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The independence of Latin American nations

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We will see that there are tensions in any society, but at the same time their entry into the revolutionary process is facilitated by an external event that either creates a power vacuum or weakens power. The revolutions of the United States and Haiti would not have occurred without a brutal and profound change in the relationship between colony and metropolis, in one case taxes and in the other the French Revolution.

The external cause[edit | edit source]

Napoleon's invasion of the Iberian Peninsula will enable the process of independence of the Americas. The invasion changed the relationship between rulers and governed since King Ferdinand VII was no longer there, when he returned from captivity he was not up to the task, but others will be like Bolivar. In the case of Latin America, the composition of the population weighs in the course of events.

Napoleon's invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1808 led first to the independence of Brazil and then of Spanish America.

The independence of Brazil[edit | edit source]

For Brazil, when Napoleon had already invaded Spain, the Prince Regent of Portugal Joao VI embarked with his family, court and administration for Brazil. In all, between 10,000 and 150,000 people set sail on ships under British escort with the archives and treasure.

From 1808 to 1821, the Portuguese Empire was ruled from Rio de Janeiro by Portuguese officials. The conflict between the colony and the metropolis only broke out in 1821 when Joao VI decided to return to Lisbon leaving his son Pedro in charge of Brazil.

Brazil is a huge empire. When he took this decision, the Brazilian elites were very offended to return to the situation before 1808, the elites convinced Pedro I to stay and become the independent emperor of Brazil. In 1822, Pedro I became the emperor of Brazil becoming independent while remaining a slave monarchy, there was no social change.

Continental Spanish America: from loyalty to the king to civil war (1810 - 1814)[edit | edit source]

Everything is much more complicated in the immense Spanish empire of America, since it is an empire that includes, among others, the Philippines in Asia. Napoleon's invasion led to the abdication of King Ferdinand VII of Spain leaving the colonial power headless.

Initially, after this invasion and the fall of the king, the cities formed local juntas to govern in the name of the king during his absence. For this, they invoked the principle that in the absence of the king, sovereignty rests with the people, but did not question the validity of royal power.

Swearing-in of the Cortes de Cádiz in the parish church of San Fernando. Presentation at the Congress of Deputies of Madrid.

In America, these juntas bring together the elite of planters and merchants from both the peninsular and Creole regions. In Spain, provincial junta formed a supreme junta in Cadiz, which was not invaded by Napoleon. It is supposed to supervise the whole empire and coordinate a war of liberalization.

This supreme junta appoints a regency council as the legitimate government of the imprisoned king. However, it needs the support of the American colonies since they were not occupied by Napoleon. To this end, it recognizes the equality in principle of the American provinces. In 1810, under conditions of war and occupation by the cortes, it hastily convened a national assembly of delegates from the provinces of Spain, the Americas and Asia.

Very soon the question of representation arose, on the basis of population Spain would have fewer delegates than the Americas, which have 16 million inhabitants. It is the council of regency that decides the debate, at the cortes, America will be grossly under-represented with only 1/5 of the members. This will pose a problem of legitimacy for the cortes.

These cortes debate and ratify the political constitution of the Spanish monarchy of 1812, which applies to Spain and its territories in America and Asia. The constitution establishes a parliamentary monarchy with a reduced power of the king in favour of the cortes, decentralising part of the administration and granting suffrage to all adult men without requiring them to be owners or literate.

However, this is an artifice, because suffrage is limited to Spaniards, Indians and mixed-race sons of Spaniards, excluding free people who are descendants of former mixed-race people or not according to the principle of limpieza de sangre. Blacks and mulattoes constitute one third of the population of the Americas.

This is going to be a bad experience in many American provinces, dividing them into those that recognize the cortes and those that do not. There are also provinces that will accept the authority of the Council of Regency, which will even send new governors to neutralize the junta; there too, many provinces will refuse to accept these new governors and will decree that they will continue to govern in the name of the king through their junta.

In these cases they declare the Council of Regency illegitimate, expelling the new governors, and they declare that only they can legitimately govern in the absence of the king. Gradually these junta move from autonomy to the declaration of independence. However, some juntas remained loyal to the regency council.

From 1809 until 1814, there were not really wars of independence in Spanish America, but civil wars within each province between those who wanted to remain loyal to the council of regency and the king and those who wanted autonomy and independence. All these regions are in civil war.

Continental Spanish America: the diversity of independence processes (1814 - 1824)[edit | edit source]

In 1814, when Napoleon abandoned Spain and Ferdinand VII regained power, events would turn into real wars of independence. Ferdinand VII refused to make concessions rejecting the 1812 constitution and decided to use force to reconquer his colonies in the Americas by sending troops.

A process of reconquest is launched using force and brutal repression. The free Creoles in these viceroyalties will engage in independence struggles.

Mexico[edit | edit source]

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.

In Mexico, at the beginning there is a revolt started by a priest named Miguel Hidalgo, a white man born in Mexico who mobilizes against the Spanish exploiters called the "gachupines". He mobilized Spaniards, Indians and poor people to fight for a "fairer government".

The Catholic religion is extremely strong. On the ground, very quickly Hidalgo's troops occupied a large territory attacking the haciendas of the Creoles, becoming a class war that Hidalgo could not control.

Morelos por autor anónimo

The Creole elites are getting scared and join the cause of the Spanish crown. Hidalgo is arrested and executed. However, Jose Maria Morelos, an Afro-descendant priest and half-breed of modest origin, took up the torch with a programme of political independence, racial equality, land redistribution and, in particular, the abolition of slavery. But he is unable to control his troops leading to his arrest and execution.

Augustin Ier of Mexico.

The civil war inside Mexico continued until 1821 when a Mexican aristocrat Augustine De Iturbide declared independence and succeeded in forging an alliance between the supporters of Hidalgo and Morelos and the Creole elite against the Spaniards. Once Spain is defeated, Iturbide proclaims himself constitutional emperor of Mexico; it is a monarchy solution that will last only two years, but will protect the social hierarchy. However, this revolution remained independent.

Central America will win its independence without fighting, because it depended on the viceroyalty of the New Spain of Mexico.

Venezuela[edit | edit source]

The socio-racial issue complicates everything. If we look at the general map of the Americas, Venezuela is close to Haiti and all the sugar West Indies, which have a weight in the thinking of the elites.

Venezuela is a colony in which slavery is more developed than in Mexico, with slaves employed mainly on cocoa plantations, and there are also a very large number of freedmen of colour working in handicrafts in the cities. All this makes the elite fear a Haitian-style revolution.

The independence process is different from Mexico. At the very beginning, the junta declared independence in 1810. This declaration of independence did not excite the popular classes who were treated badly through elites, slavery and exploitation. The Spaniards who still had troops managed to mobilize the non-white plantar troops by denouncing their racism by mobilizing the llaneros, the slaves of the haciendas by promising them their freedom. The independentists are quickly overtaken by the troops raised by Spain.

Here too, we find ourselves in a situation of civil war. We are indebted to Simon Bolivar, who belongs to the cocoa aristocracy and is a slave trader, who understood that to win independence, it is necessary to have the support of the majority of the population who are poor, Indian and of African origin. He also knew that Spain, if it won, would not give equality to African descendants nor would it abolish slavery, as the 1812 Constitution had shown.

In 1813, he launched a war to the death of the Americans against the Spaniards without distinction of race. He trained racially indiscriminate military dignitaries promoting blacks and mulattos promising freedom to slaves who would fight for independence.

When Ferdinand VII returned to the throne, Bolivar was forced to flee with many of his troops and officers taking refuge in Haiti. Thanks to the help of Alexander Pétion, Bolivar was able to restart the war and unite the struggle of Venezuela with that of Colombia and Ecuador and gradually drive out the Spaniards to found a confederation of three nations called the Great Colombia that would exist until 1831.

Independence was declared in 1821 with very different regions united in this Great Colombia.

Rio de la Plata (Buenos Aires)[edit | edit source]

The only photograph of José de San Martín.

It should be seen that at that time around 1800 Buenos Aires was a small port only elevated to the rank of viceroyalty capital, but which learned to count on its strengths by rejecting the English who occupied it in 1807. A quarter of the population was Afro-descendant, another part was formed by military garrisons, gauchos.

Independence was quickly won in 1816 in Argentina. However, it was surrounded by the immense Brazil and the entire viceroyalty of Peru, which posed a threat for fear of an attack from the north. One of the main leaders of this movement Jose de San Martin decides with others to bring independence to the hinterland of Argentina, Chile and as far as Bolivia and Peru.

Peru[edit | edit source]

It is interesting to see that this is how Peru is going to gain its independence, caught between the troops coming from the South and the North. Independence will be imposed on Peru, the elites remain loyal to the king and Spain because they are afraid of the Indians like the revolt of Túpac Amaru.

It will only be in 1824 that the victory of Ayacucho brings independence and puts an end to Spanish colonialism.

Consequences[edit | edit source]

Spain in 1824 is defeated on the American continent, but not in the Caribbean with Cuba which will become the "pearl of the West Indies" replacing Santo Domingo as supplier of sugar and Puerto Rico which will be under Spanish domination until 1898.

General considerations[edit | edit source]

It should be remembered that, unlike the Thirteen British Colonies and as in Haiti, it is a very long process of independence in Spanish America. From 1808, if we count the first juntas, or 1810 if we count the first revolutionary independence government, it lasted until 1828. Sixteen years of internal conflicts.

Spain waited until 1836 to recognize the independence of Mexico. One may ask why the conflict took so long:

  • it did not involve a war against the metropolis, but a kind of civil war that had a socioracional dimension within each viceroyalty. At the same time, royalists, autonomists and independentists were fighting each other.
  • The Spanish colonies, unlike the United States, did not receive any help from other nations except Haiti for Venezuela. On the other hand, the little they had in military aid was bought on credit from England. These nations are coming to independence with a fairly large foreign debt.

The costs of the war are not equal everywhere; it is very high in terms of human losses in Venezuela and on the Caribbean coast and Colombia, which have their populations declining; in terms of economic loss, Mexico loses the most, as all its mining infrastructure is destroyed. Argentina is getting out of the situation at a lower cost, which explains the more or less rapid start-ups.

One may wonder whether this is a real revolution:

  1. we have a more or less massive mobilization of the population;
  2. a struggle between different ideologies;
  3. a concrete struggle for power;
  4. we don't really have a deep transformation of social and economic structures.

The wars of independence were fought by white elites, but were fought by coloured troops, often of mixed race, black mulattoes and Indians. They are fought on a dominant ideology of freedom, equality and private property.

After independence, there is a great legal change, but not really a change in the socio-economic structures. Everywhere, republican regimes were adopted except for the Iturbid regime, while the nobility was abolished. All references to race in constitutions, laws and even censuses disappear; except for slaves, everyone is a citizen.

For the free Afro-descendants, it is a victory in the sense that they lose the defilement of slavery and gain equality of rights. For community Indians, it is a tragedy, because in the name of equality they lose their status as minors protected by the King of Spain, who prohibited the sale of their community property; now in the name of private property, their lands become alienable, gradually being taken over by haciendanos and small farmers. Many indigenous communities will disappear.

For most slaves there is no change except in Chile, Central America in 1824 and Mexico in 1829 partly because the Anglo-Saxons colonize northern Mexico and this is a way to stop the colonization of the northern United States.

Everywhere else except for the men who fought in the independence troops there are laws of gradual abolition, slavery will be abolished only in the period 1850 - 1860.

If the principle of equality makes the caste system disappear, the socio-racial hierarchy is not upset. There were new means of social mobility, especially in the army where a few half-breed women could move up the ranks. In fact, if it is no longer the accident of being born white, black or Indian, it is private property and formal education that will do so, but this does not mean that the counters will be set at zero, because racial ancestry will subsequently weigh in. Moreover, these populations will be so poor at the time of their independence that they will not be able to invest in education.

The new governments were not advocating the redistribution of land; it was being redistributed to the best buyers and not to the working classes.

Is there a formation of these different nations?

  • Yes, in the sense that founding myths are being created and that the independence movements have mixed the populations of the different regions in the armies, in addition we have the arrival of republican ideas that make us feel that we belong to a given homeland.
  • No, because the majority undergoes the process without taking part in it, one is often forcibly enrolled in the armies, moreover local identification remained strong. On the other hand, the borders of the new nations reproduce the same nations as before. The division is virtually the same as that of the viceroyalties in the colonial era, while the capitals of the viceroyalties continue to be the capitals of the independent nations.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]