Latin America
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A revolution is defined as a sweeping change in the Social, Economic and political structure of a society or way of thinking.   Revolutions change the status quo, usually leaving a country in turmoil.  What occurred in Latin America between the years 1808 and 1826 was no exception.  Countries which were dominated by European imperialism, namely the influence of the Spanish and Portuguese, fought and won their independence in a series of bloody battles, culminating in the declaration of Latin American independence.  It can also be said that there is no way the Latin American revolutions would have been possible, or maybe even they wouldn’t have needed to occur, if prior revolutions hadn’t exerted their influence over the situation.  

            The Spanish empire in Latin America was at its height in the early years of U.S colonization.  Even after Spain had relinquished its territories in what is now Florida, it controlled many island regions, as well as a large part of South America.  There was no single event that brought the end of the Iberian influence in South America, rather a combination of factors.  Twelve new republics and one monarchy replaced what had been Spanish and Portuguese colonies by 1826.  This left a region of the world, America included, which had been under the European influence, completely out.  The shroud of imperialism lifted, these countries were now on their own to make their own decisions, and to institute new policies. 

             The first sign of decline for the Iberian rulers was the rise of Napoleon following the French revolution.  In 1807, Napoleon invaded Spain and Portugal with his Imperial army.  This invasion scattered the Iberian rulers, and left the government in disarray.  The ruling family of Portugal even fled to Brazil, where they hid for thirteen years.    With no solidified ruling power in the homeland, the question of who ruled became an up in the air proposition, and the colonists saw their chance at revolution.  While this all seems rather sudden, there was a deep-rooted history of colonial discontent with empire.    With no prevalent influence from the Spanish, the colonies had been allowed to develop their own strong identity, one different to that of their crown.  Their economic system had developed as they wanted, and new political ideas flourished in their society.  Therefore, when Napoleon intervened in Iberian government, the Spanish Americans saw their chance at revolution.  They desired a government much like that of the Americans before them, one where they have the primary say, and one that would allow a free market economy flourish.   Because of the Portuguese influence in Brazil at the time, the government actually assisted the Portuguese peoples in completing a successful, peaceful revolution for independence.  The Spanish were not so lucky.  In a two front revolution, the Spaniards in South America moved, under the command of Jose de San Martin and the army of the Andes, into Chile, controlling that territory.

            It was the Revolution in the North however, that received the majority of Spanish attention.  Moving through Venezuela, in a series of bloody outbursts, the Spanish army of the North eventually conquered the region of Venezuela, as well as other territories in the North.  The Spanish division of forces was the major downfall here.    Spain was fighting what was essentially a three front war.  They had to focus on de San Martin’s army in the Buenos Aries region, as well as the Northern front, led by Simon Bolivar.  Yet they also had to contend with the Napoleonic influence back on the home front.  The key front in Spanish America was clearly the Northern one, led by Simon Bolivar.  The son of a slave-owner, Bolivar became the central figure in the revolutions through charismatic leadership, as well as knowledge of the European way of thinking.  Bolivar had studied the works of the men of the French Enlightenment extensively, and the works of men like Voltaire, Diderot and the rest of the key figures of the enlightenment clued him in to a new way of thinking.  He believed strongly also in the ideals of Napoleon, and even considered himself to be somewhat of a Latin American Napoleon, a man who could lead his people into a new time.   Bolivar led a sort of enlightenment in Central America, however a much more conservative one than occurred in the European theater.  Bolivar became the central figure in this revolution, leading his army of the north southward after conquering Venezuela and the Northern territories.  There, his army and the Army of the Andes met when they converged on the last Spanish stronghold in the Americas: Peru.  The Latin American independence was won here, but not without a strong resistance by the Spanish forces.  In 1824, at the battle of Ayacucho, Bolivar’s army and the Spanish fought bravely and intensely, but the Spanish were no match for the passion displayed by the insurgents. 

            The final stage of revolution was won north, in Mexico where there was more of a social revolution, which frustrated the rulers in Spain enough to grant independence in 1826.  The entire Spanish empire was demolished, salvaged only by the retention of Cuba and Puerto Rico.  What had been a flourishing imperialistic venture for the Spanish turned into a fiasco, and ultimately a major defeat on the world scale.   

            Some historians have argued that because of Napoleon’s influence in the beginning of the Latin American Revolutions, that the French Revolution played the greatest role in the achievement of Latin American independence.  I strongly disagree with this assertion however, because I believe that the influences on the Latin American revolutions were much closer to home.    The Haitian Revolution played a gigantic role in the beginning and continuance of the Revolution led by Simon Bolivar.  First, in 1804, the Haitians achieved their independence, leading those inclined toward revolution in Latin American to believe it could be done.    More importantly however, the Haitian people committed a lot of time and energy into assisting the Latin American insurgents.    They committed funds, as well as a lot of manpower and leadership to the Latin American cause. 

            The impact of the United States cannot be discounted either.  While again, the fact that the US achieved their independence from a European power was a very important factor in the beginning of the insurgency, the policies implemented by the US were just as important.  In  1820, president James Monroe instituted the Monroe doctrine in an effort to help America, but also all the members of the Western Hemisphere.  The doctrine plainly stated that we would recognize all the new states and their independence, but more importantly, that the entire Western Hemisphere was independent and needed no European assistance.  It closed the Western Hemisphere off to any influence the Europeans may have attempted to exert over the former colonies.  This allowed the new states to develop in a way that they felt pertinent, with no pressure exerted upon them. 

        The idea of revolution shaped the times that we live in today.  I personally believe revolution is inevitable, otherwise man would never have developed and the world wouldn’t change.  We would have society after society developing exactly the same.  The six revolutions discussed in these projects all are intertwined, and they all stem from the American Revolution for independence.  However, even without America’s freedom, I believe there would have eventually been a revolution in each of these regions of the world.  Tensions can only last for so long until they need to be exercised.  

Latin America


Last Update: 10 May 2000
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