Decolonization Series: Latin America

Latin America

Which countries constitute Latin America?

  • The term ‘Latin America’ is used to refer to the states which are situated to the south of the United States. Brazil is the only Portuguese speaking state in Latin America. All others speak Spanish.


Who Colonized which state in Latin America?

  • Mexico: Colonized by Spain. Hernando Cortez, a Spanish Explorer conquered Aztecs in Mexico, in 1921, and established the Mexico City. In 1526, Francisco de Montejo further added some more territories to the Spanish colony in Spain.
  • Brazil: Brazil was discovered by Pedro Alvarez de Cabral in 1500. It became the only Portuguese colony in South America with large Mulatto population (mixed black and white ancestry) and some expatriates- Africans, Europeans, Asians. The Portuguese rulers developed Brazil as their colony from 1530, and brought African slaves to improve agriculture.
  • Chile: Chile was colonized by the Spaniards in the 16th They settled in Santiago and made it their capital.
  • Argentina: Argentina is the second largest state of South America, after Brazil. It came under the Spanish rule in the 16th
  • Cuba: Cuba was discovered by Columbus in 1492 and was subsequently settled by Spaniards. The natives were employed by the Spaniards to work in sugar plantations under harsh conditions. They hated the Spanish rule.
  • Columbia: Discovered by Columbus. Colonized by Spain

US interference

  • After the American civil war, the Americans believed that their country was destined to grow beyond the pacific seaboard.
  • They called it the “manifest destiny”.
  • American industrialists needed raw materials and markets for their industrial goods.
  • It compelled the American policy makers to acquire more territories.
  • The American government also felt that European countries frequently interfered in the internal affairs of Latin American states.
  • In 1823, Monroe (Monroe Doctrine) had issued a warning to the European countries not to interfere in the affairs of Latin American states.
  • But in course of time, the “Big Brother” himself started taking too much interest in their internal affairs.

The Monroe Doctrine

  • As the revolutionary Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) ended, Prussia, Austria, and Russia formed the Holy Alliance to defend monarchism.
  • The Holy Alliance authorized military incursions to re-establish Bourbon rule over Spain and its colonies, which were establishing their independence.
  • The U.S. government feared the victorious European powers that emerged from the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815) would revive the monarchical government.
  • France had already agreed to restore the Spanish Monarchy in exchange for Cuba.
  • James Munroe served as the fifth President of the United States from 1817 to 1825.
  • The Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas beginning in 1823.
  • It stated that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”
  • At the same time, the doctrine noted that the U.S. would recognize and not interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries.
  • The Doctrine was issued on December 2, 1823 at a time when nearly all Latin American colonies of Spain and Portugal had achieved, or were at the point of gaining, independence from the Portuguese and Spanish Empires.
  • So, Spain and Portugal practically lost all hopes of recovering their colonies.

Dollar imperialism

  • Dollar imperialism and dollar diplomacy became an integral part of American imperialism.
  • Mexico lost large tracts of territories after signing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo following the Mexican war.
  • The American businessmen developed great interest in the sugar plantations of Cuba.
  • After the Spanish-American war (1899), Spain lost Cuba, Philippines and few other islands to the US.
  • The US government intervened as a ‘big brother’ in the affairs of the Dominican states.
  • This frequent interference in the Latin American countries aroused suspicion about the intentions of the US government.
  • However, the US also played a positive role in maintaining friendly relations with the Latin American countries.
  • It invested money, encouraged growth of democracy, and helped the Latin American countries to introduce social and economic reforms.
  • American government provided funds not only for developing infrastructure (roads, bridges, canals and railways) but also for the mechanisation of industries.


Decolonization of Latin America

Causes of Revolts

  • There was no limit to the greed of Spanish and Portuguese colonisers.
  • The natives were forced to sell raw material and other goods at dirt cheap rates, and buy goods from their masters at a high cost.
  • The masters became rich by exploiting the mineral resources like gold, tin, silver, copper and oil, of their colonies.
  • The subjects were treated with unmitigated harshness by the Spanish and the Portuguese.
  • The natives were inspired by the American revolution, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Thus, they rose the banner of revolt.

 Course of Revolution

  • A series of rebellions broke out from Mexico down to Argentina.
  • The Spanish king sent his troops to the colonies to quell these revolts.
  • However, the troops failed in their mission.
  • The native revolutionaries drove them out of their colonies.
  • The Spanish king continued to send his troops to the colonies year after year with the hope of eventually recovering them.
  • Francisco De Miranda, a Venezuelan patriot, played the most prominent role in the liberation movement of his country.
  • He was caught by the Spaniards who imprisoned him in a dark cell.
  • In 1816, Miranda died a martyr to the cause of independence of his country.
  • His unfinished task was carried out by another great patriot, Simon Bolivar (1783-1830).
  • Bolivar fought the Spanish forces for nearly 15 years and finally achieved the independence of Venezuela.
  • Along with Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador and Panama also became free.

 Jose de San Martin

  • Jose de San Martin, a patriot of Argentina, led a revolutionary movement against the Spanish government.
  • He was joined by Simon Bolivar.
  • Martin was successful in liberating Chile.
  • He gained another victory over the Spanish which resulted in the liberation of his motherland, Argentina.
  • In a short time, the other Spanish colonies, Peru and Bolivia, were set free by Martin and Bolivar.
  • Father Hidalgo, a priest, led a national movement for the independence of
  • Most of his followers were simple peasants.
  • Although his struggle failed, and he was executed by Spanish authorities, his inspiring leadership was unforgettable. A couple of years later, the national movement gained momentum and the Spanish governor was expelled.
  • The Mexicans declared their state as a republic.
  • With the exception of a few islands in the Caribbean Sea, Spain lost all her colonies in South America.

 Simon Bolivar

  • Simon Bolivar was popularly known as the ‘Liberator’.
  • He belonged to an aristocratic family in Venezuela
  • He received western education from well-known teachers.
  • He joined a military school and got trained in the art of warfare.
  • Later in his life, he decided to liberate his country from the tyrannical rule the Spanish.
  • He joined the revolutionary movement in 1810, and helped to liberate Venezuela in 1811.
  • He became the second President of Venezuelan republic in 1813.
  • After a few years, the Spanish armed forces invaded Venezuela which compelled Bolivar to go into exile
  • He returned to Venezuela with 2500 soldiers in 1819. He took the Spanish by surprise and defeated them.
  • He became the President of the Gran Colombia (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama) from 1819 to 1830.
  • With the help of his friend, Antonio Sucre, he liberated Ecuador in 1822 .
  • Subsequently, he liberated Peru in 1824, thereby completing the mission of his illustrious contemporary, San Martin.
  • In 1825, the so called Upper Peru (now known as Bolivia) was liberated from Spanish rule with help of Antonio Sucre.
  • The people of Upper Peru renamed their country as Bolivia in the honour of Simon Bolivar.
  • Bolivar worked hard for bringing about the union of all liberated states from the Spanish rule in 1826.
  • But this task remained incomplete due to constant quarrels and rivalries among the leaders of these states.
  • He left the country disappointed, and on his way to Europe, died on 17th
  • December 1830.


Liberation of Brazil

  • With the extension of Napoleonic control over Portugal, the royal family fled the country and settled in Brazil.
  • So, Brazil became the headquarters of the Portuguese authority, and for quite some time, the Brazilians enjoyed many privileges.
  • However, after the Napoleonic defeat, the royal family left for Portugal and Brazil came to be treated as a colony.
  • It was this reversion of status that the Brazilians disliked because they lost all the privileges. Therefore, they rebelled.
  • The eldest son of the Portuguese king, Dom Pedro became the leader of the revolutionary struggle.
  • The Brazilians declared their independence and chose Dom Pedro as their emperor in 1822.
  • This empire continued till 1889, and in that year, the Brazilians established a Republic.


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