Latin America since 1780
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Latin America since 1780

Will Fowler

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eBook - ePub

Latin America since 1780

Will Fowler

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About This Book

Latin America since 1780 provides an accessible introductory text aimed at Spanish linguists and historians taking modules in Latin American history. It provides a compelling continental-based historical narrative supported throughout by incisive evaluation, pedagogical features, and authentic source texts in the original Spanish.

This book focuses on key events such as the Wars of Independence, the Mexican, Cuban and Sandinista Revolutions, and the recent shift to the left, as well as providing short inserts on the main political protagonists such as Simon Bolívar, Getulio Vargas and Hugo Chávez.

The 3rd edition has been revised in line with crucial recent political, cultural and economic developments. It offers an entirely new chapter covering the key events and issues of the 21st century, fresh topics for essays and presentations, increased attention to literary, ethnic and social culture and a new e-resource offering English translations of Spanish sources.

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The late colonial period and the wars of independence (1780-1825)

By 1800, fifty years of Bourbon reformism had led to major unrest in Spanish America. The French occupation of Spain, in 1808, resulted in a constitutional crisis which ultimately provoked the wars of independence. Likewise it inspired the Portuguese monarchy to transfer its court from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. After ten to fifteen years of brutal civil war in most of Spain’s colonies, the Spanish monarchy lost control of its entire empire in continental America, succeeding only in holding on to Cuba and Puerto Rico. In 1822 Brazil became independent, with the Portuguese king’s son, Emperor Dom Pedro I, serving as the new nation’s monarch.

The colonial experience

On 4 November 1780, in Tinta, Peru, a mestizo landowner called José Gabriel Condorcanqui started a revolt against the Spanish authorities. He claimed to be a direct descendant of the Incas and
World context
On 31 December 1799, the western hemisphere was immersed in a period of upheaval. Since 1755 uprisings had erupted throughout Europe as modernity clashed with tradition. Between 1775 and 1783 the American War of Independence was fought. In 1789 the French Revolution began, leading to the abolition of the monarchy (1792) and Louis XVI’s execution (1793). During the first decade of the nineteenth century the revolutionary whirlwind raged on. In Latin America the situation was no different. Although revolutions did not become widespread throughout Spanish America until 1810, revolts in Peru (1780– 81), Bolivia (1781–82), Colombia (1781) and Brazil (1788–89), without forgetting the Haitian Revolution (1791), exploded in tandem with those that rampaged elsewhere. A conflagration of issues had led to tensions running high. Building on the scientific knowledge of the seventeenth century, a novel faith in reason and progress emerged. This eighteenth-century faith, translated into the ideas of the Enlightenment, challenged long accepted traditions and institutions,
questioning authority, religion, privileges, church and monarchy. It also gave the European monarchies of the late eighteenth century the inspiration to centralise government and society, and to assault churches, corporations and guilds, aiming to improve society through direct bureaucratic intervention. Economic needs underlay the monarchies’ attempts to control their kingdoms and colonies, raising unpopular taxes, as a global economy started to emerge. The European desire to control the African slave trade and the markets of India and East Asia resulted in this being not only a period of revolutions, but one of ongoing war. In a struggle for empire, Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands fought each other throughout the century. With the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1799, these conflicts reached a climax. Between 1803 and 1814 Napoleon’s empire spread throughout Europe, and his wars brought Russia, Prussia and Austria into the fray. While in Europe a relatively more peaceful period succeeded his defeat at Waterloo in 1815, in Latin America the revolution reached one of its bloodiest stages.
Racially mixed Spanish Americans of Spanish-Indian descent. The term mestizaje, deriving from mestizo, refers to the fusion of Spaniards and Indians.
haciendas (estancias in the Southern Cone countries)
Large estates.
White Spanish Americans of Spanish descent.
adopted the Inca name of Túpac Amaru II, in direct reference to the last Inca noble, executed by the Spaniards. During the six months it took the Spaniards to quell the uprising, property was sacked, haciendas were destroyed, and there was a very high death toll. Túpac Amaru’s forces did not restrict their attacks to Spaniards. Creoles and mestizos were also assaulted, giving his insurrection a strong ethnic and social dimension that deprived his movement of their support. The government in Lima sent a large military contingent that succeeded in defeating and capturing Túpac Amaru in May 1781. Túpac Amaru, his family and the other main leaders of the revolt were all executed, drawn and quartered, their limbs torn away by horses.
Historians disagree over whether Túpac Amaru’s revolt was an early bid for independence. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that Túpac Amaru was rebelling against the abuses the Indian population was suffering at the hands of the Spaniards, demanding an end to the forced loans and taxes that had become common practice under the rule of Charles III (1759–88). The fact that Indian discontent had become extreme is undeniable. Although Túpac Amaru was defeated, his followers did not surrender and, under the leadership of the Aymara Indian Túpac Katari, went on to lay siege to La Paz. Their revolt did not end until January 1782, after an estimated 100,000 people had been killed. Divisions between the Aymaras and the Quechuas did not allow the Andean Indians to consolidate a united front against the Spaniards. The fear of a race war prevented the creoles from supporting a revolt they nonetheless sympathised with.
Although Túpac Amaru’s revolt was a strictly Andean affair, it highlighted a number of issues that could be seen as representative of the tensions that were beginning to surface in Latin America at the time. There were growing disturbances in most of Spain’s colonies after 1760, as a reaction to Charles III’s reformism. Coinciding with Túpac Katari’s revolt, from March to June 1781, another mestizo, José Antonio Galán, led the comunero revolt of Socorro, in Colombia. He mobilised between 15,000 and 20,000 Indians and mestizos who, in opposition to new tax demands and the usurpation of communal lands, routed the Spanish forces that were sent to suppress the uprising, and threatened to attack the capital of New Granada, Santa Fe de Bogotá. While the Peruvian revolts were crushed with particularly violent resolve, the Spanish authorities in Bogotá ended the comunero revolution initially through negotiation. Once the rebels disbanded, however, the Spanish authorities revoked their concessions, executed the leaders of the revolt and reimposed the taxes that had provoked the uprising.
What needs to be stressed is that in Spanish America there was an increasing sense among the population that, after 1760, Bourbon reformism was attacking the social bases and political values that had characterised the Spanish Empire for over two and a half centuries. Under the Habsburgs, Spain’s policy towards its colonies could have been described almost as one of abandon. Centuries of inertia on the part of the monarchy had resulted in the colonies enjoying a high degree of autonomy. It was Charles III, a member of the Bourbon dynasty that had taken hold of Spain’s destiny, replacing the Habsburgs in the wake of the Spanish War of Succession (1702-13), who changed all that. Determined to impose in Spain and its colonies his own brand of enlightened despotism, Charles III set about reforming his domains, resolved to encourage social and agricultural improvement while tightening his administration’s control over the empire. The changes he promoted have come to be known as the Bourbon reforms.
It was under Charles III, and subsequently Charles IV (1788–1808), that the ‘second conquest of America’ took place. This was a bureaucratic conquest. New viceroyalties were created. The previous district officers of the Spanish Empire were replaced by intendants who set about closely supervising the American population. Government became far more centralised. While in 1750 the majority of existing administrators had been born and bred in the colonies, by 1780 over 72 per cent were newcomers from Spain. The fact that the creoles were discriminated against and that the majority of political posts went to Spaniards contributed to the heightening of tensions between Americans and Spaniards.
The majority of first-generation creoles were aware that they could not rise in the political hierarchy for the simple reason that, regardless of the fact that their parents might be Spanish, white and belonging to the elite, they had been born in the Americas. This awareness of discrimination would become a determining factor in motivating them to rise up in arms against Spain. Nevertheless, the leap they needed to take to progress from criticising the Spanish intendants to actually rebelling against them was not an easy one. They were bound in allegiance to the Spanish Crown due to the ethnic fabric of the cultures in which they lived. While they came to resent the Spaniards’ interference in their affairs, they were terrified of the consequences of unleashing a revolution. The majority of the population, Indians, black slaves and even mestizos, might assault their properties and inspire a race war in which they could very easily be wiped out, belonging, as they did, to a rather exclusive minority. At the end of the eighteenth century, of an estimated total population of 17 million in Spanish America, only 3.2 million were whites, and of these 150,000 were Spanish. Most creoles wanted a free hand in the running of their provinces and thus opposed the pressures Bourbon Spanish domination represented. However, they would rather support the Spaniards than throw in their lot with revolutionaries like Túpac Amaru.
Bourbon economic policies also created upheaval in the colonies. It was Spain’s need for greater revenues that inspired the bureaucratic expansion in the first place. Spain’s involvement in the Seven Years War (1756–63), its war with Britain, renewed in 1779, its war with France in 1793 and its subsequent participation in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, now serving the French (1796–1808), all meant that it became imperative for Spain to plunder the wealth of its colonies. Taxes were raised, monopolies were created, and trading laws were implemented, all of which were imposed to assist the Spanish economy while damaging the interests of the local elites in the colonies. As a result of this new controlled economy, ironically called comercio libre (free commerce), returns from America to Spain between 1778 and 1784 increased by 1,528 per cent! In addition, a mining boom at the end of the eighteenth century resulted in Spanish America yielding, in 1800, 90 per cent of the total world production of silver, the profits being spent on Spain’s war efforts. By 1800 most creoles were under the impression that:
  • their countries were being invaded by Spaniards, depriving them of all positions of political responsibility; and
  • their wealth was being plundered in order to subsidise foreign wars in which they had no interest.
Spain’s ongoing wars with Britain, which entailed the loss of Trinidad, Tobago and St Lucia in 1797, resulted in a further grievance for the people of Spanish America: the creation of standing armies in the colonies. The British occupation of Havana in 1762 sent a clear signal to Madrid that Spain needed to strengthen its defences. During the War of the Austrian Succession (1739–48), Britain had already attempted to seize some of Spain’s colonies, attacking Cartagena in New Granada, Panama, and Guantánamo in Cuba, and stationing squadrons of warships in Jamaica and Antigua. The Havana debacle alerted Madrid that these attacks could prove successful for the British. In an attempt to protect its colonies, unprecedented numbers of Spanish officers and soldiers were sent out. However, given that most Peninsular troops were needed to fight the different wars in Europe, it became necessary to form colonial military units, enlisting members from the local populations. The arrival of Spanish officers exacerbated the grievances of the creoles by denying them the opportunity to attain the higher ranks in the army. The need to sustain the increased troops became another source of discontent, as it fell on the local communities to feed, house and pay for them. The means by which soldiers were levied affected not only the creoles, but also the majority of the population. In the long run, the formation of standing armies in the colonies not only created much discontent, it resulted in the arming and training of militias that would ultimately revolt against Madrid.

Church-State relations

Church–State relations were to represent an equally important part of the Americans’ eventual rejection of Spain. One of the main ideas proposed by the Enlightenment, adopted by Charles III, was that the Church’s power and influence should be restricted. Religion and superstition must give way to the new scientific and philosophical ideas that dominated eighteenth-century France. The Church’s influence was viewed as a major obstacle in mankind’s pursuit of material and intellectual enlightenment. Therefore, the clergy were ousted from positions of political responsibility. A serious attempt was made to secularise education, a domain that had been the Church’s monopoly until then. Ecclesiastical immunities and privileges (fueros), by which the clergy were not expected to pay taxes, were severely reduced. The need to raise revenue for the war efforts also meant that the Church’s wealth and properties ceased to be treated as inviolable.
Needless to say, the Bourbon reforms met fierce opposition in Spain as well as in Spanish America. In the Spanish countryside, where traditional values had their greatest stronghold, these measures were perceived to be foreign and heretical. The Bourbons and their enlightened ministers were accused of being afrancesados (Frenchified). In Spanish America public resentment was even more acute. This was due to the ethnic composition of the clergy, paired with the profound religious fervour that characterised the Indian and mestizo population of America. For although the Church, as a whole, resented the assault the Bourbon reforms entailed, its hierarchy responded to the increased state pressure on its revenues by balancing its accounts to the detriment of its lower clergy. The higher clergy, all of whom were Spanish, ensured that their welfare was not affected, while they allowed the lower clergy (creoles and mestizos) to bear the brunt of the Church’s depleted funds. A disgruntled creole and mestizo lower clergy discovered not only that their prospects of ascending in the ecclesiastical hierarchy were blocked by Peninsular dominance of the Church, but that their own personal and financial circumstances were profoundly affected by Bourbon fiscal demands.
At a deeper level, in a context whereby a new generation of Spanish bishops, appointed by the Crown, arrived in the colonies advocating a new understanding of the Church’s role, the clash between traditional practices and those now espoused by certain members of the higher Peninsular clergy became deeply
Corporate rights and privileges dating from medieval Spain which the Church and the army retained until the mid nineteenth century.
unsettling. The bishops who arrived in the colonies after 1760 attacked popular religious manifestations and cults, arguing that these were examples of superstition that needed to be eradicated in the name of a more enlightened Church. In those countries where Roman Catholicism had come to integrate a wide range of Indian practices, these views challenged the very essence of Spanish American devotion. Long-held autochthonous festivities, such as the Mexican Day of the Dead on All Saints, processions, pilgrimages, cults of ‘Indian’ saints and, in particular, of the Virgin Mary in her many manifestations, were suddenly considered to be fanatical by the higher Peninsular clergy.
The generation-long Bourbon assault on the Church had very serious repercussions in Spanish America. At one level, the lower clergy were being pushed into adopting a confrontational stance by the way they were being treated, both financially and morally. At another, it was precisely the parish priests who, through direct and daily contact with the suffering of their parishioners, were in a position to realise the extent to which Bourbon Spain was directly responsible for the social deprivation that had come to c...

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