Category Archives: nationalism

Elite Unity of Portugal and Brazil

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 208-209:

It was generally recognized in Portugal that Brazil was the engine of the imperial economy. Though Portugal might have reversed her trade deficit with Britain, it was only because she was herself in chronic deficit with her largest colony. The imbalance, however, did not lead to political frustration in Brazil. The Portuguese had been conspicuously successful in creating a unitary sense of empire in which the colonial élites could strongly identify with the mother country. In contrast to Spanish America, there was no great resentment against peninsular Portuguese: there existed little by way of a separate Brazilian culture for the élite; the involvement of sugar planters in the export-economy made for a common interest with Portuguese merchants, slave-traders and royal officials; finally, the massive presence of Africans and mulattos reinforced the identification of white Brazilians with their European cousins (family ties were, indeed, close).

The political value of this unitary sense of empire was well understood by Portuguese statesmen. Pombal, for instance, was careful not to alienate the Brazilian élites by his reforms. Posts in the bureaucracy and in the newly founded militias were open to Brazilians; local oligarchies were allowed to invest in the monopoly companies; the introduction of new crops into hitherto unsettled areas and the general expansion and liberalization of trade were designed to favour American as much as European Portuguese. Even the expulsion of the Jesuits, who had always opposed the white settlers’ Indian slaving and occupation of native lands, met with Brazilian approval – the large, well-managed estates of the Jesuits, as well as the Indian labour released by the destruction of the missions, provided excellent economic opportunities for wealthy merchants and planters. Brazil was considered to be fully a part of Portugal, even though it happened to be situated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean; so much so, that the possibility of transferring the imperial court to Brazil in a time of peril had been mooted in Lisbon as early as the middle of the seventeenth century.

The American and French revolutions were to plunge all of Europe, Portugal included, into ideological and military turmoil.

Leave a comment

Filed under Brazil, economics, education, industry, labor, migration, nationalism, Portugal, slavery

Status Seekers in Spanish Colonies

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 135-136:

By the very nature of its foundation, Spanish American society was seigneurial and status-ridden, yet it lacked the means effectively to institutionalize differences in social status. The creole élites had to fall back on less well-defined symbols of status – landed wealth, racial purity and reputation. The standing conferred by landownership can be appreciated by the fact that merchants and mine-owners, once they became sufficiently wealthy, would invariably purchase a hacienda in order to acquire social prestige. This applied also to officials in Crown service. Yet, as we have seen, haciendas were not financially secure enterprises, and so whatever nobility a landed estate conferred could be lost through financial ruin.

A white skin was an indispensable qualification for nobility, for any taint of Indian or African blood would just as surely diminish a creole’s status as suspicion of Jewish ancestry compromised the nobility of a peninsular Spaniard’s lineage. Medieval Spanish concepts of ‘purity of blood’ were thus transferred to the Indies, but given new meaning in a markedly different racial environment: whiteness distinguished those who belonged to the race of the conquerors from the conquered or the enslaved. Hence the obsessive interest shown by American Spaniards in classifying and ranking the various permutations of race (see below). But even racial purity was an unreliable guide to social eminence, for by the late seventeenth century miscegenation had become so widespread that very few families of hacendados were totally free of mixed blood. Since whiteness was no longer a sufficient criterion of superiority, it had to be supplemented, or the lack of it compensated for, by other symbols of social quality – the most powerful of which was the pedigree or reputation of a family.

The surest source of reputation was mando, the power to command subordinates and bestow favours on clients: it was the closest a socially eminent creole could come to the condition of the European aristocrat who had rights of jurisdiction over vassals. Mando was necessarily more diffuse and could be exercised in different spheres. Thus, the higher clergy, the great mine-owners and the very wealthy transatlantic merchants possessed mando and could belong to the upper class. The hacienda, in a sense, was an accessory of mando, not its source; it was the theatre in which a man of authority, whatever the origins of his wealth, could represent to others the extent of this authority in the number of his dependants, clients, retainers, servants and workers. Because it lacked the true stamp of royal approval, nobility in the Indies was highly gestural and charismatic – a matter of striking the right attitudes through lavish acts of generosity, disinterested hospitality, conspicuous consumption or displays of gallantry and honour. Thus the ‘non-economic’ behaviour of the creole upper class – taking out a large mortgage for no other purpose than to endow a chapel, say – was no arbitrary indulgence, but a social performance whose object was to advertise social rank.

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, economics, education, Latin America, migration, nationalism, religion, Spain

Reshaping Catholicism in Spanish Colonies

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 101-102:

In summary, the Christianization of the American Indians was highly uneven. Difficult though it is to gauge the depth and quality of religious experience, the overall result of the heroic endeavours of these quite small bands of Spanish missionaries was a syncretism of Catholicism and Indian beliefs for large numbers of natives: beneath the externals of Catholic practice there often persisted an attachment to pagan rites and beliefs. Nevertheless, the balance between paganism and Christianity varied widely from one region to the next, and even between individuals no doubt. Sometimes pagan survivals might endure as little more than popular superstitions or dabblings in magic and sorcery, much as they did in remote parts of rural Spain or Ireland. In the Andes, on the other hand, the residue of pagan beliefs was far more evident and, in many secluded regions of America, pagan cultures survived virtually intact.

Still, there is no doubt that Catholic rites and devotions were observed in the vast majority of Indian settlements throughout the principal areas of Spanish rule. What is more, the sacramental character of Catholic belief, the cult of the Virgin and of the saints, the ritual of the Catholic liturgy, the opulence and splendour of religious architecture, art and music, undoubtedly appealed to the Indians and served to transmute pagan religious feeling into new Christian forms. A remarkable example of this is the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe among the Indians of Mexico. The church that commemorates the appearance of the Virgin to the Indian peasant Juan Diego in 1531 stands on the site of an Aztec shrine to the goddess Tonantzin, Mother of the Earth. Similarly, the practice of penitential self-flagellation among some Andean peoples may derive from kindred acts of expiation in their ancient religions.

The missionaries themselves evidently had reservations about the effectiveness of their campaign of evangelization. In Mexico, there were early attempts to train a native clergy, but these were abandoned by the 1560s, and, thereafter, Indians were deemed unfit for the priesthood. Despite some efforts by the authorities in Rome in the early seventeenth century to encourage the recruitment of Indians, the clergy of the Indies remained white until well into the eighteenth century. Mestizos were also excluded from holy orders, ostensibly because of their illegitimacy – though there was clearly an element of racial prejudice, for the situation did not improve even after a papal dispensation for illegitimate mestizos was granted in 1576.

The result was that the Church remained a Hispanic and colonial institution and, for all their dedication to the Indians and their defence of native rights against the settlers, the missionary orders never relinquished a tutelary and paternalistic attitude towards the native peoples.

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, education, Latin America, migration, nationalism, religion, Spain

American Elites vs. Masses under Spanish Rule

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 85-87:

In the course of the Spanish Conquest and the decades immediately following it, the imperial structures of the Aztecs and the Incas were destroyed, their royal families and imperial nobility deprived of their power. It was this native ruling aristocracy which had most reason to lament the passing of the old order, and the expressions of their nostalgia and sorrow have come down to us in writings which have all too often been taken as representative of the generality of Indians.

Once the Spaniards had got the upper hand, the Indian aristocracy faced the choice of either collaborating with their conquerors or organizing rebellions in order to recover their former power. As we have seen, the young prince Manco Inca in Peru at first chose collaboration in the hope of outmanœuvring dynastic rivals for the imperial title, but later decided to rebel against the Spaniards once he realized that the conquistadors had no intention of quitting the country. Even in later generations it was possible for aristocratic collaborators to change their minds and attempt to rebel against Spanish power. This type of resistance was élitist and dynastic, having little to do with the defence of the mass of Indians. But dispossession was not, in fact, the fate of the Aztec and Inca nobles; so long as they accepted Spanish sovereignty, they were allowed to retain their aristocratic status in post-Conquest society: they were awarded lands and encomiendas by the Spanish monarch, and their children were educated in schools for nobles, such as the college at Tlatelolco in Mexico and those of Huancayo and Cuzco in Peru.

There were Indian kingdoms which actually formed alliances with the Spanish invaders against their historic enemies. In Mexico the most famous example is that of the Tlaxcalans, who attacked Tenochtitlán and helped Cortés raze the city to the ground; in Peru the support of the Huanca people was crucial to Pizarro’s defeat of the Incas. ‘Such alliances expressed the internal contradictions and discontents that plagued Aztec and Inca rule, and the failure of these empires to eradicate the independent military potential of resentful ethnic kingdoms.’ Even after the Spanish Conquest had been completed, numerous ethnic kingdoms and tribes decided to collaborate with the new masters in order to seek advantage against rivals, regain lost territory or rid themselves of domination by hated enemies. The crumbling of the pre-Hispanic empires had the effect, therefore, of devolving identity and autonomy to subjugated ethnic kingdoms, and of revitalizing the authority of ethnic chieftains. It was this class of chiefs, called pipiltin in Mexico and curacas in Peru, that dealt with the Spaniards and organized their own people to offer tribute and labour services to the Spanish encomenderos.

Within these Indian kingdoms and communities, traditional life went on much as before, and, having accepted the new masters, it made sense also to accept their religion. Even so, relations with the Spaniards were unstable in the aftermath of the Conquest. If a kingdom or tribe came to believe that its interests were no longer being served by alliance with the Spaniards, it might attempt to resist them or even rebel. In Peru during the 1560s the most radical of these rebellions was that of the millenarian movement called Taki Onqoy in the region of Huamanga, where many tribes previously loyal to the Spaniards turned against them in reaction to excessive labour demands, and called for the outright rejection of Spanish law and religion, appealing to their gods to help them expel the invaders.

Yet even though the basic structures of Indian life at the communal and tribal levels remained largely unchanged by the Conquest, none the less many villages, crops and individual lives were destroyed in the course of the wars (in Peru, it must be remembered, a bitter civil war had been raging for several years before the Spaniards arrived). There is no doubt that large numbers of Indians suffered torture and rape at the hands of the conquistadors. Labour for the encomenderos must often, though not always, have been harsh and exploitative, since many Spaniards were not interested in settling down but simply wanted to extract as much wealth as possible from the Indies before returning to Spain. The Conquest also disrupted communities; many Indians took to wandering the countryside as vagabonds or fled the Spaniards to hide in the wilderness. This kind of dislocation was particularly common in Peru, where the mitmaq system, based on ‘vertical archipelagos’ or outlying colonies, partially broke down, leaving many colonists cut off from their tribal homelands. One option for such displaced individuals was to enter the service of Spaniards as part of that class of commoner called naborías in Mexico and yanaconas in Peru – detribalized Indians who used to serve as personal retainers to the Aztec and Inca aristocracies and whom the Spaniards also employed.

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, economics, labor, Latin America, migration, military, nationalism, slavery, Spain

Origins of Portugal’s Empire

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 70-72:

Portugal’s experience of the Reconquest and her Iberian cultural heritage made her share many characteristics with her neighbour Castile, their cognate histories frequently crossing and overlapping with each other. As in the case of Castile, the centuries of fighting against the Muslims produced a society in which religion had a crusading quality and was closely associated with the national identity. The system of land tenure was similar to Castile’s: in the fertile, well-populated north, there were a large number of smallholders and tenant farmers; in the south the latifundium and a seigneurial regime predominated.

The Portuguese were not particularly given to seafaring. Though fishing was significant, most of the population were actually peasants who worked the land. Still, Portuguese society was motivated by aristocratic and military values, and, with its reconquest concluded some two centuries before Castile’s, Portugal’s quest for glory and riches was carried abroad to North Africa and into the Atlantic, where the spirit of adventure of a small minority was to lead to remarkable feats of maritime exploration and empire-building. Exploits overseas, however, went hand in hand with commerce, stimulated by the presence of considerable numbers of Genoese merchants and mariners who had settled along the coast, and especially in Lisbon, which was by far the most populous city.

The Portuguese monarchy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was constantly under threat from ambitious nobles, from a powerful Church, and, not least, from dynastic quarrels in which the hand of Castile was invariably suspected, and with good reason. Relations with Spain would remain ambivalent: the larger neighbour exerted a very powerful influence on culture as well as politics, but there would always exist forces of repulsion, and Portuguese foreign policy was chiefly concerned with maintaining national independence from Castile. Portugal’s long association with England – starting as a trading relationship in the twelfth century and periodically formalized by a series of treaties – stemmed from the need for a strong ally to counterbalance the perennial threat of incorporation by Spain.

A turning-point came in 1385 at the battle of Aljubarrota, when a new king, John of Aviz, nominated by the Portuguese Cortes and aided by English allies, won a victory against Castile and the Portuguese nobles. The long reign of John I (1385–1433) saw the development of a powerful monarchy capable of creating a stable nation state largely free from baronial challenges and galvanized by a renewal of the crusading spirit, though this was now directed towards Africa: the imperial phase of Portuguese history began with the taking of Ceuta in 1415. A few years later, John’s son, Prince Henry the Navigator, established a school of navigation at Sagres on the Algarve and became the patron of the voyages of exploration that would continue long after his death in 1460 and would eventually open Africa, India and the East to the Europeans.

The death of John I was followed by an interlude of aristocratic revolt and dynastic civil wars, the latter overlapping with the wars of succession which put Isabella on the Castilian throne. In Portugal, John II (1481–95) finally imposed order and proceeded, by a combination of murders and executions, to break the power of the nobility and confiscate much of its wealth. It was John II who finally created in Portugal an absolutist nation state resembling the Catholic monarchy of Spain, with the Church playing a crucial role in giving a monopoly of legitimacy to the unifying authority of the Crown.

For eighty years after John’s death, Portugal’s Catholic monarchy supervised the building of one of the most far-flung empires ever to have been created by Europeans: in 1487 the Cape of Good Hope was rounded by Bartholomew Dias; by 1498 Vasco da Gama had reached India; the year 1500 saw another Portuguese expedition discover a land that would eventually become Brazil; in the course of the sixteenth century the Portuguese established bases and factories in Ceylon, Malacca and the Spice Islands of the Indonesian archipelago; by the 1570s they had won a monopoly of the lucrative trade between China and Japan from a base established at Macao on the Chinese mainland in 1557.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Asia, economics, England, migration, military, nationalism, Portugal, religion, Spain, war

Similarities of Native American and Iberian Empires

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 75-76:

What occurred in the sixteenth century was not so much the discovery of a New World as the meeting of two branches of humanity which had previously been unknown to each other. For the Indians of America, who had lived a completely isolated existence, the encounter with aliens was inherently traumatic. The European invasions brought much that was radically new in the realm of ideas and values, in agricultural methods, including new crops and animals, in technology, with the introduction of the wheel, iron, guns, ships, tools, and in the economy, where the use of money, profit-making and trade were far more developed than in Indian societies. All these innovations would change and also disrupt the Indian world.

Even so, in the imperial areas of Middle America and the Andes the break with tradition was not total. In the first place, Indians and Iberians had comparable ideas of political sovereignty: the Catholic monarchs of the Iberian kingdoms derived their legitimacy and absolute authority from a divine source, as did the rulers of the Aztecs and the Incas. In both the European and the Amerindian imperial states the religious establishment was closely involved in the business of government; a priestly caste or a Church hierarchy buttressed the state and received numerous privileges, land and tribute from the people. Both kinds of society were seigneurial: Indian nobles, like their Iberian counterparts, owned large estates worked by tribute-paying peasants; they also headed large households composed of extended families or kinship groups, as well as numerous dependants and servants. Relations within these households and between noble clans replicated the reciprocal relationship between the monarch and his people, based as it was on patriarchy and patronage – a man of power would bestow favours in return for the loyalty of his clients and subordinates. Aristocrats valued honour and glory derived from military exploits, for in America as in Iberia there was long experience of conquering and subjugating alien kingdoms. Indeed, James Lockhart and Stuart Schwartz have remarked on the extent to which the expectations of indigenous Americans ‘matched those of the Iberians, whose conquest lore also included notions of tribute imposition, change of religion and allegiance, and manipulation of local rulers, together with at least provisional local autonomy.’

These two worlds – Renaissance Europe and Indian America – met and clashed in the sixteenth century. The consequences of that encounter were manifold and extremely diverse, and, for reasons not wholly attributable to the Iberians, they were destructive for large numbers of Indians. Nevertheless, it has become clear that there existed sufficient political and social similarities between the two worlds, at least in Middle America and in the central Andes, for there to have occurred a fairly rapid process of restructuring and hybridization after the conquest had been completed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bolivia, Chile, democracy, Ecuador, Mexico, migration, nationalism, Peru, Portugal, religion, Spain

The Inca Vertical Archipelago

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 48-49, 50-51:

In less than a hundred years the Incas had built the most formidable empire in the Western Hemisphere. Like that of the Aztecs, their dominion was characterized essentially by the levying of tribute from scores of subject kingdoms and tribes. But the Incas went much further than the Aztecs in developing a centralized bureaucratic state at the service of a supreme ruling class. In this the physical peculiarities of the Andean region were directly influential.

The geography of the area covered by the Inca empire is marked by great contrasts of climate and terrain. Ascending from the rainless deserts of the coast to the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, one passes through sharply varying ecological environments. On the coast, agriculture is possible only in the vicinity of rivers or on land under irrigation; fishing has therefore always been important. In the highlands, altitude determines the kind of crops that can be produced; for instance, maize will grow well up to 11,000 feet, while at higher levels tubers and grains can be cultivated. In the cold, windswept puna – steppe-like grasslands just below the snow-line – no agriculture is possible, though pasture is available for the llamas, vicuñas and other ruminants that provide meat and wool. Each level forms an ‘ecological tier’ yielding a particular range of produce, and yet there is not enough fertile land on any one tier to sustain a large population. Over the centuries Andean societies developed a way of overcoming this problem by sending out settlers to cultivate crops at different altitudes in order to complement the produce of their native territories. Andean societies were not therefore territorially integrated units, but took rather the form of ‘vertical archipelagos’ comprising the ancestral homeland – which provided the core of tribal identity – and outlying agrarian settlements on a number of ecological tiers specializing in various types of produce for distribution and exchange among the dispersed branches of the tribe. Geography thus produced a unique economic structure, which, in turn, determined social values and practices. Where fertile land, being scarce, needed to be so carefully husbanded, it is little wonder that its distribution had to be closely regulated by the community and that a spirit of co-operation should be so highly prized among members of the tribe. As a result, the two ruling principles of Andean tribal society were redistribution and reciprocity.

As a direct descendant of the Sun God, the supreme Inca was an absolute ruler possessed of an awesome majesty. Just as the sun sustained all living things in the natural world, so the Inca was responsible for the well-being of the social order. In return for his dispensation of justice, his subjects would offer up to him their tribute and labour services. The Inca state, in effect, drew upon elementary tribal relations of reciprocity and mutual aid, and converted them into a sophisticated system of ideological control based upon a relationship between the royal patron and his clients which was not essentially different from that which existed between a contemporary European monarch and his subjects. What many modern writers have seen as unique ‘socialist’ or ‘welfare state’ features of the Inca empire were in reality manifestations of royal patronage. Thus, for instance, the Inca would allow his peasants to graze their animals on common lands as a reward for their labour services on his personal estates. The bulk of the tribute-goods collected from the peasants would go towards provisioning the army, the bureaucracy and other branches of the imperial state, but a portion was kept back in storehouses and released in times of famine by the generosity of the Inca in order to relieve the hunger of the masses. Similarly, the Inca would redistribute some of the tribute to provide for the old and the sick. In the view of Nathan Wachtel, ‘the peasants felt therefore that they shared in the consumption of the produce they delivered as tribute’, though it may be as well to recall that this form of reciprocity rested on the ideological exploitation of peasant labour. Certainly, there was a sharp divide between the hard grind of a peasant’s life in the villages and the leisured circumstances of the Inca nobility and of the curacas (tribal lords) who had been co-opted into the imperial ruling class. These aristocrats – called orejones or ‘big ears’ by the Spaniards because of their custom of distending their ear-lobes with gold discs – possessed private estates and material wealth which they would display as a sign of their power. In addition to the finery of their costume and the delicacy of their diet, they were allowed to practise polygamy and concubinage, and to chew the narcotic coca leaf. These special liberties were strictly forbidden to commoners, for, like all aristocratic societies, the Incas were obsessed with status, and perhaps more than most, the Incas succeeded in using religion to justify social privilege.

Inca religion was very much a family affair, since the supreme Inca and his kin possessed the sacred aura of divine descent. This was another example of the Incas’ conversion of tribal customs into the tools of imperialism.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bolivia, Chile, democracy, economics, Ecuador, labor, migration, military, nationalism, Peru, religion

Aztec Religious Imperialism

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 44-45:

The basis of Aztec dominion was the levying of tribute in the form of goods and labour from tribes defeated in battle. Territory was also expropriated and distributed as private estates to deserving Aztec nobles. To maintain their hegemony, the Aztecs planted colonies in conquered lands and supported these with Aztec garrisons. Tribute-collectors would bring back an abundance of goods to Tenochtitlán, not just staples such as maize or beans but also luxuries and trappings of status that the Aztec aristocracy craved – objects of jade and gold, precious stones, quetzal feathers and jaguar skins. Indeed, Aztec conquests were motivated as much by religious and cultural factors as by purely economic needs. Defeated tribes were forced to add the Aztec deities to their pantheon and to adopt the Nahuatl tongue. A major reason for waging war was the taking of prisoners to be sacrificed upon the altars of the great pyramid at Tenochtitlán. The Aztec gods stimulated belligerence by their unceasing demand for human blood, and it is possible that the purpose of the continual ‘wars of flowers’ against the neighbouring Tlaxcalans was to ensure a steady supply of sacrificial victims rather than conquest as such.

The Aztec nobility were able to live in great luxury by adapting the traditional customs and institutions of Middle American tribal culture to their own advantage. The most effective of these adaptations was in the field of myth and religion, for it was religion that underpinned the unquestionable authority of the Aztec emperor or tlatoani (‘he who speaks’), and provided the rationale for conquest and the imposition of tribute. Religion was a particularly effective tool of imperialism because much of the Aztec religion was common to other peoples of Middle America, all of whom could trace their heritage to the Toltecs, the true founders of Nahuatl civilization. Once the Aztecs had started on their imperial expansion, they took pride in styling themselves the heirs of the Toltecs, a claim which served to give their rule a sacred justification.

Leave a comment

Filed under economics, language, Mexico, migration, military, nationalism, religion

Post-Bolivarian Blues in Latin America

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 409-410:

No one knew more than Bolívar how imperfect the work had been. Independence had been achieved—enlightened forms of government considered—and yet the victors had emerged with no singleness of purpose, no spirit of collegiality. Warlords still wanted to rule their little fiefdoms, their undersized dreams a match for undersized abilities. It was as true in Bolivia as it was in Venezuela: Notions of a larger union seemed pompous, foreign, vaguely threatening. The colonies were dead, but the colonial mentality was very much alive. The new republics were as insular and xenophobic as Spain had encouraged its American satellites to be. Venezuelans saw Peruvians as arrogant royalists. Coastal dwellers saw mountain dwellers as benighted Indians. Southerners saw northerners as outlandish Negroes. “Goodbye, sambo!” someone yelled as General Sucre pulled out of La Paz. No one seemed to want the dream of an amalgamated America.

The cost of liberty, as Bolívar well knew, had been staggering—far more so than in the United States. Vast, populated regions of Latin America had been devastated. A revolution begun by polite society on the assumption that its wins would be painless had become mired in two decades of catastrophic losses, rivaling in carnage the twentieth century’s more heavily armed conflicts. Populations had been cut in half. Regional economies had come to a rumbling halt. Indeed, the republics Bolívar had liberated were far worse off economically than they had been under the Spaniards; whole provinces had been laid waste. Silver mines had been abandoned; farmlands burned to ash, textile production stopped cold. The chance for a new America to create a robust, interregional market had been lost to squabbling border struggles. Although indigenous and black generals appeared in the army for the first time—a phenomenon that would transform the face of South America—the great masses of Indians and blacks were no better off after the revolution. For a long while, they would be far worse off than they had been under Spain’s oppressive laws. Slavery, which Bolívar had worked hard to eradicate, had been supplanted by other forms of subjugation; Creoles had appropriated the Spanish rule. The Americas that were emerging under Bolívar’s horrified eyes were feudalistic, divisive, militaristic, racist, ruled by warlords who strove to keep the ignorant masses blinkered and under bigoted control. Eventually this would change. There is a vast difference, after all, between slavery and freedom; between opportunity and a shut door; between a ballot and totalitarian rule. But those fundamental transformations would take a century and a half to work through the continent. Latin America lay in financial and social ruin, its cities on the verge of anarchy. It was hardly the enlightened world the Liberator had envisioned.

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, economics, Latin America, migration, military, nationalism, Spain, war

Bolivar’s Constitution, 1826

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 350-351:

BOLÍVAR’S CONSTITUTION WAS A TESTAMENT to how the social realities of the continent had altered his liberating vision; it was a curious combination of deeply held republican principle and authoritarian rule. He had long feared the lawlessness that a hastily conceived democracy might bring. To hand power too quickly to illiterate masses was to snuff out what little order there was. He had once told a British diplomat in Lima, “If principles of liberty are too rapidly introduced, anarchy and a wholesale purge of whites will be the inevitable consequences.” In other words, he had granted all races equality, but he worried that in the process of institutionalizing it, the blacks and Indians would simply kill off the old aristocracy—the very class from which he hailed. It was exactly what had happened in Haiti. Bolívar’s new constitution meant to free the people, and yet, for their own good, keep them in a tight harness.

His constitution’s proposed division of powers—executive, legislative, judicial—was similar to that of the United States, although he added a fourth branch, a separate electoral college. The legislative branch was to be made up of senators, tribunes, and censors. Senators were to enact and guard the laws; tribunes would deal with money and war; censors would safeguard liberties. The government would offer the people a “moral” education in order to instill principles of civic responsibility. The constitution provided for freedoms of speech, press, work, and passage. It ensured citizens all the benefits of personal security, equality before the law, and a jury-based system of justice. It abolished slavery. It put an end to all social privilege. Up to this point, Bolívar’s constitution resembled—even improved on—its British and United States counterparts. Where it differed starkly was in its conditions for the presidency, and it was here that the document ran aground.

Bolívar had stipulated that the president be appointed for life. To him, presidential power was key; upon it would rest the entire Bolívarian concept of order. Although he claimed that he had rendered the position headless and harmless because a president would be powerless to appoint anyone to the legislative government or to the courts, there was no doubt that the presidency would be the most powerful institution in the land. A president’s influence would extend into perpetuity by virtue of his ability to choose a vice president, who would be his successor. Thus, Bolívar contended, “we shall avoid elections, which always result in that great scourge of republics, anarchy . . . the most imminent and terrible peril of popular government.” He had come a long way from his address to the congress of Angostura seven years before, in which he had roundly averred: “Regular elections are essential to popular government, for nothing is more perilous than to permit one citizen to retain power for an extended period.” In the course of taking his wars of liberation south, he had changed his mind entirely.

When the Bolivian constitution was complete, Bolívar sent that “ark of the covenant” off to Sucre in Bolivia, in a special mission led by his personal aide, Colonel Belford Wilson. Eager to promote its adoption in other republics, he had several editions printed and dispatched to Colombia by the very courier who had delivered Páez’s message begging him to become king. In Peru, his secretary of state made sure that every member of the electoral college had a copy. Bolívar’s constitution, in short, was to be distributed as widely as possible, throughout the Americas as well as strategic points in Europe. As his handiwork circulated, reactions were mixed. The English regarded it as an enlightened charter, generous in its promised liberties, but wise in its mitigation of a “mischievous excess of popular power.” In the United States, on the other hand, legislators were outraged by its provision for a president for life; Southern politicians were infuriated by its abolition of slavery. In South America, opinions were divided. In Chile and Argentina, it was received with moderate praise; in Colombia, it was trooped from town to town by a Venezuelan known to have urged Bolívar to the throne, and so it was no surprise that it was seen as a prologue to monarchy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, democracy, Latin America, nationalism, philosophy, U.S.