of the Republic, by Benedito Calixto.

Brazil became independent in 1822, but remained a monarchy until 1882. It was the nation that exported the most Africans as slaves, 4.5 million out of 12 million, but was also the last nation to abolish slavery in 1888.

In 1889, Brazil became a republic that lasted until 1930. In fact, Brazil's first republic was a front republic reserved for the elites who asserted positivism that allowed them to continue the economic development that had begun under the monarchy while maintaining the socio-spatial hierarchy that was in danger of being undermined.

This positivist Brazil is a country that is still sparsely populated, but vast. Only the coasts and Minas Gerais are densely populated with 14 million inhabitants.

It is a Brazil where there are strong socio-economic changes, because there is a shift from the economic centre of the North-East which has lost its importance to Minas Gerais in Sao Paolo where coffee is grown. The profits from coffee exports are beginning to be invested in the creation of industries, because the rapid increase in population is creating a market with enough consumers to substitute certain imported goods with locally produced ones.

It is the coffee growers of Sao Paolo who dominate the first republic, which is republican in name only. From 1889 to 1830, Brazil was a Brazil of federations of fairly autonomous states governed by large landowners in each region supported by the federal army and private militias; only 1% of the population had the right to vote, i.e. men over 21 years of age who could read and write and had a certain amount of money.

Progress[edit | edit source]

The programme of progress of this republic includes, as under the monarchy, the construction of the railways, the modernisation of the ports, the modernisation of the city on the model of Paris; at the same time, everything is done by borrowing from the English.

As far as labour was concerned, slavery was not abolished out of conviction, but out of necessity, since after the abolition of slavery in Cuba in 1886 it existed only in Brazil and it became practically impossible to import new slaves from Africa.

A new form of slavery was to develop at the same time throughout the Amazon region in Brazil, Peru and Colombia, which was the slavery of the Amazon Indians that developed around the production of rubber, which was to decimate the Amerindian populations.

At the same time, the planters refuse to improve the working conditions and remuneration of the farm workers; they believe that without coercion Brazilians will not accept the sub-human working conditions on the plantations. On the other hand, like them as well as racist ideologues, races of colour are unable to work properly in a free system. They must be replaced by European migrants who at the same time will whiten the population, which would be a guarantee of progress in Auguste Comte's scientific society.

The planters are not ready to pay the immigrants well either, at the same time they control the policy of the state. This is why they will launch massive European immigration programmes in order to saturate the labour market and keep wages very low. Between 1808 and 1828, 4 million Europeans immigrated to Brazil being driven out by poverty and the industrial revolution. 2 million arrived in Sao Paulo and 2 million had their journey paid for by the state.

The Order[edit | edit source]

At the same time, planters in the southern states refuse to invest public funds in Brazilian workers. Under the pretext of creating a labour market dominated by free competition, in reality the planters use state money to bring in European migrants in order to better marginalize Afro-Brazilians in the labour market. This strategy works in the most prosperous regions and the best paid jobs, migrants systematically displace Brazilians, blacks are excluded from factories and replaced in handicrafts by immigrants. Blacks have to make do with domestic work and marginal jobs.

It is not for lack of qualifications that Afro-Brazilians are marginalized, already at the time of abolition most Afro-Brazilians were no longer slaves, in addition most migrants are illiterate, without a profession, and do not speak Portuguese; it is because of the racism that prevailed in the society that makes the migrant always win.

This makes the social integration of slaves very difficult as the men cannot find decent paid jobs, they have to go to the poorest regions or work for low wages on the plantations, their wives are usually forced to work in domestic service.

The result is that the family is often separated, with the mother becoming the main breadwinner, doubly marginalizing the father in the labour market, but also within the family.

In Brazil, racial positivism has an even more perverse effect, because segregation does not exist in law - it is a racism that takes place discreetly in everyday life. There is a very small minority of blacks, usually mulattoes, who manage to rise socially, allowing the elite to proclaim that Brazil is a republic, but also a racial democracy.

This assertion of racial democracy frees the elite and the State from any responsibility for the condition of blacks after the abolition of slavery and makes it possible to blame Afro-Brazilians themselves, either through their own fault or because they are racially inferior. We are in a vicious racist vicious circle.

Thus it is not by chance that the Brazilian myth of racial democracy coincides with the transition from slavery to free workers and with the transition from a monarchy to a republic of order and progress, which makes it possible to hide the reality behind the face of an authoritarian and elitist regime that reproduces the old socio-racial structure.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]