European imperialism in the nineteenth century swallowed up
much of Southeast Asia, India, Africa, and the Pacific.
Three areas escaped full inclusion in the imperialist net
East Asia, Russia, and the Middle East. More surprisingly,
Latin America, one of the earliest European colonial
ventures, successfully cast off European political control
and gained independence.
Latin American political leaders were shaped in the era of
Enlightenment beliefs and accepted concepts common in the
West, such as progress and rights in property. Despite some
common ideology, the new nations faced numerous problems
inherited from their colonial past.
- From Colonies to Nations
By the late eighteenth century, Creole elites in Latin
America were prepared to separate from Spain, but fear of
racial and class conflict prevented successful action.
Revolution occurred only after the Napoleonic wars disrupted
the government of Spain.
- Causes of Political Change
The revolutions in Latin America were part of a series of
rebellions from the American Revolution through the French
Revolution. In 1791, slaves under Toussaint L'Overture
successfully overthrew the colonial government of St.
Domingue and established the independent republic of Haiti.
The more radical aspects of the French revolution and the
specter of black rebellion in Haiti frightened the Creole
elites of Latin America. What precipitated rebellion was the
breakdown of the Spanish monarchy during the Napoleonic wars.
In Latin America, Creoles set up independent governments that
claimed to rule in the name of the exiled Spanish monarch.
- Spanish-American Independence Struggles
Rebellion in Mexico began in 1810 under the leadership of
Father Miguel de Hidalgo, who called on the support of
mestizos and Indians. Hidalgo's movement failed for lack of
Creole support, but a second revolutionary movement with more
Creole support broke out in 1820. Under a Creole military
officer, Augustin de Iturbide, the revolutionaries seized
Mexico City and proclaimed Iturbide emperor in 1821. Mexico
initially maintained control over Central America but
separated from its southern neighbors in 1838. In northern
South America, Simon Bolivar emerged as the leader of the
revolutionary forces. Between 1817 and 1822 he defeated
Spanish forces in Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador to form
the new nation of Gran Colombia.
After 1830, these nations split into independent states. In
southern South America, the revolutionary leader was Jose de
San Martin. An Argentinean, San Martin mobilized resistance
in his native colony, then crossed the Andes to Chile. By
1824, San Martin had carried the revolution into the most
conservative colony of Peru and defeated the Spanish forces
there. All of Spanish South America had won independence by
- Brazilian Independence
Independence in Brazil was achieved by different methods.
Early movements for independence failed because of the
general fear of slave uprisings. In 1807, the entire
Portuguese royal family fled their home country in the face
of a French invasion and emigrated to Brazil, where a
government in exile was set up. The Portuguese king, Dom
Jo o VI, ruled his empire from Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian
ports were opened to international commerce. When the king
returned to Portugal in 1820, his son proclaimed independence
in Brazil in 1822. Brazil became a monarchy under Dom Pedro
- New Nations Confront Old and New Problems
Most of the independent nations accepted the need to
establish representative governments, rights to private
property, and free trade. There was less agreement over the
position of the Roman Catholic Church in the new states.
Revolutionary ideals led to the abolition of slavery in all
states except Brazil and the remaining Spanish colonies.
Voting rights tended to be restricted by race to favor
Creoles, and women remained without voting rights. Indian
populations and people of mixed origins remained outside the
egalitarian principles of the new governments.
- Political Fragmentation
Mexico quickly abandoned its experiment with monarchy and
established a republic in 1832. Its government remained
unstable until the 1860s. In Central America initial
attempts to form a unified government gave way to individual
states in 1838. Cuba and Puerto Rico remained within the
orbit of Spanish colonialism. Consolidation also failed in
South America. New Granada, Bolivar's attempt to unify
northern South America, failed in 1830. The attempts of Rio
de la Plata to transform revolutionary leadership into a
political union failed. Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile remained
independent. Peru and Bolivia temporarily united, but formed
separate governments in 1839. Poor transportation and
communication networks magnified problems of national
- "Caudillos", Politics and the Church
Decades of war gave rise to regional military figures, or
caudillos, who dominated local areas and sometimes seized
national governments. Caudillos often operated out of self-
interest, but they were capable of seeking support from
regional elites or from Indians, peasants, or the poor.
Disagreements also arose within the new governments over the
degree of centralization the new republican governments
should have. Federalists wished regional governments to
establish policies, while centrists wanted powerful, central
administrations. Liberals tended to support federalist
policies, while political conservatives wanted centralized
governments and supported corporate institutions, such as the
Catholic Church. Liberals attempted to limit the role of the
Church in civil affairs. Political parties representing
these points of view sprang up in many of the new republics.
Regardless of political view, leaders in Latin America tended
to come from the class of wealthy landowners. Rapid
political change was the rule in Latin America in the first
half century after independence. Constitutions and
leadership came and went swiftly. Brazil, with its monarchy,
was perhaps the most stable government in the region.
- Latin-American Economies and World Markets, 1820 - 1870
Great Britain's determination to recognize Latin American
independence forestalled European plans to restore the
Spanish empire. The United States also supported the
independence movement through the Monroe Doctrine of 1823.
Britain's support for the new nations was tied to the
opening of trade with Latin America. Britain rapidly
replaced Spain as the region's largest trading partner. The
dominance of the British hindered the development of Latin
American industries and reinforced the economic dependence of
Latin America in the world trade network.
- Mid-Century Stagnation
From 1820 to 1850, the post-independence economy of Latin
America remained stagnant. After 1850, in response to
European demand for Latin American products, the economy
Enhanced trade permitted greater state development of
important infrastructure, such as roads and railroads. The
pattern was established that the Latin American economy was
strictly dependent on levels of imports supported through the
world trade network. Uneasy alliances between peasants
and conservatives prevented rapid economic change proposed by
the urban middle class.
- Economic Resurgence and Liberal Politics
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, another surge
in the European economy produced greater demand for Latin
American products. Economies expanded rapidly. The economic
growth created support for liberal policies and led to
liberal governments after 1860. Attempts to impose European
economic models on Latin American economies often failed.
Immigrants from Europe entered Latin America to fill a labor
demand that ignored Indian populations. Wealthy landowners
continued to monopolize the countryside at the expense of
- Mexico: Instability and Foreign Intervention
The federalist constitution of 1824 failed to address the
inequitable distribution of land or the status of the Indian
population of Mexico. It was quickly abandoned in favor of
military leadership. For much of the period after 1835,
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna served as the most important
military and political figure in Mexico. Santa Anna enjoyed
mixed results in fighting off foreign attempts to intervene
in Mexico. Anglo-American settlers in the northern province
of Texas rebelled and declared independence. Failure to
suppress the Texas independence movement led to the United
States' annexation of the region in 1845. The United States
won the Mexican-American War and forced the cession of Texas,
California, and much of Mexico's territory north of the Rio
Mexico's failures in foreign policy at last led to the
removal of Santa Anna as the chief political figure of the
republic. Liberal rebellion against the caudillo resulted in
Santa Anna's ouster and the creation of a liberal
constitution. Conservatives rejected the liberal
constitution and turned to France as an ally. French forces
overthrew the republic and placed Maximilian von Habsburg on
the throne as emperor in 1862. When French forces were
withdrawn, liberals returned to power under Benito Juarez in
1867. Juarez continued to govern until his death in 1872.
- Argentina: The Port and the Nation
The port of Buenos Aires dominated the region of Rio de la
Plata. In the 1820s, a liberal government was established in
the port that sought to stimulate the economy.
The leader’s preference for a strong, central government
provoked the opposition of cattlemen in the plains outside
the port. By 1831, a conservative government under Juan
Manuel de Rosas replaced the liberals. Rosas's federalism
favored the ranchers at the expense of Indians. After
Rosas's fall in 1852, a period of political confusion ensued
until the creation of a united Argentine Republic in 1862.
Liberal reformers sought to manipulate the economic boom
after the 1860s.
Using profits from increased trade, the liberal government
established education systems, built roads, and constructed
railroads. The liberal government carried out the final
conquest of Indians in Argentina.
- The Brazilian Empire
In Brazil, a functioning republic existed behind the facade
of monarchy. Independence was achieved in 1822 under Dom
Pedro I, who ruled as king. When Dom Pedro I was deposed in
1831, a series of regencies ruled in the name of the young
Dom Pedro II. Between 1831 and 1840, regional governments
opposed centralized rule from Rio de Janeiro. After 1840,
Dom Pedro II ruled in his own name as a liberal, who sought
to increase economic growth. The Brazilian economy was
revolutionized by the emergence of coffee as an export crop.
As coffee production expanded, slavery was intensified as a
source of coercive labor. As with other liberal governments
of the period, Dom Pedro II improved the country's
infrastructure and sought foreign investments to capitalize
internal projects. Extensive European immigration into
Brazil broadened the labor force and reduced the need for
slavery. In 1888, slavery was finally abolished. Weakened
by long participation in an unpopular war and by opposition
from the Church, the monarchy did not long survive the
abolition of slavery. In 1889, a military coup deposed the
emperor and established a republic.
- Societies in Search of Themselves
There was tension in Latin American culture between the
heritage of Europe and the need to express Americanism.
- Cultural Expression After Independence
The end of Spanish colonial dominance opened Latin America to
other European influences in the decades after independence.
French neoclassical tradition was particularly influential.
Romanticism shifted Latin American attentions to symbols of
Americanism, such as Indians, gauchos, and slaves.
Historical studies reflected the European concepts of
positivism and progress. By the 1870s, the political
dominance of liberalism produced more realistic literary
efforts, which often criticized social and political systems.
Popular culture remained largely unaffected by trends among
- Old Patterns of Gender, Class and Race
Women, many of whom had been active in the independence
movements, gained little during the nineteenth century. They
were excluded from active participation in politics and
remained subject to patriarchal authority in their
households. The one area of advance for women was broader
access to public education and subsequently to positions as
teachers. By the end of the nineteenth century, educated
women were in the forefront of the nascent feminist movement
in Latin America. Although legal distinctions were often
removed, the old social hierarchy based on color and
ethnicity was tacitly retained. Indians remained virtually
outside the social system of Creoles and mestizos. Socially
and economically, the liberal decades led to increasing
control of resources, including land, by an elite of white
Creoles. After the 1870s, economic change and immigration
fostered the creation of greater urban centers, but Latin
America remained predominantly agrarian and dependent on the
world trade system.
- The Great Boom, 1880-1920
The Latin American export economy produced a social and
political alliance between large landowners, miners, and
export merchants, all of whom depended on commerce for
Although commodities varied from one nation to the next, all
of Latin America depended on exports to Europe. Such
complete dependence made the Latin American economy
vulnerable to shifts in market demand and prices. Exports
dramatically increased between 1870 and 1900. The expanding
economy attracted capital from abroad, both from Europe and
the United States.
Although foreign capital provided the impetus for expansion,
it placed Latin American industries and transportation
corporations in foreign hands.
- Mexico and Argentina: Examples of Economic
Porfirio Diaz, one of Juarez's generals, was elected
president of the Mexican republic. As was typical of liberal
regimes, Diaz's government attracted foreign investment,
built up the nation's infrastructure, and initiated
industrialization. Although the appearance of democracy was
retained, Díaz's government suppressed all political
opposition. Much of the economic growth in Mexico was at the
expense of urban laborers and the peasantry, both of which
were largely Indian.
In 1910, popular dissatisfaction with Díaz's regime resulted
in the Mexican Revolution. Argentina also had a liberal
government whose popularity depended on maintaining the boom
in the export economy. Unlike Mexico, where labor was
provided by indigenous peoples, Argentina's labor force
expanded through immigration from Europe. European-born
workers brought with them socialism, and a Socialist Party
emerged in Argentina in the 1890s. A series of strikes
followed by government repression typified the first decades
of the twentieth century. The middle-class Radical Party
promised political reform and enlightened labor policies to
gain power in 1916.
When faced with strikes, it, too, reacted repressively. The
models of Mexico and Argentina oligarchies composed of the
traditional aristocracy and the middle classes uneasily
presiding over disgruntled laborers and peasants could be
found in other Latin American states where liberal
modernization met resistance.
- Uncle Sam Goes South
American capitalists turned to Latin America for investment
after the American Civil War. The United States' first armed
intervention in Latin America, the Spanish-American War
between 1895 and 1898, was intended to open the door to the
valuable sugar plantations of the Caribbean. As a result of
the war, the former Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico
were reduced to dependency on the United States. When
Colombia proved reluctant to support American plans in
Central America, the United States backed Panama's
independence movement in return for extensive rights to build
a canal in the new nation. Latin American nations became
increasingly critical of U.S. intervention in the region.
- Conclusion: New Nations, Old Problems
During the nineteenth century, the former colonies of Latin
America constructed new nations. There were many
difficulties. Latin America was forced to forge economies in
a world trade network already dominated by European nations.
The new nations carried with them colonial social systems
that were strictly hierarchical and in which a small Creole
elite dominated the economy and politics. Indians, former
slaves, and peasants shared little in the economic expansion
of the second half of the century. In a sense, Latin America
was the first region of the world to undergo the problems of