The Consolidation of Latin America, 1830-1920
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-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 1825.