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Chapter 7: Aftermath of Independence
Keen, Benjamin (ed.)
Readings in Latin American Civilization. 1492 to the Present.
From Francisco Bilbao,
La América en peligro.
Santiago de Chile , 1941.
Dictators and revolutions
AFTER THE WINNING OF INDEPENDENCE Spanish America began a long uphill struggle to achieve
stable, democratic government. The new states lacked a strong middle class, experience in self-government,
and the other advantages with which the United States began their independent career. The result was an
age of violence, of alternate dictatorship and revolution. Its symbol was the caudillo, or "strong man," whose
power was always based on force, no matter what the constitutional form.
Whatever their methods, the caudillos generally displayed some regard for republican ideology and
institutions. Political parties, usually called Conservative and Liberal, were active in most of the new states.
Conservatism drew its main support from the landed aristocracy, the Church, and the military; liberalism
attracted the merchants and professional men of the towns. Regional conflicts often cut across the lines of
social cleavage, complicating the political picture.
As a rule the conservatives regarded with sympathy the social arrangements of the col nial era and favored a
highly centralized government; the liberals, inspired by the success of the United States, advocated a federal
form of government, guarantees of individual rights, lay control of education, and an end to special
privileges for the clergy and the military. Neither party displayed much interest in the problems of the
landless, debtridden peasantry that formed the majority of every nation.
After the middle of the nineteenth century a growing trade with Europe helped to stabilize political
conditions in Latin America. The new economic order demanded peace and continuity in government. Old
party lines dissolved as conservatives adopted the "positivist" dogma of science and progress, while liberals
abandoned their concern with constitutional methods and civil liberties in favor of an interest in material
prosperity. A new type of "progressive" caudillo--Diaz in Mexico, Nunez in Colombia, Guzman Blanco in
Venezuela--symbolized the politics of acquisition. The cycle of dictatorship and revolution continued in many
lands, but the revolutions became less frequent and devastating.
As the century drew to a close, in a number of countries dissatisfied middle-class and laboring groups
combined to form parties, called Radical or Democratic, that challenged the traditional domination of
political affairs by the landed aristocracy. But the significance of this movement, like that of the small
socialist groups that arose in Argentina and Chile in the 90's still lay in the future.
"There is no good faith in America," wrote Bolivar in 1829, "nor arnong the nations of America. Treaties are