Home Country Hegemony in Spain’s Colonies

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 18-20:

AS DON JUAN VICENTE [Bolivar, Simon’s father] SETTLED into his new life, he began to be alarmed by Spain’s dominion over it. For fifty years he had been a loyal subject of the king, a trusted judge, governor, and military commander, but by 1776, just as the British colonies declared their independence, Don Juan, too, was dreaming of insurrection. He had good reason to. Spain’s Bourbon regime, which had high ambitions, had decided to impose a strict rule over its colonies. It put into place a number of anti-Creole laws that had a direct effect on Don Juan Vicente’s businesses. First, Venezuela was separated from the viceroyalty of New Granada, a sprawling region that originally reached from the Pacific to the Atlantic over the northern territories of South America; next, an intendant was installed in Caracas to administer economic affairs, and a captain-general to rule over political and military matters. With a direct umbilical to Madrid now, Venezuela began to suffer tighter restrictions on its ranches, mines, and plantations. The Council of the Indies, which governed the Americas from Madrid and Seville, strengthened its hold. Taxes were increased. A ubiquitous imperial presence was felt in all transactions. The Guipuzcoana Company, a powerful Basque corporation that monopolized imports and exports, was reaping great profits on every sale.

If Don Juan Vicente feared the impact of these new regulations, he saw that the blow would be more than financial. Creoles were being squeezed out of government roles. Throughout the Spanish Americas, from California to Buenos Aires, Spain began appointing only peninsulares—those born in Spain or the Canary Islands—to offices that decided important affairs. This was a sweeping, ultimately radicalizing change, reversing a culture of trust between Creoles and Spaniards that had been nurtured for more than two hundred years. In Italy, an exiled Peruvian Jesuit priest, Juan Pablo Viscardo y Guzmán, wrote angrily that it was tantamount to declaring Americans “incapable of filling, even in our own countries, places which, in the strictest right, belong to us.”

The most infuriating aspect of this for Creoles such as Don Juan Vicente was that the peninsulares being assigned the highest positions were often inferior in education and pedigree. This was similar to a sentiment held for years in British America. Both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin had registered strong objections to preferences given to British-born subjects when it was clear that the American-born were far more skilled. In the Spanish colonies, the new emissaries of the crown were largely members of Spain’s middle class: merchants or midlevel functionaries with little sophistication. As they took over the most coveted seats of power, their inadequacies were not lost on Creoles who now had to step aside. In Spain, not everyone was blind to the implications. A Bourbon minister mused that colonial subjects in the Indies might have learned to live without freedoms, but once they acquired them as a right, they weren’t going to stand by idly as they were taken away. Whether or not the court in Madrid understood the ramifications, Spain had drawn a line in the sand. Its colonial strategy shifted from consensus to confrontation, from collaboration to coercion; and to ensure its grip on the enormous wealth that America represented, it put a firm clamp on its laws.

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Filed under Britain, democracy, economics, education, industry, labor, Latin America, migration, military, nationalism, Spain, U.S.

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