How did military and political leaders of the independence and early

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How did military and political leaders of the independence and early postcolonial periods perceive the role of Indigenous and Black communities in the nation building process?

Essay 1: Nineteenth Century Social and Cultural Histories
Due: Friday, March 18 by 5:00 pm via Moodle upload
Friendly reminder: Paper deadlines have a 48-hour grace period so you can submit up to 5:00 pm on Sunday,
March 20 without penalty. Review late paper policies on the syllabus.

Choose ONE of the following options:

1. Social Relations

How did military and political leaders of the independence and early postcolonial periods perceive the role of
Indigenous and Black communities in the nation building process?

2. Cultural Representation

How did travel writers and novelists of the independence and early postcolonial periods represent gender, race
and/or class in everyday life?

o 5 pages typed and double spaced, 12-point font
o 1250 words minimum, 1500 words maximum

o Define your paper topic, central thesis, and supporting arguments with precision: Who are your

subjects? What are your subtopics? What is your periodization? What are your key analytical

o Organize your thoughts logically and systematically around subarguments that support the central

o Engage both primary and secondary sources rigorously to provide sufficient context and evidence
for your analysis

o Be attentive to various periods within the nineteenth century in order to identify change, or lack of
it, and to avoid generalizations

o Use the Writing Checklist posted on Moodle to develop your writing and proofread your essay

o A selection of at least 4 primary sources in chapters 3-5 of LAV (A Taste of Independence,
Creating National Identities, The Perils of Progress)

o Relevant contextual information in chapters 4-6 BBF (Independence, Postcolonial Blues,

o lecture and discussion notes
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B o r n

B l o o d
& F i r e

01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 1 13/06/16 10:49 AM

books by john charles chasteen:
Getting High: Marijuana through the Ages

Americanos: Latin America’s Struggle for In de pen dence

Heroes on Horse back: A Life and Times of the Last Gaucho Caudillos

National Rhythms, African Roots: The Deep History of Latin American Pop u lar Dance

Translations by john charles chasteen:
The Alienist and Other Stories of Nineteenth-Century Brazil by

joaquim Machado de Assis

Juan Moreira: True Crime in Ninteenth-Century Argentina by Eduardo Gutiérrez

The Contemporary History of Latin America by Tulio Halperín Donghi

The Lettered City by Angel Rama

The Mystery of Samba: Pop u lar Music and National Identity in Brazil

by Hermano Vianna

Santa: A Novel of Mexico City by Federico Gamboa

01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 2 13/06/16 10:49 AM

B o r n

B l o o d
& F i r e

A C o n C i s e H i s t o r y o f L At i n A m e r i C A

J o h n C h a r l e s C h a s t e e n

U n i v e r s i t y o f n o r t h C a r o l i n a

a t C h a p e l h i l l

W . W . n o r t o n & C o m p A n y

n e W y o r k • L o n d o n

F o u r t h E d i t i o n

01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 3 13/06/16 10:49 AM

W. W. Norton & company has been in de pen dent since its founding in 1923, when
William Warder Norton and Mary D. Herter Norton first published lectures deliv-
ered at the People’s Institute, the adult education division of New York city’s cooper
Union. The firm soon expanded its program beyond the Institute, publishing books
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its employees, and today— with a staff of four hundred and a comparable number of
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stands as the largest and oldest publishing house owned wholly by its employees.

copyright © 2016, 2011, 2006, 2001 by W. W. Norton & company, Inc.

All rights reserved
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Library of congress cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: chasteen, john charles, 1955- author.
Title: born in blood and fire : a concise history of Latin America /
john charles chasteen.
Description: Fourth edition. | New York : W.W. Norton & company, 2016. |
Includes index.
Identifiers: LccN 2016014210 | ISbN 9780393283051 (pbk.)
Subjects: LcSH: Latin America–History.
classification: Lcc F1410 .c4397 2016 | DDc 980–dc23 Lc record available at

ISbN 978-0-393-28305-1 (pbk.)

W. W. Norton & company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10110

W. W. Norton & company Ltd., castle House, 75/76 Wells Street, London

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 4 13/06/16 10:49 AM

To my grandchildren,

Maya and Sam Ackerman,

now discovering their own Latin American roots

01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 5 13/06/16 10:49 AM

V i

m A ps … ix

ACknoW Ledgmen ts … xi

time Line … xii

1 W eLCome to L Atin A meriCA … 1
Not Your Father’s Version … 4
Old Thinking on Latin America … 11

2 enCoun ter … 17
Patterns of Indigenous Life … 18
Origins of a crusading Mentality … 22
The brazilian counterexample … 29
Africa and the Slave Trade … 34
The Fall of the Aztec and Inca Empires … 38
The birth of Spanish America … 43
Countercurrents: Friar bartolomé de las casas … 50

3 CoLoni A L CruCibLe … 55
colonial Economics … 56
A Power called Hegemony … 62
A Process called Transculturation … 68
The Fringes of colonization … 75
Late colonial Transformations … 82
Countercurrents: colonial Rebellions … 91

4 in de pen denCe … 95
Revolution and War in Eu rope … 97
The Spanish American Rebellions begin, 1810– 15 … 101
The Patriots’ Winning Strategy: Nativism … 107
Patriot Victories in Spanish America, 1815– 25 … 112
Unfinished Revolutions … 115
Countercurrents: The Gaze of Outsiders … 122

C o n T e n T S

01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 6 13/06/16 10:49 AM

V i i

5 postCoLoni A L bLues … 127
Liberal Disappointment … 128
Patronage Politics and caudillo Leadership … 132
brazil’s Different Path … 139
continuities in Daily Life … 143
Countercurrents: The Power of Outsiders … 156

6 progress … 161
Mexico’s Liberal Reform … 165
Other countries join the Liberal Trend … 171
The Limits of Progress for Women … 174
Models of Progress … 178
Countercurrents: International Wars … 189

A tour of L Atin A meriCA … m-2

7 neo Co Lo ni A L ism … 193
The Great Export boom … 194
Authoritarian Rule: Oligarchies and Dictatorships … 206
Links with the Outside World … 213
Countercurrents: New Immigration to Latin America … 227

8 nAtionA Lism … 233
Nationalists Take Power … 239
ISI and Activist Governments of the 1930s … 249
Countercurrents: Populist Leaders of the Twentieth

century … 263

9 reVoLu tion … 267
Post–World War II Pop u lism … 269
Onset of the cold War … 275
The cuban Revolution … 282
Countercurrents: Liberation Theology … 293

C o n t e n t s

01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 7 13/06/16 10:49 AM

V i i i

10 re ACtion … 297
National Security Doctrine … 298
Military Rule … 303
Dictatorship Almost Everywhere … 309
The Last cold War battles: central America … 314
Countercurrents: La Violencia, Pablo Escobar, and

colombia’s Long Torment … 324

11 neoLiber A Lism A nd beyond … 329

gLossA ry … A 1

f urtHer ACknoW Ledgmen ts … A 25

index … A 27

C o n t e n t s

01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 8 13/06/16 10:49 AM

i x

Modern Latin America … 13

African and Iberian background … 27

Indigenous Groups and Iberian Invasions … 37

Original Areas of colonization, 1500– 1700 … 60

colonial Administrative Divisions … 83

campaigns of In de pen dence Wars … 114

New Nations of Latin America, 1811– 39 … 141

Mexico and the US border before 1848 … 156

Liberals vs. conservatives at Midcentury … 166

Paraguay in Two Wars … 189

chilean Gains in the War of the Pacific … 191

Neo co lo nial Export Products … 204

Neo co lo nial Investments and Interventions … 217

Latin America in the cold War … 310

central America in the 1980s … 315

Neoliberal Economies … 333


01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 9 13/06/16 10:49 AM

01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 10 13/06/16 10:49 AM

x i

Ack now l e d gm e n ts

At least one hundred of my students at the University of North caro-
lina read this book before it was published. To them, my grateful
ac know ledg ment. Their enthusiasm encouraged me to keep it infor-
mal, vivid, and short. “I feel like this book wants me to understand it,”
said one of them.
When the first edition appeared, several professors and gradu-
ate students helpfully set me straight on factual errors. Much appreci-
ated! I also got, and still get, e-mails from undergraduate readers who
write just to say “I like your book.” Thanks for those e-mails. It’s really
your book.
And I can’t believe this is the fourth edition of it! The recent
past has shifted in my rearview mirror. Thanks to Phillip berryman
for helping me appreciate just how much has changed since I first
traveled to Mexico over forty years ago.

01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 11 13/06/16 10:49 AM

x i i

T i M e l i n e

m e x i C o b r A z i L A r g e n t i n A

E n c o u n t E r
1 4 9 2 – 1 6 0 0

the fully sedentary

Mexicas, who built the

aztec empire, were

conquered and their

empire was taken over

by the spaniards, but

Mexican blood still runs

in Mexican veins.

the semisedentary

tupi people of the

Brazilian forests were

destroyed and their

labor replaced by afri-

can slaves whom the

portuguese brought to

grow sugarcane.

the nonsedentary,

plains- dwelling

pampas people were

eventually wiped out.

Much later, eu ro pe an

immigrants took their

place on the land.

c o l o n i a l
c r u c i b l E
1 6 0 0 – 1 8 1 0

Because of its dense

indigenous population

and its rich silver mines,

Mexico (or much of it)

became a core area of

spanish colonization.

profitable sugar planta-

tions made the north-

eastern coast a core

area of portuguese

colonization, but much

of Brazil remained a

poorer fringe.

Most of argentina

remained on the fringe

of spanish coloniza-

tion until 1776, when

Buenos aires became

the capital of a new

spanish viceroyalty.

i n d E p E n d E n c E
1 8 1 0 – 1 8 2 5

the large peasant

uprisings led by hidalgo

and Morelos frightened

Mexican Creoles into a

conservative stance on

in de pen dence, which

they embraced only in


the portuguese royal

family’s presence kept

Brazil relatively quiet

as war raged else-

where. prince pedro

declared Brazilian

in de pen dence himself

in 1822.

Without massive popu-

lations of oppressed

indigenous people or

slaves to fear, Buenos

aires Creoles quickly

embraced the May

revolution (1810).

p o s t c o l o n i a l
b l u E s
1 8 2 5 – 1 8 5 0

the national govern-

ment was frequently

over thrown as liberals

and conservatives

struggled for control.

the career of the

caudillo santa anna

represents the turmoil.

the stormy reign of

pedro i (1822– 31) was

followed by the even

stormier regency

(1831– 40). But the

Brazilian empire

gained stability in

the 1840s as coffee

exports rose.

the conservative

dictator rosas

dominated Buenos

aires (and therefore,

much of argentina) for

most of these years,

exiling the liberal

oppo sition.

p r o g r E s s
1 8 5 0 – 1 8 8 0

the great liberal reform

of the 1850s provoked

the conservatives

to support a foreign

prince, Maximilian. the

liberals, led by Juárez,

emerged triumphant by

the late 1860s.

pedro ii (1840– 89)

cautiously promoted

liberal- style progress

while maintaining a

strongly hierarchical

system. Brazil ended

slavery only in 1888.

liberals took over

after the fall of rosas

(1852), but not until the

1860s did they manage

to unite all argentina

under one national


01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 12 13/06/16 10:49 AM

x i i i

t i m e L i n e

m e x i C o b r A z i L A r g e n t i n A

n E o c o l o n i a l i s m
1 8 8 0 – 1 9 3 0

the dictatorship of

porfirio Díaz, called the

porfiriato (1876– 1911),

embodied neo co lo-

nial ism in Mexico. Díaz

invited international

investment and used

it to consolidate the

Mexican state.

Brazil’s first republic

(1889– 1930) was a

highly decentral-

ized oligarchy built,

above all, on coffee

exports. the leading

coffee- growing state,

são paulo, became


Buenos aires and

the surrounding

areas underwent

an agricultural and

immigration boom

of vast proportions.

various regional

oligarchies ruled until

the election of 1916.

n a t i o n a l i s m
1 9 1 0 – 1 9 4 5

the Mexican revolution

led latin america’s

nationalist trend in

1910. the presidency

of lázaro Cárdenas

(1934– 40) marked

the high point of its


Getúlio vargas, presi-

dent 1930– 35, defined

Brazilian nationalism

in this period. in 1937,

vargas dissolved

Congress and formed

the authoritarian

estado novo.

argentina’s radical

party was driven by the

ballot box. it displaced

the landowning

oligarchy but remained

mired in traditional

patronage politics.

r E v o l u t i o n
1 9 4 5 – 1 9 6 0

Mexico’s revolution

became more conserva-

tive and institutionalized

(in the pri) even as radi-

cal change accelerated


pop u lism and the

electoral clout of

or ga nized labor (led

first by vargas, then

by his heirs) energized

Brazilian politics after

World War ii.

Juan and evita perón

(1946– 55) made the

working class a leading

force in argentine

politics. perón’s

followers remained loyal

long after his exile.

r E a c t i o n
1 9 6 0 – 1 9 9 0

overall, the pri used its

revolutionary imagery

to absorb challenges

from the left— except

when it used bullets, as

in the 1968 tlatelolco


the Brazilian military

overthrew the populist

president Goulart in

1964 and ruled for

twenty years in the

name of efficiency and


taking control in

1966, the argentine

military won its “dirty

war” against peronist

guerrillas but bowed

out in 1983 after

losing to Britain in the

falklands war.

n E o l i b E r a l i s m
a n d b E Y o n d
1 9 9 0 – 2 0 1 5

the post–Cold War

pri shed much of its

nationalist heritage to

embrace neoliberalism,

fending off new

challenges from both

left and right.

the Workers’ party, of

the orthodox left but

also indirectly heir to

vargas, showed the

world that Brazil is a

serious country.

peronist politics and

neoliberal economics

dominated argentina

in a period of steadily

declining living


01_BBF_28305_fm_i-xiii.indd 13 13/06/16 10:49 AM

Pa b l o . Pablo was a little boy who lived at a Colombian boarding house in 1978, when I

lived there, too. On hot afternoons, Pablo sometimes took a bath in the back patio of the

house, the patio de ropas, where several women washed the boarders’ clothes by hand.

Until I so rudely interrupted him, he was singing on this par tic u lar afternoon, as happy as

any little boy anywhere, despite the modest character of our dollar- a-day accommodations.

Snapshot taken by the author at the age of twenty- two.

02_BBF_28305_ch01_xiv-015.indd 2 13/06/16 10:49 AM

w e l c o m e t o l a t i n a m e r i c a


atin America was born in blood and fire, in conquest and slavery.
It is conquest and its sequel, slavery, that created the central
conflict of Latin American history. So that is where any history

of the region must begin. On the other hand, conquest and slavery is
old news, and partly, well, it’s “history.” The Latin America of 2016 is
no longer your father’s version.

Still, conquest and colonization form the unified starting place
of a single story, told here with illustrative examples from many coun-
tries. We need a single story line, because rapid panoramas of twenty
national histories would merely produce dizziness. And, before begin-
ning the story, we must set the stage in a number of ways. We need to
ask, first of all, whether so many countries can really share a single
history. At first blush, one might doubt it. Consider everything that
story will have to encompass. Consider the contrasts and paradoxes of
contemporary Latin America.


02_BBF_28305_ch01_xiv-015.indd 1 13/06/16 10:49 AM

C h a p t e r 1 | W e L C O M e t O L a t I N a M e r I C a


Latin America is the “global south,” still struggling to attain the
standard of living of Europe or the United States. It has deep roots
in indigenous cultures. Most of the world’s indigenous Americans, by
far, live south of the Rio Grande. Yet Latin America is also the West,
a place where more than nine out of ten people speak a European
language and practice a European religion. Most of the world’s Roman
Catholics are Latin Americans, which has much to do with the first
non-European pope, chosen in 2013, being Argentine.

Some Latin Americans still grow corn and beans on small plots
hidden among banana trees and dwell in earthen-floored houses with
sagging red-tile roofs. International travelers who jet in and out of
sprawling Latin American metropolises rarely see them. You have
to go to the countryside, with its awful roads. Most Latin Americans
these days live in noisy, restless cities, some of them postmodern
megacities. Buenos Aires, São Paulo, and Mexico City have far out-
stripped the ten-million mark. Rio de Janeiro, Lima, and Bogotá are
not far behind.

Next, consider the contrasts among countries. Brazil is a be-
hemoth, occupying half the South American continent, its population
surging beyond 200 million. Mexico follows at around 120 million.
Thanks partly to their burgeoning internal markets, both countries’
economies have even spawned their own multinational corporations.
Colombia, Argentina, Peru, and Venezuela constitute a second rank,
with populations between 30 and 50 million. Chile’s population of
17 million carries disproportionate economic weight because of its
high standard of living. The remaining, roughly one quarter, of Latin
Americans, live in a dozen sovereign nations, most with populations
under 10 million. In sum, the major Latin American countries are
global players (though nothing like China or India), while many oth-
ers are ministates with a single city of consequence and two or three
main highways.

Latin American climates and landscapes vary more than
you may realize. Most of Latin America lies in the tropics, with
no well-defined spring, summer, fall, and winter. Many read-
ers of the global north will envision beaches replete with palms.
Latin America’s coastal lowlands do often match that description,

02_BBF_28305_ch01_xiv-015.indd 2 13/06/16 10:49 AM


but this tourist’s eye view is misleading overall. Tropical high-
lands cooled by their altitude, often semiarid, have played a larger
role in Latin American history. Mexico City stands above seven
thousand feet; Bogotá above eight thousand. Latin American moun-
tains are the world’s most densely populated for historical reasons.
Meanwhile, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay—sometimes called
the “Southern Cone” of South America—lie mostly or entirely
outside the tropics, with climates similar to parts of the United
States. The continent’s craggy southern tip is a land of glaciers and
Antarctic influences.

Socially, Latin America is a place of extreme inequalities. Enor-
mous disparities of wealth and well-being exist within countries and
between them. Today many Latin Americans live and work in cir-
cumstances not so different from those of middle-class people in the
United States. But many, more than those who seem middle-class by
international norms, still inhabit hovels and endure a poverty and
deprivation rare in the developed world. The Southern Cone countries
have long stood respectably high in global rankings of social develop-
ment, and most Latin American countries now hold middling rank,
globally, in a combined measure of people’s education, life expectancy,
and buying power. The small countries of Central America (notably
excepting Costa Rica) are worse off, as are those with large and his-
torically oppressed populations of indigenous people, like Guatemala
and Bolivia.

Latin America is probably the most racially diverse of world
regions, fed from the gene pools of Europe, Africa, and indigenous
America. All three elements are present in every country, and the pos-
sible configurations vary kaleidoscopically. Guatemala and Bolivia,
along with Peru and Ecuador, are characterized by large populations
of indigenous people who continue to speak native languages such as
Quechua or Aymara, live more or less separately from Spanish speak-
ers, and follow distinctive customs in clothing and food. African genes
are a predominant element of the mix in Brazil and on the shores
of the Caribbean. Latin America was the main destination of the mil-
lions of people enslaved and taken out of Africa between 1500 and
1850. Whereas the United States received about 523,000 enslaved

C h a p t e r 1 | W e L C O M e t O L a t I N a M e r I C a

02_BBF_28305_ch01_xiv-015.indd 3 13/06/16 10:49 AM

C h a p t e r 1 | W e L C O M e t O L a t I N a M e r I C a


immigrants, Cuba alone got more, Brazil at least 3.5 million. In
addition, there are places in Latin America where people look notably
European, particularly where large numbers of Italian immigrants
were added to the population around 1900, such as in Argentina
and Uruguay. Probably most Latin Americans consider themselves
to some degree “of mixed race,” or mestizo, a key concept in Latin
American history.

Returning to our initial question, then, do these twenty coun-
tries in their startling variety really have a single history? No, in the
sense that a single story cannot encompass their diversity. Yes, in
the sense that all have much in common. They experienced a similar
process of conquest and colonization. They became independent more
or less the same way, mostly at the same time. They then struggled
with similar problems in similar ways. Looking back after two centu-
ries of independence, one sees that similar trends have washed over
the entire region, giving Latin American history a well-defined ebb
and flow.

No t You r Fat h e r ’ s V er sioN

Lately, it’s been more flow than ebb. Enormous changes have come
to Latin America in the forty years since I traveled there for the first
time, at the height of the Cold War. Yes, youngsters, that was before
the Internet! Telephones and postal services worked poorly or not
at all in many countries of Latin America. It was impossible to stay
connected to the United States on a daily basis. One experienced
total immersion.

There was a hint of timelessness, too—even still the occasional
burro or ox-cart to glimpse from the window of a cross-country bus.
Few rural dwellings had electricity or running water. The countryside
seemed a feudal zone, dominated by large landowners who were rarely
to be found on their rural estates because they lived in the cities. The
poor people who did live in the countryside were amazingly isolated,
although fairly well fed compared to the urban poor. I remember stay-
ing a few nights in a house that stood on an Andean mountainside,

02_BBF_28305_ch01_xiv-015.indd 4 13/06/16 10:49 AM


N O t Y O u r F a t h e r ’ s V e r s I O N

a ten- or fifteen-minute climb from the road, impassible by any sort
of vehicle. The family who lived up there reckoned the hour by the
sun and the passage of two or three buses a day visible on the road
that threaded a yawning chasm, far below. An unimaginable variety
of fruit grew around them, but any kind of store was half a day away.

Rural-urban migrants had been flowing into Latin American
cities for decades before my arrival, although the only accompanying
construction boom had been the improvised housing that the migrants
built for themselves. At the height of the Cold War, Latin American
cityscapes still mostly resembled the 1940s or 1950s. There were no
malls, or practically none, and few major infrastructural projects in
the cities. There were few US brand-name consumer goods for sale be-
cause high import tariffs made them too expensive for almost anyone.
The idea was to protect and encourage local industries. There was
already a rising tide of Asian imports, although not yet from China,
which has become so suddenly a player in Latin America. Cold War
China was Mao’s China, where people wore only blue and rode only
bicycles and factories were a thing of the future. Latin America’s high
protective tariffs meant that imported blenders, televisions, and audio
tape players had to be smuggled in, or sold in a variety of “free trade”
venues created by various governments of the region in recognition
of the inevitable. Before the era of inexpensive Asian manufactures,
the clothing of Latin America’s destitute millions was put together by
hand and often seemed about to come apart at the seams like the first
pants that I had made in Colombia by a tailor who worked sitting in
the doorway of his shop, the size of a large closet.

The streets of cities were not studded with US fast-food fran-
chises, as now, nor did they overflow yet with cars, which were too
expensive for most people to own. Thus there was no need, yet, to create
laws keeping cars (with odd numbered plates, for example) off the
road on certain days or hours, as many Latin American cities do today
for sheer lack of street space. Diesel-belching buses, yes, however—
lots of those. Innovative bus rapid transit systems with dedicated
high-speed lanes, such as the one first created in Curitiba, Brazil
(and now re-created in a series of major Latin American cities)
remained on the drawing board. There were a few supermarkets in

02_BBF_28305_ch01_xiv-015.indd 5 13/06/16 10:49 AM

C h a p t e r 1 | W e L C O M e t O L a t I N a M e r I C a


the richest parts of town, but most people did not buy food in super-
markets. Instead, there was a complex of open markets for produce
and commodities and neighborhood stores and bakeries for daily sta-
ples. In sum, Latin America’s middle classes were smaller and much
less Americanized than today. Strong trading blocs like NAFTA and
Mercosur were decades away.

Nobody had a cell phone until the 1990s, and many people had
no telephone at all. Then cell phone use rocketed in Latin American
cities, precisely because landlines had always been scarce. At least in
Colombia, where I first rented a place, you had a telephone in your
house, or you didn’t, period. Forget about getting one if you didn’t,
because state-run telephone companies rarely added lines. Houses
were rented, bought, and sold with existing lines. A house with a tele-
phone brought a better price, obviously. Before the era of plastic digi-
tal watches, a wristwatch of any kind was a prestige item in Latin
America. People sometimes wore watches that didn’t keep time, just
to maintain their image. Few urban people seemed to possess a credit
card, wear seat belts, have insurance coverage, or fuss over their
diet except to worry about their weight if they were women. No one
had heard of multiculturalism or of threats to the rain forest.
Sociology was for revolutionaries, and psychology was for the insane.
Remittances from people working in the United States were not a
yet major source of income in the region. Mexican immigration to
the United States was growing, but not yet a flood, and Central
American immigration had hardly begun. Large cities were well-
known hotspots, but, overall, street crime was moderate by compari-
son with recent decades.

Yes, those were the good old days—for me, anyway. I noticed,
by the way people treated me, that I had become better looking. At
greetings, I learned to embrace my buddies and shake hands with
their girlfriends. The relationships between men and women seemed
to me very old-fashioned and stylized. My first Spanish-language flir-
tations were supervised by dutiful younger sisters who were assigned
to surveil me constantly. Fortunately, they could be bought off with
money to go get a Popsicle, or better yet, go see a movie. In Mexico,
at least, girls still did a lot of courting at the evening paseo, when

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people walked in circles around the town plaza, half in one direction
and half in the other, occasionally switching, so that everyone eventu-
ally saw everyone. Daytime park benches were full of teenagers kiss-
ing because young people didn’t have cars. (Wait. Maybe that hasn’t
changed.) The evening meeting place, on the other hand, was at the
girl’s house, under the watchful eye of her family, not inside but at the
doorway, or even—although this was pretty old-fashioned even then—
at the window, he outside, she inside, separated by wrought-iron bars.
Companionate marriage (focused on the personal compatibility of the
couple) was far from unknown, but didn’t seem to prosper. Male in-
fidelity was the rule, rather than the exception. I’m not so sure how
much has changed, in that regard. But clearly, these days middle-
class women are much more likely to hold a job and middle-class
husbands are more likely to accept, at least in principle, that they
ought to share household duties.

Many thought patterns were quite conservative. People rarely
went to mass, but their Catholicism was automatic and unquestion-
able. Young people of a respectable family did not cohabit before
marriage. The ubiquitous public presence of Catholic religious de-
votion had yet to be challenged by growing numbers of evangelical
Christians. Perfectly ordinary middle-class people had live-in maids
who earned an unbelievable pittance, inhabited tiny windowless
cubicles at night, and were treated, whether cruelly or kindly, as a
different category of human being. Often they came from the country,
where, it was believed, people were more honest and hardworking.
Urban middle-class families with provincial roots might bring trust-
worthy servants with them to the city. City girls, even very poor ones,
were unlikely to stay long as live-in maids, simply because they had
more alternatives, so savvy housewives with means preferred to hire
country girls who didn’t know their way around. Eventually, though,
even the country girls found something less humiliating to do than
being a servant. The muchacha (of any age) has walked out again, a
perennial problem for the ama de casa!

Only a tiny minority attended universities, and most who did
studied to be lawyers, doctors, engineers, or architects. As students,
they did not take part-time jobs waiting tables, for example, even if

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they needed the money. Class consciousness. Some were born to serve,
apparently, others to be served. During the 1980s and afterward, those
who were born to be served moved increasingly into high-rise apart-
ment buildings or strongly enclosed apartment complexes with armed
guards at the gate, an ugly reality that is likely to shock anyone who has
never experienced it. At least, I would like to think so. This is the aspect
of Latin America that most disturbed me personally, and it hasn’t gone
away. Still today, the expanding middle classes of Latin America are
trying to raise perfect children in a defensive crouch. Although indica-
tors of social well-being are improving, Latin America’s distribution of
wealth remains among the most unequal in the world. What nobody
expects these days, however, is a revolution, and that’s precisely what
was expected of the Latin America I encountered in the 1970s.

Revolutionary organizations spray-painted slogans on every
available urban surface, featuring the Communist Party’s hammer
and sickle, the iconic visage of Che Guevara, and an alphabet soup
of acronyms representing worker federations, guerilla armies, and
student organizations. Walls sprouted jagged crowns of broken glass
embedded in concrete, as families with something to defend fortified
themselves against the urban poor. A “population explosion,” as they
named it, was under way when I got to Latin America. Latin American
women had high fertility rates, and twentieth-century improvements
in public health were lengthening life expectancies. Demographers
read the tea leaves and foretold disaster. Hunger and deprivation on
a vast scale seemed the inevitable result. The threat of impending
social cataclysm hovered over everything. No one suspected that the
women’s interest in having lots of children would drop so precipitously
as their horizons expanded in the cities. But that was happening by
the 1980s, and today Latin America’s population is graying faster
than it is growing. The future has a way of not turning out the way
you expect.

During the Cold War, when the Soviet Union rivaled the United
States militarily, Latin America became a sort of battleground or geopo-
litical chessboard. Marxist guerrillas and nationalist regimes squared
off against their own armed forces, which were allied with the US
military. That story will be told in detail toward the end of the book.

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Suffice it to say, for now, that since the Cold War the region has seen
sustained economic growth and political stability. But current free-
market growth seems to make the rich richer, the middle class more
middle class, and the poor comparatively poorer. In Latin America,
where the idea of a middle-class majority is not a reality but, rather,
a fond aspiration for the future, that kind of growth can produce more
losers than winners. Winners and losers. Rich and poor. Conquerors
and conquered. Masters and slaves. That is the old, old conflict at the
heart of Latin American history. Aspects of it go right back to 1492.

Europeans no longer ride on the backs of indigenous porters, as
they once did in Colombia, or in sedan chairs carried by African slaves,
as in Brazil. But everywhere in Latin America, wealthier people still
have lighter skin and poorer people still have darker skin. The descen-
dants of the Spanish, the Portuguese, and later European immigrants
to Latin America still hold power, and the people who descend from
slaves and subjugated “Indians” still serve them. Half a millennium
later, this is clearly the enduring legacy, rippling across the centuries,
of the fact that African, European, and indigenous American people
did not come together on neutral terms, like various pedestrians
arriving simultaneously at a bus stop. On the contrary, they have a
history. To understand Latin America, you’ve got to understand that
history. That’s what this whole book is about.

Here it is in a nutshell: In the 1550s, Spanish and Portuguese
colonizers imposed their language, their religion, and their social in-
stitutions on indigenous Americans and enslaved Africans, people who
labored for them in the mines and fields and who served them, too, at
table and in bed. After three centuries of this, things began to change
(at least partly) when Latin American countries became indepen-
dent. Independence created a string of the world’s first constitutional
republics in the 1820s. Henceforth Latin American nations were to rule
themselves. Rule of the people, by the people, for the people. Sound
familiar? That was the plan, anyway. For most of two centuries, it
didn’t work very well, partly because of the weight of Latin America’s
conflictive history. Two political ideologies took center stage.

The first was classical liberalism. You may need to acquire a
new understanding of liberalism here. Notice that in Latin America

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liberalism does not refer to the special concern for the welfare of
disadvantaged people, as it does in the twenty-first-century United
States. Instead, liberalism means limited government and economic
laissez-faire. This is a larger, more historical, more international use
of the word liberalism, referring, in short, to the core principles of the
US Constitution—a complex of values and practices that developed
in the 1600s and 1700s, largely in France and England. Some call
it “classical” liberalism. Liberal ideology favored progress over tradi-
tion, reason over faith, universal over local values, and the free mar-
ket over government control. In principle, at least, liberals espoused
equality of citizenship over entrenched privilege and lauded repre-
sentative democracy over all other forms of government. Both 1776
and 1789 (marking the American and French revolutions) are land-
mark dates in world liberalism. Latin American liberals have gener-
ally been friends of the United States and of international capitalism.
Today’s neoliberals, discussed in the last chapter, are a case in point.

Neoliberals want Latin America to get with the (globalization)
program. Latin American liberals have almost always been oriented
toward European or US models, and that goes double for today’s neo-
liberals. Overall, the European and US experience with liberalism
has produced prosperity. The liberal state, and its economic adjunct,
free-market capitalism, currently constitute the “universal” model for
modernity in the global West. Latin America’s actual experience with
liberalism and capitalism, on the other hand, has been mixed, as we
will see. Unfettered economic laissez-faire has rarely produced durable,
equitable prosperity in Latin American countries. Rather, it has tended
to further empower and benefit people already at the top of these starkly
stratified societies. Sometimes it has created nightmare scenarios.

The second emerging political ideology, liberalism’s great chal-
lenger in Latin America, was nationalism. Here is another big histori-
cal idea to fine-tune in your thinking, especially if you tend to regard
nationalism simply as a threat to free trade. Over the last two centu-
ries, the surface of the entire globe has been converted from kingdoms
and empires into sovereign nations, a breathtaking transformation.
Nationalism is thus a major theme in modern world history, some-
times destructive, sometimes constructive. In a nutshell, nationalism

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1 1

is the idea that everyone ought to be part of a nation, and that nations
should rule themselves. The last part makes nationalism the basic
ideology of decolonization around the world. The first part, about
everyone belonging, links ruling elites to the people they rule and
also links the ruled to each other. The stronger those links are, the
stronger the nation. Nationalism is neither right nor left on the po-
litical spectrum. In Latin America, nation building has been a long-
term project carried out, over the entire nineteenth century, in artistic
circles, government ministries, and eventually, public schools. In the
twentieth century, nationalism has rallied the masses and challenged
liberal values like free trade.

Nationalists want Latin America to follow a different drummer.
Resisting outside control and influence has always been one of their
strongest impulses. Nationalists counter the appeal of universal models
of modernity with an appeal to national uniqueness and authenticity.
They think in terms of a “national family,” which must take care of its
own, especially its weaker members. Some Latin American nationalists
are conservatives who value local traditions, most especially religious
ones. Today, however, most Latin American nationalists are socialists
or social democrats who stand to the left of liberals on the political spec-
trum. Today, nationalism challenges liberalism from the left in country
after country. Most countries of Latin America have nationalist presi-
dents supported by those who have benefited least from globalization.

Liberalism and nationalism have alternated in ascendancy,
overall, for a century, and their rivalry isn’t over yet. Latin American
history involves much more than politics and economics, however.
Latin American history also involves rich culture and fascinating peo-
ple, not to mention considerable blood and fire. Before we begin our
story, however, there is a final consideration.

ol d t h iN k iNg oN l at iN a m er ic a

Latin America today requires new thinking, but there’s plenty of old
thinking still around. This concise history is for US readers who are
encountering Latin American history for the first time. Such readers

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1 2

need an acquaintance with old thinking on Latin America, because
examples of it float freely in our popular culture and continue to influ-
ence our ideas. A thumbnail summary will serve the purpose.

Latin American history, in the traditional US view, has long
been a story of failure. Until roughly the 1930s, the interpreters of
Latin America focused largely on race and culture, considering the
Latin American varieties defective goods. “Hot-blooded Latins” with
too much “nonwhite blood,” according to this out-moded idea, simply
lacked the self-discipline and the brains to make stable, prosperous,
democratic societies. As Catholics, they lacked a “Protestant work
ethic” (to make work not just a necessity, but a virtue), and their
tropical climates further discouraged economic activity with debilitat-
ing heat and too many sensuous satisfactions—such as papayas and
passion fruit—quite literally growing on trees. In this version, Latin
American history was racially, culturally, and environmentally “deter-
mined” and more or less inescapably so.

Between 1940 and 1960, World War II and its intellectual
aftershocks put that sort of determinism out of style. US historians
of Latin America replaced the former villains of the region’s history
(those pesky indigenous and African genes) with new bad guys: back-
ward mentalities and traditional social structures that would have to
be “modernized” so that Latin America could advance along the de-
velopmental trail blazed by other countries. While the modernization
theory was an advance over racial and environmental determinism,
it maintained existing stereotypes. Greedy landowners and backward
rulers took over from congenital laziness and tropical heat as explana-
tions for Latin American problems. Those explanations continued to
focus the onus of responsibility on Latin America itself.

During the 1960s, however, historians of Latin America be-
came convinced that earlier interpretations of regional problems
were a convenient way to blame the victim. European colonialism and
outside intervention and the struggle of oppressed people to rise up
against their oppressors—here, they thought, were the true explana-
tions of current political turmoil. The triumphant Cuban Revolution
set the tone for 1960s interpretations of Latin America. Historians
theorized that Latin America’s historically subordinate position in the

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zon R































San José


São Paulo



San Salvador

La Paz

Guatemala City Tegucigalpa






Mexico City

Rio de



M1.1 Modern Latin America
Second proof

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global economy explained its failure to “modernize.” Latin American
countries occupied permanently peripheral positions vis-à-vis indus-
trial and financial centers in Europe and the United States. The rec-
ommended solution, at a time when Marxism remained intellectually
influential, was revolution at home and withdrawal from the global
capitalist system. Dependency theory, as it was called, held sway
through the 1970s and 1980s, but ran out of steam after the Cold War.

Today, the old certainties are all gone. Dependency theory still
offers valid insights, but it has come to seem old-fashioned. Now it’s
revolution that has gone out of style, as Latin America’s capitalist
economies and liberal democracies seem to be working better, overall,
than ever before. In the United States, interest in Latin America now
focuses on matters that preoccupy us at home. At the beginning of the
twenty-first century, both the humanities and the social sciences have
given new prominence to the ways in which race, class, gender, and
national identities are “constructed” in people’s minds. As US citizens
explore new ways of thinking about their own society, they find valu-
able comparative perspectives in Latin America. Therefore, US stud-
ies of Latin American history often have a cultural emphasis today. In
the pages ahead, watch for new concepts. They are just as valuable to
your understanding as new facts.

Now let’s go back five hundred years to begin our story.

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1 5

C h a p t e r r e v i e w

1. Can you describe contrasts among various Latin American


2. How is it possible to combine them in a single historical


3. What kinds of changes have characterized the region in recent


4. How has thinking on Latin America evolved in the United States?

s t u d Y Q u e s t i o N s

k e Y t e r m s a N d V o c a b u l a r Y

nationalism, p.10liberalism, p.9

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C O L U M B U S A N D C A B R A L e S tA B L i S h e D S pA N i S h A N D p O R t U g U e S e C L A i M S t O

M U C h O f t h e N e w w O R L D . This early engraving by Theodor de Bry shows how these

momentous encounters were pictured in Europe, where the nakedness of the indigenous

people attracted great interest, suggesting comparisons with the biblical Garden of Eden.

The Granger Collection, New York.

1 4 0 0 s
Aztec and Inca

Empires rise

1 4 9 2 – 1 5 0 0
Columbus and
Cabral voyages

1 5 0 0 – 2 0
Slave trade
under way

1 5 2 0 s – 3 0 s
Defeat of the
Aztecs and


1 5 4 8

established in


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E n c o u n t E r


ndigenous peoples inhabited almost every inch of the Americas
when the Eu ro pe ans and Africans arrived. Deserts and forests
were less densely populated than fertile valleys, but no part of

the continent lacked people who lived off the land and considered
themselves part of it. The Encounter between native Americans and
Eu ro pe ans constitutes a defining moment in world history. Neither
the Eu ro pe ans’ “Old World” nor the “New World,” as they called the
Americas, would ever be the same afterward. For Latin America, con-
quest and colonization by the Spanish and Portuguese created pat-
terns of social domination that became eternal givens, like the deep
and lasting marks of an original sin.*

The Iberian invaders of America were personally no more sin-
ful than most. They came to America seeking success in the terms

*In Christian belief, Adam and Eve committed the original sin in the Garden of Eden,
and all their descendants later inherited that sin.


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1 8

dictated by their society: riches, the privilege of being served by oth-
ers, and a claim to religious righ teousness. It makes little sense for
us to judge their moral quality as human beings because they merely
lived the logic of the world as they understood it, just as we do. The
original sin lay in the logic, justified in religious terms, that assumed
a right to conquer and colonize. One way or another, the Eu ro pe an
logic of conquest and colonization soured the Encounter everywhere
from Mexico to Argentina. The basic scenario varied according to the
natural environment and the indigenous peoples’ way of life when
the Eu ro pe an invaders arrived.

Pat t e r ns of In dIgenous L If e

The indigenous peoples of the Americas had adapted themselves to
the land in many ways.

Some were nonsedentary, an adaptation to food-scarce envi-
ronments, such as those of northern Mexico. Nonsedentary people
led a mobile existence as hunters and gatherers, and movement kept
their groups small and their social organization simple. Often they
roamed open plains. The early Spanish explorer memorably sur-
named Cabeza de Vaca described nonsedentary people who lived in
Texas and across northern Mexico, mostly in family groups, gather-
ing annually to enjoy particularly abundant resources, such as the
ripening of natural cactus groves. Plains occupy a wide swath of the
interior of South America, then inhabited by tribes of hunters and
gatherers. Not forests, neither were these exactly grasslands at the
time of the Encounter. Instead, they bristled with various kinds of
scrub that, as in the northeastern Brazilian area called the sertão,
might be thorny and drop their leaves in the dry season. The Pampas
peoples who gave their name to the Argentine grasslands were also

Other indigenous Americans were forest dwellers. Hunting
was important to them, too, but the abundant rainfall characterizing
most forest environments allowed them to depend on agriculture in

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1 9

a way that the nonsedentary people could not, and so forest peoples
were often semisedentary. Their agricultural practices were adapted
to thin tropical soils. Thin soils? Yes: The exuberant vegetation of
tropical forests produces a misleading impression. Outsiders think of
these forests as “jungles,” a word that suggests overpowering, unstop-
pable fertility. Thus a 1949 geography text* speaks of “the relentless
fecundity and savagery of the jungle.” In fact, the breathtaking vital-
ity of tropical forests resides not in the soil, but in living things, such
as insects, trees, and the various tree- dwelling epiphytes that have
no roots in the ground. Particularly in the great rain forest of the
Amazon basin, the soils are of marginal fertility. Once cleared for
agriculture, tropical forest soils produce disappointing yields after
only a few years. Therefore, forest- dwelling indigenous peoples prac-
ticed “shifting cultivation,” sometimes called “slash and burn” because
of the way they cleared their garden plots. Semisedentary people built
villages but moved them frequently, allowing old garden plots to be
reabsorbed into the forest and opening new ones elsewhere. Shifting
cultivation was thus a successful adaptation to one of the world’s most
challenging natural environments. Semisedentary societies, like the
forest- dwelling Tupi, the best- known indigenous people of Brazilian
history, or ga nized themselves by tribes and by gender roles, but not
by social class. Nor did they build empires.

Finally, some indigenous people were fully sedentary. Perma-
nent settlement, usually on high plateaus rather than in forests,
made their societies more complex, and some constructed great
empires, especially the fabled Aztec, Inca, and Maya empires. Not
all sedentaries had empires, however. What all had in common
were stationary, permanently sustainable forms of agriculture.
For example, the capital of the Aztec Empire— more populous than
Madrid or Lisbon— was fed by quite an ingenious method. Tenoch-
titlan was surrounded by lake waters on all sides, and in these
waters the inhabitants of the city constructed garden platforms

*William Lytle Schurz, Latin America: A Descriptive Survey (New York: E. P. Dutton,
1949), 28.

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2 0

called chinampas. Alluvial deposits periodically renewed their
fertility. The builders of the Inca Empire had their own elaborate
form of sustainable agriculture involving terraced slopes, irrigation,
and the use of nitrate- rich bird droppings, called guano, for fertil-
izer. A permanent agricultural base allowed the growth of larger,
denser conglomerations of people, the construction of cities, greater
labor specialization— all sorts of things. Not all were good things.
Whereas the non- or semisedentary people tended toward fairly
egalitarian societies, in which outstanding individuals became lead-
ers thanks to their personal qualities, fully sedentary groups were
strongly stratified by class. Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas all had heredi-
tary nobilities that specialized in war.

Note that the names Aztec and Inca refer to empires and
not, strictly speaking, to their inhabitants at all. The rulers of the
Aztec Empire were a people called the Mexicas, who gave their name
to Mexico. The warlike Mexicas were relative newcomers to the
fertile valley where they built their amazing city, Tenochtitlan, in
the shadow of great volcanoes, but they inherited a civilization that
had developed in Mexico’s central highlands over a thousand years.
For example, the gargantuan Pyramid of the Sun, the largest pyra-
mid on earth, was built long before the Mexicas arrived. In the
early 1400s, the Mexicas were only one among many groups who
spoke Nahuatl, the common language of city- states in the region.
But they conquered much of central Mexico during the next one
hundred years. Tenochtitlan, the imperial capital, was a vast and
teeming complex of towers, palaces, and pyramids that, according
to the flabbergasted Spanish adventurer Bernal Díaz, rose like a
mirage from the waters of the surrounding lake, linked to the shore
by a series of perfectly straight and level causeways. “We were
astonished and said these things appeared enchantments from a
book of chivalry,” wrote Díaz, describing the Spaniards’ first sight
of Tenochtitlan.

From an imposing capital city in a high Andean valley far to
the south, the even larger Inca Empire had grown just as rapidly
and recently as had the Aztec Empire. The Inca capital was called

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2 1

t h e g R e At t e M p L e O f t e N O C h t i t L A N . The site of human sacrifice was part of a

walled ceremonial complex, 300 meters square, at the heart of the Aztec capital, later the

location of the cathedral of Mexico City. The Granger Collection, New York.

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2 2

Cuzco, meaning “the navel of the universe.” Today one speaks of
“the Incas,” but the name Inca actually referred only to the em-
peror and his empire. Ethnically, the people of Cuzco were Quechua
speakers, and they, too, drew on a long history of previous cultural
evolution in the Andes. Cuzco’s architectural marvels—earthquake-
resistant masonry walls with interlocking stones— were an old trick
among Andean builders. Heirs to ancient civilizations, the Aztec
and Inca empires were newer and more fragile than they appeared.
The Mayas were less imperially inclined. Beginning much earlier
than Tenochtitlan and Cuzco, various Maya city- states with impos-
ing ceremonial centers held sway in Central America: Tikal, Copán,
Tulum, Uxmal. In cultural attainments, such as art, architecture,
and astronomy, the Mayas were second to none in America. But the
Mayas did not create an empire to rival the Inca or Aztec empires.
And since the high point of the Maya Empire, if such a term really
applies, was many centuries before the Eu ro pe ans arrived, it plays
little part in our story.

At the moment of the Encounter, then, most of Latin Amer-
ica was inhabited by nonsedentary or semisedentary people, such as
the Pampas of Argentina and the Tupis of Brazil. Today, few of their
descendants remain. Instead, the large indigenous populations of
Latin America descend from the sedentary farmers, many of whom
lived under Aztec, Maya, or Inca rule until the Eu ro pe ans arrived.
Why did they survive when the others perished? The answer is com-
plex, but it explains much about Latin America. It requires, first, some
background about Spain and Portugal, joined under the geo graph i cal
name Iberia.

or IgIns of a Crus a dIng M en ta L I t y

In the 1490s, when Eu ro pe ans clambered out of their cramped sail-
ing vessels to face indigenous Americans for the first time, the great-
est question was how each would react to the other. This was truly a
cultural encounter, a clash of values and attitudes. The Spanish and

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2 3

M AYA N CU Lt U R A L At tA iNM e Nt S are second to none in the Americas—including

sophisticated mathematics, expressive sculpture and graphic art, and an evolving form of writ-

ing, called glyphs, some of which are visible at top right. Alexandra Draghici/

Portuguese outlook, along with their crusader rhetoric, had been
shaped by the history of the Iberian Peninsula.

Iberia is a rugged, mountainous land. Parts of it are as green as
Ireland (very green, indeed), but most of it is dry. On pictures taken
from space, southern Spain appears the same color as nearby north-
ern Africa. Historically, Iberia had been a bridge between Eu rope and
Africa, and the narrow Strait of Gibraltar separating the two con-
tinents had often been crossed, in both directions, by migrants and
invaders. In the year 711, Muslims from northern Africa, called Moors,
began to cross heading north and seized most of the peninsula from its

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i N C A S t O N e w O R K . In the former Inca capital, Cuzco, Peru, the Spaniards incorporated

these earthquake-resistant foundations into their own buildings. © Jeremy Horner/Corbis.

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2 5

Christian kings (whose pre de ces sors, generations earlier, had taken it
from the Romans, who, in turn, had seized it from the Carthaginians,
and so on). For most of the next eight hundred years, Iberia contained
multiethnic societies that intermingled but also fought one another.
Both activities left their mark.

Along with the practical skills of the Islamic world, the Moors
brought with them the learning of the Greeks and Romans, well pre-
served in the Middle East during Eu rope’s Dark Ages. Christians
who lived under Moorish rule or who traded with Moorish neighbors
from the remaining Christian kingdoms learned a healthy respect
for the cultural achievements of Islam. The Moors were better physi-
cians, better engineers, and better farmers than the Iberian Chris-
tians, whose languages gradually filled with Arabic words for new
crops (such as basil, artichokes, and almonds), new pro cesses and
substances (such as distillation and alcohol), new furnishings (such
as carpeting), and new sciences (such as algebra and chemistry)—
eventually totaling about a quarter of all modern Spanish and
Portuguese words. Although speakers of Arabic, the Moors were
darker than Arabs. Shakespeare’s “black” character Othello, for
example, is a Moor. So the Christians of Iberia had long exposure to
a sophisticated and powerful people who did not look Eu ro pe an. In
addition, on the eve of the Encounter, Iberia had one of the largest
Jewish minorities in Eu rope, and Lisbon and Seville were already
home to thousands of enslaved Africans. Not sympathetic to cultural
and racial difference, the Iberians were nevertheless well acquainted
with it. Spanish and Portuguese attitudes toward other people ranged
from scorn to grudging admiration to sexual curiosity— dusky Moorish
maidens figure erotically in Iberian folktales. The reign of Alfonso the
Wise (1252– 84), a noted lawgiver, represents a high point in this tense,
multicultural Iberian world. In the end, however, the peninsula’s eight
hundred years of multicultural experience dissolved in an intolerant
drive for religious purity.

The Christian reconquest of Iberia powerfully shaped
the institutions and mentality of the Spanish and Portuguese.
Iberian Christians believed that they had found the tomb of San-
tiago, Saint James the Apostle, in the remote northwestern corner

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of the peninsula never conquered by the Moors. The Moor- slaying
Santiago, pictured as a sword- swinging knight, became the patron
saint of reconquest, and his tomb in Santiago de Compostela be-
came Eu rope’s greatest shrine. Reconquest brought the repeated
challenges of annexing new territory and subjugating infidel
populations. As they pushed the Moors south toward Africa over
thirty generations, the reconquering Christians founded new ur-
ban centers as bastions of their advancing territorial claims, and
individual warlords took responsibility for Christianizing groups of
defeated Moors, receiving tribute and ser vice from them in return.
The same challenges and the same procedures would be repeated
in America. Another effect of the reconquest was to perpetuate the
knightly renown and influence of the Christian nobility. For this
reason, the values of the nobles (fighting prowess, leisure, display
of wealth) lost ground only slowly to the values of the commercial
middle class (moneymaking, industry, thrift). In addition, the re-
quirements of warfare led to a concentration of po liti cal power to
facilitate decisive, unified command. Two of the peninsula’s many
small Christian kingdoms gradually emerged as leaders of the re-
conquest. The most important by far was centrally located Castile,
whose dominions eventually engulfed much of Iberia and, when
united with the kingdoms of Aragon, León, and Navarre, laid the
po liti cal basis for modern Spain. On the Atlantic coast, the king of
Portugal led a parallel advance south and managed to maintain
in de pen dence from Spain. Portugal was the first to complete its
reconquest, reaching the southern coast of Iberia in the mid-1200s.
On the Spanish side, the Moorish kingdom of Granada held out for
two more centuries before finally succumbing to Castilian military
power in 1492.

When Queen Isabel of Castile decided to promote the explo-
rations of Christopher Columbus in the 1490s, she did so in hopes
of enriching her kingdom, true enough. By sailing west, Columbus
proposed to outflank a profitable Venetian- Arab monopoly on trade
routes to Asia. But we should not underestimate the religious mys-
tique that also surrounded the Spanish and Portuguese monarchs.

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Cape of
Good Hope

G o l d C oa

iger R








































O F I B E R I A ,
C . 1 2 0 0


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Isabel was above all a Catholic monarch. Centuries of reconquest had
created a true crusading mentality in Iberia, and the monarchies used
this fervor to justify their increasingly absolute power. Moors who had
accepted Christian rule, Jews whose families had lived in Iberia for
close to a thousand years, and anyone suspected of religious infidel-
ity found themselves objects of a purge. Moors and Jews were forced
to convert or emigrate. In fact, in the very year of the surrender of
Granada, Isabel expelled tens of thousands of people from Spain be-
cause they refused to renounce the Jewish faith. And Moors and Jews
who did convert remained subject to discrimination as “New Chris-
tians.” The famous Spanish Inquisition was established to impose
religious purity.

During the 1500s, Catholics and Protestants began fighting
bitterly in western Eu rope, and the monarchs of a unified Spain
led the Catholic side, pouring prodigious resources into the war
effort. Recall that in 1588 the Spanish Armada attempted to invade
Protestant En gland. Overseas exploration also took on religious sig-
nificance. The earlier Christian reconquest in Portugal allowed the
Portuguese to extend their crusading activities into Africa ahead of
Spain. As Portuguese ships edged down the coast of Africa during
the 1400s, bringing back gold and slaves, they found religious jus-
tification in tales of a lost Christian kingdom that supposedly lay
beyond the Sahara, waiting to be re united with the rest of Christen-
dom. Isabel’s decision to fund the voyages of Columbus was Spain’s
bid to catch up with Portugal. Thus the two Iberian monarchies,
strengthened po liti cally by the reconquest, became the first in
Eu rope to sponsor major overseas exploration, and they arrived in
the Western Hemi sphere neck and neck.

Although the Spanish- sponsored expedition of Columbus
arrived in America first, the difference was less than a de cade.
Let us start with the Portuguese, who had pioneered the naviga-
tional skills and naval technology needed to get there. The Portu-
guese colonization of Brazil exemplifies what happened when the
Eu ro pe ans encountered indigenous people who were not fully
sedentary. An initial look at Brazil will help us appreciate the

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unique qualities of the very different, and far more famous,
encounter of the Spanish with the fully sedentary peoples of
indigenous Mexico and Peru.

t he Br a zIL I a n Cou n t er e x a M PL e

The first Portuguese fleet arrived in Brazil in 1500. Like Colum-
bus a few years earlier, the Portuguese commander Pedro Alvares
Cabral was bound for India, but in contrast to Columbus, he actu-
ally did get there. Cabral had no intention of sailing around the
world. Instead, he was sailing from Portugal down the west coast of
Africa and around its southern tip into the Indian Ocean. To catch
the best winds, he had swung far out into the South Atlantic on his
southward voyage— so far out, in fact, that before turning back east
he bumped into Brazil. Like Columbus, Cabral did not know exactly
what he had found, but he knew that it was not India. After nam-
ing Brazil the “Island of the True Cross,” Cabral hurried on to his
original destination.

Brazil seemed unimportant to the Portuguese at the time.
Just a few years earlier, they had succeeded in establishing a prac-
tical route to the fabled riches of South Asia— which Columbus had
failed to do. For the rest of the 1500s, the Portuguese concentrated
on exploiting their early advantage in the Far Eastern trade. Por-
tuguese outposts elsewhere reached from Africa to Arabia, India,
Indonesia, China, and Japan. Portuguese ships returned to Eu rope
perilously overloaded with silks and porcelain, precious spices
(pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon), and Persian horses, not
to mention gold and silver. Monopoly access to these riches made
Portugal, for a time, a major player in world history. Brazil offered
nothing comparable to India in the eyes of Cabral or his chroni-
cler, Pero Vaz de Caminha. Caminha’s curious description of what
he saw on Brazilian shores presented a vision of a new Garden of
Eden, paying par tic u lar attention to the fact that the indigenous
people there wore no clothes: “They go around naked, without any

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covering at all. They worry no more about showing their private
parts than their faces.” The Portuguese sailors plainly found indige-
nous women attractive and inviting, but the only thing that seemed
to have potential for sale in Eu rope was a red dye made from the
“brazilwood” tree.

The name of this export product quickly replaced the origi-
nal name of “Island of the True Cross,” just as economics upstaged
religion, overall, in the colonization of Brazil and Spanish America.
Still, religious ideas must not be discounted. “Fathers, pray that God
make me chaste and zealous enough to expand our Faith throughout
the world,” implored the young Portuguese prince Sebastian, with
unquestionable sincerity, to his Jesuit tutors. Eu ro pe ans of the 1500s
believed in the teachings of their religion as a matter of course, and
some Portuguese and Spanish men, especially those in holy orders
such as the Jesuits, undertook quite perilous voyages around the
world primarily to save souls. In sum, however, the vast majority of
people had a mundane mix of motivations, and the lure of worldly
success was constantly evident in their actions. The idea of spread-
ing Christianity provided, above all, a compelling rationale for lay-
ing claim to huge chunks of the “undiscovered” world. Consequently,
religious ideas became particularly influential at the level of formal
rationalization. Whenever the invaders of America had to explain
and justify their actions, they invoked religious goals for reasons no
more sinister than the common human wish to present oneself in the
best light.

Aside from their immortal souls, forest dwellers like the
Tupi did not have very much that the Eu ro pe ans wanted, so they
were left more or less alone at first. Along the Brazilian coast, some
mutually advantageous trade developed when Tupi men were will-
ing to fell the brazilwood and float the logs to trading stations in
return for useful items such as steel axes. Occasionally, Portuguese
castaways or exiles “went native,” to live among the indigenous
people, and found a different kind of worldly success, becoming
influential figures in their localities and, in a manner foreshad-
owed by the chronicle of Pero Vaz de Caminha, fathering dozens

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and dozens of children— the beginnings of a pro cess of racial mixing
that has characterized the history of Brazil. The king of Portugal
was too preoccupied with his Asian empire to think much about
Brazil until the 1530s, when the appearance of French ships along
the Brazilian coast made him fear for his claims there. To secure
them, he finally sent Portuguese settlers to Brazil. Suddenly, the
Portuguese did want something that the Tupi possessed— their
land. Now everything would change.

To the Portuguese, settling the land meant clearing the
forest and planting crops, and sugarcane was the only crop with
major export potential. It could be milled and boiled down into
concentrated, imperishable blocks packed in wooden chests that
fit easily into the small sailing ships of the day, and it brought a
high price in Eu rope, where sugarcane did not grow. These quali-
ties made sugarcane the cash crop of choice for centuries, first in
Brazil and later in the Ca rib be an and throughout the lowlands of
tropical America— anywhere landowners mea sured their success
according to what they could buy in Eu rope. And that was more
or less everywhere in the Iberian colonies. Sugar was a planta-
tion crop, requiring plenty of capital investment and a large labor
force, a crop where the profits of the planter were partly a func-
tion of cheap labor. But no Portuguese settlers wanted to provide
cheap agricultural labor. Indeed, Iberians in America were typi-
cally loathe to do any manual work at all, because it contradicted
their model of wordly success. As for Tupi men, they traditionally
hunted and fished and regarded farming as women’s work. Why
should indigenous men or women hoe weeds and chop cane for
meager wages under the burning sun when the forest gave them
everything they wanted? In any event, their semisedentary way of
life involved periodic movement incompatible with the plantation’s
need for a fixed labor force.

To gain the land and the labor of forest people like the Tupi,
the Portuguese resorted to force of arms. This meant attacking and
enslaving each tribal group of a few hundred, one by one, in bloody
skirmishes, an activity quite taxing to the limited manpower of the

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Portuguese. Here were no decisive battles that put large defeated
populations at the victors’ disposal. Other factors made the task even
harder. American forest dwellers used the bow and the blowgun with
deadly effect. The invaders’ horses— elsewhere something like a se-
cret weapon for the Eu ro pe ans, because they did not exist in America
before the Encounter— could hardly move amid hanging vines, fallen
trunks, and tangled roots. To those who know it, the forest provides
countless opportunities to hide, to escape, and to ambush pursuers.
Even after they were defeated, native Brazilians would melt into
the limitless woodland beyond the plantations if not supervised con-
stantly. In other words, extracting land and labor from semisedentary
forest dwellers meant totally destroying their society and enslaving
them. Most were likely to die in the pro cess.

This is exactly what happened all along the coast of Brazil once
the Portuguese began to establish sugar plantations. The king of
Portugal, who viewed the indigenous people as potentially loyal
subjects, did not approve of this wholesale annihilation, but his
power in Brazil was surprisingly limited. In an attempt to settle
two thousand miles of coastline on the cheap, the king had par-
celed out enormous slices to wealthy individuals, called captains,
who promised to colonize and rule in his name. Significantly, the
most successful were those who minimized conflict with the indig-
enous people. Pernambuco, on the very northeastern tip of Brazil,
became the model sugar captaincy, partly because the family of
its captain established an alliance by marriage with a local chief.
Most of the captaincies failed, however. By the mid-1540s, indig-
enous rebellions threatened to erupt up and down the coast. On
the splendid Bay of All Saints, the Tupinambá, a subgroup of the
Tupi, had demolished one of the most promising settlements. So, in
1548, the Portuguese king stepped up the colonization of Brazil by
appointing a royal governor and building a capital city, Salvador
(also called Bahia), on that site.

Over the next half century, between the planters’ efforts to
enslave the Tupinambá people and certain disastrous efforts to  pro-
tect them, the Tupinambá vanished from the area of the sugar plan-
tations. Particularly lethal were Eu ro pe an diseases, against which

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A t U p i N A M B á wA R R i O R . The warrior in this 1643 painting belonged to a subgroup

of the Tupi, among the most widespread of the many semisedentary indigenous people in

what is today Brazil. The Granger Collection, New York.

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3 4

indigenous people had no natural re sis tance; contagion ran rampant
among Tupinambá slaves in the close quarters of plantations. Any
gathering of native populations facilitated this “demographic catas-
trophe.” The same ship that brought the first royal governor also
brought the first black- robed Jesuit missionaries to Brazil. Famous
for their intelligence and zeal, the Jesuits moved quickly to estab-
lish special villages where they gathered their indigenous flock to
teach them Christianity and defend them from enslavement. Despite
all good intentions, however, epidemic Eu ro pe an diseases decimated
the indigenous inhabitants of the Jesuit villages. On the plantations,
too, indigenous slaves were fast disappearing because of disease and
despair. To replace them, the Portuguese bought slaves in Africa
and crowded them into the holds of Brazilian- bound ships. By 1600,
Africans were rapidly replacing indigenous people as the enslaved
workforce of Brazilian sugar plantations. The surviving Tupinambá
either fled into the interior or intermarried and gradually disappeared
as a distinct group. This pattern was to be repeated throughout Brazil
as sugar cultivation spread.

a f r IC a a n d t h e sL av e t r a de

In several parts of Latin America, Africans totally replaced indige-
nous laborers in the 1600s. How were so many people enslaved and
taken out of Africa? Why did they survive to populate Brazil and the
Ca rib be an while people like the Tupi died? Now that Africans have
entered our story— never to leave it— we should consider the part they
played in the Encounter.

The Encounter brought together people from three continents
to create new societies, but as we have seen, the Africans and the
Iberians were not total strangers. In fact, the first slaves to arrive
in America were Africans who had already spent time as slaves in
Iberia itself. Eu ro pe ans and Africans had more in common with each
other than with indigenous Americans. Along with Eu rope and Asia,
Africa formed a part of what Eu ro pe ans called the Old World. For
tens of thousands of years, the indigenous people of the New World

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a f r I C a a n d t h e s L a v e t r a d e


had been isolated, and thus protected, from the diseases circulat-
ing in the Old World. Hence their utter vulnerability to Eu ro pe an
diseases. Africans, on the other hand, were not so susceptible. Old
World trade routes and migrations had already exposed them to these
microbes. Similarly, indigenous Americans had never seen the horses,
cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, and other domestic animals brought by
the Iberians, but Africans already raised the same animals, and some
Africans were skilled horse men. Although indigenous people fash-
ioned intricate jewelry out of gold and silver, they did nothing with
iron. Africans, on the other hand, were experienced ironworkers and
even produced high- quality steel. Then too, most Africans were fully
sedentary agriculturists and therefore closer than the semisedentary
Tupi to the pattern of Iberian rural life. Finally, indigenous people
like the Tupi had every reason to expect the worst when captured and
enslaved, because among the Tupi, slaves were frequently sacrificed
and sometimes eaten. Africans brought a different set of expectations
to the experience of slavery.

Slavery was everywhere in African societies, a social institution
basic to economic life. In Africa, as in Iberia and indigenous America,
slaves were most often war captives, but with an important difference.
In Africa, captives did not necessarily remain eternally degraded
servants, and often their children were not born slaves. Eventually,
African forms of slavery allowed full social integration of the slaves’
descendants. In some African societies, slaves might even attain high
status and elite privileges as administrators. Buying and selling
slaves at markets, on the other hand, was a Eu ro pe an tradition. The
African slave trade per se began to take on massive proportions only
after the Portuguese arrived in the 1400s.

Along the African coast, the Portuguese established trading
centers stocked with silks, linens, brass kettles, and eventually rum,
tobacco, guns, and gunpowder, but most especially with bars of iron
for metalworking. African traders brought long lines of slaves, chained
together at the neck, to these embarkation centers. Most had been
captured in wars between African states, and eventually the profits
of the trade of war captives provided a new stimulus to warfare. Slav-
ing vessels might also stop anywhere along the coast to buy captives

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from local traders. Meanwhile, the Portuguese sought ideological jus-
tification in the notion that buying such captives to Christianize them
was actually doing them a favor. The Board of Conscience in Lisbon
cleared the procedure as long as the Portuguese slavers were suppos-
edly “rescuing” the captives of cannibals, or enslaving known practi-
tioners of human sacrifice, or engaging in some form of certified “just
war.” In practice, however, such legal distinctions mattered little to
slave traders. They bought whoever was for sale, willy- nilly, with a
special preference for healthy young men, and then packed them into
the holds of slave ships where 15 to 20 percent on average would die
on the voyage. Probably more than a million people died in the passage
across the Atlantic alone. Early exploration of the African coast led to
about a century of Portuguese dominance in the slave trade. Portu-
guese slavers supplied human cargo to Spanish American, as well as
Brazilian, buyers.

We have few firsthand accounts of what being human cargo
was like, although around twelve million people over four centuries
had the experience. One exception is the account of Olaudah Equiano,
written in the 1700s, after the trade had been under way for more
than two centuries. Equiano describes his confusion and despair when
arriving aboard ship to encounter the claustrophobic horror of the
dark, foul, and narrow cargo spaces. Not until he found a few other
people who spoke his language did Equiano learn that he was being
taken to work in the white man’s land. Enslaved Africans came to
Latin America in diverse groups, speaking many different languages,
originating in three widely separated areas of Africa.

The first area to be affected by the slave trade was West Africa,
from Senegal to Nigeria. Here a coastal belt of tropical forest gives
way, farther inland, to savanna (the Sudanic belt) and eventually to
the beginnings of the Sahara desert. This is a special part of Africa,
traversed in a great arc by the Niger River, the cradle of many cul-
tural developments. Beginning about five thousand years ago, Bantu-
speaking people set out from the area around the mouth of the Niger
River in great migrations, spreading their culture east and south
over much of the continent. Along the course of the Niger, a thou-
sand years ago, arose kingdoms famous in Eu rope for their wealth

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a f r I C a a n d t h e s L a v e t r a d e




zon R




f o r m e r


























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3 8

in gold. Enough of that gold had trickled north across the Sahara in
camel caravans to excite the interest of medieval Eu ro pe ans, and the
Portuguese undertook their exploration of the African coast partly to
find the source of the precious flow. Communication across the Sahara
also brought Islam to West Africa. Before the slave trade, the most
powerful kingdoms arose inland on the upper Niger, where stood the
fabulous walled city of Timbuktu, with its bustling markets and uni-
versity. In 1324, when Mansa Musa, king of Mali, made a pilgrimage
to Mecca (as devout Muslims try to do at least once in their lives), his
caravan carried enough gold to cause oscillations in currency values
in the areas it crossed. The fatal attraction of precious metals first
brought the Portuguese to “the Gold Coast” (modern Ghana), but the
value of human cargoes from this region eventually far outstripped
the golden ones. The British, the French, and the Dutch eventually
established their own trading stations, finally breaking the Portuguese
monopoly on the West African coast.

Two other areas of Africa remained more or less monopolized by
the Portuguese: Angola and Mozambique, where coastal stretches of
grassy, open land allowed the Portuguese to penetrate far inland and
actively colonize, in contrast to their more limited West African trad-
ing strategy. As a result, Portuguese remains the language of govern-
ment in Angola and Mozambique today. These regions became chief
sources for the slave trade only after the Portuguese were edged out
of West Africa by competition from other Eu ro pe an countries. But that
gets ahead of our story.

For now, having observed how Portugal’s exploration of the
African coast and its clash with the semisedentary Tupi laid the eth-
nic and demographic foundations for a black- and- white Brazil, let us
return to the sedentary societies of Mexico and Peru, where Aztec and
Inca rulers boasted astonishing golden trea sures.

the faLL of the azteC and InCa eMPIres

While Brazil remained a backwater in the 1500s, Mexico and Peru
drew the Spaniards like powerful magnets, becoming the two great
poles of Spanish colonization. For three centuries, Mexico and Peru

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would remain the richest and most populous places in the Americas,
but first their indigenous rulers had to be defeated. The Aztec and
Inca emperors commanded tens of thousands of warriors and vast
material resources. Their precipitous defeat at the hands of a few
hundred Spanish adventurers is unparalleled in world history.
Several circumstances conspired to make it possible.

In 1519, when they first set foot in Mexico, the Spaniards
already knew a lot about America. After all, a full generation had
passed since they began settling the Ca rib be an islands where
Columbus made landfall: Hispaniola (today divided between Haiti and
the Dominican Republic) and Cuba. The initial Spanish experience
there with the semisedentary Arawak people, who were not so differ-
ent from the Tupi, had begun with trading but rapidly degenerated
into slaving. The outcome was similar to what had transpired on
the Brazilian coast. Disease and abuse decimated the Ca rib be an’s
indigenous people within a generation. Soon they would cease to exist
altogether, to be replaced by African slaves.

The Spanish invaders were not soldiers but undisciplined
adventurers seeking private fortunes. The first to arrive laid claim
to the indigenous inhabitants and, eventually, the land, leaving little
for the next wave of adventurers. These had to conquer somewhere
else. Operating from the Ca rib be an bases, Spanish newcomers began
to explore the coast of Central and South America, crossed Panama,
and found the Pacific Ocean, making contact with many different
indigenous groups and beginning to hear rumors of glittering, myste-
rious empires in the mountains beyond the Ca rib be an. So it was that,
by the time he found the Aztec Empire, the Spanish leader Hernán
Cortés had already been dealing with indigenous Americans for
fifteen years.

In the conquest of Mexico, no other single Spanish advantage
outweighed the simple fact that Cortés more or less knew what was
happening, whereas Mexica leaders, including Moc tezuma, the Aztec
emperor, had no earthly idea who, or what, the Spaniards might be.
For centuries the story has circulated that Moctezuma suspected
the Spaniards were gods from Aztec mythology, that Cortés himself
could be Quetzalcoatl, a white- skinned deity whose coming had been

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foretold in prophecy. That story now appears to be incorrect, however,
because it originated several de cades after the arrival of the Span-
iards. Although repeated a thousand times, it should now be cor-
rected. On the other hand, the list of never- before- seen things that
the Spanish brought was long and intimidating: tall- masted sailing
ships, ferocious attack dogs, horses of monstrous size, cannon belch-
ing fire and thunder, steel blades, and body armor. The Mexica had
never seen Eu ro pe ans or Africans (who were always present among
the conquistadors), and had no prior clue that such strange- looking
people even existed. Logically, they regarded these outlandish invad-
ers as beings from outside the world they knew. Searching for a name
to call the Spaniards, the Mexica used the Nahuatl word teul, which
at the time was routinely translated into Spanish as dios, or “god.”
Since the word teul could be used for a spirit or demon, it did not imply
adoration, but it clearly implied supernatural power. The Spaniards’
humanity, vulnerability, and hostile intentions did not become clear
until Cortés and his expedition had been welcomed into Tenochtitlan,
where they took Moctezuma hostage. By the middle of 1521, smallpox
and indigenous allies had helped Cortés annihilate Tenochtitlan, and
the Aztec Empire as a whole quickly collapsed.

It took more fighting to overthrow the Inca Empire. Still, the
stunningly rapid and complete Spanish triumph in both cases calls
for explanation. Once again, experience was on the Spanish side. The
leader of the Peruvian expedition, Francisco Pizarro, was another sea-
soned conquistador who, like Cortés (his distant relative), employed a
tried- and- true maneuver, something the Spanish had been practicing
since their first Ca rib be an encounters with indigenous people, when
he treacherously took the Inca ruler Atahualpa hostage in 1532. Then,
too, the Spanish advantage in military technology must be recalled.
Horses, steel, and (less importantly) gunpowder gave the invaders a
devastating superiority of force, man for man, against warriors armed
only with bravery and stone- edged weapons. Spanish weaponry pro-
duced staggering death tolls. Indigenous warriors, meanwhile, focused
on taking captives, if possible, unharmed. At one point, the Spanish
under Cortés massacred ten times their number in a few hours at the
Aztec tributary city of Cholula. Later they did spectacular mayhem at

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t h e f a L L o f t h e a z t e C a n d I n C a e M P I r e s


the Aztec festival of Toxcátl, to which they had been invited. An Aztec
account exemplifies the gruesome impact of Spanish blades:

They blocked the entrances to the sacred courtyard, pulled
out their swords, and stepped immediately among the
dancers and the musicians. One drummer who continued
to play lost both arms at a single sword stroke. Then the
sword sliced off the drummer’s head, which fell far from
his body. Then all the swords started cutting us apart.

t e N O C h t i t L A N A N D i t S S U R R O U N D i N g L A K e . The Aztec capital was linked to

the lake shore by causeways and was crosscut, like Venice, by a series of canals. Note the

square ceremonial complex at the city center. Smaller cities and installations are visible

around the edge of the lake in this 1524 map. Newberry Library, Chicago.

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C h a p t e r 2 | e n C o u n t e r


Spanish military advantages came from their Old World heritage,
which included gunpowder from China and horses from Asia. Old
World microbes were Spanish allies, too.

Imagine the horror of the Incas when Pizarro captured the
Inca emperor, Atahualpa. Atahualpa had arrived with an army num-
bering in the tens of thousands; Pizarro had only 168 Spaniards.
Atahualpa had reason to be overconfident, and he walked into an
ambush. Pizarro’s only hope was a smashing psychological victory,
so he drew on the same tried-and-true tactic that the Spanish had
applied to the Aztecs, the surprise slaughter of indigenous nobles
within an enclosed space. At Pizarro’s invitation, Atahualpa’s mul-
titude of followers entered a square where the Spaniards had hid-
den cannons. Without warning, the cannons fired into the crowd at
close range, creating gruesome carnage. Then Spaniards on horses
charged into the mass of bodies, swinging their long steel blades
in bloody arcs, sending heads and arms flying, as no indigenous
American weapon could do. Meanwhile, surprise and armor pro-
tected Pizarro’s men. Not one of them died that day, yet they suc-
ceeded in taking Atahualpa prisoner, killing and maiming thousands
of his men in the pro cess. Atahualpa’s people brought mountains
of gold to ransom him, but Pizarro had him executed anyway.
Depriving the indigenous defenders of leadership was part of the
“divide-and- conquer” strategy.

Neither the Incas nor the Aztecs could have been defeated with-
out the aid of the Spaniards’ indigenous allies. In Mexico, Aztec taxes
and tributes had weighed heavily on the shoulders of other Nahuatl-
speaking city- states. Tributary city- states had furnished sacrificial
victims for the Aztec state religion, the ideology that glorified Aztec
imperial expansion and bathed the pyramids of Tenochtitlan in the
blood of thousands. As a result, Cortés found ready alliances, most
notably with the nearby indigenous city of Tlaxcala, an old rival of
Tenochtitlan. Eager to end Aztec rule, rival cities sent thousands of
warriors to help Cortés.

Pizarro, too, used indigenous allies to topple the Inca Empire.
Unlike the Aztecs, the Incas had imposed a centralized power that

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t h e B I r t h o f s P a n I s h a M e r I C a


broke up rival city- states and resettled their populations. While
the Aztecs had merely imposed tributes, the Incas administered,
building roads and storage facilities and garrisons. Like the
Aztecs, and like the Spanish and Portuguese, too, the Incas had a
state religion that provided an ideological justification for empire.
Unfortunately for the Incas, however, both the reigning emperor
and his successor had died suddenly in the epidemic that, advanc-
ing along trade routes ahead of Pizarro, ravaged the Inca ruling
family, creating a succession crisis just before the Spanish arrival.
Disastrously, an Inca civil war had begun. Atahualpa led one side
and his brother Huascar the other. The wily Pizarro was able to
play the two sides against each other, achieving the ultimate vic-
tory for himself. Each side in the Inca civil war saw the other as
the greatest threat. How could they know that Pizarro’s tiny expe-
dition was only the entering wedge of vast colonizing forces beyond
the Atlantic?

Aztec and Inca trea sures soon attracted Spaniards by the
thousands. The defeat of Aztec and Inca power was only the first
step in establishing Spanish dominion over the mainland. Now the
Spanish had to colonize, to assert effective control over large popula-
tions and sprawling territories, over the civilizations that underlay
the Aztec and Inca empires and that remained in place after their
destruction. This was a gradual pro cess, requiring several genera-
tions and contrasting markedly with the pattern of colonization on
the Brazilian coast.

t h e BIrt h of sPa n Ish a M er IC a

Even before the dust of imperial collapse had settled in Mexico and
Peru, the Spanish began to parcel out the plunder of conquest. Some
was trea sure captured from indigenous royalty, but most took a form
called encomienda, whereby the conquerors were rewarded with peo-
ple. In this system, indigenous people were “entrusted” (the meaning
of the word encomienda) to each conqueror, who had the responsibility

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4 4

of Christianizing them and the privilege of making them work for him.
Encomiendas of conquered Moors had been awarded aplenty during
the Christian reconquest of Iberia, so it was a familiar system to the
Spaniards. Conquerors who received encomiendas became much like
Eu ro pe an nobles, able to live from the labor of serflike farmers who
delivered part of their crops as regular tribute. For indigenous farm-
ers accustomed to paying tribute to imperial masters, the situation
was familiar, too. Most often, the same city- states, villages, and clans
that had once paid tribute to the Aztecs or Incas now paid tribute to
the new Spanish overlords instead. Calamitous, repeated epidemics
during the 1500s, comparable in severity to the Black Death of
medieval Eu rope, reduced native populations to a fraction of their
former size. But, unlike what occurred in the Ca rib be an or along the
Brazilian coast, indigenous villages did not disappear from Mexico
and Peru.

Whereas Tupi society was swept away by disease and replaced
by Brazilian sugar plantations, the sedentary farming societies of
central Mexico and the Andes survived, shaken but intact, for the
Spanish to take over. The Spanish normally created encomiendas out
of already existing communities with their own indigenous nobles,
whom the Spanish called caciques.* The Spanish conquerors culti-
vated relations with these nobles, sometimes marrying into their
families. Gradually, however, Spanish conquest undercut the de-
feated warrior nobility of Aztec and Inca days, and indigenous people
adopted Spanish- style village governments. In Mexico, village offi-
cials with Spanish titles conducted their business and kept written
rec ords in Nahuatl. Hundreds of Spanish words came into Nahuatl,
of course, indicating the powerful impact of conquest, but the basic
structure of the language survived, preserving a distinctly indige-
nous worldview.

Mexico officially became “New Spain,” but it was really two
societies being grafted together, mostly by Spanish men and indige-
nous women. Spanish women, like Portuguese women in Brazil, were

*Cacique is actually an Arawak word that the Spanish adopted in the Ca rib be an and
later applied elsewhere.

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t h e B I r t h o f s P a n I s h a M e r I C a


few. In the early years of the Encounter, Spanish men in America out-
numbered Spanish women roughly nine to one. So, within a few years,
indigenous women and Spanish men became the parents of a legion
of mestizo children, exactly as anticipated by Pero Vaz de Caminha’s
letter from Brazil. Malinche had Cortés’s baby soon after the fall
of Tenochtitlan.

What an intriguing figure is Malinche, a Spanish deformation
of her indigenous name, Malintzin. She was one of twenty female
slaves given to Cortés as he sailed up the Mexican coast seeking the
Aztec Empire in 1519. She already spoke Maya and Nahuatl, and
she learned Spanish in months. This astoundingly quick- witted and
self- possessed sixteen- year- old girl became inseparable from Cortés
and was instrumental in the capture of Moctezuma. Understandably,
her life has been read as a romantic novel, but also as a betrayal of
Mexico. It was neither. As for romance, Cortés summoned his Spanish
wife, who was waiting in Cuba, then gave Malinche a bit of property
and turned her away. As for betraying Mexico, that country did not
yet exist, unless one refers to the Aztec Empire, and Malinche had
good reason to hate the Aztecs. Although Nahuatl was her first lan-
guage, her own family had sold her into slavery to the Mayas, which
is how she learned that language. Malinche was more betrayed than
betrayer. Cortés married her to one of his men, with whom she had
a second child. She died, not yet twenty- five, only a few years later.

The Aztec princess Techichpotzín, baptized Isabel, was the
daughter of Moctezuma. She became “Isabel Moctezuma,” exemplify-
ing the woman of indigenous nobility who could attract a Spanish hus-
band because of her wealth. As the legitimate heiress of Moctezuma’s
personal fortune and the recipient of a desirable encomienda, Isabel
attracted more than her share of husbands. Before her three Spanish
husbands, she was married to two different leaders of the Aztec re sis-
tance in the last days of Tenochtitlan. She outlived four of her spouses,
bore seven mestizo children, adapted to her new life, and became a
model of Catholic devotion and a benefactor of religious charities. She
lived to the respectable age of forty.

As the Aztec and Inca nobility declined and the number of
Spanish women increased, fewer and fewer Spanish men married

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4 6

indigenous women. Although Spanish men continued fathering un-
numbered mestizo children, most were illegitimate and inherited little
or nothing from their Spanish fathers. These children were “people-
in- between”: not Eu ro pe ans or Africans or indigenous Americans.
Mestizo children were second- class people in the Spanish world,
poor relations, if recognized at all. Malinche’s son by Cortés, Martín,
became virtually a servant of his half- brother, also named Martín,
Cortés’s son by his second Spanish wife.

Spanish women usually arrived after the fighting was over,
but that was not always the case. A woman named Isabel de
Guevara helped conquer Argentina and Paraguay in the 1530s and
1540s. Years later, in an attempt to gain an encomienda for her part in
the conquest, she wrote a letter to the Spanish Crown, describing how
the women of the expedition took over when famine killed two- thirds
of their party. As the men fainted from hunger, wrote Guevara, the
women began “standing guard, patrolling the fires, loading the cross-
bows . . . arousing the soldiers who were capable of fighting, shout-
ing the alarm through the camp, acting as sergeants, and putting the
soldiers in order.”

The most famous “conquistadora” of all was Inés Suárez, a
woman of thirty when she came to America in 1537, alone, looking for
her husband. She searched first in Venezuela, then in Peru, where she
found her husband already dead. Suárez then became the mistress of
the conqueror of Chile, legendary for her actions during an indigenous
attack there. Her plan was to terrorize the attackers by throwing them
the heads of seven captured chiefs, and her most famous deed was to
cut off the first captive’s head herself. Despite (what was regarded as)
her heroism, the conqueror of Chile, who had a wife in Spain, put Inés
Suárez aside when he became governor of the new territory.

Favorable marriages outweighed even extraordinary ability in
the lives of women. The marriage contract was a pillar of the Spanish
social structure, crucial to the distribution of property. Marriage was
a religious sacrament, and religious conformity was serious business
in the Spanish Empire.

Spanish conquest had meant an earthly and a spiritual con-
quest, the defeat of the old gods. Spanish churchmen arrived to

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t h e B I r t h o f s P a n I s h a M e r I C a


teach Catholic doctrine. They searched insistently for sacred objects
that the indigenous people still preserved, hidden away, from their
old religions—“idols,” in Catholic eyes. The priest and the holder
of the encomienda stood side by side in many areas, as the only
two representatives of Spanish authority. As had occurred during
the Christianization of Eu rope centuries earlier, the conversion of
kings (or, in America, caciques) brought whole communities into
the church at once. In their haste to baptize, missionaries perfunc-
torily sprinkled holy water on indigenous people in mass ceremo-
nies that did little to teach them Christianity. Still, the baptized
could remember the imposition of other imperial state religions,
for that was a pattern familiar from before the Encounter. Among
sedentary peoples, the Spanish made a habit of erecting churches
on sites already sacred to indigenous deities. The people of Tenoch-
titlan cannot have been surprised to see Spanish conquerors level
the Aztec Great Temple and construct their cathedral on practically
the same spot.

The fully sedentary people of central Mexico and Peru survived
the Encounter infinitely better than did semisedentary people such
as the Tupi. Still, the Encounter had a dire impact on settled agri-
cultural societies, too. The Spanish often demanded more tribute
than had indigenous overlords. For example, Andean villages had
provided a labor draft called the mita to their Inca rulers, but af-
ter the conquest mita laborers were forced to do something new— toil
in the shafts of deep silver mines, sometimes locked down for days.
In addition, epidemic Eu ro pe an diseases continued to decimate the
indigenous population.

By the end of the 1500s, the basic contours of Latin American
ethnicities were established. American, Eu ro pe an, and African genes
and cultures had begun to mix, creating rich potential for human
diversity, but the violent and exploitative nature of the Encounter
would sour the mix for centuries to come. In Brazil and the Ca rib be an
region, Eu ro pe ans and Africans took the place of the indigenous popu-
lations that were virtually wiped out. In Mexico and Peru, by contrast,
Nahuatl- and Quechua- speaking societies survived to be gradually
transformed. One way or the other, the original sin of Latin American

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4 8

history— the festering social injustice at the core— had done its du-
rable damage. How would more equitable, more inclusive communi-
ties ever emerge from the smoking ruins of conquest? The next step,
systematic colonization, the creation of entire social systems geared to
serve the interests of distant masters in Eu rope, only made matters

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C h a p t e r r e v i e w

s t u d y Q u e s t I o n s

1. Can you characterize various indigenous societies of America?

How did their ways of life affect the Encounter and create the

current diversity in national populations?

2. What formative historical experience did the Spanish and the

Portuguese share before the Encounter?

3. Can you compare the initial colonization of Brazil and Mexico and

the larger imperial projects of Portugal and Spain?

4. How did Africans come to play an important part in the

colonization of America?

5. Overall, how was it possible for small Spanish and Portuguese

contingents to lay effective claim to American empires in the 1500s?

K e y t e r M s a n d v o C a B u L a r y

Mayas, p.22

Iberia, Iberians, p.23

Reconquest of Iberia, p.25

Isabel of Castile, p.26

Hernán Cortés, p.39

Moctezuma, p.39

Francisco Pizarro, p.40

encomienda, p.43

Bartolomé de las Casas, p.50

Encounter, p.17

Cabeza de Vaca, p.18

Pampas, p.18

sedentary, semisedentary,

nonsedentary, p.18–19

Tupi, Tupinambá, p.19

Inca Empire, p.20

Aztec Empire , p.20

Tenochtitlan, p.20

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5 0

Colonial Brazilian Church. Statue by Aleijadinho.

Photograph by Michael Teague. Brazil, Time

World Library, 1967.

C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

f r I a r B a r t o L oM é

d e L a s C a s a s

s our story makes abundantly clear, the Eu ro pe an drive to
extract labor and tribute explains much about the coloni-
zation of Latin America. How could it be otherwise? At the
most basic level, conquest is always about exploitation. On

the other hand, conquerors and colonizers rarely admit this, even to
themselves. That is how the other, more idealistic, motives enter the
picture. Most Spanish and Portuguese people who came to the Ameri-
cas in the 1500s believed that spreading the “true religion,” even by
force, was a good thing. Like all people, they tended to give their own
actions the best possible interpretation. On the other hand, religious
idealism truly was the driving force for some; logically enough, these

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C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s


were most often church people. The Catholic Church— Inquisition and
all— generated the most important humanitarian countercurrents in
this age of raw exploitation.

For example, some members of the Franciscan order who
arrived in Mexico as early as 1524 showed deep respect for the indig-
enous people. Several Franciscans carefully gathered and preserved
information about Aztec history, religion, and daily life. The most
notable was Bernardino de Sahagún, who wrote that Aztec family
or ga ni za tion and child-care practices were superior to those of Spain.
Sahagún collaborated with his indigenous students to assemble a
trea sure trove of Aztec thought, literature, and customs in their origi-
nal language, Nahuatl. Gorgeously illustrated in authentic indig-
enous style, his book, known today as the Florentine Codex, remains
essential for any interpretation of Aztec civilization. Another Francis-
can, Toribio de Motolinia, denounced Spanish tributes, torture, and
forced labor as so many “plagues” afflicting the indigenous people. To
this day, Motolinia is warmly remembered in Mexico as a defender of
the conquered.

The first Jesuits in Brazil similarly worked to defend the in-
digenous people against the depredations of the colonists. As a first
mea sure, the Jesuits learned a number of the variants of Tupi (which
was really a family of related languages as distinct from one another
as French, Spanish, and Italian). They then devised a simplified
Tupi grammar and a standard vocabulary for use in the mission vil-
lages. This Lingua Geral, or “general tongue,” was easily learned
by speakers of various Tupi dialects. It facilitated religious teaching
and separated the indigenous people from the settlers who wanted
to enslave them.

But by far the greatest religious champion of the indigenous
people was Bartolomé de las Casas, prototype for a long line of radi-
cal priests in Latin America. las Casas was a university- educated,
fortune- seeking young gentleman— no radical at all— when he came to
America in 1502. He got an encomienda himself and for twelve years
lived the life of an early Ca rib be an conqueror, watching indigenous
people die by the dozen from exploitation and disease. He was about
forty when, in 1514, he had a change of heart, influenced, apparently,

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C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

by the fiery sermons of a member of the Dominican order who had
begun to preach against Spanish exploitation of encomiendas. By
1515, las Casas, now a Dominican himself, returned to Spain and
proposed various ways to protect indigenous Americans from the
encomienda system. “The reason for the death and destruction of so
many souls at Christian hands,” according to las Casas, was simple
greed: “gold, and the attempt to get rich quickly.” One of his alterna-
tive suggestions was to rely on the labor of enslaved Africans, but then
he had a better idea: the recruitment in Spain of entire farming fami-
lies disposed to work for themselves. las Casas dreamed that Spanish
and indigenous societies in America might be kept separate and the
use of indigenous labor might be strictly limited and supervised. But
his pi lot colonization project in Venezuela never got off the ground.

During the 1520s and 1530s, las Casas wrote a stream of pub-
lications denouncing encomienda abuses, and he traveled throughout
the Ca rib be an and Central America defending the indigenous people.
In 1537, the pope issued a proclamation, partly inspired by las Casas,
saying that the indigenous people were exactly that: people, not sub-
human beings, as some claimed. In 1542, largely thanks to las Casas,
the Spanish Crown issued the famous New Laws of the Indies for the
Good Treatment and Preservation of the Indians, immediately limit-
ing and eventually ending encomiendas altogether. The high- flying
holders of encomiendas hated and vilified las Casas for the New Laws
that clipped their wings, but the old crusader, already in his late six-
ties, had no intention of stopping.

In 1550– 51, las Casas represented the cause of the indige-
nous people in a great debate held in the Spanish city of Valladolid
to determine, once and for all, the moral status of Spanish conquest
in America. At Valladolid, las Casas passionately denied the charge
that the indigenous people were naturally inferior to Eu ro pe ans and
therefore deserved to be enslaved. Although the official result of the
Valladolid debate was inconclusive, las Casas had made a strong im-
pression on the imperial government. In 1552, he published the most
famous of his innumerable writings, A Brief Account of the Destruc-
tion of the Indies, full of grisly descriptions of Spanish cruelty, rhe-
torically exaggerating a slaughter that was horrible enough in reality.

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Few pamphlets have ever found a wider Eu ro pe an audience. Among
the most avid readers of this tract were the Protestant enemies of
Catholicism in a Eu rope wracked by religious wars. Over the next two
centuries, A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies saw three
editions in Latin, three in Italian, four in En glish, six in French, eight
in German, and eigh teen in Dutch, not to mention those in Spanish.

Bartolomé de las Casas lived to be eighty- nine, a fabulously
long life for the 1500s. Although his early error in calling for more
African slaves remains a stain on his record, he quickly and perma-
nently repented of the idea. Overall, the spirit and struggle of las
Casas continues to inspire idealistic churchmen and churchwomen in
Latin America more than four hundred years later.

03_BBF_28305_ch02_016-053.indd 53 13/06/16 10:50 AM

S o r J u a n a I n é S d e l a C r u z . Women, too, chose to enter religious orders, and con-

vents were lively centers of colonial life. Besides providing a sheltered, and therefore

honorable, upbringing for young women, convents had a key role in financing agricultural

production. In some situations, convents offered outlets for women’s artistic and intel-

lectual pursuits. It is no accident that Sor Juana, the most celebrated woman of colonial

Latin America, was a nun. DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI/Getty Images.

1 6 0 0

Colonial Period

1 6 5 1
Sor Juana Inés
de la Cruz born

1 6 9 0 s
discover gold

1 7 7 6
Viceroyalty of
the Río de la
Plata created

1 7 9 0 s
French Revolu-

tion triggers
war in Eu rope

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C o l o n i a l C r u C i b l e


ule by Spain and Portugal lasted three long centuries in Latin
America. Despite the utopian dreams of the religiously inspired
and despite continual re sis tance to exploitation, the bitter

legacy of conquest and slavery remained strong in 1800, the eve of
in de pen dence. Latin Americans had wrestled with the hierarchy of
race imposed by conquest and slavery and had adapted themselves
to that hierarchy. As Latin American societies grew around the hard
edges of domination like the roots of a tree gradually embracing the
rocks at its base, adaptation made colonization endurable but also
embedded it in people’s habits. Indigenous, African, and Eu ro pe an
people consorted and intermingled, fought and slept together. They
misunderstood and learned about, despised, and sometimes adored
each other. Over hundreds of years, most Latin Americans began
to sincerely accept Catholicism and the rule of a Spanish or Portu-
guese king. Thus, more than merely rule by outsiders, colonization

5 5

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5 6

was a social and cultural, even a psychological pro cess. The resulting
patterns of domination— intricate and omnipresent— constitute the
saddest product of the colonial crucible.

The contours of colonial Latin American societies revealed the
priorities of the Iberian invaders. A whirlwind tour of the colonies
will explain the basic economic patterns and geo graph i cal layout. To
begin, only precious metals and a few high- priced items such as sugar
(then a luxury) could repay the enormous costs of transportation
across the Atlantic Ocean. So mines and sugar plantations loom large
in the early history of Latin America.

Colon i a l EConom iC s

Silver and sugar shaped the emerging colonial economies. Gold was
the precious metal that first mesmerized the Europeans, however—
gold from Aztec and Inca trea sures, gold that could easily be panned
in sandy streambeds and was quickly exhausted. An early Ca rib-
be an gold rush had helped annihilate the Arawaks during the first
generation of Spanish colonization. But silver, not gold, eventually
structured the colonial economy of Spanish America. The major
silver mines of Zacatecas (Mexico) and Potosí (Peru) were opened
in the 1540s. Zacatecas, an area without sedentary inhabitants,
attracted indigenous migrants from central Mexico. Migrants also
became miners at Potosí, on a windswept mountain plateau at
twelve thousand feet, where Spanish smelting techniques (using a
bellows) did not work and indigenous ones (channeling the Andean
wind) had to be adopted instead. These were deep- shaft mines that
went miles under the earth, vast quasi- industrial enterprises that
attracted diverse assortments of people. Mining immediately began
to reshape Mexican and Peruvian society.

The mining zones became the great focus of Spanish activity
in America, linking the colonies eco nom ical ly with Eu rope. For a
while in the 1600s, Potosí became the most populous city in Amer-
ica. And because Potosí stood more or less on the roof of the world,
too high for agriculture, almost everything except silver had to be

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brought to it by mules. Sure- footed mules, bred on the plains of
Argentina, trooped up narrow Andean trails to provide transpor-
tation. Indigenous women elsewhere in the Andes wove cloth to
dress the miners, and farmers at lower altitudes sent food to feed
them. (To apply economic concepts here, “primary” export produc-
tion stimulated “secondary” supply activities.) Eventually, silver
came down from the sky on mules bound for the coast. Because the
high plateau of the central Andes is so remote from the coast, the
Peruvian capital was established at Lima, near a good seaport.
Likewise, the wealth of colonial Mexico clustered along routes
connecting the northern mines with Mexico City and the port of
Veracruz. The northern mining zones became a meeting place for all

P o t o S í . Honeycombed with mine shafts, the “mountain of silver” looms over the city

of Potosí in modern Bolivia— called Upper Peru at the time of this 1584 painting. In the

foreground, silver ore is being crushed by water- powered machinery and mixed with

mercury to extract the precious metal. The Granger Collection, New York.

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sorts of people, while southern Mexico, along with Guatemala, had
a more strictly indigenous population. The main ethnicities in this
southern region were Zapotec, Mixtec, and especially Maya— the
people among whom Malinche grew up. Now all of southern Mexico,
Central America, and the Ca rib be an became part of the supply net-
work for the northern silver mines.

The economic priorities of the Spanish Crown determined the
po liti cal or ga ni za tion of the colony. The “royal fifth,” a 20 percent tax
on mining, was the prime source of colonial revenue for the Span-
ish state. To keep an eye on the royal fifth, the Crown or ga nized
colonial governments in New Spain (the colonial name for Mexico,
administratively embracing Central America and the Ca rib be an as
well) and Peru (which then included much of South America), by
the late 1540s. Each of these areas, called viceroyalties because of
the viceroys sent from Spain to rule in the king’s name, also had
an archbishop and a high court. Eventually, Mexico City and Lima
each developed a wholesale merchants’ guild that concentrated
commercial power, as well as po liti cal power, in the viceregal capi-
tals. Gradually, the viceroyalties, high courts, and other adminis-
trative subdivisions multiplied in a manner guided by the principle
of profitability to the Crown. Modern Colombia became the center
of a third viceroyalty (called New Granada, 1717) partly because of
its gold. Eventually, another jurisdiction was created to stop Potosí
silver from escaping untaxed through the area of modern Argentina.
This became the fourth viceroyalty (the Río de la Plata, 1776), with
its capital at the Atlantic port of Buenos Aires. Despite the two new
viceroyalties, however, Peru and Mexico remained the core areas of
Spanish colonization.

In Brazil, sugar took the place of silver, and plantations re-
placed mines as the main generators of export production. Sugar
plantations capitalized on rich red soils, superb for the cultivation of
sugarcane, along Brazil’s northeastern coast. The Northeast there-
fore became the core area of the Brazilian colony, with its principal
centers in Pernambuco and the Bay of All Saints. For the Portuguese
Crown, the taxes on exported sugar— and on goods imported with

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profits from sugar— were the prime sources of colonial revenue in
Brazil. Throughout the 1600s, sugar was king in Brazil, and it struc-
tured the Brazilian colony much as silver mining structured colonial
Spanish America.

Sugarcane had to be milled and its juice boiled down into cakes
in order to be exported. Planters rich enough to build a sugar mill
(an engenho, or “engine” in Portuguese) became known as “mill lords,”
senhores de engenho. The senhores de engenho stood at the crux of the
sugar economy, and they loom large in Brazilian social history. In each
locality of the Brazilian sugar coast, a handful of mill lords, each own-
ing hundreds of slaves, lorded over their neighbors, many of whom
grew sugarcane but depended on the lords to have it milled. Like a
silver mine, a big engenho was a complex and expensive economic
undertaking, almost a town in itself, with a chapel, stables, storage
facilities, and workshops, not to mention barracks- like slave quarters.
As in the early plantation colonies of North America’s Chesapeake

a B r a z I l I a n S u g a r M I l l . In this nineteenth- century engraving, sugarcane is being

unloaded from an oxcart and fed into an engenho’s grinding mechanism, producing gal-

lons of sweet sap that will be boiled down into bricks of sugar for shipment. The senhor

de engenho looks on. The Granger Collection, New York.

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zon R



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and the roving





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C O L O N I Z A T I O N , 1 5 0 0 – 1 7 0 0

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Bay, plantations that were almost towns in themselves tended to un-
dercut the growth of urban centers. The Brazilian colony, even its core
area, was a place of few cities and towns when compared with colonial
Spanish America.

Outside of its northeastern core area, most of colonial
Brazil was quite sparsely settled. The Amazonian northwest, for
example, remained a vast equatorial rain forest inhabited chiefly
by semisedentary indigenous tribes, half a continent with a mere
handful of tiny Portuguese towns and a sprinkling of Jesuit mis-
sions along the banks of its river highways. The backlands behind
the sugar coast, the sertão, stayed dirt- poor cattle country. Other
interior regions could be reached only by thousand- mile canoe odys-
seys involving arduous portages between rivers, feasible only during
the rainy season. The Portuguese called these rainy- season canoe
expeditions “monsoons,” a word they had learned in India. South
of São Paulo lay more Jesuit missions in evergreen forests outside
the tropics. And beyond these forests, open grasslands stretched
south to the Río de la Plata. Here, cattle and horses that had
escaped from the missions ran wild, multiplied, and roamed free in
numberless herds.

Overall, colonial Brazil could not compete with colonial
Spanish America. Sugar was never as precious as silver. Only
slowly did Brazil become the principal focus of the Portuguese
seaborne empire, with its rich African and Asian outposts. So the
Brazilian colony remained in all ways less: poorer, less populous
(with a tenth the people of Spanish America), and more loosely
governed. Brazil’s diffuse plantation economy limited urbaniza-
tion and scattered administrative power. Two viceroyalties were
eventually established, but only during war time did Brazilian vice-
roys possess the authority of Spanish American viceroys. Portugal
simply attempted less in its colonies than did Spain. For example,
there were a dozen universities in Spanish America after barely a
century of colonization, but none was ever established in colonial
Brazil. One might wonder how Brazil stayed a Portuguese colony
for three hundred years.

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a P ow Er C a l l Ed HEgE mon y

Both the Spanish and Portuguese Crowns had limited resources for
colonization. Neither had large military forces in the American colo-
nies. Iberian colonizers and their American- born descendants were a
small minority even in the core areas, so how did they maintain con-
trol over so much of the hemi sphere for three centuries?

To answer that question, consider the life of Sor (Sister)
Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Mexican nun who died in 1695. At the
age of seven, Juana had made a surprising announcement. She
wanted to attend the University of Mexico (which had opened its
doors in 1553, a century before Harvard). She offered to dress as
a boy, but it was hopeless. A university education was supposedly
over Juana’s head. Never mind that she had been reading since the
age of three or that she learned Latin just for fun. Forget that she
stumped a jury of forty university professors at the age of seven-
teen, or that Juana became known throughout Mexico for her po-
etry. Like other women of her class, she had two alternatives: marry
and devote her energies to husband and children, or become a nun.
Juana chose convent life, which offered a little more in de pen dence
than marriage. She became Sor Juana, as she is known to history.
She collected and read books by the hundreds, studied mathemat-
ics, composed and performed music, and even invented a system of
musical notation. Her poetry was published in Eu rope. Some of it
criticized hypocritical male condemnations of women’s sexual mo-
rality: “Why do you wish them to do right / If you encourage them
to do wrong?” asked one poem. And, concerning the common scorn
for prostitutes, she wondered who really sinned more: “She who
sins for pay / Or he who pays for sin?” In the kitchen, she dabbled
in experimental science. “Aristotle would have written more,” she
said, “if he had done any cooking.” When she published a  brilliant
reply to one of her century’s most celebrated biblical scholars, the
fathers of the church became worried. Juana received instructions
to act more like a woman. Her scientific interests, they said— and all
her other interests, too, except for religious devotion— were unnatu-
ral in a woman. This was the wisdom of her age. She could not defy

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it alone, and ultimately, she consented. She sold her library, instru-
ments, everything, and devoted herself to atonement for the sin of
curiosity. Broken, she confessed to being “the worst of women.” Soon
after, she died while caring for her sisters during a plague.

The fathers of the church never used physical force against
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. They did not have to. They embodied
religious authority, and she was a religious woman. Revolt or dis-
obedience was literally unthinkable for her. Similarly, the con-
quered indigenous people of Latin America, and the enslaved
Africans, too, gradually accepted the basic premises of colonial life
and principles of Iberian authority. Otherwise, Spain and Portugal
could never have ruled vast expanses of America without powerful
occupying armies.

Historians explain colonial control of Latin America as hege-
mony, a kind of domination that implies a mea sure of consent by those
at the bottom. Hegemony contrasts with control by violent force. It
is a steady preponderance rather than an iron rule. Though it may
seem “soft,” this form of po liti cal power is resilient and does devastat-
ing damage to people at the bottom. When they accept the principle
of their own inferiority and, in the old- fashioned phrase, “know their
place,” they participate in their own subjugation.

Religion offers one of the clearest examples of cultural hege-
mony. When enslaved Africans and indigenous people accepted the
Eu ro pe ans’ “true religion,” they accepted, by the same token, their
own status as newcomers to the truth. Catholicism, after all, had
been born and developed far from indigenous America. The history of
the “true church” was a Eu ro pe an history, and its earthly capital was
Rome. Most priests and nuns, not to mention bishops and the rest of
the ecclesiastical hierarchy, were of Eu ro pe an descent. The monarchs
of Spain and Portugal reigned by a divine right that only heretics
would question, and they enjoyed royal patronage rights, allowing
them to appoint or dismiss priests and bishops almost as if they were
Crown officials. The royal government decided where churches should
be built and collected the tithe (an ecclesiastical tax of 10 percent, paid
especially on agricultural products). To sin against Catholic teachings
was, in many cases, a criminal offense.

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Pa I n t I n g S o F a r M e d a n g e l S illustrate the close relationship between religion

and authority in the eighteenth-century Andes. Their clothing evoked social rank; their

muskets, military power; and their wings, the endorsement of heaven. DEA/M. Seemuller/

De Agostini/Getty Images.

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All educational institutions were religious, so if knowledge is
power (and it is), the church monopolized that power. The Inquisition
kept a list of banned books that people were not allowed to read. The
church even controlled time; the tolling of bells set the rhythm of the
day, signaling the hours of work, rest, and prayer. Successive Sundays
marked the seven- day week, which was new to indigenous people. The
Catholic calendar of observances and holidays provided milestones
through the year: a collective, public ebb and flow of emotions, from
celebration at Epiphany and Carnival, for example, to the somber
mood of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. The milestones of individual
lives, from baptism to marriage to death, were validated by church
sacraments and registered in church rec ords. Place names, too, were
frequently religious. Every town and city had an official patron saint,
often part of the city’s full name— São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro,
San Francisco de Quito, and so on.

Another hegemonic force, omnipresent and inescapable, was
patriarchy, the general principle that fathers rule. Fathers ruled
heaven and earth, cities and families. The Spanish and Portuguese
were more rigidly patriarchal than many indigenous American and
African societies, so the hegemony of fathers must be understood,
at least in part, as a legacy of colonialism. Patriarchy structured
all colonial institutions, including the exclusively male hierarchy of
the church, right up to the Holy Father in Rome. Iberian law was
based on patriarchal principles. Husbands had legal control over
their wives as over their children. Wealthy women led shut- in, elab-
orately chaperoned lives, isolated from all male contact outside the
family— a matter of honor in traditional Spanish and Portuguese
sexual ethics.

Honor was a mea sure of how well men and women played
their prescribed, and very different, social roles. Avoiding extramar-
ital sex, in this way of thinking, became something like a woman’s
supreme life mission, whereas a man’s sexual purity held less value.
In practice, if a man could support more than one woman, that
heightened his social distinction, so many men kept mistresses.
On the other hand, men were supposed to defend— specifically by
bloodshed— the virginity of their daughters and the sexual exclusivity

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of their wives. This conception of honor led to dueling and to the
violent punishment of independent- minded women. This cultural
pattern has pre- Christian roots in the Mediterranean world and a
basic logic, worth mentioning to show the rhyme and reason in this
madness, that relates to property. Women’s illegitimate children,
not men’s, would be born into the family and inherit part of its
precious patrimony: the family wealth parceled out among heirs
at the death of each parent. Male “wild oats,” on the other hand,
would sprout on somebody else’s property, so to speak. Thus male
philandering implied no loss, but rather a kind of territorial gain,
for the family.

Women resisted being treated like means rather than ends, of
course. Fairly often, it seems, they used magic— coming from the folk
traditions of Iberia, as well as Africa and indigenous America— to
attract, manipulate, escape, or punish men. The Spanish Inquisi-
tion was on the alert against them. In 1592 the Inquisition pun-
ished a poor Lima woman for reciting a prayer under her breath “so
that men would desire her.” That was Eu ro pe an folk magic, meant
to redirect the powers of Catholic liturgy by saying a prayer back-
ward, for example. Inquisition files of the 1600s also reveal native
Andean “witches” like Catalina Guacayllano, accused of spilling
the blood of guinea pigs on sacred rocks while chewing coca and
praying “Oh Lord Father who has been burned, who gives us the
irrigation canals and water, give me food.” Her idea of God seems
to have remained strongly indigenous, giving her, and her people,
a spiritual in de pen dence from Spanish religion. In explaining
why he had three women whipped, a Peruvian priest reported
that these witches “went neither to Mass nor to catechism class.”
Instead, they publicly disobeyed him and inspired their whole
village to do the same.

Two centuries later, in 1763, and thousands of miles away,
in Grão Pará, at the mouth of the Amazon River, the Portuguese
Inquisition collected evidence about various sorts of nonapproved
cures—involving smoke, incantations, potions, talismans, shaking
walls, medicine bundles, and disembodied voices—that it regarded
as witchcraft. But the inquisition’s witchcraft was mostly Amazonian

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or African religion. (European medicine of the time, recall, focused
on bleeding the patient. Besides, there were few European-style
“leeches” to be hired in Grão Pará.) These indigenous or African
witches were being called in by respectable white people desperate
for a cure, and they were paid for their work. In one case, the ac-
cused witches were white widows who had apparently learned indig-
enous traditions and also, according to their accuser, consorted with
indigenous men.

Women doubtless got less satisfaction than men out of the
colonial Latin American “honor system,” which cast suspicion on
any woman who did not live under male control, especially widows.
Learning to live with these values, for there was no other choice,
women absorbed them. Only women of property could make the
grade, though, because people without property lacked honor almost
by definition. Poor women often had to work outside their homes,
after all, as cooks, laundresses, or market women who moved around
by themselves in the street as no honorable lady would. Not all roles
were honorable, no matter how well played. Slaves, who were them-
selves somebody else’s property, had no hope of honor. Only the most
extraordinary slave, like Henrique Dias, a born fighter who led
Brazilian forces against Dutch invaders in the 1600s, could achieve
it. The women of indigenous communities, whose social life retained
different gender patterns, lived less in the grip of this unfortunate
honor system.

In sum, cultural hegemony made dominance seem natural
and inevitable to the people being dominated. That was its awesome
power. Indigenous and African people eventually accepted Iberian
kings as their natural rulers by divine right. However, a situation
comes to seem the natural “way of the world” only after considerable
give-and-take. The less powerful accept ongoing subjugation only
after making the best possible bargain with those more powerful.
Thus, women accepted patriarchal subjugation but demanded in re-
turn that men live up to their responsibilities as good providers and
strong protectors. Similarly, when indigenous people and Africans
became Catholics, they conceded religious authority in return for a
protected status as Christians. Fortunately, there was another, more

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positive outcome of all of this. Along with hegemonic dominance,
daily give-and-take created distinctive, new Latin American cultures
through transculturation.

a Pro CE s s C a l l Ed T r a nsCU lT U r aT ion

The influential Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz first ap-
plied the term transculturation to Cuba’s popular music and dance
traditions. Transculturation, a two-way street, contrasts with
acculturation, which is a one-way street in which one culture
replaces another. Ortiz’s point was that the dominated cultures
of Africans and indigenous people were not wiped away, in Latin
America, to be replaced by European cultures. Instead, something
new resulted from the give-and-take, something not European, not
indigenous, not African, but rather, something distinctively Cuban,
mixed by definition. Like hegemony, transculturation has become
a key concept in Latin American Studies. Historians now believe
that transculturation lies at the origin of Latin America’s national

Imagine transculturative give-and-take as a thousand tiny
confrontations and tacit negotiations taking place in people’s daily
lives, always within the force field of hierarchy and domination.
Music is needed for the procession, say, or to celebrate the arrival
of a new viceroy. Will the slaves be allowed to dance and play their
own instruments? That certainly would add to the festivities, at
some cost to European dignity, however. The singing of black women
in church choirs began to infuse Cuban music with African sensi-
bility as early as the 1580s, but not without resistance. Here we
can see that transculturation and hegemony are two sides of the
same coin, one positive, the other negative. Cuba’s shared musi-
cal and dance culture became, famously, a harmonious marriage
of Spanish guitar and African drum. That’s transculturation in
action. The descendants of slaves accepted a subordinate place in
Cuban society, excelling as musicians and sports figures only. That’s
cultural hegemony in action. The descendants of slave owners

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accepted African cultural influences as part of a package deal that
benefited them, overall. The people on top, in Latin America’s co-
lonial crucible, were always able to remain on top, and they were
usually able to impose the broad outlines and basic content of the
new cultural forms.

The people below contributed more subtle elements of style,
rhythm, texture, and mood. Although European forms struc-
tured the outer contours of collective life even among indigenous
people and slaves, the inner dimensions resisted colonial standard-
ization. Slaves, who gathered and danced on religious feast days,
preserved African religion by dressing it in the clothes of Catholic
saints, so to speak. A blending of indigenous, African, and Euro-
pean religious attitudes often occurred. The blend might be covert,
as when indigenous artists integrated their own sacred plant and
animal motifs (and in the Andes, symbolic rainbows) into the mu-
ral paintings of Catholic cloisters, but they could be more obvious.
The Virgin of Guadalupe, for example, supposedly first appeared
on a site already sacred in Aztec times. When an indigenous boy
reported seeing the miraculous appearance, the Spanish ecclesias-
tical authorities were wary of an “Indian virgin” with a dark face,
whom Nahuatl-speaking Mexicans continued to call Tonantzin,
the name of an indigenous earth goddess. Gradually, though, they
accepted her and made her the patron saint of Mexico. As a result,
the Nahuas got to see Spaniards kneel before Tonantzin (dress her
however you like), and the Spanish religion got a whole new level
of indigenous buy-in. Thus did indigenous and African religions in-
filtrate Latin American Catholicism. The profusion of blood on co-
lonial Mexican crucifixion figures, for example, was meant to evoke
blood’s life-giving power, a prominent element of Aztec religion. In
the Caribbean and Brazil, on the other hand, Catholicism acquired
a less austere, more celebratory and African tone. In Salvador, on
Brazil’s Day of All Saints, an African religious spirit, including
dancing to very un-European rhythms, infused many Catholic cer-
emonies during the 1700s.

Here we need to say a few words about colonial cities, which
provided a special setting for transculturation. The Spanish and

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t H e V I rg I n o F g ua da lu P e , Mexico’s patron saint, has both European and indi genous

antecedents and has played a unifying role in Mexico since colonial days. © Leemage/Corbis.

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7 1

Portuguese were tiny minorities in colonial Latin America. They
quickly founded and crowded into a scattering of small cities with
populations of only a few thousand each. In many ways, these were
tiny islands of European-style life and architecture dotting the vast-
ness of indigenous America. Still, cities were the staging centers and
command centers of the colonial project.

The hegemonic institutions of colonial governance existed
only in cities. All administrative officials, bishops, judges, nota-
ries, merchants, and moneylenders—the people whose commands,
reports, and dealings with one another connected cities to Eu-
rope—were urban based. Cities organized the great public spec-
tacles that dramatized imperial power: solemn processions for Holy
Week (preceding Easter), ceremonial welcomes for new viceroys,
boisterous celebrations to commemorate royal marriages. Immense
churches and convents, viceroys who could literally “grant honors,”
and refined European ladies and gentlemen who provided models
of “superior” behavior made cities impressive. In Spanish America,
cities were laid out according to imperial directives mandating the
now familiar but then innovative checkerboard of square blocks
and streets that intersect at right angles. Around the central
square of each city stood the governor’s palace, the cathedral, and
mansions for the bishop and richest families, also the seat of the
city council, which was the most important governing institution
outside the handful of major capitals. Urban centers were given
the legal rank of village, town, or city, each under the jurisdiction
of higher-ranked centers nearby, all reporting to the handful of
major capitals such as Lima, Mexico City, Bogotá, and Buenos
Aires. The Portuguese gave less emphasis to the creation of model
cities in Brazil, partly because their principal export product,
sugar, was agricultural. Still, cities were the only places in Spanish
America or Brazil where white people could socialize mostly with
each other, places where a tiny minority could maintain a basically
European culture.

The attempt to recreate Spain or Portugal in colonial cities
ultimately failed. Many indigenous and mestizo people, as well as
blacks, both free and enslaved, became city dwellers. From the very

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a g u a M a n P o M a d r aw I n g denounces Spanish exploitation in the early 1600s.

Here, a royal administrator, a parish priest, a notary, and other representatives of Spanish

power (portrayed as savage beasts) menace a kneeling Indian. Werner Forman/ Art Resource,

New York.

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7 3

beginning, the impact of colonization had shaken some indigenous
people loose from their native communities and forced them to mi-
grate. Some went to the mines or Spanish estates. Some built simple
housing on the outskirts of colonial cities—Latin America’s first sub-
urban shantytowns. Torn away from their cultural roots, indigenous
migrants had to regrow them in new environments, as did those
other forced migrants, enslaved Africans. Urban slaves enjoyed
greater freedom of association than did plantation slaves. Urban
slaves could locate and socialize with people from the same part of
Africa. Urban slaves could also join free black people in Catholic
lay brotherhoods that provided a social support group and a sense
of voluntary belonging. Slaves, and free blacks too, often worked as
artisans (bakers or carpenters, for instance), and artisans came in
all colors. As mestizos, free blacks, and poor whites rubbed elbows at
a shoemaker’s bench or in a blacksmith’s shop, they were inventing
Latin American popular culture.

Outside the cities, people of European descent were few and
colonial institutions, almost non existent. Native and African cul-
tures dominated life in the countryside by simple demographic
weight. The white people of the countryside were too few and far
between to socialize, or marry, exclusively with each other. Rural
people of Spanish and Portuguese descent, even when they main-
tained a house in town, thus acquired indigenous habits and African
tastes sooner than did their urban counterparts. If transculturation
happened on profitable Brazilian sugar plantations, where export
earnings could pay for imported clothing, wine, and even food, it
happened even more on haciendas, the less profitable sort of large
estate more typical of Spanish America. Rather than investing huge
sums in an enslaved workforce, haciendas relied on indigenous
workers, who earned a small salary or shared the harvest. Instead
of crops for export to Europe, haciendas produced for local consump-
tion. And as a rule, hacienda owners who had little to sell to Europe
could afford few imported European goods. On rare visits to town,
their speech, clothing, and behavior seemed (from the point of view
of their urban cousins) rustically tinged with indigenous or African

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The indigenous and African-descended people of the country-
side preserved more of their own cultures than did their city cousins.
Accepting indigenous and African cultural influences in church fes-
tivities became habitual among missionaries trying to attract indig-
enous people to Christianity. Rural indigenous people, when com-
pared with those in the city, had more chance to live apart, in their
own villages, speaking Quechua or Quiché or Aymara or Nahuatl and
following their own traditions. Plantation slaves worked in gangs,
associating mostly with each other, and were often locked down at
night. Urban slaves became fluent in Portuguese much more quickly
than their country cousins. This is why the countryside of colonial
Latin America seemed so exotic to European travelers. They dis-
missed the cities as second-rate imitations of Europe, while the coun-
tryside was a world apart, not Spanish or Portuguese, not indigenous
or African, but a fusion of various elements, varying from region to
region in kaleidoscopic combinations.

For Latin America’s subjugated majorities, transcultura-
tion was both a blessing and a curse. Colonial masters and ser-
vants became a bit more like each other, seemingly a positive
result. But by refashioning Spanish or Portuguese culture in
their own likeness, the subjugated more easily consented to the
basic ideology of colonization and, therefore, moved more firmly
under colonial control. El Inca Garcilaso and Guamán Poma, two
spokesmen for the native people of Peru, wrote books advancing
some indigenous perspectives, but they did so while strongly en-
dorsing Christianity and Spanish rule. The Jesuit António Vieira,
who has been called the Las Casas of Brazil, exemplifies the same
paradox. Vieira was one of the most famous intellectuals of the
1600s. In fact, it was a polemical publication by Vieira that Sor
Juana made the mistake of refuting too brilliantly for her own
good. Vieira traveled back and forth between Brazil and Portugal,
preaching fiery sermons. He studied both Tupi and the language of
Angola. He tried to protect the indigenous people against the Portu-
guese settlers. He defended the humanity and worth of African slaves.
Vieira preached that “Brazil has its body in America and its soul in
Angola,” but he also called on slaves to endure slavery with a good

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heart and await their reward in the Christian heaven. Vieira had
some African heritage of his own, through his grandmother; slaves
who heard him preach no doubt found him more convincing for that

T HE F r ingE s oF Colon iz aT ion

While the colonizers concentrated their efforts on silver mining
and sugar cultivation, vast reaches of Spanish America and Brazil
remained outside the core areas, on the “fringe” of colonization. The
fringes were quite different from the core areas because they had
little to export. They could not generate as much wealth for Ibe-
rian colonizers and therefore attracted fewer of them. Lack of sugar
and precious metals meant less incentive to force labor from indig-
enous people, less capital to  invest in African slaves, and, overall,
fewer stark contrasts between luxury and misery. A weaker money
economy meant that people’s energy went into subsistence activities,
especially growing their own food. Where people are few, those at the
bottom of the social hierarchy become more important. Thus peo-
ple of mixed race got a little more respect in fringe areas, and even
slaves received better treatment there, because their replacement
price was harder to afford.

Paraguay, a large Spanish province in the heart of the South
American continent, was one of the most socially peripheral areas
in the empire. Like many fringe areas, Paraguay had a form of
colonization characterized by missions where religious orders, the
Jesuits in this case, gathered indigenous people to be instructed in the
Christian faith. Remote from the mining economy and almost land-
locked, colonial Paraguay became thoroughly permeated with Guaraní
indigenous influence. Eventually, Guaraní became the language of
intimate conversation at all levels of Paraguayan society, even among
nonindigenous people. Racial mixing, another characteristic of fringe
societies, made Paraguay notably mestizo. Even Paraguay’s chief
export was native American— leaves of the evergreen yerba mate tree,
which made a tea widely consumed in South America.

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Farther south, at the mouth of the Río de la Plata, lay other
Spanish American settlements, including the ports of Buenos Aires
and Montevideo, much less isolated than Paraguay, but still fringes.
The great rivers that feed the Río de la Plata together constitute a
navigable transportation network second in Latin America only to the
Amazon. Silver from Potosí flowed out of the continent here— hence
Río de la Plata, or River of Silver. Herds of cattle multiplied on the
grasslands around the Río de la Plata, and by late in the colonial
period, the exportation of cattle hides added yet another lucrative
line to this rising Spanish American fringe. Still, even after becoming
the capital of a new viceroyalty in 1776, Buenos Aires could hardly
compete with the splendors, refinements, and impressive buildings
of Mexico City or Lima. Mobile parties of indigenous raiders still
swooped down on isolated ranch houses and carried away captives
to be incorporated into tribal life not so far south of the city. On the
other hand, the society of the Río de la Plata could boast a kind of
abundance different from that of the older colonial centers. The
ratio of cattle to people was so high that virtually everyone, including
slaves, ate as much beef as they wanted. Horses, too, abounded; to
the astonishment of Eu ro pe ans, Argentine paupers might beg from
horse back.

Across the Andes from Argentina lay another Spanish fringe
settlement, Chile, paradoxically isolated despite its two thousand
miles of Pacific coast. To channel resources to mining, the Spanish
Crown had made Chile strictly subordinate to the viceroyalty of
Peru. In addition, to curb smuggling and defend the sea link be-
tween America and Eu rope, the Crown restricted transatlantic com-
munications to one annual fleet that gathered at Havana bound for
Spain, and another that made the return trip. As a result, Chile’s
only communications with Madrid involved first a voyage to Lima,
then a second leg to Panama, a harrowing journey on mule over the
forest- clad mountains of the isthmus, a third voyage through the
pirate- infested Ca rib be an, a layover in Havana, and then the peril-
ous Atlantic crossing. Nor could Chile offer settlers many tribute-
paying indigenous servants. Indeed, the southern Chilean frontier
had resisted colonization even before the Spanish arrived. There,

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Inca armies had encountered the unconquerable Araucanos, whose
heads Inés Suárez famously cut off. Fighting between the Spanish
and the Araucanos continued for centuries. By the 1700s, however,
the Spanish controlled most of Chile, with its long central valley
lying between the towering Andean ridges and the Pacific. This val-
ley was fertile but lay outside the tropics, too far south for sugar. In-
stead, Chilean landowners grew wheat as part of the supply network
of the Peruvian mining complex.

Spanish fringe areas were often cattle frontiers, sparsely pop-
ulated lands of “cowboys and Indians,” dotted with isolated mission
settlements. Río de la Plata cowboys were called gauchos, Chilean
ones guasos, Mexican ones vaqueros, and so on. In fact, the cattle
lands of the southwestern United States were once a fringe of the
Mexican mining zone. In later years, the Anglo settlers learned to
be cowboys from the “buckaroos” (vaqueros, that is) who preceded
them. Spanish American fringes, in other words, were a bit like the
Wild West. These cattle frontiers remained poor as long as beef could
be preserved only by drying it into jerky, which people in Eu rope
refused to eat.

Much of the Ca rib be an region, where Columbus touched land,
was a fringe area after the first de cades of colonization. Cuba, the
greatest of the Antilles, comprising roughly half the total land area
of all the Ca rib be an islands, was basically cattle country until the
late 1700s. The islands of Hispaniola and Jamaica remained so un-
developed that the French and En glish made their own territorial
claims there. Likewise, on the southern shore of the Ca rib be an, most
of Venezuela was a cattle frontier too. The Ca rib be an coast of Central
America was another sparsely colonized fringe, which explains how
the En glish got footholds there, especially the foothold that became
Belize—an English- speaking, non– Latin American country wedged
between Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.

New Granada (present- day Colombia) was, then as now, a
place more complicated than most. It had dense populations of fully
sedentary indigenous people in its Andean highlands, but lacked
the great silver mines of Peru. On the other hand, it had lots of
fringe area, too, including great tropical forests and extensive cattle

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frontiers. Ec ua dor, administratively part of the Viceroyalty of New
Granada, also had fully sedentary people in its string of high Andean
valleys. Such areas with fully sedentary indigenous inhabitants, but
without silver mines, lay somewhere between core and fringe in
economic terms. Guatemala and Yucatán could be described that
way, as well.

Some fringe areas underwent an economic boom at the end of
the colonial period. The Río de la Plata found avid Eu ro pe an mar-
kets for cattle hides. Cuba and Venezuela found profitable plantation
crops. In Cuba, those crops were coffee and, especially, sugar. Cacao
(which En glish tongues turned into “cocoa”) ultimately proved bet-
ter suited than sugarcane to the slopes of the mountainous Venezu-
elan coast. Throughout the Ca rib be an, plantation agriculture brought
high profits but, along with them, the same grim social outcome of
plantation agriculture everywhere— the massive forced migration of
enslaved Africans.

Brazilian fringes resembled Spanish American fringes. Mis-
sions constituted the chief expression of Iberian presence. Few rep-
resentatives of royal authority, few Portuguese of any description,
in fact, could be found in the Brazilian backlands. Cattle ranchers,
aiming to provide beef on the hoof for coastal plantations and cities,
spread inland from the sugar coast into the arid sertão, especially up
the long valley of the São Francisco River. Portuguese officials rarely
followed them. For the most part, Portuguese colonization hugged
the coast and left the backlands to the ranchers, to the surviving
indigenous people, to Jesuit missionaries, and to the remarkable
frontiersmen called bandeirantes, whose base was the mission town
of São Paulo.

Today the industrial power house of Brazil, São Paulo was very
much a Brazilian backwater in the 1600s. One of the few Brazilian
towns not a seaport, it had been founded by Jesuit missionaries at
the top of a difficult escarpment that rises steeply from the Atlantic.
São Paulo’s colonial society faced inland, into the forest of southern
Brazil, and indigenous influence was strong there. São Paulo land-
owners could not compete with the plantations of the sugar coast, and
without export profits, the Portuguese settlers of São Paulo could not

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7 9

buy many African slaves. Therefore, they depended on the labor of in-
digenous people. They could not afford the luxuries that would attract
Portuguese wives, either, so they tended to cohabit with Tupi women.
Thus the population of São Paulo did not follow the black- and- white
pattern of the sugar coast, tending instead to be mestizo. A similar
situation applied in the Amazonian region, in the arid sertão area of
northeastern Brazil, and anywhere else beyond the sweet circle of the
sugar economy.

In São Paulo and the other fringe regions of Brazil, the en-
slavement of indigenous people continued long after it had ceased on
the sugar coast. To hunt slaves, São Paulo bandeirantes roamed the
vast interior of the Brazilian subcontinent, traveling in canoes, not
returning to São Paulo for months or years. Often, they overran mis-
sions and captured their inhabitants. Ironically, these slave hunters
conversed not in Portuguese but in the generic Tupi, called Lingua
Geral, that the Jesuits had used to teach Christianity. By the 1600s,
Lingua Geral had become the most widely spoken language of the
Brazilian interior. Gradually it disappeared, lingering only in remote
Amazon regions. Some important bandeirantes, like Domingos Jorge
Velho, did not speak Portuguese at all. He needed an interpreter to
communicate with officials from Portugal. The bandeirantes chroni-
cally disobeyed the royal guidelines on legal enslavement, but they
claimed loyalty to the Portuguese king and made themselves useful.
They did not found settlements, but their explorations extended Por-
tuguese claims deep into the continent. Velho’s bandeirantes were
also able to do what no other Portuguese force could— destroy Pal-
mares, a settlement of escaped slaves, called a quilombo in Brazil,
where there were hundreds. Palmares was one of the largest quilom-
bos and certainly the best known, a collection of fortified villages
that thrived in the hills behind the sugar coast for most of the 1600s.
Zumbi, the warrior king of Palmares, led the last stand against the
bandeirantes. When Zumbi died fighting in 1695, his head was stuck
on a pike in a public square to quash rumors of his immortality. But
the rumors were true: three centuries later, Zumbi stands incompa-
rably as the most beloved Afro- Brazilian hero, a symbol of heroic re-
sis tance to the horrors of slavery.

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z u M B I , the warrior king of Palmares, Brazil’s most famous quilombo, is the country’s

greatest Afro-Brazilian hero. iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Just before 1700, the bandeirantes discovered gold in the back-
lands. Now for the first time Portuguese settlers poured inland, and
soon the precious metal upstaged sugar as the source of colonial profits
in Brazil. The São Francisco River began to function as a highway for
migrants from the sugar coast to the gold fields, which they named
Minas Gerais, or General Mines. The bandeirantes regarded the
newcomers as claim jumpers and derided their European- style
clothing, calling them emboabas, or “fancy- pants.” As the gold rush
grew, however, the bandeirantes were pushed aside. Slave own-
ers from the sugar coast brought Africans to do the real work of
mining, Crown officials began to collect the royal fifth, cities were
built near the largest mines, and Brazil acquired its first substan-
tial inland settlements. Vila Rica de Ouro Preto (meaning “rich
town of black gold”), the capital of Minas Gerais, became one of
Brazil’s most populous and prosperous cities in the 1700s, with
lavish churches and close- packed two- story houses lining its wind-
ing streets. This gold financed the religious art of Aleijadinho, an
affectionate nickname meaning “cripple.” Aleijadinho’s hands were
crippled by leprosy. Sometimes unable to grip his tools, he had to
tie his chisel to a ruined hand in order to work. But work he did,
adorning church after church with his vigorous, expressive stat-
ues of biblical figures. Today, Aleijadinho, a mulatto, is recognized
as the greatest Latin American sculptor. (The statues shown on
page 50 are his work.)

The discovery of more gold, and even diamonds, in remote lo-
cations of the Brazilian interior— thanks, once again to the wander-
ing bandeirantes— began the settlement of Goiás and Mato Grosso,
even farther inland. São Paulo frontiersmen began to breed mules
on the southern plains and drive them north to serve the mines.
Brazil became more eco nom ical ly integrated. But the great Brazil-
ian gold boom soon went bust. As generally occurs with gold rushes,
the best deposits were easily panned out. Although many newcomers
stayed to raise cattle, many others drifted away from Minas Gerais.
Still, the Brazilian colony had changed shape as gold pulled its de-
mographic and economic center southward. In 1763, the capital of
Brazil was transferred from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro, a port city

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closer to Minas Gerais. Former fringe areas, Minas Gerais and Rio
de Janeiro now counted as part of central Brazil.

Of course, the distinction between core and fringe is only a
rough guide, a conceptual model, not a neat physical reality. In fact,
in the late 1700s the variety and distribution of Latin America’s local
cultures was already infinitely more complex than can be explained
in a few paragraphs. Still, basic principles such as the core/fringe dis-
tinction help us understand many permutations.

l aT E Colon i a l T r a nsFor m aT ions

A final colonial pattern remains to be delineated: change over time.
After the 1500s, the century of the Encounter, indigenous populations
gradually recovered, and African slaves arrived in ever- larger num-
bers. During the 1600s, the basic social outlines of Spanish America and
Brazil became well established as the descendents of conquerors and
conquered found a modus vivendi. Contact with Eu rope was fairly
limited, New World societies were fairly autonomous, and local po-
liti cal control was fairly stable. In the 1700s, economic forces, such
as the Brazilian gold rush, gradually expanded the areas of Iberian
settlement, and new viceroyalties were added, as has already been
described. Around 1750, a further sort of transformation occurred, one
that, in the long run, would spell trouble for Spanish and Portuguese

The transformation began when royal administrators in
both Spain and Portugal planned to tighten their control over their
New World possessions and extract more revenues from them.
This new attitude was associated with the Bourbon dynasty that
now ruled Spain and with a particularly powerful royal minster
in Portugal, the Marquis de Pombal, and so the transformations
are called Bourbon or Pombaline reforms, respectively. These re-
forms intended to rationalize and modernize the governance of
overseas dominions by making them act more like colonies. The de-
scendants of the conquerors liked to think that their heroic forefa-
thers had carved out rich New World kingdoms for their monarchs,

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( 1 7 1 7 )


( M E X I C O )




( 1 7 7 6 )




São Paulo






Mexico City Veracruz

Rio de

Spanish America



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8 4

kingdoms equal in importance and dignity to Old World kingdoms.
But the Bourbon and Pombaline reformers regarded that as an old-
fashioned idea. Modern Eu ro pe an nations, they believed, should
have colonies that served the economic interests of the mother
countries. Among themselves, the reformers spoke of New World
“colonies,” rather than “kingdoms,” but even if they avoided using
the offensive term colonial in public discourse, their actual reforms
were offensive enough.

The reformers’ chief concern was increasing the profitability of
the colonies for Spain and Portugal. Therefore, they raised taxes across
the board and introduced all sorts of provisions to insure better collec-
tion of existing taxes, especially by revamping the framework of colo-
nial administration. A frequent technique was the creation of state-
controlled monopoly enterprises to oversee trade or production and sale
of basic commodities, such as tobacco or alcohol, in order to maximize
the revenue that they produced for the state. Mining, the single most
lucrative sector of the colonial economy, received special attention in
both Spanish America and Brazil, both to promote technical improve-
ment and to stifle smuggling of untaxed gold and silver. To insure that
colonial economies would serve Spain and Portugal better, the reform-
ers also tightened limitations on production of certain goods, such as
cloth or wine, in the Americas. They wanted colonials to buy cloth and
wine from Spanish and Portuguese producers, not compete with them.
To facilitate transatlantic economic integration beneficial to the mother
countries, the reformers loosened restrictions on shipping, as long as the
colonies traded exclusively with Spain and Portugal.

By tightening colonial control to serve Eu ro pe an interests,
the Bourbon and Pombaline reforms naturally injured the inter-
ests of people living in Spanish America and Brazil. Tax increases
fell directly on some, such as indigenous people, who were little
able to pay. The limitations on various sorts of trade and produc-
tion put people out of work, and the new monopoly enterprises
resulted in rising prices. No wonder the period after 1750 saw
widespread revolts and protests with economic motivations, a rela-
tively new form of unrest. The people with the most at stake in this

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situation were the native- born Spanish American and Brazilian
ruling classes, who lost influence in all sorts of ways. The Bourbon
and Pombaline reformers reasoned, logically enough, that colonial
officials would have Eu ro pe an interests most at heart when they
were themselves Eu ro pe ans, while the native- born elite was much
more likely to defend its own local interests. Because European-
born Spaniards and Portuguese were regarded as superior agents
of imperial control, they received systematic preferment through-
out the civil and ecclesiastical power structures. The proud heirs
of the conquerors began to lose the judgeships and administra-
tive positions that they had previously enjoyed, a tremendous blow
to their pride and to their opportunities for social advancement.
And native- born elites suffered in other ways from the reformers’
tightening of colonial control, too, particularly when the reform-
ers expelled the Jesuit order from both Brazil (1759) and Spanish
America (1767). The Jesuits had offered a prestigious career path
to capable young men of the New World, and they had provided
rare educational opportunities to the ruling class. But the Jesuits
had a habit of resisting royal authority, something that the re-
formers would not tolerate.

Young men of haughty elite families were bumping up against a
glass ceiling just as socially climbing young men of more humble fami-
lies crowded them from below. The late colonial period saw a marked
rise in the portion of the population that was not white, not indige-
nous, and not African, but culturally and racially mixed. Mixed people
were people- in- between. They occupied the middle rungs on the social
ladder, with whites above them and Africans and indigenous people
farther down. They were products of centuries of transculturation,
speaking a variety of languages, well able to negotiate the various
social worlds of the colonial environment, superbly adapted to succeed
in their diverse social milieu.

Transculturation usually occurred along with some sort of race
mixing. Obviously, transculturation can happen without any mixing
of genes, and vice versa. Nevertheless, in Latin American history,
transcultural mixing and race mixing go together.

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Race mixing could mean several things here. It could mean so-
cial interaction and shared experience— rarely on a basis of equality,
of course, but still meaningful in human terms—as when apprentice
artisans of various colors labored and caroused together, or when
white rural families spent their whole lives— their childhood, their
workaday routine, their moments of deep personal significance—
surrounded by slaves, indigenous people, or free people of mixed race.
On the other hand, race mixing often meant sex as well. Intermar-
riage among poor whites, blacks, and indigenous people was common,
as were consensual partnerships. Often not consensual, or only su-
perficially so, were the sexual encounters between social unequals of
different race, as when “gentlemen” hired prostitutes or forced them-
selves on enslaved women.

The story of Xica da Silva is extreme rather than typical, mem-
orable rather than anonymous. Xica became celebrated, and also no-
torious, in the diamond fields of Brazil. Her mother was African and
her father was Portuguese. The riches of the diamond fields flowed
into the pocket of the king’s royal diamond contractor. He could buy
what ever he wanted. What he wanted was Xica da Silva for his mis-
tress, but she did not come cheap. For her he had to provide rich
clothing, a place of honor at church, a dozen maids-in-waiting, a park
with artificial waterfalls, even an artificial lake with a miniature sail-
ing ship. (Xica had always wanted to see the ocean.) Now she wore a
powdered wig, and people came to her seeking access to her lover, the
diamond contractor. One of her sons— not the diamond contractor’s—
studied at Eu ro pe an universities. Her disdainful reference to certain
Portuguese visitors rang in people’s memories. “Butler,” she famously
said, “take care of the sailor boys,” using the scornful Brazilian slang
for Portuguese immigrants just off the boat. When she called the Por-
tuguese “sailor boys,” Xica da Silva, a Brazilian woman of mixed race,
was daring to look down on Eu ro pe an men— flying in the face of the
caste system.

To exercise control over colonial Latin American societies,
the Iberian Crowns sorted people into fixed categories called castes,
as in India. The caste system was all about pedigree, so it more or
less corresponded to what people today call “race.” In practice, the

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caste system also factored in other characteristics, such as educa-
tion, clothing, and especially wealth. “Money whitens,” according to
a famous phrase expressing the importance of wealth in the Latin
American caste system. A person’s caste classification was noted
in the baptismal register at the time of baptism, and people of low
caste were legally prevented from becoming priests, attending the
university, wearing silk, owning weapons, and many other things.
A person wholly of Eu ro pe an descent occupied one category in the
system, and a person entirely of African descent occupied another.
That much is quite familiar from US race relations. But the child of
a Eu ro pe an and an African belonged to a third category— half Eu ro-
pe an, half African, logically enough. There was a fourth category for
a child with a Eu ro pe an father and an indigenous mother, and a fifth
for a child whose parents were indigenous and African. Indigenous

C a S t e Pa I n t I n g from eighteenth-century Mexico. Caste paintings tried to system-

atize an unruly reality of race mixing. The painting’s original caption reads, “Mestizo plus

Indian equals Coyote.” De Agostini/G. Dagli Orti/Getty Images.

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people had a category to themselves, making six. And this was just
the beginning.

Members of these six categories continued to produce babies
with each other, despite official rules against this, creating new people-
in- between who confounded the categories and strained the system. At
least in theory, caste categories proliferated geometrically— to sixteen
or more, including some with animal names, Lobo and Coyote— during
the last century of colonial rule. These names are from the 1700s in
Mexico, where many series of paintings were commissioned to illus-
trate the caste system. Such caste paintings were titled, for example,
An Español and a Mulata make a Morisco, with father, mother, and
child shown in a domestic setting, each with the appropriate cloth-
ing, demeanor, and skin color. Caste paintings were sent to Spain,
where imperial officials viewed them much as species classifications
in natural history. Above all, these strange works were intended to
help impose order on the unruly reality of race mixing. The dozen or
so new caste names never really gained everyday currency, and they
should be viewed mostly as a symptom of the strain that progressive
race mixing was putting on the caste system by the late 1700s.

Also in these years, successful people of low caste (prosperous
mule drivers or artisans, for example) presented a different challenge
to the caste system. Perpetually in need of money, the Spanish Crown
sometimes allowed such people to buy an official exemption that made
them legally white and eligible to occupy positions of distinction and
authority. This exemption was called gracias al sacar. Whites with
little else going for them except for caste privilege complained bit-
terly about the sale of legal whiteness, saying it undermined the
whole caste system. The sale of gracias al sacar also exemplified the
Latin American tendency to think of race as a negotiable spectrum,
a ladder that families might ascend. Families could climb the ladder,
even without legal exemptions, when daughters and sons were able
to marry “up”— which is to say, find partners lighter than themselves.
Note, however, that moving “up” by marrying for skin color also meant
buying into the logic of the caste system, with its premise of white
superiority. Therefore, race mixing provides a tracer of transcultura-
tion (and cultural hegemony) in action.

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Whether valued, abhorred, or merely tolerated, race mixing was
a fact of colonial life in Latin America. By 1800, near the end of the
colonial period, people of mixed blood already made up roughly a quar-
ter of the Latin American population, and these people- in- between
were also the fastest- growing group. The African and indigenous ma-
jority had adopted much from the Spanish and Portuguese. They had
made a cultural impact of their own. In living together, with all the
conflicts that entailed, people of diverse origin had created shared
identities and unifying webs of loyalty. By the year 1800, even white
Spanish Americans and Brazilians, roughly another quarter of the
population, were noticing that many of their habits and preferences,
such as their taste in music, now made them different from their
Eu ro pe an cousins and in some ways a bit like the people below them
in the colonial hierarchy. Still, few colonials assigned much impor-
tance to a distinctive American identity in 1800.

The wars of in de pen dence would change that.

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C h a p t e r r e v i e w

s T U d y Q U E s T i o n s

1. How were Spanish America and Brazil organized in economic

terms? Can you compare the parts played by silver in Spanish

America and sugar in Brazil?

2. How did the Iberian colonizers hold sway over sprawling

American territories?

3. What does the term “hegemony” mean in the study of colonial

Latin America? Discuss it in relation to the caste system.

4. Why is transculturation an important concept in Latin American


5. Can you differentiate the core areas of colonization from the

fringe areas? How did they contrast?

K E y T E r m s a n d v o C a b U l a r y

patriarchy, p.65

transculturation, p.68

bandeirantes, p.78

Bourbon and Pombaline

reforms, p.82

caste system, p.86

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, p.54

silver mining, p.56

Potosí, p.56

royal fifth, p.58

viceroy, viceroyalty, p.58

sugar plantations, p.58

hegemony, p.63

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C o l o n i a l r E b E l l i o n s

C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

verall, colonial rule was surprisingly stable in Latin America,
but there were many small rebellions— and a few notably
large ones— especially toward the end. Some of these upris-

ings were aftershocks of the Iberian takeover. Others, the later
ones, can be taken as signs of rising tensions and thus precursors of
in de pen dence.

The Rebellion of Gonzalo Pizarro, 1544– 49. The most impor-
tant early rebellion was carried out by the conquistadors of Peru. It
occurred when the New Laws limiting encomiendas (in 1542) arrived
in Peru along with the first viceroy to be sent by the Spanish king.
The leader of the revolt was Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of the Peruvian
conqueror, Francisco Pizarro. Pizarro’s followers feared losing their
encomiendas altogether as a result of the New Laws, and they reacted
violently, capturing and killing the viceroy in 1546. Within three
years, the rebellion had run its course. Gonzalo Pizarro was beheaded
for treason, and a new viceroy resumed royal control of Peru.

Indigenous revolts, 1500– 1800. Indigenous people often revolted
once the first shock of conquest had worn off. The 1560s Andean
movement called Taki Onqoy was a particularly interesting example.
In it, indigenous people heard their old gods calling them and, as in
Eu rope’s Saint Vitus’s Dance of the 1300s, they suffered uncontrol-
lable fits of shaking and dancing. However, most indigenous revolts, of
which there were hundreds, were small and isolated, seldom threaten-
ing to overall Spanish or Portuguese rule. The 1680 Pueblo rebellion
of New Mexico was an exception. In that year, the Pueblo people rose
up and, for more than a de cade, expelled all things Spanish from their

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land. Yucatán, at the other end of Mexico, was the site of repeated
uprisings. In 1761, a Yucatec Maya took the name Canek (a legendary
indigenous leader) and led a brief but serious revolt. He was captured
within the year and executed by being torn limb from limb. Punish-
ments for indigenous revolts were, as a rule, truly savage.

Rebellions against Bourbon reform mea sures, 1740s– 80s. The
Bourbon attempt to tighten royal control and extract greater profits
from the American colonies sparked re sis tance in several places. In
1749, Venezuelan cacao growers revolted against the government’s
monopoly control of their product. In 1765– 66, urban crowds staged
an uprising to protest tax hikes in Quito (Ec ua dor). In the Comunero
uprising of 1781, inhabitants of a region in present- day Colombia
revolted because of tax increases and new monopoly restrictions on
the cultivation of tobacco. Often, such rebellions united people across
caste lines for a short time, but their alliances usually broke apart,
precisely along those lines, within a few weeks. In addition, these
rebellions targeted specific Bourbon reform mea sures and not Span-
ish rule per se. In fact, the rebels often proclaimed their loyalty to the
Crown at the very moment of revolt, shouting “Long Live the King!
Death to Bad Government!”

Quilombos and palenques, 1500– 1888. We have already encoun-
tered the great Brazilian quilombo (refuge of escaped slaves) called
Palmares. Refuges also existed in the Spanish Ca rib be an, where they
were termed palenques. (The Spanish word describes the palisade of
tree trunks that often fortified a camp of escaped slaves.) Uprisings
in which slaves took revenge on masters were much less common, but
never out of the question.

“French- style” conspiracies in Brazil, 1789 and 1798. An early
tremor or two showed those ideas at work in Brazil as well. In a few cit-
ies, circles of daring men began to discuss new po liti cal philosophies—
namely, the overthrow of monarchies to form republics— then emanat-
ing from France and the United States. The city of Ouro Preto, in

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Brazil’s mining region, was one such place. Informers revealed the
conspiracy almost immediately, however, and the participants were
swiftly arrested. Most, being white and well- off, were merely exiled.
But one, a mulatto army officer (nicknamed Tiradentes, “Tooth- puller,”
because he practiced dentistry on the side), was publicly executed.
Today Tiradentes is Brazil’s greatest patriot martyr. A similar French-
style conspiracy, called the Tailor’s Rebellion because several of the
conspirators practiced that trade, was exposed in Bahia nine years
later. There, most of the conspirators were blacks or mulattos, a cir-
cumstance particularly frightening to the white elite.

The Rebellion of Tupac Amaru II, 1780– 83. This most important
of colonial rebellions shook the high Andes and sent shock waves
throughout Spanish America. The mestizo who called himself Tupac
Amaru II claimed royal Inca descent, but whether or not he had it,
the Inca name itself was the main point. He took it in memory of
Tupac Amaru I, an Inca re sis tance leader and folk hero who fought a
rearguard action against the conquest in the 1500s. The initial proc-
lamation of the new rebellion was anti-“Peninsular” (a name given to
Iberian- born Spaniards) and called for an alliance among American-
born whites, mestizos, and indigenous people. Once begun, however,
the rebellion became primarily indigenous and raged out of control,
leaping south through the high plateaus of dense indigenous popula-
tion like a grass fire, into Upper Peru (modern Bolivia), where it set
off another, more stubborn revolt, involving a leader who called him-
self Tupac Catari. The rebellion, which consumed perhaps a hundred
thousand lives before it finally burned out, thoroughly terrified the
Peruvian elite and profoundly affected their behavior in the coming
wars of in de pen dence.

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T h e L i b e r aT o r S i m ó n b o L í va r . Bolívar, who helped create five nations, was the single

greatest general of in de pen dence. Bolívar was from Caracas, the son of a plantation-

owning family who gave him a privileged education— including a Eu ro pe an walking tour

with his brilliant tutor, Simón Rodríguez, a man afire with new ideas. But white, upper- class

generals like Bolívar could not win in de pen dence without the support of Latin America’s

nonwhite majority. Courtesy of Hulton Getty Picture Collection.

1 8 0 7 – 8

1 8 1 0 – 1 4

revolts begin

1 8 1 5
Brazil raised
to status of

1 8 2 0

in Spain and


1 8 2 4


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atin American struggles for in de pen dence erupted suddenly and
unexpectedly. There had been a few ominous tremors before 1800,
but the most remarkable thing about colonial rule continued to

be its overall stability. Therefore, nobody saw an imperial collapse com-
ing, and when it came, everybody improvised. One might expect those
at the bottom to rise up when Eu ro pe an control slipped; that did hap-
pen in some places, notably Haiti, where slaves literally took over. But
the outcome in Spanish America and Brazil was more conservative. In
general, the white people at the top of the social hierarchy stayed there,
while blacks and indigenous people stayed at the bottom. On the other
hand, Latin American in de pen dence created a dozen of the world’s first
constitutional republics. The fighting dealt the caste system a death-
blow and brought new status to many people of mixed race.

The fighting itself changed much in Latin America. Many men
of color became honored war heroes because of their bravery in combat.


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9 6

T h e h a i T i a n r e v o L u T i o n . The great slave uprising that began in the French colony

of Haiti in 1791 crushed the master class, defeated several French armies sent to repress it,

and created a vivid worst- case scenario for a generation of Latin American slave own ers.

Schomburg Center/Art Resource, New York.

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But winning the wars of in de pen dence required more than blood; it also
required a sense of belonging and shared purpose. The modern nations
of Latin America did not yet exist, even as a pipe dream, when the wars
began. What did an African slave, a Quechua- speaking villager, a land-
owner of pure Spanish blood, and a mestizo artisan have in common just
because all had been born (for example) in the viceroyalty of Peru? Not
much, obviously, aside from being subjects of the Spanish Crown, which
treated them almost as different subspecies of human being. So patriot
leaders faced a great challenge. They had to imagine new nations and
get other people with little in common to imagine those nations, too.
The image had to be so vivid that people would betray their king, kill,
and risk death for it. The patriotic vision of the wars of in de pen dence
introduced elements of the two big ideas, liberalism and nationalism,
that have animated Latin American po liti cal life ever since.

To understand people’s actions during the crisis years of 1808– 25,
to see how in de pen dence came so unexpectedly, then so quickly, how it
changed so much and yet so little, we must observe how violent events
in Eu rope suddenly destabilized colonial rule. Then we will see how
Latin Americans reacted— a story with several different threads. Core
areas like Mexico and Peru followed one pattern, fringe areas like Ven-
ezuela and Argentina another. Brazil followed its own quite distinctive
path to in de pen dence. These winding roads can get a bit complicated,
but understanding them is worthwhile, because the wars of in de pen-
dence cast a long shadow on the history of Latin America.

R e volu t ion a n d Wa R in e u Rope

Spanish Americans experienced a grueling couple of de cades after
1788 under the calamitous rule of an incompetent king, Carlos IV,
who shirked his royal responsibilities and left governing to a hated
minister widely known to be the queen’s lover. Misrule had combined
with a series of costly wars to bankrupt the Spanish state during
the 1700s. The bankruptcy of the Crown led to higher taxes, as well
as to other irritating practices like the sale of high office, which put
incompetent people in positions of command, and highly unpop u lar
government foreclosure of long- term loans. Worse, war with En gland,

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9 8

beginning in 1796 and lasting off and on for the next de cade, meant
confronting the world’s most powerful navy, for these were years when
“Britannia ruled the waves.” The Spanish navy was overwhelmed,
and the number of Atlantic sailings dropped drastically, strangling
colonial trade. Spanish Americans watched all this with dismay but
without seeing it as a cue to rebel. After all, foreign wars often evoke
feelings of loyalty to king and country, and the En glish were heredi-
tary enemies who frequently attacked Spanish American ships and
ports. Neither Spain nor Portugal could escape the widening reper-
cussions of the French Revolution (1789– 99) and the subsequent Na-
poleonic Wars (1799– 1815) that eventually engulfed all of Eu rope. In
practical terms, Spanish American in de pen dence began to exist de
facto in 1808, when the Spanish king was imprisoned by Napoleon.

In Brazil, things worked out differently. Portugal had maintained
a friendly relationship with En gland since the 1300s, a  relationship
described in the 1386 Treaty of Windsor as “an in violable, eternal,
solid, perpetual, and true league of friendship”—a relationship that
En gland dominated. En gland would prove a valuable but demanding
ally. But, En glish ally or no, the French Revolution and Napoleonic
Wars started the pro cess of in de pen dence in Brazil as well.

French revolutionaries of the 1790s had challenged the idea
of monarchy based on divine right, even executing the French king
and queen, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. These revolutionaries
took inspiration from the intellectual awakening called the Enlighten-
ment. They proclaimed “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,” questioned
traditional authority, and remade the po liti cal order. They sneered
at idiot kings who, thanks to their royal bloodlines, possessed power
they did not deserve. Instead, the revolutionaries argued for pop u lar
sovereignty, meaning that the people of each nation (not yet including
women, however) had the right to determine who would rule them
according to a written constitution. French revolutionaries set out to
overthrow other Eu ro pe an kings and establish republics. Somewhat
perversely, the revolutionary creed became an ideology to justify mili-
tary aggression, as French armies led by General, then First Consul,
and finally Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte began “liberating” other
countries into French control. Spain and Portugal were two of these.

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9 9

The new po liti cal ideology of liberty and liberation— liberalism,
in a word— was almost as much En glish as French in origin. En gland’s
own civil war and revolution in the 1600s had enshrined the principle
of pop u lar sovereignty in the unwritten En glish constitution. En gland
preserved its monarchy, as it does to this day, but it is a limited mon-
archy, subordinate to an elected legislature, the House of Commons,
which liberals regarded as the voice of “the people.” En gland opposed
the radicalism of the French Revolution and led the fight against Napo-
leonic expansionism. That aligned En gland with anti- Napoleonic Spanish
and Portuguese patriots during Latin America’s in de pen dence period,
as we will see. In sum, liberalism, whether coming from France or
En gland, inspired all sides in the Napoleonic Wars. It was the impact of
those wars, and their aftermath, in turn, that triggered Latin American
independence— all under the ideological banner of pop u lar sovereignty.

In late 1807, when the Portuguese refused to close their ports
and declare war on their old ally, En gland, Napoleon invaded Por-
tugal. The Portuguese royal family fled, accompanied by a glittering
entourage of nobles and government officials, swarms of servants and
courtiers— over ten thousand people, as well as the royal treasury—
sailing from Lisbon only hours before Napoleon’s troops arrived in the
Portuguese capital. British warships were on hand to escort the royal
flotilla and, most especially, Prince João (who exercised power in the
name of the queen, his demented mother) to Brazil. For more than a
de cade, João made his court in Rio de Janeiro, safely outside the reach
of Napoleon. Meanwhile, both the Spanish king, Carlos IV, and his
heir, Prince Fernando, had fallen into Napoleon’s hands and, under
pressure, both abdicated their claims to the Spanish throne. Napoleon
then had his own brother Joseph crowned king of Spain, a move that
most Spaniards and Spanish Americans refused to accept.

One aspect of colonial hegemony had been the gradual ac cep tance
of the Spanish and Portuguese monarchs as rightful rulers by almost
everyone in the colonies. The Crown had strong legitimacy: authority
that inspires obedience. By 1810, a startling contrast existed. The Portu-
guese Crown was closer than ever to Brazil. The Spanish Crown, usurped
by a foreigner, was further than ever from Spanish America. Brazilian
history shows how much difference the king’s presence could make.

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10 0

João’s royal court in Rio de Janeiro had become the po liti cal
center of the Portuguese- speaking world, and the people of Rio, always
fond of glamour, were delighted to have it there. Thousands of rich
Eu ro pe an courtiers flooded the city, sparking a boom in building and
profitable ser vices, from livery stables to hairdressing. The presence
of the royal court also favored the Brazilian elite, for the opportunity
to speak a few words directly into the king’s ear is valuable indeed.
The end of colonial trade monopolies favored Brazil as a whole.
Before, Brazilian trade had all been channeled to Portugal, but now
João allowed Brazilians to trade with everybody (chiefly the British,
who had pressed strongly for this trade opening), and imported goods
became less expensive. João liked Rio and enjoyed placid naps in his
botanical garden as ships from Eu rope and Spanish America brought
news of one distant upheaval after another.

Back in Portugal, an anti- Napoleonic patriot uprising began in
1808 soon after João’s departure, and fighting in the Iberian peninsula
dragged on for years as Portuguese and Spanish guerrillas, supported
by British troops, fought hit- and- run actions against the French. In
Spanish America, chronic fighting broke out as well. In de pen dence was
declared here and there. Meanwhile, Rio bustled and Brazil remained
peaceful. What ever social and economic pressures had built up during
the colonial period, what ever rivalries existed between Portuguese and
Brazilians, they did not explode now. So content was João in Rio that
even after Napoleon met ultimate defeat in the battle of Waterloo (1815),
the Portuguese king conspicuously failed to hurry back to Lisbon.

Events in Spanish America between 1808 and 1815 contrasted
totally with the picture in Brazil. Spanish Americans were shocked at
the eclipse of the legitimate monarchy. The Spanish government had
not vanished entirely, because provincial re sis tance movements in
Spain sent representatives to a national re sis tance committee, called
the Central Junta. The Central Junta expected Spanish American
support, but Spanish Americans had other ideas. The Central Junta
had been chosen entirely in Spain. It therefore represented the Span-
ish people, but not the Spanish American people, and they rejected
its dictates. In the wake of the Napoleonic takeover of Spain, most
Spanish Americans professed fervent loyalty to their legitimate king,

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Fernando VII, but in so doing, they also rejected the idea that Mexico
or Peru or New Granada were colonies. Instead, they reaffirmed the
old idea that the Spanish king’s throne had two pillars of support: his
Eu ro pe an kingdoms in Iberia, and his American kingdoms in the New
World. They argued that, although loyal to Fernando, the American
kingdoms were equal to the Eu ro pe an ones and not subservient to
them. In other words, paradoxically, the Napoleonic crisis led Span-
ish American patriots to invoke the principle of pop u lar sovereignty
against Spain itself. Soon, they began to form their own juntas to rule
locally in Fernando’s name. These “caretaker” juntas were often cre-
ated at an open meeting of the town council, a cabildo abierto.

By 1810, the Spanish re sis tance to the French occupation had
been pushed to the southern port city of Cádiz, where it continued to
function under British naval protection. The Spanish liberals who led
the re sis tance now called for a constitution to be written by elected rep-
resentatives from both Spain and Spanish America. The Constitution of
Cádiz was a truly liberal document and, if implemented, would have pro-
foundly altered the Spanish empire. But it was never fully implemented.
By the time it was completed, patriot rebels had already raised the cry of
anti- Spanish rebellion in Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, and elsewhere.

t h e Spa n iSh a m e R ic a n R ebel l ionS

begin, 1810 – 1 5

But who were these patriot rebels? In most cases, the initiatives for
in de pen dence came from native- born whites, called Creoles to distin-
guish them from Spaniards born on the Iberian Peninsula. Iberian-
born Spaniards were now called Peninsulars or, often, nastier things
that do not translate well. We should backtrack a bit to explain what
the Creoles were after.

By the late 1700s, Spanish American Creoles had grown quite
resentful of the Peninsulars, with whom they competed socially. Span-
ish birth made Peninsulars the preferred agents of imperial rule.
Peninsular Spaniards normally got the best ecclesiastical and govern-
ment offices, the key positions on boards of trade, and so on, gaining

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privileged access to wealth and power over their American- born Creole
cousins. But this rivalry existed only at the top of Spanish American
society. The other three- quarters or four- fifths of the population—
people of indigenous, African, or mixed descent— had little at stake
in the Creole- versus- Peninsular contest, because the caste system put
them out of the competition altogether. Sometimes they disliked the
Creoles more than they disliked the Peninsulars, because the Creoles
were the masters and overlords who annoyed them in daily life. Cre-
oles generally owned the land, and much of the Spanish American
population lived under the thumb of landowners. In the towns, it was
Creoles, not Peninsulars, who feared the social climbing of prosper-
ous people of mixed race and fought to keep them “in their place.” In
other words, the majority of Spanish Americans had plenty of reason
to revolt— but not particularly against the Peninsulars.

Mexican in de pen dence shows these dynamics at work. Mexico
was by far the Spanish Crown’s brightest imperial jewel by the early
1800s, vastly the most profitable colony, and home to four out of ten
Spanish Americans. Peninsulars numbered only a fraction of 1 percent,
but Creole resentment against them ran high, so the Creole- dominated
cabildo of Mexico City seized the 1808 crisis in Spain as a chance to
gain ground against their privileged Eu ro pe an cousins. Affirming
their continued loyalty to the imprisoned Fernando VII, the Creoles
convinced the viceroy to call a representative assembly to provide
legitimacy while the king was out of the picture. The colony’s powerful
Peninsulars would have none of it, however. They actually unseated
the viceroy to forestall such an assembly. Creole anger smoldered.

Then, in 1810, Spanish America’s po liti cal upheavals began
in earnest. A Creole conspiracy in Mexico’s northern mining region
sparked a massive rebellion of indigenous and mestizo peasants. The
man who let the genie out of the bottle was a Creole priest, Father
Miguel Hidalgo. A reader of banned French books who also studied in-
digenous languages and defied the Catholic rule of sexual abstinence
for clergy, Hidalgo was an impulsive nonconformist, and the Inquisi-
tion already had a file on him. Informed that the Spanish authorities
would soon arrest him for his part in the conspiracy, Hidalgo hurried
to his parish church and rang the bell. He then spoke to the gathering

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crowd using religious language that his audience well understood—
not about in de pen dence, but about the need to defend Mexico against
the Peninsular usurpers of legitimate authority and the enemies of
Fernando VII. Hidalgo presented the rivalry between Creoles and
Peninsulars as a unanimous Spanish American revolt against Spain.
He spoke of how Spanish conquerors had stolen Indian lands. In
point of fact, it was the Creoles, and not the Peninsulars of 1810,
who descended from those conquerors. In truth, Hidalgo had more in
common with most Peninsulars, his social peers, than with his indig-
enous parishioners. But his rhetoric constructed a simple dichotomy:
Americans versus Eu ro pe ans. His battle cry was “Long live the Virgin
of Guadalupe, and death to the Spaniards!” The appeal worked.

Poor rural people flocked by the thousands to the banner of the
Virgin of Guadalupe, now a potent symbol of Mexican identity. The
throngs included men, women, and children, whole families, burros,
and cattle. Their weapons were mostly farming tools rather than fire-
arms. A recent famine in the mining zone had left many humble Mexi-
cans with little to lose. When terrified Peninsulars in the important
mining center of Guanajuato saw twenty thousand angry indigenous
peasants coming at them, they hurriedly barricaded themselves in the
largest, strongest building in town, the massive granary— but to no
avail. Peninsulars died by the hundreds in Guanajuato and then all
along the route of this rampaging ragtag army. And not only Penin-
sulars: Creoles died, too. Hidalgo’s patriotic rhetoric had theoretically
drawn the line between the Peninsulars and everyone else, but Cre-
oles and Peninsulars resembled one another. Many Peninsulars had
Creole wives and children. Furthermore, Peninsulars cornered by the
rebels commonly claimed to be Creoles. The downtrodden indigenous
and mestizo peasants who followed Hidalgo lacked military discipline,
and to them, Creoles and Peninsulars seemed equally arrogant. As
Hidalgo’s multitude reached sixty, seventy, eighty thousand, it began
to look to many Creoles like their own worst nightmare.

Few Mexican Creoles, or town dwellers of any description,
joined Hidalgo, and his unruly followers dispersed after only a few
months. Hidalgo himself was captured, forced to repent publicly, and
then executed. As an exemplary lesson, Hidalgo’s head was dangled in

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10 4

a metal cage on a corner of the Guanajuato granary where so many
Spaniards had died. But the revolutionary genie would not go back
into the bottle. In southern Mexico, where indigenous communities
retained village identities and lands from before the conquest, one
of Hidalgo’s officers still raised the torch of rebellion. He, too, was
a priest, but a modest and practical one, very unlike the grandiose
visionary Hidalgo.

Father José María Morelos was not a Creole at all, but a mes-
tizo, and a more able leader in every way. His army was well or ga-
nized and his main goals were clear: an end to slavery, to the caste
system, and to the tribute paid by indigenous people. Morelos prohib-
ited the use of caste classifications. All born in Mexico were simply
“Americanos.” In 1813, he declared outright in de pen dence. His move-
ment still did not attract many Creoles, but it had staying power— at
least until Father Morelos was caught and executed in 1815. By then,
small bands of patriot guerrillas had been fighting for years in several
regions of Mexico, and with Morelos gone, they continued to defy the
government, causing heavy military expenses, living off the land like
bandits, and gradually gnawing away at the fabric of colonial rule.

In Peru, independence got a slower start. Peruvian Creoles had
already glimpsed their nightmare scenario a few decades earlier, in the
1780s, when the great indigenous rebellion of Tupac Amaru II rocked the
Andes. It had given Peruvian Creoles a vivid appreciation of the dangers
inherent in mobilizing the indigenous people against the Peninsulars.
The Creoles of Lima, the main Spanish administrative hub of South
America formed no junta and took care to make no Hidalgo-style ap-
peal to the indigenous population. If native Andeans leaned one way or
the other, it was toward loyalty to Fernando VII. Mostly, however, indig-
enous people preferred to be left out of the fight. Creole patriot attempts
to engage indigenous fighters made slow and uneven progress. Patriots,
only somewhat less than royalists, treated the indigenous with casual
brutality. The diary of a patriot drummer boy provides a vivid example:

A couple of poor Indians with their llamas were brought
to us as prisoners because they’ d abandoned their llamas
and other possessions at our approach and been found
hiding. Comandante Lira said they were probably spies

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10 5

and ordered two hundreds lashes for each until they
talked. At that point, one went running off, crying that
they were innocent and were coming to town to buy neces-
sary things for their families, because they had many
small children, and that they always hide from soldiers,
all soldiers. Some of our own Indians chased down and
killed the one who was trying to escape. Thereupon,
Lira ordered that the second prisoner be executed. The
condemned man looked up and shouted angrily at the
heavens, then knelt before Lira, sobbing and saying:
Comandante, behold the birds in those trees who know
and care nothing of our wars, seeking only to feed them-
selves and their families. So do we, exactly thus. The man
you have killed was my brother, a poor man. You have no
reason to harm us. The true Patria should protect and
pardon its children, particularly those as innocent as we.

Hearing these words, many were moved and prevailed
upon Lira to release the luckless wretch, who went away
with expressions of gratitude.

A week later, the Indians got it from the other side:

This morning the countryside was full of royalist
soldiers. They went into the hut of a poor Indian
named Fermín Mamani and killed him with their
bayonets right there where he was cooking and eating
potatoes. Without telling him anything they walked
right in and killed him with his mouth full. He didn’t
even have time to swallow.

Overall, Peru, along with other Andean areas such as Bolivia
and Ecuador, remained firmly under Spanish control during the crisis
years of the early 1810s as major revolts erupted elsewhere.

Leading Creoles in “fringe” colonies such as Venezuela and
Argentina were less cautious. They chafed under imperial trade res t –
rictions that favored silver production in the core areas of Peru and
Mexico. And the grassy plains of both Venezuela and Argentina
abounded in horses and horse men, very useful in premechanized

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warfare. Unlike the movements of Hidalgo and Morelos, which were
uprisings from below, the patriot juntas of Caracas and Buenos Aires
began as cabildos abiertos, gatherings of the most influential men
in the two cities. This was revolution from above, led by confident,
well- traveled Creoles, some of whom had witnessed Eu ro pe an events
firsthand. When the crisis of legitimacy began in Spain, Creoles in
Caracas and Buenos Aires reacted like those elsewhere. Gradu-
ally, however, they shelved their protestations of loyalty to the king,
embraced the liberal revolution, and moved toward full in de pen dence.
Their critics called this “taking off the mask of Fernando.”

In Venezuela, all this had already happened by early 1811. The
problem was making it stick. The first Venezuelan republic crumbled
when an earthquake, convincing evidence of divine disapproval,
struck Caracas a year later. Nor was the earthquake the patriots’ only
problem. In the heart of Venezuela, beyond the mountainous Ca rib-
be an coast with its plantations of cacao, lay the flood- prone tropical
plains of the Orinoco River basin, a land of cattle and dark- skinned
cowboys called llaneros, who ate mostly beef, carried lances, and rode
as if born on horse back. To put it mildly, the llaneros had no sympa-
thy for the elite, plantation- owning revolutionaries of Caracas, who
regarded them more or less as scum. When the Caracas junta went
so far as to deny the authority of Fernando VII, the llaneros opted
to defend their king, and their horses’ hooves kept the ground trem-
bling long after the earthquake had subsided. As long as the llaneros
opposed them, the patriots would never win in Venezuela.

In Argentina, the revolutionary junta had an easier time gain-
ing military dominance. The patriot advantage began back in 1806 and
1807, when the Spanish and the British were enemies. During those
years, two British expeditions landed in the viceroyalty of the Río de la
Plata. They were both defeated, not by Peninsular forces, but by local
militias. So Creole patriots there had the upper hand militarily when
Spain’s Napoleonic crisis began. By May 1810, Peninsular control had
ended once and for all in Buenos Aires. Other regions of the Río de la
Plata viceroyalty, however, showed little inclination to follow the lead
of Buenos Aires. Whether patriots or royalists, people in the interior
resented the airs of overweening Creole aristocrats from the capital.

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The wars of in de pen dence in the Río de la Plata therefore consisted
mostly of fighting between armies from Buenos Aires on the one hand,
and provincial armies, whether royalist or patriot, on the other.

By 1815, with the execution of Morelos in Mexico, royalist vic-
tories in Venezuela (and elsewhere, such as Colombia and Chile), Peru
still firmly in Spanish hands, and patriots fighting among themselves
in the Río de la Plata, the struggle for Spanish American in de pen-
dence stood at a low ebb. The patriots had not yet succeeded in get-
ting enough people on their side. What did they really have to offer,
anyway, besides vague dreams of liberty, equality and fraternity?

t he pat R io t S ’ W in n ing S t R at eg y:

nat i v iSm

After all, it was not the exploited majority, as one might have expected,
who initiated in de pen dence movements. Radical doctrines such as
republicanism did not hold much appeal for conservative country people
who had received little exposure to such ideas. Moreover, most of the
movements’ Creole leaders had no interest in helping the masses or
making colonial society more egalitarian. Instead, they simply wanted
to rule it themselves. Mexican and Peruvian Creoles, particularly, wor-
ried about losing control of large populations of indigenous peasants who
had shown a fearsome penchant for rebellion. Consequently, Mexican Cre-
oles backed away wide- eyed after a look at Hidalgo’s ragged multitude of
1810, and Peruvian Creoles, mindful of Tupac Amaru II, preferred not to
risk declaring in de pen dence at all. Venezuelan and Argentine Creoles, on
the other hand, showed more confidence in their ability to hold the tiger
by the tail. To do so, they somehow had to reach out to “the people.” The
Creoles were just too few to win in de pen dence without help from below.

The winning strategy for independence- minded Creoles
was nativism. Nativism glorified an American identity defined by
birthplace, something Creoles shared with the indigenous people,
with those of mixed blood, even with the children of African slaves.
Americanos was the nativist keyword. From Mexico to Brazil to
Argentina, patriots defined theirs as the American cause, and their
enemies as everyone born in Spain or Portugal. Nativism had many

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D e aT h o F G i r a D o T. Bolívar promoted the heroic images of patriot officers like

Atanasio Girardot, killed trying to plant the Venezuelan republic’s tricolor flag at Bárbula

in 1813. Later in the century, independence heroes became prime material for nation-

building commemorations like this 1883 painting. Wikimedia Commons.

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advantages. The name Americanos fit easily and comfortably over
multihued Spanish American and Brazilian populations, contrast-
ing them with Eu ro pe ans. And nativism drew on powerful emotions.
Resentment is always at the heart of nativist attitudes, resentment
of foreigners and foreign influence. Resentment against the idea of
colonial inferiority and, more particularly, against resident Spanish
and Portuguese, now foreigners in nativist eyes, was widespread in
America at all social levels. Finally, nativism linked arms with liberal
ideology in an obvious way. “Who should govern? The People! And who
are the People? Americanos!” No patriot fighters could ignore the rhe-
torical appeal of nativism, and all used it sooner or later.

For maximum war time appeal, the definition of Americanos had
to be as broad as possible. Few revolutionary leaders really wanted to
see social equality, however. Most simply wanted pop u lar support to
win in de pen dence, leaving the social hierarchy more or less intact. As
long as that hierarchy remained in place, the Creoles expected to be
the leaders of the emerging sovereign nations.

Brazilian in de pen dence provides a good illustration of the way
this worked. As Spanish America underwent military upheaval and
po liti cal mass mobilization during the 1810s, Brazil remained relatively
undisturbed under the rule of João VI. Of course there was some discon-
tent. To have the royal court in Rio de Janeiro was expensive, as people
noticed after the novelty wore off. A ruinous and unpop u lar war with
Spanish- speaking neighbors began on Brazil’s southern border. And
João caved to British pressure and legally restricted the slave trade,
which irritated slave own ers, even though the restrictions were in effec-
tive. British ships had once participated aggressively in the slave trade,
but the British government later renounced the practice and pressured
other nations to do the same. The policy responded both to humanitar-
ian antislavery sentiments and to the hope of expanding the market for
British goods by turning slaves into consumers.

Foreigners, especially the British and French, had flocked to
Brazilian ports since 1808. They took advantage of free trade, brought
liberalizing changes of attitude, and stimulated po liti cal ferment. The
year 1817 saw a localized but notable po liti cal explosion in the major

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northeastern province of Pernambuco, an attempted liberal revolu-
tion more significant than any preceding it in Brazil. During a few
heady weeks, the Pernambucan rebels declared a republic, discussed
a constitution, and called each other “patriot,” clearly showing the in-
fluence of up- to- date po liti cal ideas. This liberal republicanism theo-
retically favored the great majority of Brazilians, but liberalism was
still too unfamiliar to inspire mass support in Brazil. Therefore, the
revolt of 1817 was easily crushed after a few weeks, when João’s forces
arrived in Pernambuco to put it down.

Portuguese actions nudged Brazil closer to in de pen dence in
1820. Since Napoleon’s defeat, Portugal had wanted its king back in
Lisbon, and the Portuguese assembly had begun to insist that João
return. The assembly was very unhappy with João’s 1815 declaration
raising Brazil from the legal status of colony to that of kingdom, like
Portugal itself. That declaration made Brazil and Portugal juridically
equal, with João king of both. Brazil’s old aspiration not to be a colony
had finally been granted, but now the Portuguese assembly wanted
Brazil reduced once more to colonial status. João returned to Lisbon
in 1821, leaving his son, Prince Pedro, behind in Rio to watch the
Brazilian situation. The moment was fraught with uncertainties. Var-
ious Brazilian provinces established liberal juntas and sent their own
representatives to Lisbon, bypassing Rio. Faced simultaneously with
the threat of recolonization and a loss of control over the provinces,
the Brazilian elite of Rio de Janeiro unfurled the banner of native
birth and pop u lar sovereignty.

By 1822, Rio’s native- born elite had formed a Brazilian
Party that claimed to represent the Brazilian people against Por-
tuguese recolonization. While defining “the Brazilian people” to in-
clude everyone (except slaves) born in Brazil, the Brazilian Party
also accepted Portuguese- born converts to the cause of Brazilian
patriotism, and they found a crucial convert in the Portuguese-
born Prince Pedro himself. Pedro had been prepared for this even-
tuality by his father, who foresaw that Brazilian in de pen dence
might become inevitable. If Pedro himself declared Brazil in de pen-
dent, the monarchy might be preserved, and Brazil could at least be
kept in the Braganza royal family. When the Portuguese assembly

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demanded that Pedro, too, return to Portugal, the prince publicly
announced his refusal from a palace balcony, and the people of Rio
celebrated deliriously in the public squares. By year’s end, Pedro had
officially declared Brazil an in de pen dent constitutional monarchy
with himself as monarch, and he called for representatives of the sov-
ereign people to write a constitution. A handful of Portuguese army
garrisons in the north and south refused to recognize Brazilian in-
de pen dence, but all were defeated or withdrew within a few months,
without any need for the mass military mobilization that had proved
so risky for Spanish American elites. A mass mobilization would cer-
tainly have threatened the institution of slavery in Brazil, where half
the potential fighters were slaves.

By the end of 1823, the Brazilian Party had achieved its goal.
It had made Brazil in de pen dent while maintaining the social hier-
archy that kept the slave- owning elite in charge. Even the provinces

C o r o n aT i o n o F P e D r o i . The 1822 crowning ceremony of Emperor Pedro I of

Brazil deployed the traditional pageantry of monarchy, a tried- and- true formula that con-

trasted with the innovative but difficult and risky republican experiments then beginning

in Spanish America. Wikimedia Commons.

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that had lately formed their own liberal juntas accepted the proposi-
tion that Prince Pedro— now Pedro I, emperor of Brazil— embodied
the cause of Brazilian patriot ism. Had the emperor not promised a
constitution? There was disappointment ahead, but for now, the clon-
ing of a legitimate monarchy had provided Brazil a po liti cal unity that
contrasted starkly with Spanish America.

pat R io t v ic toR ie S in Spa n iSh

a m eR ic a , 1 81 5– 2 5

Meanwhile, Spanish American nativists regained momentum after
1815. By that time, Napoleon had met defeat at the battle of Water-
loo. Fernando VII had recovered his throne, renounced the liberal
constitution of Cádiz, and set out to crush patriot rebels in America.
Spanish recalcitrance left the rebels nowhere to go but forward. In
South America, Spanish royalist forces held the Peruvian Andes until
ultimately defeated— in a  great, continental “pincer” maneuver— by
patriot armies that had originated on the distant plains frontiers
of Venezuela and Argentina. In Mexico, Creoles entered an alliance
with the heirs of the Morelos movement and backed reluctantly into
in de pen dence.

The guerrilla followers of Father Morelos had remained
strong in the rugged country south of Mexico City after their
leader’s death in 1815, continuing their stubborn fight but unable
to defeat the royalists. Then Eu ro pe an events intruded once again
when Spain had its own liberal revolution in 1820. Spanish liber-
als forced the tyrannical Fernando VII to restore the constitution.
The mystique of the monarchy suffered, and many formerly royal-
ist Mexican Creoles felt betrayed. Within months, a Creole army
commander named Agustín de Iturbide began to parlay with the
guerrillas. His contact on the patriot side was Vicente Guerrero, a
mestizo (partly, it seems, of African descent) and man of the peo-
ple. When Iturbide and Guerrero joined forces, the in de pen dence of
Mexico was at hand.

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Iturbide and Guerrero rallied a winning co ali tion with guar-
antees of an in de pen dent, constitutional Mexican monarchy that
preserved traditional religious and military privileges and offered
social “union” (vaguely implying the equality of all Americanos with
Peninsular Spaniards). According to the traditional social hierarchy,
Iturbide and not Guerrero was the natural candidate for monarch. In
1821, a triumphant Iturbide entered Mexico City, where enthusiastic
crowds called for his coronation the next year as Agustín I. But the
monarchical solution did not work in Mexico. Crowned or not, Iturbide
was a Creole like the rest, without a drop of royal blood, and years of
patriot struggle had generated po liti cal convictions and animosities
not easily soothed by a make- believe monarch. When, after a short
year in power, Iturbide closed the newly formed congress, composed of
representatives of the sovereign people, military leaders ejected him
and ushered in a republic.

Meanwhile, patriot armies from Venezuela and Argentina, for-
mer fringe areas of Spanish America, were converging on the second
great core area of the Spanish colonization, Peru.

Despite many previous failures, the tenacious man who be-
came the single most important leader of Spanish American in de pen-
dence, Simón Bolívar, “the Liberator,” began his string of triumphs
in 1817. Bolívar had participated in the Venezuelan in de pen dence
struggle from the start. The early defeat of patriot forces by the royal-
ist llaneros had been Bolívar’s personal defeat. He learned from it and
planned to get the llaneros on the patriot side. Setting up his base
in the Orinoco plains, far from Caracas, Bolívar used feats of physi-
cal prowess and Americano nativism to attract llaneros. When the
llaneros switched sides, the momentum moved to the patriot cause.
In August 1819, Bolívar’s army of llaneros crossed the Orinoco plains
unexpectedly during the floods of the rainy season, then climbed the
Andes and attacked Spanish forces from behind. The viceregal capital
of Bogotá fell to Bolívar in a sudden, shattering triumph. By late 1822,
Bolívar’s forces also captured both Caracas and Quito, now controlling
all of northern South America.

Far to the south, during those years, the brilliant general José
de San Martín had trained a combined Argentine- Chilean patriot

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zon R






San Martín

May Revolution in
Buenos Aires, 1810

Cabildo abierto
in Caracas,
April 1810


declared by
Iturbide, 1821


declared by
Prince Pedro,


Rebellion in

Battle of


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1 1 5

army in western Argentina, then crossed the Andes unexpectedly, in
a surprise attack similar to Bolívar’s, and decisively defeated Chil-
ean royalists. San Martín met a hero’s welcome in the Chilean cap-
ital, where his movement gathered strength for three years before
launching an expedition northward against Lima. The viceroy of Peru
withdrew from Lima into the Peruvian highlands. Then San Martín’s
frustrations began. A year after capturing Lima and declaring Peru-
vian in de pen dence, his army had bogged down, unable to finish the
job. At this point, Bolívar invited San Martín to a personal meeting in
the port city of Guayaquil. What passed between the two patriot gen-
erals at their Guayaquil meeting was confidential, but what ever was
said, San Martín immediately returned to Chile, then to Argentina,
and eventually to Eu rope, leaving Bolívar to lead the final assault on
Spanish power in South America.

It took Bolívar two years to equip an army equal to the task,
but resounding victories in 1824 made Bolívar the liberator of two
more countries, one of which, Bolivia, even took his name. In the
second of these battles, Ayacucho, fought at an exhausting altitude
of over ten thousand feet, the patriots captured the last Spanish
viceroy in America. Everything after the battle of Ayacucho was es-
sentially a mop- up operation. The long and bloody Spanish American
wars for in de pen dence were finally over. Only Cuba and Puerto Rico
remained under Spanish control, where they would stay for the rest
of the 1800s.

u n f in iShed R e volu t ionS

Flags waved, cheering crowds lined the streets, and victorious patriot
armies paraded throughout Latin America, but in de pen dence meant
less than met the eye. The broad contours of colonial Latin American
culture and society underwent no profound, sudden change. After all,
liberal ideas had never been the pop u lar driving force of in de pen-
dence movements that derived more energy from what we might call
identity politics. And for all the talk of “America for the Americans,”
the old hierarchy of status and race created by colonization, with
native Americans and Africans at the bottom, remained substantially

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C h i n G a n a S . The music and dance of the common people enjoyed a patriotic vogue

in the wake of national independence struggles. In 1820s Chile, soldiers and people of

various social classes mingled at open-air venues called chinganas to dance the cueca,

the new national dance. Album/Oronoz/Superstock.

unaltered. The language and laws of the Iberian colonizers became
those of the new nations, and the Creole descendants of the conquer-
ors continued to profit from the ill- paid labor of the conquered and
the enslaved. In that sense, in de pen dence did not undo colonialism
in Latin American nations. Rather, it made them postcolonial— now
self- governing, but still shaped by a colonial heritage.

Many things changed hardly at all. Latin American women, for
example, would find the new republics nearly as patriarchal as the
old colonies, even though women had fought hard for in de pen dence
and often died for it. Patriot women became powerful symbols. Andean
women had led the way back in the 1780s. Imagine Manuela Beltrán,
a poor woman, stepping up to a royal edict announcing new taxes, pull-
ing it down, and trampling it as an angry crowd roared its approval.

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T h e m a r T Y r J o S e o L aYa . Both subject and painter here were Afro-Peruvian patriots.

This 1813 painting was done just after Olaya was captured and executed for carrying patriot

messages (visible in his hand). Note the naïve, didactic style, unlike the florid, Romantic style

of the painting on p. 108. © age fotostock/Alamy.

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That was in Colombia’s Comunero rebellion. Imagine Micaela Bastidas
and Bartolina Sisa, tormented and executed in front of another crowd,
this time a jeering group of enemies, alongside their husbands, Tupac
Amaru and Tupac Catari. That was in Peru and Bolivia.

Juana Azurduy, another Bolivian, was remembered for wear-
ing a man’s uniform and leading a cavalry charge in which she per-
sonally captured the enemy flag, a feat that normally defined the
superior male. Because of her exploits, we know more about Azurduy
than some of the others. She was a mestiza whose Quechua- speaking
mother apparently “married up” into a family of property. Born in
1780, Juana grew up in Chuquisaca, a city of courts, churches, con-
vents, a university, and many Peninsular Spaniards, one of whom ap-
parently killed her father but went unpunished— because he was a
Peninsular. Now an orphan, Juana entered a convent but rebelled and
was expelled at the age of seventeen. She married a man who shared
her affinity for indigenous culture. In addition to Quechua, Azurduy
learned the other major indigenous language of Bolivia, Aymara. The
official commendation after the cavalry charge congratulated her for
“heroic actions not common at all in women.” Interestingly, though,
during those same years, the name of the martyred patriot women of
Cochabamba, a Bolivian city where many had heroically died rather
than surrender to the Spanish, became synonymous with a fighting
spirit. Whenever special courage was needed in battle, patriot officers
taunted their men with a famous challenge: “Are the women of Cocha-
bamba present?”

In 1816, the same year as Juana Azurduy’s glorious charge,
Policarpa Salavarrieta was hanged in Bogotá. She had been caught
carry ing messages, a more usual activity for patriot women, like pro-
viding supplies— not to mention keeping house holds running, crops
planted, and animals tended in the men’s absence. Both Salavarrieta
and the Mexican woman María Gertrudis Bocanegra de Lazo de la
Vega became patriot martyrs despite their Spanish heritage— both
women had Peninsular parents. Gertrudis Bocanegra saw her son and
her husband executed as patriots. Then, like Policarpa, she too was
caught with a message and executed. Like Policarpa, she spoke for the
patriot cause in the moments before her death.

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The wars of independence provided stories of patriot hero-
ism to inspire future generations. But in the aftermath of war many
patriot leaders became disillusioned. Bolívar himself came to believe
that democracy would not work in the lands that he had liberated,
and his mood turned increasingly authoritarian. Before his death, he
complained that he had “plowed the sea,” accomplishing nothing.

Immediate change was not the measure of independence,
however. Nation building, the consolidation of civic habits and gov-
erning institutions, is protracted work. That work was made more
challenging by the divided character and historical antagonism of
Latin American populations. Somehow, the exploiters and exploited
were supposed to shake hands patriotically and start anew. “We are
all children of the same mother, one could say, with different fathers,
come from afar, varying in blood and geographic origin, and so we dif-
fer visibly in the color of our skin,” lectured Bolívar to the Congress
of Angostura, which had convened to write a constitution for the
Republic of Venezuela. He was adamant that Venezuelans of all col-
ors be regarded as equal citizens of the nation. “This kind of equality
may not have been consecrated in Athens, nor more recently in France
or North America,” he explained, “and yet we must consecrate this
principle in Venezuela.”

“Must” is right. To win independence, the patriot cause had vig-
orously waved the banner of popular sovereignty. By playing the nativ-
ist card, freeing slaves, and resorting to mass mobilization of mestizos,
blacks, and indigenous people, Creole leaders from Mexico to Argentina
had, in effect, committed themselves to including Americanos of all
colors in future republics of equal citizens. Now they had to govern in
the name of “the people”: the Brazilian people, the Chilean people, the
Colombian people. After the Spanish and Portuguese outsiders were
defeated, it became much harder to sell the idea of a common politi-
cal purpose uniting all Brazilians or Chileans or Colombians, whether
they be mighty plantation owners or hardscrabble peasants. Unlike
the United States, new Latin American nations defined the people to
include large populations of indigenous and African descent, at least
in theory. In practice, however, equal citizenship remained an empty
promise for decades, but it was a promise that could never be taken

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back. Politically, at least, popular sovereignty and racial inclusive-
ness became basic foundational principles of all Latin America’s new
polities, a momentous precedent in what was still, for the most part, a
world of kingdoms and empires.

Unfortunately, though, truly inclusive nations would not emerge
in Latin America until the twentieth century. In the meantime, the
old rallying cry, “Americanos,” lost relevance as Spanish America
shattered into a dozen national pieces. The viceroyalty of the Río de la
Plata alone broke into four independent countries: Bolivia, Uruguay,
Paraguay, and Argentina. It would take years for these new nations to
acquire much legitimacy in people’s minds. Despite the achievement
of independence, the struggle to decolonize Latin America in a deeper
sense was only just beginning.

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C h a p t e r r e v i e w

S t u d y Q u e S t i o n S

1. How did Europe’s Napoleonic wars set the stage for independence

in Spanish America and Brazil?

2. Can you contrast events in fringe colonies like Venezuela and

Argentina with those in core areas like Lima and Mexico City?

3. What was the role played in America, overall, by liberal ideas

derived from the French Revolution?

4. What was the role played by nativist appeals to the equality of all


5. Can you broadly contrast the process of independence in Brazil

and Spanish America?

K e y t e R m S a n d v o c a b u l a R y

José María Morelos, p.104

Americanos, p.104

Tupac Amaru II, p.104

Simón Bolívar, p.113

José de San Martín, p.113

Haitian Revolution, p.96

King João, p.99

Creoles, p.101

Peninsulars, p.101

Miguel Hidalgo, p.102

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1 2 2

C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

t h e g a z e o f o u t S i d e R S

T r av e L e r a n D i n D i G e n o u S P o r T e r

i n T h e Co Lo m b i a n a n D e S . In Edwuoard

André, Voyage dans l’Amerique Equinoxiale,

Paris, 1879.

fter in de pen dence, outside travelers, especially North Americans,
En glish, and French, poured into Latin America. Great curios-
ity surrounded the mysterious empires that Spain and Portugal

had for centuries kept off- limits to most outsiders. Many travelers went
for business— mining, trade, finance. A few were Protestant mission-
aries or naturalists collecting new specimens to classify and name. In
hopes of expanded trade, En gland and the United States quickly recog-
nized the new nations of Latin America and sent diplomatic personnel.
Other travelers went for the thrill, or mainly to write a book. Among the
first Eu ro pe an travel writers to explore Latin America was Alexander

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von Humboldt, who visited Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Ec ua dor, Peru,
and Mexico. A scientist, Humboldt carefully collected information and
wrote many influential books about his travels. Travel books like his
became an important branch of pop u lar literature in the 1800s. These
books reflected— and also shaped— attitudes toward Latin America in
the English- speaking world.

Latin America loomed in the US and British imagination as a
lush, exotic land of opportunity, especially commercial opportunity. In
the very first years of in de pen dence, travelers reported sixty British
firms in Rio, twenty in Lima, thirty- four in Mexico City and Veracruz,
and so on. In 1833, Brazil was Great Britain’s third largest overseas
market. Meanwhile, in Rio, En glish residents were outnumbered by
French merchants, teachers, and professionals, who set the tone in
the city’s fashionable districts. A similar invasion occurred in major
ports throughout the region. Traveler Maria Graham reported in her
Journal of a Residence in Chile during the Year 1822:

En glish tailors, shoemakers, saddlers, and inn-
keepers hang out their signs on every street; and
the preponderance of the En glish language over
any other spoken in the chief streets would make
one fancy Valparaíso a coastal town in Britain.

Yankee traders from the United States often visited Latin American
ports, too. Overall, though, early business ventures were disappointing,
as we shall see.

Lost investments, defaulted loans, and dashed hopes—not to
mention the chronic banditry of the countryside— compounded the
scornful, superior attitude that many travelers brought with them to
Latin America. In his Journal of an Expedition 1400 Miles up the Ori-
noco, 300 up the Arauca (1822), a British traveler mentions “a corrupt,
stupid, beggarly and dishonest set of beings, chained in ignorance and
swayed by superstition and the most gloomy bigotry.” Sadly, such atti-
tudes were typical. “It’s the vilest place I ever saw,” wrote an important
British diplomat about the plains of the Río de la Plata, “and I cer-
tainly should hang myself if I could find a tree tall enough to swing on.”

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The place had “no theater that can be endured,” he moaned, “nothing
good but the beef.” The bias of such writers is hard to miss. Supersti-
tion and gloomy bigotry were Protestant code words for “Catholicism,”
and denunciations of Latin American “vileness” were plainly racist.
Latin Americans as a whole did not rate very high in English- language
travel books. Henry Hill, a US consul in Rio, considered the Brazilian
people “wholly incapable of self- government.” Sometimes, travelers
suggested that Latin Americans did not deserve the natural wealth of
their own countries. According to scientist John Mawe’s Travels in the
Interior of Brazil (1823): “No territory perhaps in the world is so rich
in natural products and at the same time so neglected for want of an
enlightened and industrious population.”

Women travelers, on the other hand, often wrote of Latin
Americans more sympathetically. One was Frances Calderón de la
Barca, a Scottish woman married to a Spanish diplomat in Mexico
City. She called Mexico City “one of the noblest- looking cities in the
world.” In contrast to many travelers, she found Mexican religious
fervor overpoweringly sincere and often praised the personal habits of
humble people. “The common Indians, whom we see every day bring-
ing their fruit and vegetables to market, are, generally speaking, very
plain, with a humble, mild expression of countenance, very gentle
and wonderfully polite in their manners to each other,” she wrote.
“Occasionally, in the lower classes, one sees a face and form so beauti-
ful, that we might suppose such another was the Indian [she means
Malinche] who enchanted Cortés.” On the other hand, like many oth-
ers, she faulted the traditional limits to women’s education in Latin
America. Even jewel- encrusted elite women received little education:
“When I say they read, I mean they know how to read; when I say they
write, I do not mean they can always spell.” In many ways, she was as
biased as any male traveler.

For all their negative attitudes, travelers’ views are useful, in
part precisely because they were those of outsiders who noticed and
commented on things that local writers took for granted. Take slav-
ery. Only travelers from the southern United States knew slavery at
home. Most travelers were mesmerized and horrified by the spectacle
of human bondage, which also provided sensational descriptions to sell

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their books. On the other hand, travelers’ testimony is impressionis-
tic. Often they did not fully comprehend what they were seeing; their
vision was partial, too, for no individual traveler sees things from all
angles. Therefore, travel accounts provide an excellent example of the
subtle problems that arise in interpreting historical evidence.

Consider the following views of wet nurses, women who breast-
feed the babies of rich families. In Brazil, many wet nurses were
slaves. An enslaved wet nurse was a status symbol, as this 1862 trav-
eler’s description from Rio de Janeiro makes clear: “The black girl,
richly and splendidly dressed, approaching with her head held high, a
superb smile on her lips, as majestic as an ancient goddess, will obvi-
ously establish with her fine attire and the embroidered garment of
the child she carries, the im mense wealth of her masters.” But a much
starker view emerges in this 1845 newspaper ad, also from Rio:

FOR RENT: An eighteen- year- old girl, wet nurse,
healthy and with much good milk for the last two
months. She is for rent because her child has died.
Inquire at 18A Candelaria Street.

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E n s l av E d w o m E n . In this photo, taken by a French traveler to Brazil, enslaved women

are preparing food for the midday meal of field workers. In spite of in de pen dence, Latin

American societies remained models of social in e qual ity, in which hierarchies of race and

class defined people’s lives. The per sis tence of slavery is among the most extreme exam-

ples. But only in Brazil and Cuba did outright slavery continue long after in de pen dence.

Elsewhere in Latin America, social inequalities took a more subtle and more enduring

form. In Charles Ribeyrolles, Brazil pittoresco, Paris, 1861.

1 8 2 8

expelled from

1 8 2 9
Rosas takes

power in

1 8 3 0 s

trend through-
out region

1 8 4 0 s
Guano boom

in Peru

1 8 4 8
US troops

occupy Mexico

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P o s t c o l o n i a l B l u e s


iberty. Equality. Pop u lar sovereignty. America for Americans.
These ideas, loosely grouped under the banner of liberalism, had
made Latin American in de pen dence possible. They had inspired

patriot dreams and justified revolt by explaining why Americans
should rule themselves. They had solidified the patriot alliance with
vague promises of future equality, and they became basic premises
for the constitutions of a dozen new republics. In 1825, only Brazil
remained a monarchy. Even the Brazilian emperor, Pedro I, consid­
ered himself a liberal.

All across Latin America, liberals came forward to put their
ideas into practice— with disastrous results. Many liberal govern­
ments were overturned by force within only a few years, and then
presidents and constitutions followed one another at dizzying speed.
It is during these years that Spanish America (Brazil had better luck,

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as we shall see) gained a reputation for po liti cal instability, a bitter
disappointment of patriot dreams. What happened?

In a nutshell, the first governments of in de pen dent Spanish
America possessed few resources and faced tremendous obstacles.
Liberal dreams of prosperous, progressive new countries soon dis­
solved in disappointment and economic failure. Hopes for true democ­
racy were crushed by old habits of conservative hierarchy. Recurring
patterns of po liti cal violence and corruption alienated most people
from the governments that supposedly represented them. Politics
became, above all, a quest for the personal benefits of office. In sum,
the first postcolonial generation (1825– 50) saw Latin America going
nowhere fast.

L iber a L Dis a pp oin tm en t

From the outset, Latin American liberals suffered collectively from
a split personality. The Creole leadership of the patriot armies had
waved the banner of liberalism, but governing by liberal principles
was not so easy.

The liberal emphasis on legal equality for all citizens had radi­
cal, disruptive implications in societies that were still fundamentally
hierarchical. It is important to observe that liberalism grew out of
social and economic transformations (such as the rise of capitalist
trade, manufacturing, and a middle class) that had occurred more in
En gland and France than in Spain and Portugal. The new Spanish
American republics and Brazilian monarchy inherited strongly tradi­
tionalist societies. For generations, Spanish and Portuguese thinkers
had emphasized collective responsibility over individual liberties and
religious orthodoxy over religious freedom. Spanish American and
Brazilian societies were much further from the liberal model than
was US society at in de pen dence. The exception was the US South,
which, with its plantation economy and slave system, looked rather
like Latin America. At any rate, the liberal vision was more difficult
to implement in strongly hierarchical societies with exploitative labor

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A formal public commitment to legal racial equality, for
example, had been the price of mass support for Latin America’s in­
de pen dence movements. In the generation following in de pen dence,
the various mixed­ race classifications typical of the caste system were
optimistically banished from census forms and parish record keeping.
In republics, all but slaves were supposed to be citizens, equal to all
other citizens. Slavery receded everywhere in Latin America, except
in nonrepublican Brazil, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. In practice, however,
very few elite Latin Americans, who remained in leadership every­
where, could accept the idea of broad social equality. The basic contra­
diction between po liti cal theory and social reality fatally undermined
the stability of the new republics.

Theoretically, liberals sought “government of the people,” but
in Latin America, liberal leaders, who were typically white and upper
class, had mixed feelings about “the people.” They considered indige­
nous people and their lands a national problem, never a national asset.
Admiration of Eu rope made liberals Eurocentric, and their interest in
new po liti cal ideas made them ideological. Despite the importance of
liberal thought in the recent struggles for in de pen dence, liberalism
remained an exotic plant on Latin American soil. Conservative leaders
soon rose to challenge the liberal agenda. In contrast to liberals, con­
servatives openly proclaimed that the common people should “know
their place” and leave governing to their “betters.” Even so, conserva­
tive defense of traditional values appealed to many common people.

Church­ state conflicts offer an excellent example. The church
represented reverence for colonial traditions in general. So liberals
called for freedom of worship and the separation of church and state.
Conservatives, on the other hand, wanted Catholicism to remain
the official religion of the new republics. Liberals believed in public
schools, whereas conservatives were satisfied to let the church retain
its dominant role in education. And so on. The liberals had Protestant
merchants and educational reformers on their side on this issue. But
the defense of the Catholic Church was highly pop u lar with pious,
tradition­ minded peasants and landowners alike. The church issue
became the chief litmus test distinguishing liberal from conservative
cultural outlooks, and it was a winning issue for conservatives.

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Gradually, all Latin America divided along liberal versus con­
servative lines: the liberals, oriented toward progressive— especially
US, En glish, or French— models; the conservatives, harkening back
toward colonial or Spanish models. Pop u lar sovereignty, enshrined by
the wars of in de pen dence, was the one po liti cal principle espoused,
at least publicly, by everyone. But how would the people become
engaged in the po liti cal pro cess? Formal party organizations— often,
but not always, called the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party—
formed slowly. After all, partisan politics— with electoral campaigns,
newspapers, and speeches— was new in Latin America (and in the
rest of the world, too, for that matter). Under colonial rule, there had
been few forums for public debate. Meanwhile, there was much to be
debated. These new nations faced enormous difficulties, both economic
and institutional.

Horrendous economic devastation had occurred during the
wars of in de pen dence. Hardest hit were the Mexican and Peruvian
silver mines. Their shafts flooded, their costly machinery wrecked,
the mines needed major injections of capital. Yet there were only a
handful of banks in Latin America before 1850. Local moneylenders
charged astronomical interest rates, and, after some initial failures,
London bankers showed little interest. They had safer investment
opportunities in industrializing, railroad­ building, commercially
booming En gland and the United States. Colonial Latin America had
produced much of the silver in world circulation, but the region ran
very short of capital after in de pen dence. As for trade, colonial restric­
tions had ended, and nobody regretted that except the Spanish mer­
chants who lost their former monopoly. But control of import/export
trade passed from the hands of Peninsulars directly into the hands of
British, French, and US traders. Creoles had little experience in com­
mercial business and preferred to invest in land.

Another major economic problem was the lack of transporta­
tion infrastructure. With few navigable rivers— Mexico, for exam­
ple, had none to speak of— and lots of steep mountains and tropical
forests, transportation was costly indeed. Colonial merchants had
responded by keeping quantities small and profit margins high. A few
mules loaded with silver or with the luxury goods that mine own ers

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imported did not need much of a road. Transporting bulky agricul­
tural products for the new high­ volume trade of the mid­1800s was
a different matter. British traders offered consumer goods, such as
cotton cloth and steel tools, at low prices. This trade could not prosper
until crates of sugar, stacks of hides, bolts of cloth, and bags of cof­
fee could be transported more cheaply. Adequate port facilities, roads,
and bridges— not to mention railroads, which belong to a later period
of Latin American development— did not yet exist. Without capital to
build them, Latin America had to wait half a century to realize its
trade potential. Meanwhile, Latin American economies grew slowly
or, as in Mexico and Peru, even experienced decline.

So much to be done, and fledgling liberal governments had few
practical assets. Everywhere but in Brazil, the governing institutions
had to be rebuilt from scratch, an expensive undertaking. Meanwhile,
another institution, the army, was already overdeveloped— another
negative impact of the protracted in de pen dence wars. These armies
were frequently top­ heavy with salaried officers who got testy when
their pay was late. And wobbly new states possessed little po liti cal
legitimacy to inspire obedience in societies made turbulent by war.
The vogue of republican institutions such as constitutions was recent,
their efficacy untested. Most ordinary people had heard of constitu­
tions, presidents, and legislatures but regarded them as newfangled
importations. When push came to shove, nobody was sure whether
constitutions would be binding. Loyalty to the king had taken genera­
tions to develop, and so would loyalty to republican institutions.

In the meantime, the new republics were fragile. And fragile,
understaffed governments found it hard to administer (that is, make
people pay) taxes. Latin American states relied on import/ export
tariffs, high­ yield taxes that could be charged at the docks by a few
inspectors and a handful of soldiers. But tariffs were only as lucrative
as the meager import/export trade they taxed. To meet basic needs,
revenue­ starved liberal governments borrowed what money they
could. Often, they defaulted.

Overall, the deck was stacked against the liberals who held the
reins of government in Spanish America after in de pen dence. Their
vision implied sweeping change, but they had neither the resources

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nor the allies they needed to achieve it. They presided over countries
wracked by war— militarized societies where many had new guns
and old grudges— and their innovative plans often offended powerful
vested interests and provoked violent confrontations. The postin de­
pen dence period of liberal ascendancy ended in most countries after
only a few years. Conservatives cried “Anarchy!” and called on gen­
erals to impose order and protect property. The rapid fall of Latin
America’s first republican governments further undermined their
legitimacy and set a tragic pre ce dent, as one constitutional president
after another was overthrown militarily.

Between in de pen dence and the 1850s, strings of presidents held
office for only months, or even days. Few governments were able to
implement their programs. Conservatives— in the ascendancy by the
1830s— basically wanted things not to change. And many, conserva­
tives and liberals, saw politics mostly as a path to office and personal
enrichment— the traditional colonial approach. Their objective was to
take over the government and distribute the so­ called spoils of office,
a pattern that also characterized US politics of the day. People in
power could distribute spoils to their friends and followers to reward
their loyalty. These spoils, also called patronage— government jobs,
pensions, and public works— loomed large in societies with sluggish
economies. Spoils fueled the “patronage politics” and “caudillo leader­
ship” that characterized postcolonial Latin America.

pat ronage p oL i t ic s a n D c au DiL L o

L e a Der ship

Patronage politics made corruption (channeling government benefits
to one’s family, cronies, and clients) a necessary part of the system.
Patronage flowed through personal relationships, sometimes replac­
ing party platforms altogether. A local justice of the peace— whom we
can call Don Miguel, as a hypothetical example— would use his office
to secure benefits not only for his extended family but also for his
po liti cal allies (in return for past and future favors), for his informal
“clients” (for example, his godchildren and their families), and for his

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faithful servants and employees. These people’s support of Don Miguel
and his party had little to do with abstract principles of liberalism and
conservatism. Loyalty was what counted. At election time, clients held
up their end of the patronage bargain by voting the way their “patron”
wished. If the patron joined a revolution, his clients would be expected
to pick up weapons and follow him. Don Miguel, in turn, received
favors and honors from a patron wealthier and more powerful than
himself— a cabinet minister, say, or the state governor— and so on, up
to the highest patron of all, the party’s national leader, or caudillo.

A caudillo in office would be president; in opposition, he was
the second most powerful man in the country. Caudillos were typi­
cally large landowners who could use their personal resources for pa­
tronage or for maintaining private armies. The first caudillos rose to
prominence during the wars of in de pen dence and then carried their
war time fame as leaders of men into peacetime politics, which were
not especially peaceful, as we will see. Caudillos were often war heroes
who embodied ideal masculine qualities— bravery, loyalty, generos­
ity, and sexual glamour— in their followers’ eyes. A string of roman­
tic conquests and mistresses only enhanced a caudillo’s reputation.
Most caudillos were from well­ off families, though some rose from the
ranks. Either way, they generally cultivated a “common touch,” the
special ability to communicate with, and manipulate, humble follow­
ers, including mestizos, free blacks, and indigenous people— a rapport
often called charisma. Caudillos could be liberals or conservatives,
but their folksy style fit more naturally with conservative tradition­
alism. Caudillos were defined by their army of followers, not by for­
mal ranks, offices, and institutions. Sometimes they were generals in
the regular army, sometimes not. The focus on personal leadership
expressed itself in language. The supporters of Don Miguel might be
known simply as Miguelistas.

Or Rosistas, in the case of the caudillo Rosas. Juan Manuel de
Rosas, who dominated Argentina from 1829 to 1852, exemplifies cau­
dillo rule. Rosas was a rancher of the great cattle frontier called the
pampa, and frontier militias stiffened his grip on the city of Buenos
Aires. He made routine use of violence against his po liti cal opponents
but also shrewd use of po liti cal imagery and mass propaganda. Rosas

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JUan manUEl dE Rosas, Argentine caudillo. The Rosas regime mobilized popular

support through savvy use of imagery, as in this portrait of the caudillo in country garb.

Gianni Dagli Orti / The Art Archive at Art Resource.

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had his picture placed on church altars and ordered the people of
Buenos Aires to wear red ribbons signifying their support. Anyone
caught not wearing the red ribbon might be beaten in the street. Rosas
represented himself as a man of the people, able to identify with hard­
riding gauchos of the pampa and poor black workers in the city, while
depicting his liberal opponents as effeminate Eurocentric aristocrats,
out of touch with the real Argentina. The powerful ranchers of the
pampa saw Rosas as one of them, and he protected their interests. For
example, the nonsedentary indigenous people of the pampa remained
unconquered in the mid­1800s. They had been pushed back by a line
of forts, but they often raided herds and ranch houses. Rosas made
war on the indigenous people to expand the territory open to ranch­
ing, but he also negotiated with them skillfully, sometimes in  their
own language. Finally, Rosas won patriotic glory by defeating British
and French interventions in the 1830s and 1840s.

Antonio López de Santa Anna of Mexico was another famous
Latin American caudillo and, by all accounts, a great rascal and
po liti cal opportunist. Here was a Creole who fought against the
patriot cause of Hidalgo and Morelos, finally accepted in de pen dence
with Iturbide, and then helped overthrow Iturbide, making him, oddly
enough, a founding father of the Mexican republic. During the 1830s
and 1840s, thanks to his influence over the army and his status as
a war hero, Santa Anna seemed to install and remove presidents at
will. He made himself president, too, over and over, first as a liberal,
then as a conservative. Santa Anna’s opportunism was displayed by
many caudillos. They moved in a world of friends, enemies, followers,
and factions where abstract principles faded into the background. One
source of Santa Anna’s otherwise perplexing public popularity seems
to have been his military victories against a last­ gasp Spanish inva­
sion of Mexico in 1829 and against a small­ scale French intervention
of 1838. Like Rosas, Santa Anna had a keen sense of po liti cal theater.
When he lost a leg fighting the French invasion of 1838, he famously
had it buried with full military honors.

José Antonio Páez of Venezuela was typical of many caudillos.
Of mixed race, he rose to leadership during the wars of independence.
Páez had been Bolívar’s chief ally on the Orinoco Plains. He was a

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a n T o n I o l Ó P E Z d E s a n Ta a n n a , Mexican caudillo, embodied the power and

authority of the army, which he deployed for either Liberals or Conservatives, according

to the occasion. Everett Connection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo.

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man among men, and even among llanero lancers, whose devastating
charges he led personally at a full gallop. Not social prestige but
physical courage and prowess on the battlefield made him the first
president of Venezuela, which was among the most war­torn, blood­
soaked parts of the continent in 1825. As national caudillo—a de facto
function, not a title—Páez ruled over a coalition of regional caudillos,
who, like himself, had risen in the fighting of independence. In his
autobiography, Páez portrays his sway over Venezuela in terms remi­
niscent of a feudal king and his barons. True tests of power, decisive
political encounters, happened on the battlefield more than at the bal­
lot box. The common people participated, unquestionably, but always
under the direction of their social “superiors,” as fighters on all sides
of every conflict. Therefore, whoever won, the people as a whole lost
out. Venezuela was an extreme case of this politics­by­force­of­arms,
but it was a common phenomenon.

Indeed, the history of Spanish America during the mid­1800s
can be told as a succession of caudillos. Interestingly, this is true even
in Central America, which had never revolted against Spain, becom­
ing in de pen dent on Mexico’s coattails, so to speak. The liberal first
generation was defined in Central America by Honduran­ born cau­
dillo Francisco Morazán, whose French connections and federalist
convictions were typical of liberals. But, also typically, Morazán’s lib­
eral reforms, such as antichurch mea sures and a legal code imported
directly from the United States, proved unpop u lar. In the late 1830s,
Rafael Carrera, a conservative caudillo, overthrew Morazán and
dominated Central America for the next quarter century. Carrera
was Morazán’s social and ideological opposite. A rural mestizo with
close ties to Guatemala’s indigenous peoples, Carrera protected their
welfare— their village lands, above all— as few other national leaders
in Latin American history. Like Rosas, Carrera shielded the Catho­
lic Church from liberal assaults, and he honored the local folk cul­
ture that made Eurocentric liberals shudder. Absorbed in governing
Guatemala, Carrera allowed the United Provinces of Central America
to fall apart, becoming today’s cluster of in de pen dent minirepublics.

Minirepublics were especially susceptible to one­ man rule. In
South America, Paraguay was governed from 1814 to 1840 by a most

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unusual caudillo. Dr. José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia was a scholar,
a doctor of theology, rather than a war hero. An austere conservative
dictator who permitted no dissent, El Supremo, as Francia styled him­
self, tried to seal off Paraguay totally from Eu ro pe an cultural influ­
ences. He allowed only a few Eu ro pe an merchants to visit Paraguay,
and generally they returned wide­ eyed with tales of El Supremo’s
omnipresent spies. Some foreign visitors became Francia’s permanent
guests, such as the French naturalist Aimé de Bonpland, who spent
ten years under house arrest and never returned to Eu rope. Fran­
cia’s strategy of isolation seems paranoid, but it more or less worked.
Paraguay became in de pen dent, self­ sufficient, and relatively prosper­
ous, with no thanks at all to Eu rope. The Paraguayan caudillos who
followed Francia lessened the country’s isolation but continued the
emphasis on national autonomy.

Francia and a few other dictators did away with the trappings
of liberal constitutionalism, such as elections, but most caudillos did
not. During the first generation of in de pen dence, politics became a
double game in Latin America, differing markedly in theory and prac­
tice. Constitutions were the great symbol of popular sovereignty, and
so they mattered enough for people to keep writing them, over and
over. Colombia seemed to have a new one every ten years. Everyone
knew, as a matter of experience, that each new constitution might
soon be canceled, that each new president might soon be replaced by
revolution. In po liti cal practice, individual people remained more im­
portant than laws, and toppling governments by revolution became
not an exception to the system, but the system itself. Although the
efficacy of republican institutions in Latin America stood at a low ebb
by the 1840s, few saw an alternative. Elections, like constitutions,
often failed in practice but were rarely eliminated altogether. Rather
than mea sures of majority opinion, elections became contests of force
that showed who controlled each locality; the party that got the most
ballots into the ballot box— by what ever means— was, by definition,
the strongest. Governments frequently manipulated vote counts and
used the police to determine the outcomes of elections. Stolen elec­
tions often provoked revolutions led by the caudillo of the opposition
party. Gradually, most Spanish Americans lost faith in the promise of

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democracy during these years. Often prevented from voting, the com­
mon people rarely spoke for themselves in politics. Most often, “the
people” exercised their sovereignty through action in the street.

By the middle of the 1800s, most Latin American countries were
ruled by conservative caudillos whose sole public ser vice was to main­
tain order and protect property. Po liti cal conflict had completely shaken
apart several of the new Spanish American republics. When state or pro­
vincial governments gained the upper hand over central governments,
federalism often became a first step toward dismemberment. Greater
Colombia, as the former viceroyalty of New Granada was called after
in de pen dence, started as a single republic but split into the present three
countries of Colombia, Ec ua dor, and Venezuela. As mentioned, the origi­
nal Central American Republic splintered into five parts— Guatemala,
El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica— dividing Spanish
America into a total of sixteen sovereign po liti cal fragments, not count­
ing Spanish­ controlled Cuba and Puerto Rico. Colombia, Venezuela,
Peru, Argentina, and Mexico all seemed headed for further fragmenta­
tion in contests between centralists and federalists.

br a ziL’ s Dif f er en t pat h

Was this the necessary price of decolonization? The contrasting
example of mid­ century Brazil suggests that retention of colonial
institutions such as the monarchy lent stability, although at a heavy
price. Brazil had retained a Eu ro pe an dynasty; a nobility of dukes,
counts, and barons sporting coats of arms; a tight relationship be­
tween church and state; and a full commitment to the institution
of chattel slavery, in which some people worked others to death. On
the other hand, despite a few attempts to form breakaway republics,
Portuguese America remained united, and the Brazilian government
had never been violently overthrown. The Brazilian elite was ex­
tremely proud of this achievement and fond of contrasting Brazil to
revolution­ wracked Spanish America.

The in de pen dent Brazilian Empire sprawled grandly over
half the South American continent. It had a specialized cadre of

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circulating provincial governors, not elected but rather designated
by Rio. Brazilian society had not been militarized at in de pen dence.
Unlike the situation in Spanish America, where regional caudillos
ran rampant, the Brazilian imperial army was unrivaled in power,
its generals unswervingly loyal to the emperor. Brazilian plantations
also escaped the sort of destruction that hampered early republican
Spanish America. The original heartland of Portuguese colonization
along the northeastern coast still boiled down tons upon tons of sugar
for Eu ro pe an desserts, but a newer plantation crop, coffee (an excel­
lent accompaniment to dessert), now competed with sugar as the
prime product of slave labor. By the 1840s, coffee emerged victori­
ous. Brazilian coffee cultivation boomed as the dark brew replaced tea
on breakfast tables in the United States and many parts of Eu rope.
Coffee would be to in de pen dent Brazil what sugar had been to colo­
nial Brazil. It also contributed directly to the economic and po liti cal
strength of the imperial capital, because the coffee boom began in the
province of Rio de Janeiro itself.

This Brazilian success story obscures the saga of Brazil’s own
liberal hopes and disappointments. In fact, liberalism had created a
miniature version of the tempestuous Spanish American experience
during the first de cades of in de pen dence. Pedro I fancied himself a
liberal, but he had an authoritarian temperament. After consenting to
the creation of a constituent assembly in 1822, he impatiently closed it
when liberal representatives took the notion of pop u lar sovereignty too
seriously for his taste. In practice, Pedro aimed to rule “by the grace of
God,” not by the permission of the Brazilian people. He convened a few
advisers to write a constitution that, he taunted the assembly, would
be more liberal than any they could devise. But his 1824 constitu­
tion called for a senate appointed for life, and it placed the emperor’s
so­ called moderating power above the other branches of government.
True liberals were not fooled, and Pedro’s blundering impetuosity—
his inflationary policies, his unpop u lar wars in the south, his scandal­
ous adultery, and, worst of all, his continued involvement in Portu­
guese politics— gave the advantage to his enemies.

Liberals found their most pop u lar issue in the irritating presence
of many Portuguese­ born merchants, bureaucrats, and army officers,

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b r a z i L ’ s D i f f e r e n t p a t h




Gulf of


zon R











C U B A ( s t i l l S p a n i s h )
J A M A I C A ( B r . )

( s t i l l S p a n i s h )






( D i s p u t e d b e t w e e n
A r g e n t i n a a n d C h i l e )






São Paulo





Mexico City Veracruz

Rio de

San Francisco


New York



Guatemala City


San Antonio

L A T I N A M E R I C A ,

1 8 1 1 – 3 9

M5.1 New Nations of Latin America
Second proof

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who still occupied positions of power in in de pen dent Brazil. Ordinary
Brazilians who cared nothing for po liti cal theory identified with cries
of “Brazil for the Brazilians.” Anti­ Portuguese rioting became frequent.
Pedro tended to surround himself with Portuguese­ born advisers, and he
was, after all, Portuguese by birth himself. In addition, his father’s death
in 1826 made him legal heir to the throne of Portugal. Pedro renounced
the Portuguese throne in favor of his daughter but remained deeply en­
grossed in Portuguese affairs. What if the crowns of Portugal and Brazil
were re united? Liberals warned of possible recolonization. By early 1831,
anti­ Portuguese resentment in Rio had reached fever pitch, and Pedro,
feeling royally unappreciated, decided to abdicate the Brazilian Crown
and return to Portugal. But, like his father, João VI, Pedro I left his son to
take his place in Brazil. Although he was only five years old, the prince,
named Pedro after his departing sire, had been born in Brazil. No one
questioned his authority. Nevertheless, until he came of age, the child
emperor would need adult guardians, called regents, to rule in his name.

The regency years, 1831– 40, were the stormiest in Brazilian his­
tory. The regents represented the liberal forces that had unseated the
despotic Pedro I. Since they wanted to limit the power of the central gov­
ernment, they reduced the size of the army and gave more authority to
local and provincial officials. Very quickly, however, they began to want
their power back. The liberal notion that “all men are created equal”
(even leaving women and slaves out, as most liberals then did) contra­
dicted the powerfully hierarchical social or ga ni za tion of Brazil. Most of
the time, equality remained an abstract concept, a pretty lie, a rhetori­
cal gambit. Like Spanish American liberals during the wars of in de pen­
dence, Brazilian liberals now needed allies among the common folk,
and they too played the nativist card, exalting the importance of native
Brazilian birth and invoking the menace of Portuguese recolonization.
Liberals in a number of provinces rebelled against the central govern­
ment, which they thought too timid by half. By the late 1830s, liberal
rebellions raged simultaneously in four provinces, from far north to far
south, and these were not the last. Ephemeral republics were declared.
Slaves were getting involved here and there. The regents panicked.

Liberals among the imperial elite now did an abrupt about­
face. Maybe the conservatives had been right, they admitted. Maybe

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Brazil needed strong royal authority more than democracy. Decoloni­
zation was put on hold. In 1840, even though Prince Pedro was still
only fourteen, the national assembly voted to put him on the throne
anyway. It canceled earlier liberal reforms, built up the imperial
army, and instituted a centralized national police force. Liberalism
had failed, and the conservative Brazilian success story of the mid­
1800s—slaves, coffee, and monarchical stability— could now be told.

con t in u i t ie s in Da iLy L if e

What ever the po liti cal alterations after in de pen dence, the texture
of people’s daily lives— their work, their families and other social
relationships, their amusements and beliefs— changed less than one
might think. The great economic engine of transformation that would
eventually touch everyone, capitalism, was still idling spasmodically
in most countries (for reasons already explained) and would not roar
to life until after 1850. In the meantime, however, things were not so
bad for most Latin Americans.

Indigenous people farmed communal lands belonging to their vil­
lages, relatively unmolested by outsiders. During the period 1825– 50,
the economic slowdown took pressure off indigenous land and labor.
Colonial labor drafts such as the mita had ended— except in extraor­
dinarily backward cases— and indigenous people preferred, whenever
possible, to avoid wage labor and grow their own food. Especially in
Mexico, where indigenous villages had governed themselves through
Spanish institutions since the 1500s, village elders administered their
own communities, giving them an in de pen dent voice in po liti cal mat­
ters. But most indigenous people cared little for republican politics. They
wanted to live apart, observing their own customs, speaking their own
language, and generally minding their own business.

In some cases— Colombia, for example— free peasants of mixed
blood far outnumbered the inhabitants of indigenous communities.
Sometimes, rural people lived as “attached workers,” called peons,
on the property of a large landowner and became, in effect, his eco­
nomic and po liti cal clients. For attached workers and their families,

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the standard name for the landowner was, in fact, patrón. Having
a patrón provided security but also carried obligations. Typically,
hacienda peons worked part time for the patrón and part time grow­
ing food for themselves. On the other hand, much virgin forest still
existed here and there, where peasants might clear a field and farm
their own crops without having to work as peons or fight battles for
any landlord. In sum, during the period 1825– 50, most rural Latin
Americans depended, one way or another, on subsistence agriculture
rather than the market for their food.

African people and their children still slaved in the fields of
plantations, especially in Brazil and Cuba. They, too, raised food in
their own provision fields, but they spent most of their time, when not
house hold servants, cultivating and pro cessing the export crop. In fact,
Brazilian coffee planters had imported record numbers of Africans in
the period 1825– 50, despite the English­ inspired legal prohibition of
the trade. Some laws were on the books, according to the old Brazilian
expression, merely “For the En glish to see.” Cuban plantation own­
ers, benefiting particularly from the abolition of slavery in Jamaica,
Barbados, and the other sugar­ growing islands colonized by En gland,
also imported vast numbers of enslaved workers. Cuba was becoming
one big sugar factory, highly capitalized and relentlessly productive,
an indicator of things to come elsewhere.

Rich or not, landowners held the balance of power in postcolonial
Latin America. They complained about bandits and impassable roads
but enjoyed greater social prestige and po liti cal influence than in their
parents’ generation. In the wake of in de pen dence, liberals had elimi­
nated powerful urban merchant guilds and instituted free trade. The
massive importation of foreign machine­ made fabrics had then bank­
rupted urban weavers. Now most of Latin America’s export opportuni­
ties were agricultural, putting new economic clout in the hands of land­
owners. Landowners’ po liti cal clout got heavier, too. Urban merchants
and bureaucrats had fewer followers than the own ers of plantations and
haciendas, and numerous clients counted in elections and revolutions.

Transculturation, the give­ and­ take creation of new Latin
American cultures, was encouraged by the postcolonial prestige of na­
tional identity and the rise of the landowning class. By the mid­1800s,

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landowners were less likely to maintain a house in town and were more
comfortable seeing themselves as country people. Years of nativist
rhetoric had proclaimed the essential patriotic dignity of “Americanos,”
and the countryside, rather than the cities, was thought to define the
native identity. The folk dances of poor mestizos, long condemned by
the colonial authorities as inappropriate for anybody, now enjoyed a
broad vogue as repre sen ta tions of a national spirit. Mexican jarabes
and Colombian bambucos, two such dances, were cheered on stage
by patriotic audiences that might hiss at actors with Portuguese or
Spanish accents. Even in Spanish­ controlled Cuba, people danced— at
rustic wedding parties, seedy dance halls, or elite social clubs— to mu­
sic with an Afro­ Cuban lilt. Place of birth had been enough to define
native identity during the wars of in de pen dence, and it remained a
crucial reference point. Defining the national “us” partly happened
through opposition to a foreign “them.” But national identities needed
more than boundaries. They needed substance, and transculturation
provided it.

Latin American literature of the mid­1800s played a key role
in elaborating and promoting these new national identities. Most
writers of the period believed that the landscape and distinctive
customs of the new nations were the proper subject matter for new
national literatures. A par tic u lar literary form called costumbrismo
(from costumbres, the Spanish word for “customs”) became pop u lar
throughout the region. Costumbrista writers created national self­
portraits by describing not only the dances but also the dress, speech,
and lives of ordinary folk, particularly those of the countryside, who
were believed to embody the national essence. Costumbrista sketches
were often published in the newspapers and scripted for pre sen ta­
tion on stage during intermissions between the “serious” Eu ro pe an
dramas that constituted the normal fare. Some costumbrismo can be
read almost as ethnographic description. Consider the following view
of a young woman of the popular class from an 1855 publication called
A Mexican Self-Portrait:

Mariquita lives in a rented room, and she keeps the
door open, because cleanliness is her strong suit, and

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C o s T U m b R I s m o, the depiction of customs and lifeways, was important in Latin

American graphic arts, as well as literature, during the mid-1800s. This illustration

shows the folk costume distinctive to one of Colombia’s many regions. La Comisión

Corográfica/Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia.

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that applies to her person, her clothing (and not just
the outside layer), and her living quarters. Her room
is small, but its floor is spotless. There is a bed in one
corner, with modest linens, scrupulously clean. Beside
the bed, a wooden chest where she keeps her dresses,
her petticoats, her shawl, her sewing basket, and a
few romantic novels. Her necklaces may or may not be
there, depending on the day of the week, because they
are regularly in the pawn shop except for Sundays,
when she finds money to rescue them temporarily before
pawning them again on Monday or Tuesday.

The nativist spirit, a key to in de pen dence, remained strong
for several de cades afterward, before gradually fading. Peninsulars
who had remained in republican Mexico, for example, were expelled
following widespread nativist agitation in 1828. Conservatives, along
with and eventually more than liberals, also used nativist imagery.
Rosista publicists created folksy newspaper characters like Pancho
Lugares, The Gaucho, who dispensed homespun advice and made
fun of Eurocentric liberals in 1830s Argentina. Nativism remained
antiforeign, but it lost its liberal emphasis on social equality.

By 1850, the oppressed majority of Latin America, the descen­
dants of the conquered and the enslaved, were clearly not going to
overthrow the descendants of the conquerors. Overall, the upper
classes of the new nations still looked like the upper classes of the
colonies— with a few darker faces, now, in the elite group portrait.
There were only a few isolated cases in which mass rebellions threat­
ened to sweep aside the existing social hierarchy. The most famous
was the mid­ century Caste War of Yucatán, in which Mayan people
rose up, inspired by prophetic religious messages from a talking cross,
to cleanse their land of white and mestizo intruders. They called
themselves Cruzob, a mixed Mayan/Spanish word meaning “people
of the cross,” but their worldview was more Mayan than Spanish.
In general, truly radical rebellions occurred only where the rebels,
like these Mayas, kept a cultural distance from the larger society.
The Bahian slave conspiracy of 1835, perhaps the most famous of

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in de pen dent Brazil, occurred among slaves, many of whom were
Arabic­ speaking Muslims, the Malês, impervious to the Christian
ideology of Brazilian society. Their Muslim identity helped the Malês
or ga nize, but it also limited them by alienating Christian slaves,
some of whom revealed the conspiracy.

White minority rule in Latin America still exercised the subtle,
resilient power of cultural hegemony. Whereas whites had once ruled
because they represented the colonizing power and the true religion,
now they represented “civilization.” What was civilization? A silly
question! Civilization was Paris, London! It was free trade and steam
power and romantic poetry. It was everything money could buy from
Eu rope. Whoever accepted this outrageously Eurocentric definition
of civilization more or less had to accept the “more civilized” white
ruling class with it. The black Muslim rebels of Bahia and the Cruzob
Mayas of the speaking cross did not need the white man’s definition

Co s T U m b R I s m o. In search of distinctive national identities, costumbrista painting often

focused meticulously on clothing presented as “typical,” in this case, of various classes in

mid-nineteenth-century Mexico. Biblioteca National de Mexico, Mexico/Bridgeman Images.

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of civilization, nor his values, because they had their own and could
envision a radically different world. But these were the exceptions.
In most of Latin America, transculturation had, over the course of
centuries, created societies that shared basic values and attitudes
despite huge differences in wealth. The result was continued hege­
monic control for the elite minority. An example is the awe attached
to writing.

Spanish and Portuguese had been the languages of empire, and
writing in those languages remained the vehicle of law, administra­
tion, and all long­ distance communication. Although educational op­
portunities expanded slightly after 1825, most Latin Americans could
neither read nor write. Meanwhile, new nations, as well as states and
provinces within them, now had legislatures to draft laws and news­
papers to air po liti cal debate. Po liti cal hopefuls of all kinds orated
endlessly in electoral campaigns and then, if fortunate, on the floor of
the senate or the balcony of the presidential palace. So important was
rhetoric and oratory to public life that many a semiliterate caudillo
captured a capital city only to slink back to his hacienda in tongue­
tied embarrassment, amid snickers from the educated elite. Politics
constituted the principal venue for this kind of language, but special
glamour went also to the young man who could write poetry in proper
meter and rhyme, recite classical wisdom in Latin, or show easy famil­
iarity with untranslated En glish or French authors. Only men could
have this glamour, for the most part, because university education
was still closed to women.

Indeed, the tumultuous public life of the new nations— the
biggest transformation of independence— largely excluded women
altogether. Women’s names became well­ known either because of
their connections to powerful men or because they broke the gender
rules— or both. Domitila de Castro, for example, known to history by
her title Marqueza de Santos, became the best­ known woman in Brazil
after the Empress Leopoldina, because she was the emperor’s mis­
tress. She had a reputation for giving excellent parties at the lavish
villa that Pedro built for her near the beach in Rio. Pedro gave titles
of nobility to several members of Domitila’s family, too, and officially
recognized his paternity of their daughter, whom he made Duchess

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of Goiás. By most accounts, his behavior virtually killed the Empress
Leopoldina with humiliation. Pedro had introduced Domitila among
Leopoldina’s ladies­ in­ waiting and for a time had her and the infant
duchess living in the imperial palace. Leopoldina was a vigorous,
intelligent, and loyal woman who had borne six children and died
from complications of her seventh pregnancy. Born in Austria, she
was much loved in Rio despite her foreign manner. She had helped
persuade Pedro to make Brazil in de pen dent in 1822. Her death in
1826 discredited Pedro in the hearts of many Brazilians, preparing
the way for his downfall.

Encarnación Ezcurra, the wife of Argentine caudillo Juan Man­
uel de Rosas, played an important po liti cal role, but mainly behind
the scenes. When Rosas was away from Buenos Aires, ranching or
leading military expeditions, Ezcurra took over his po liti cal affairs.
She greeted and offered hospitality to poor as well as rich Rosistas.
She dealt with other caudillos and wrote her husband frequent, de­
tailed po liti cal reports. Her correspondence shows a proud, strong,
tough­ talking Rosista. She dismissed slanders directed at her by her
husband’s enemies: “But none of this intimidates me. I will put myself
above it. And they will pay dearly.” Still, she did not assume any pub­
lic office, although Rosas proclaimed her “Heroine of the Federation.”
When she died in 1838, the banner on her casket put her life achieve­
ments in the order believed proper for a woman: “Good mother, faith­
ful wife, ardent patriot.”

Her daughter, Manuela de Rosas, soon stepped into her shoes.
Manuela (more commonly, Manuelita) now managed the public rela­
tions of her father’s rule. When still a girl, she had famously joined in
the dancing when the black people of Buenos Aires paid their respects
to Rosas. Later, she entertained visiting diplomats, playing the piano
and conversing with them in French. More than one wanted to marry
her, but her father opposed her marriage: he needed her. So she
remained “la Niña” to all Buenos Aires, one of the most pop u lar people
in public life. She finally did marry, against her father’s wishes, after
he was overthrown.

Camila O’Gorman, a friend of Manuelita’s, was famous for an
awful scandal. This young woman of “decent family” fell in love with

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a young priest. When they ran away together in 1847, a tremendous
outcry arose, not only from the church and from Camila’s father, but
also from Rosas’s enemies, who loudly bewailed the moral corruption
of Argentina under Rosas, and from Rosas, who loudly vowed to find
and punish the lovers “even if they hid underground.” The lovers had
changed their names and gone to live in a distant village, but they were
quickly found. Manuelita Rosas tried, but failed, to save her friend.
Camila now symbolized danger to the social order. Even though she was
pregnant, she and her lover faced a Rosista firing squad, side by side.

w o m E n aT wa R . The frequent civil conflicts of Latin America’s post-colonial years

involved women as well as men. Although the women were rarely portrayed, they traveled

with, cooked for, and took care of their men in the field. José Enrique Molina / age fotostock.

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Obviously, Iberian patriarchy remained virulent in postcolo­
nial Latin America. The po liti cal activities of an Encarnación Ezcurra
were, though not unique, infrequent. Women’s exclusion from the
new po liti cal arena of public life merely continued a colonial prac­
tice, but it found new justification in republican theories assigning
women specifically to the domestic sphere. Women bore the total bur­
den of arduous but indispensable tasks— cooking, cleaning, sewing,
and child rearing— that took place in the home. Poor women often
had to work outside their own home and inside someone else’s, still
cooking, cleaning, and rearing children, even breast­ feeding someone
else’s children. Women also took in laundry to wash, starch, and iron
for their social “betters,” and crowds of washerwomen could be seen
scrubbing on the rocks and extending clothes to dry on the grass at
choice riverbank locations. Prostitution, too, remained a standard fea­
ture of urban life.

Eugenia Castro, a poor woman thirty years younger than
Rosas, never got much from him, nor did he ever publicly recognize his
six children with her. Unlike the Marqueza de Santos, Eugenia Castro
led a shut­ in life, hidden from public view. Rosas had been her legal
guardian, and she had been raised as a sort of respectable servant in
his house. Eugenia had nursed the dying Encarnación Ezcurra and
then took her nightly place in the bedroom of “the Illustrious Ameri­
can,” as Rosas allowed admirers to call him. In private, she sat with
him at the same table (reported a surprised visitor), and Manuelita
was affectionate with her and her children. But when Rosas later in­
vited her to share his exile in En gland, she stayed in Argentina.

Women of higher status continued to suffer the tyranny of the
honor system that so limited their experiences and movements, but
honor itself was evolving. Honor had always been partly assigned by
hierarchy and partly earned through behavior. Scoundrels with the
right pedigree could claim honor, and so could more humble people
who showed themselves to be personally virtuous. After in de pen dence,
the second, more modern definition of honor increased in importance,
as befitted societies of supposedly equal citizens. Women who had
achieved ideals of chastity or motherhood could demand social rec­
ognition as honorable people, despite having been born in poverty or

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with the “wrong” skin color. Military ser vice could compensate for a
similarly dishonorable background in men, at least hypothetically. As
the caste system declined after in de pen dence, honor served as an aux­
iliary sorting principle for the new class system.

Caste, usually determined by skin color or some other physi­
cal characteristic, had been a fixed aspect of people’s social being,
but class was a bit easier to change. Class depended especially on
wealth, and poor people sometimes struck it rich. Exceptionally
prosperous black, indigenous, or mixed­ race people had been held
down in the colonial period by laws that kept them out of silk clothes
and high­ status jobs, unless they bought an exemption to make them
“legally white.” These caste laws disappeared after in de pen dence.
In addition, the po liti cal turmoil of the early 1800s resulted, as we
have seen, in increased social mobility for successful military and
po liti cal leaders. White upper­ class families worried about the social
climbing of mestizo competitors. They had reason to worry. People of
mixed race made up an ever­ larger portion of the population. Indig­
enous people who knew Spanish and lived outside traditional com­
munities increasingly abandoned an indigenous identity and became
competitors, too.

The multiple categories of the caste system were collapsing,
gradually, into two basic class categories: the self­ described, mostly
white, “decent people” at the top, and the common people, el pueblo
in Spanish, o povo in Portuguese, below. The so­ called decent people
zealously patrolled the perimeters of their privileged social space.
Diamond jewelry or an ostentatious coach with matched horses driven
by a uniformed servant could help the daughters of a mestizo general
get a foot in the door of “decency,” so to speak, but those already in­
side held new arrivals to strict standards of behavior and fashion. The
daughters of the mestizo general might buy the most costly materials
for their dresses, but did they have the most up­ to­ date Pa ri sian pat­
tern? Did they know proper ballroom etiquette? Could they play the
piano? If so, how well?

No less than in the colonial period, Eu ro pe an norms defined
what was “civilized,” “stylish,” and, ultimately, “decent” in the eyes of
postcolonial Latin Americans. Those at the top of the social hierarchy

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and most in touch with Eu rope obviously held the winning cards in
this parlor game of cultural hegemony. Was Latin America merely
passing from formal, overt colonialism to a more subtle kind? In some
ways, that is exactly what was happening.

Overall, Latin American states had gotten off to a rocky start
between 1825 and 1850. Eco nom ical ly, these were stagnant years;
po liti cally, unstable years. Liberals had failed to create inclusive po­
liti cal communities, law­ abiding commonwealths of equal citizens. At
mid­ century, old habits of hierarchy appeared to have triumphed in
most of Latin America over liberal dreams of transformation. In the
long run, however, the tide of history favored change. When the liber­
als got their second wind after 1850, they had much better luck.

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C h a p t e r r e v i e w

1. What difficulties did newly independent Latin American

countries face in the 1830s and 1840s?

2. Why did the first generation of liberals fail to achieve their goals,

leading to a conservative reaction at mid century?

3. How does caudillo leadership account for turbulence in early

republican Spanish America?

4. Can you contrast the picture in early independent Brazil, which

remained a monarchy?

5. What social, economic, and cultural patterns showed continuity

with colonial days, despite political changes?

s t u D y Q u e s t i o n s

K e y t e r m s a n D v o c a b u L a r y

regency (Brazil), p.142

costumbrismo, p.145

Caste War of Yucatán, p.147

Empress Leopoldina, p.149

Manuela de Rosas, p.150

guano, p.157

postcolonialism, p.128

patronage politics, p.132

caudillo leadership, p.132

Juan Manuel de Rosas, p.133

Antonio López de Santa Anna, p.135

Francisco Morazán, p.137

Pedro I, p.140

06_BBF_28305_ch05_126-159.indd 155 13/06/16 11:04 AM

1 5 6

t h e p ow e r o f o u t s i D e r s

C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

nly Cuba and Puerto Rico remained outright colonies, but
all Latin America remained culturally and eco nom ical ly ori­
ented toward the outside world, highly receptive to Eu ro pe an

influence, especially from France and En gland. Spain and Portugal
retained little prestige and instead attracted angry disdain from


Gulf of











Mexico City



B E F O R E 1 8 4 8

MCC.1 Mexico & the US Border before 1848
Second proof

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C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

1 57

Latin American liberals, who faulted Iberian colonization for what
they found wrong with their societies. Conservatives were a bit more
sympathetic to the “mother countries,” but not much.

Both liberals and conservatives regarded the United States, on
the other hand, as worthy of imitation. But their admiration was mis­
trustful, and with reason, as we will see. US traders had begun to op­
erate in Latin America soon after in de pen dence. Their presence was
welcome indeed. Since 1823, the US government had also promoted
a mostly self­ serving diplomatic vision of hemispheric solidarity, the
Monroe Doctrine, which called for “Eu ro pe an hands off” the Americas.
En gland and France paid little attention. Since US influence paled
beside the awesome commercial and naval power of Great Britain in
the 1800s, the Monroe Doctrine remained mostly theoretical for de­
cades. Nor could the cultural achievements of the United States rival
those of En gland or, especially, France in Latin American eyes. But
US trade grew stronger as years went by, and so did the aura of US
technology and prosperity.

Together, the United States, En gland, and France began to
define Latin America’s new relationship to the outside world. As em­
bodiments of Civilization and Progress, they became models of every­
thing that, according to liberals at least, Latin America should aspire
to be. Furthermore, traders from these countries would gladly provide
the look and feel of progress, ready­ made, if only Latin Americans had
francs or dollars or pounds sterling enough to buy it. Generally, how­
ever, Latin American economies were weak in the first de cades after
in de pen dence, exporting little and importing little.

A famous exception is Peru’s guano boom. Formerly the mighty
center of Spanish­ speaking South America, its very name synonymous
with silver, Peru had suffered a series of turbulent military caudillos
in the wake of in de pen dence. But already in the 1840s, a new export
product rescued Peruvian fortunes or, more precisely, the fortunes of
the “decent people” of Lima. This product was guano, the old fertil­
izer from Inca days, seabird manure, that had accumulated for thou­
sands of years on offshore islands where the birds nested. Easy— if
not exactly pleasant— to mine, guano deposits stood in great mounds,
waiting to be shoveled aboard ship, and Eu ro pe an farmers could

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C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

1 5 8

not get enough of the nitrogen­ rich fertilizer. Guano export required
substantial capital for ships, crews, installations, and shovel men, but
British capitalists saw it as a safe investment. British guano export­
ers operated offshore, even bringing workers from China to keep the
pro cess totally under outside control. The Peruvian government, for
its part, got a direct cut of the profits, usually more than half, because
the guano islands were government property. As Peruvian export
earnings doubled and doubled again, the formerly poverty­ stricken
national government had a bonanza on its hands.

Guano money immediately began to build one of Latin America’s
first railroads. Lima got public gas lighting and other urban improve­
ments, not to mention public jobs for the “decent people,” a kind of
export­ driven growth that became common in Latin America as a
whole only half a century later. But now (or later), little of this prosper­
ity reached the other Peru— the sierra, the Andean highlands that rise
sharply behind Lima and the narrow coastal plain. Since the Peruvian
government no longer depended on Andean silver or on the head tax
paid by indigenous people of the sierra, it could afford to neglect that
region. This, too, was a portent of the future. Progress, when it finally
arrived, would be very unevenly distributed in Latin America.

During the 1830s and 1840s, En gland, France, and the United
States occasionally sent gunboats and landed soldiers on Latin American
shores, sometimes to protect their citizens (the merchant community),
sometimes to “punish” Latin American governments for some reason
(such as lack of cooperation collecting debts owed to foreign citizens).
Incidents of this “gunboat diplomacy” became common, especially in
defenseless Ca rib be an and Central American countries. A few larger
invasions also occurred. Both Rosas and Santa Anna earned patriotic
glory by defeating Eu ro pe an expeditionary forces, as we saw. By far the
largest outside intervention before 1850, however, was the US war on
Mexico, sparked by a rebellious Mexican territory called Texas.

The Mexican government had made a major mistake when,
soon after in de pen dence, it allowed slave­ holding US southerners
to settle in Texas. When Mexican centralists tried to limit Texas
autonomy, these settlers, eventually outnumbering Mexicans, re­
belled and, in 1836, declared Texas an in de pen dent republic. They

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C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

1 5 9

were determined to preserve slavery, which Mexico had formally abol­
ished in 1829. Although defeated at the famous battle of the Alamo,
the Anglo­ Texans won the war and remained in de pen dent for almost a
de cade. Mexico did not recognize Texas in de pen dence, however, and so
when Texas became a US state in 1845, fighting soon erupted again.
Mexicans feared US desires to acquire more Mexican land, especially
California, but Mexico was too weak to defend itself against the United
States. In 1848, US troops occupied Mexico City and took huge spoils
of war: control over all or part of the future states of New Mexico,
Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and Utah, along with California and,
of course, Texas. Although sparsely settled, these lands constituted
about half the territorial claims of Mexico. The heroic (and suicidal)
last stand of Mexican military cadets against US soldiers became a
potent patriotic symbol in Mexico, and Mexicans’ early admiration of
the United States took on the darker tones of a love­ hate relationship.

06_BBF_28305_ch05_126-159.indd 159 13/06/16 11:04 AM

B e n i t o J u á r e z . Mexico’s great liberal president, a contemporary and friend of Abraham

Lincoln, was an indigenous Zapotec villager who learned Spanish as a teenager. Juárez

represents the hard- fought triumph of Mexican liberalism at mid- century. Liberalism had

encouraged the rise of a few talented mestizo and even indigenous men like Juárez,

though the upper classes remained white overall and the prestige of racist ideas was

on the rise internationally when this photograph was taken in the 1860s. Courtesy of

Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley.

1 8 5 5
Juárez Law in


1 8 6 1
Liberal gains in
Colombia and


1 8 6 8

president of

1 8 74

cable connects
region to
Eu rope

1 8 8 8

abolished in

07_BBF_28305_ch06_160-191.indd 160 13/06/16 11:05 AM



n 1850, Latin American conservatism stood at high tide. Then, over
the next quarter century, the liberals made a stunning comeback
and oversaw a long period of export- driven economic expansion.

At last, Latin American countries were fully integrated into the free
flow of international trade. The social and economic transformations
liberals had so desired in 1825 now finally gathered momentum.

The liberal comeback was, in part, a simple return swing of the
pendulum. Any official ideology, any ruling cadre, tends to discredit
itself after de cades in power. Conservative rejection of liberal pipe
dreams had promised “a return to sanity” in the 1830s, a soothing
reestablishment of order, a rosy appeal to traditional values. But the
virtues of security faded as the years passed and the benefits of peace
seemed ever more narrowly distributed. Gradually, all those outside
the charmed circle of official patronage began to pine for a change.


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C h a p t e r 6 | p r O G r e S S


Maybe, thought more and more Latin Americans, the liberal dreams
of a transformed society were not so crazy after all. Landowners
wanted a chance to sell coffee or hides or tobacco on the international
market. The urban middle classes wanted paved streets and libraries,
sewers and parks. Many pinned their hopes on new energies surging
through the international economy after 1850.

The Industrial Revolution was accelerating in Eu rope and the
United States during the period 1850– 75. Industrialists regarded Latin
America as a potential market for their manufactured goods. Eu ro pe an
and US industrial workers constituted a market for sugar and coffee
grown in Latin America. Especially in En gland, which, unlike the
United States, had no civil war to divert it in these years, industrial
profits produced more capital than could be reinvested at home. Latin
America’s previous investment drought now ended in a rain of interna-
tional capital. Governments borrowed and so did private businessmen
who wanted to build railroads or port facilities. The Industrial Revolu-
tion, the mechanization of manufacturing, had not yet begun in Latin
America. Factories were rare. But nineteenth- century steam technol-
ogy did revolutionize Latin America’s connection to the outside world.

The transportation revolution in Latin America meant, above
all, steamships and railroads. Wooden sailing ships were at the mercy
of fickle winds, and they carried less cargo than the iron- hulled steam-
ships that gradually replaced them. Steamers plowed the waves faster
and more reliably than did sailing ships. Steam- powered trains would
eventually transform overland transportation, which had relied prin-
cipally on pack mules or oxcarts. In general, mules and carts limited
profitable export agriculture to the coastal plains. Railroads cost a
lot to build, but once built, opened access to enormous areas, creat-
ing agricultural boomlets in practically every locality along the length
of their tracks. As if steam were not enough, telegraph lines, able
to transmit written messages instantaneously, introduced another
nineteenth- century technological wonder— electricity. Stringing wires
was easier than laying rails, blasting tunnels, and erecting bridges, so
telegraph lines often outran train tracks. By 1874 a transatlantic tele-
graph cable had already been laid across the bottom of the Atlantic
Ocean connecting Brazil to Eu rope.

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C h a p t e r 6 | p r O G r e S S

New technology transformed Latin America’s hazardous, un-
predictable, and expensive communications with the rest of the world.
That world would soon come to call, and elite Latin Americans, for
whom Eu rope remained a cultural beacon, began to feel ner vous at
the prospect. After all, the “decent people” claimed social priority be-
cause of their Eu ro pe an race and culture. But how would they mea-
sure up in the presence of the real thing? Would Eu ro pe ans smirk at
the “decent people’s” attempts to imitate them? Would they find Latin
American countries devoid of Progress?

Progress (with a capital P) was the great theme of the West in
the nineteenth century. The industrial and transportation revolutions
had massively reordered societies and touched everyone’s lives in one

r A i L roA D S A n D t r e S t L e S created crucial transportation infrastructure for Latin

American export economies, in Mexico and elsewhere, in the mid- to late 1800s. AS400


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C h a p t e r 6 | p r O G r e S S

16 4

way or another. Even when people suffered as a result, they stood in
awe of the change. Somehow, the idea of inevitable, all- conquering
technological advancement— a notion still with us today— had already
taken hold of people’s imaginations. At a celebration to inaugurate
the railway from Mexico City to nearby Texcoco, people spread flow-
ers on the tracks in front of the arriving locomotive. Here was a new
hegemonic idea to replace the old colonial version. In a world where
Progress seemed unstoppable, well- informed elite Latin Americans
wanted to be part of it. Like other ruling classes in the West, they
worried about modern materialism eroding traditional values, but
they embraced materialism anyway. Exporting something for pounds
sterling or dollars or francs was the obvious way to satisfy their desire

t h e t r A n S At L A n t i c t e L e g r A p h c A B L e . Along with the advent of steamships,

the laying of telegraph cables across the ocean floor constituted another communica-

tions innovation linking Latin America to Eu rope and the United States in the mid- to late

1800s. Terra Media.

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M e x i C O ’ S L i b e r a L r e f O r M


to be up- to- date in Eu ro pe an terms. Export earnings, after all, could
buy fence wire and sewing machines and steam engines. In other
words, export earnings could literally import Progress, or so the elite

In the mid-1800s, Progress was becoming a sort of secular reli-
gion, and liberals were its prophets. Back in 1810, their vision of prog-
ress had a po liti cal emphasis: republics, constitutions, elections. As it
turned out, that kind of progress bogged down in a morass of conflict-
ing interests. Technological progress, on the other hand, still had an
invincible reputation, and Latin American liberals reaped the benefits
of the idea’s awesome persuasiveness. The years 1850– 75 saw a po liti-
cal sea change all across Latin America as the inevitability of Progress
became simple common sense for the educated elite. People continued
to follow caudillos and patrons. Economic interests still collided. But
everywhere in Latin America, the liberals gained advantage by riding
the wave of the future.

Upwardly mobile families tended to join the Liberal Party,
whereas long- established status made other families Conservatives.
Opposition to the Catholic Church— its wealth, its power, and its
abuses— remained the litmus test for liberals. In essence, liberals
always represented change, and the church symbolized the colonial
past. To conservatives, who remembered colonial days as a peaceful
age when uppity mestizos knew their place, the past was attractive.
But the past was the opposite of Progress. And after mid- century,
Progress seemed unbeatable. The ever- dramatic history of Mexico
provides an excellent example.

M e x ico’ s L ibe r a L r efor M

Nowhere had the colonial church been more sumptuous, more omni-
present in people’s lives than in Mexico. The Mexican Church owned
vast properties, real estate bequeathed in wills or taken in mortgage
for loans over the centuries when the Church was Mexico’s chief
moneylending institution. This property had accumulated steadily,
because the Church was a landowner who never died and whose

07_BBF_28305_ch06_160-191.indd 165 13/06/16 11:05 AM

16 6

C h a p t e r 6 | p r O G r e S S


1830s, 1840s

Wars against

1840s, 1850s

Wars of
Reform and
1850s, 1860s




L I B E R A L S V S .

07_BBF_28305_ch06_160-191.indd 166 13/06/16 11:05 AM

M e x i C O ’ S L i b e r a L r e f O r M


property was therefore never subdivided among heirs. By the mid-
1800s, the church owned about half the best farmland in Mexico,
as well as monasteries, convents, and other urban real estate, not to
mention the church buildings themselves. Especially in central and
southern Mexico, rural society was or ga nized around agricultural
villages, and each of these around a church. Generally, the priest was
a local leader and, sometimes, a petty tyrant. According to traditional
Spanish law, still in force, the clergy enjoyed a broad legal exemption
called a fuero, and parish priests often supported themselves by charg-
ing fees for their religious ser vices. In addition, Mexicans were legally
obligated to pay a tenth of their income to the Church as a tithe.

The in de pen dence era had been a time of progressive priests
like Hidalgo and Morelos, but these seemed to vanish by mid- century,
when the pope himself led a spiritual counterattack against the gos-
pel of Progress. Eu ro pe ans called this ecclesiastical conservatism
ultramontane because it emanated from beyond the Alps, that is, from
Rome. Ultramontane conservatism now became official Catholic pol-
icy, and assertive churchmen, especially a wave of militant priests
who arrived from Spain in these years, refused to accept government
control over ecclesiastical affairs. All of Spanish America and Brazil
too felt the impact of ultramontane conservatism, but again, nowhere
felt it as much as Mexico.

Religion and politics had always gone together in Mexico. The
language of Mexican in de pen dence struggles, years before, had been
infused with religion, and even most liberals of the 1830s and 1840s
had viewed the Church as a necessary part of  the country’s social
order. Then, as the mid- century Church became explicitly antiliberal,
liberals became more antichurch. This did not make them necessar-
ily irreligious— although some were. Leading Mexican liberal Melchor
Ocampo, for example, caused great scandal by announcing the non-
existence of God. For the most part, Mexican liberals directed their
anger against the Catholic Church as an institution; they were more
anticlerical than antireligious. The Church’s unproductive wealth and
the fuero exemptions enjoyed by the clergy were affronts to Progress,
reasoned the liberals. The anger of liberal anticlericalism comes out
in a story (true or not) that Ocampo liked to tell about a priest who

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C h a p t e r 6 | p r O G r e S S

16 8

refused church burial to a dead boy until the boy’s family paid his fee.
Asked by the boy’s father what he should do, the priest in the story
replies: “Why don’t you salt him and eat him?” For Mexican conserva-
tives, on the other hand, religion, church, and clergy were one and the
same. “Religion and Fueros!” became their battle cry.

When Mexican liberals began their great mid- century
uprising— the beginning of an entire period called the Reform— the
president was once again the old caudillo Antonio López de Santa
Anna, who had worked overall to keep things from changing for a
generation. Santa Anna finally left for exile in 1855. If Santa Anna
represents Mexican politics as usual in the early postin de pen dence
era, the liberals who gathered against him represent an alternative
Mexico. At their head was Juan Alvarez, a tough mestizo caudillo from
the tangled mountains of the indigenous south. Alvarez had been a
patriot since the 1810s, when Santa Anna was still a royalist. Now
an old man, and not much of a politician, Alvarez became the figure-
head president after the departure of Santa Anna. But the real lib-
eral crusaders of mid- century were younger men, educated men of
words and laws. One was Melchor Ocampo, already mentioned. Like
Alvarez, Ocampo was a mestizo, a man of humble background but
extraordinary talent— an amateur scientist, economist, linguist, dra-
matist, and professional lawyer. Ocampo exemplifies a par tic u lar kind
of liberal leadership— young, urban, mestizo, upwardly mobile men
for whom progress offered personal advancement. Benito Juárez, the
first person of fully indigenous ancestry to become governor of a Mexi-
can state, likewise provides an atypical, but highly symbolic, example.

Juárez, like Ocampo, was an orphan with nowhere to go in life
but up. At the age of twelve, he tired of watching over his uncle’s sheep
in the mountains, left his Zapotec village, and traveled to the pro-
vincial city of Oaxaca, where his sister worked as a cook. There he
put on Eu ro pe an clothes (becoming famous, in fact, for the relentless
formality of his black frock coat), perfected his Spanish, and eventu-
ally studied law at Oaxaca’s new public Institute of Arts and Sciences,
which existed thanks to Mexico’s postin de pen dence liberal govern-
ment. Juárez then practiced law in Oaxaca, at one point representing
poor villagers against a supposedly abusive priest, a case that landed

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M e x i C O ’ S L i b e r a L r e f O r M


Juárez in jail for a few days. Eventually, he was elected to the state
legislature and national congress and served five years as governor of
Oaxaca. But Juárez left his Zapotec identity behind when he donned
his black frock coat. He did not represent the interests of the Zapo-
tecs in par tic u lar, or of indigenous people as a group. To call him an
indio was to insult him, and he sometimes used rice powder to lighten
his dark complexion. Yet everyone in Oaxaca— and, one day, all
Mexicans— knew where Benito Juárez came from. His enemies might
call him “a monkey dressed up as Napoleon,” but to many Mexicans,
the personal rise of Benito Juárez confirmed the promise of liberalism.

Among the first decrees of the liberal Reform was the Juárez
Law (1855), which attacked military and ecclesiastical fueros and
thrust its author into the national limelight. A couple of months later,
the liberals decreed the Lerdo Law (1856), abolishing collective land-
holding. The Lerdo Law struck primarily at the Church, which would
now have to sell off its vast properties, but its secondary effect was
to jeopardize the communal lands of indigenous villages. The Reform
credo enshrined individual effort, property, and responsibility. Accord-
ing to the liberals, distributing village lands to individual families
as private property would motivate each family to work harder be-
cause of the selfishness inherent in human nature. But indigenous
villagers had their own vision, and they believed that communal lands
benefited them. For that reason some indigenous villagers joined the
“decent people” and other conservatives under the banner of “Religion
and Fueros” and opposed the liberal Reform of the 1850s.

The Reform lasted for only a few years before a conservative
general seized the presidency and dissolved Congress in 1858. A full-
scale civil war then erupted. Fleeing toward the liberal strongholds
in the mestizo mining towns of the Mexican north, the reformers
chose Benito Juárez to command their forces. They chose well, be-
cause even those who disliked Juárez respected his determination.
The conservatives controlled most of the army, but the liberals now
enjoyed widespread pop u lar support. The Juárez government soon
retook Mexico City, but the liberals’ troubles were not over. The
civil war had bankrupted the Mexican state, and Juárez suspended
payment on foreign debt. France, Spain, and Britain retaliated by

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C h a p t e r 6 | p r O G r e S S


collectively occupying Veracruz. At first, this occupation seemed sim-
ply another episode of gunboat diplomacy. The French, however, had
an ulterior motive.

In desperation, defeated Mexican conservatives had reached for
their secret weapon: a monarch. Napoleon III of France wanted to ex-
pand French influence in Latin America. In fact, the French invented
the name “Latin America” during these years as a way of making their
influence seem natural. Before the mid-1800s, people had talked of
Mexico or Brazil or Argentina, and also of “America,” but never of
“Latin America.” Because French, like Spanish and Portuguese, is
directly descended from Latin, the term “Latin America” implied a cul-
tural kinship with France. Napoleon III obligingly supplied Mexican
conservatives with a potential monarch obedient to French inter-
ests. The would- be emperor of Mexico, Maximilian, was a truly well-
intentioned man from one of Eu rope’s greatest royal dynasties, the
Hapsburgs. Before accepting the plan, Maximilian asked earnestly
whether the Mexican people really wanted an emperor. Mexican con-
servatives falsely assured him that they did.

So French troops invaded Mexico in 1862 and installed Maxi-
milian as emperor two years later. Benito Juárez retreated northward
to lead the re sis tance. The French invasion had fueled a nationalist
reaction that aided Juárez. In an attempt to satisfy the patriotic feel-
ings of Mexicans, on his first in de pen dence day in Mexico Maximilian
made a public pilgrimage to the church where Father Miguel Hidalgo
had begun the fight for in de pen dence in 1810. The emperor engaged
in a bit of po liti cal theater by ringing the bell of Hidalgo’s church
and on other occasions wearing a serape and exhibiting his taste for
Mexican food. But nationalism was a losing issue for the conserva-
tives in this case. Juárez, Zapotec in spite of the rice powder, was
simply a more convincing nationalist symbol than Maximilian dressed
as a mariachi.

In addition, Juárez found a powerful ally in the United States.
The French invasion had presented an obvious challenge to the
Monroe Doctrine. Napoleon III had attacked during the US Civil
War, when there was little danger of interference from the United
States. In 1865, however, that war ended, US aid to Júarez increased,

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O t h e r C O u n t r i e S J O i n t h e L i b e r a L t r e n d

17 1

and Napoleon III decided to withdraw French forces from what had
become an expensive mess. Maximilian stayed in Mexico, where he
was captured and executed. When he faced the firing squad, among
his last words were “Viva Mexico!” His wife, the glamorous Empress
Carlota, escaped. She managed to return to Eu rope but was insane for
the rest of her life.

Benito Juárez returned to Mexico City as president. Mexican
conservatives had utterly disgraced themselves by inviting the French
invasion. They would never again rule Mexico. Nor would Catholicism
ever regain its former prominence in Mexican society.

o t h e r cou n t r ie s Join t he

L ibe r a L t r en d

Colombia, Chile, and Central America further illustrate the rising for-
tunes of liberalism throughout the hemi sphere. The church issue was
especially crucial in Colombia and Chile.

Colombian liberals had attacked the church ever since Bolívar’s
day. Then came the conservative reaction of the post- independence
generation. The 1840s governments restored the ecclesiastical fuero,
which liberals had eliminated, and even invited the Jesuit order to
return to Colombia. The Jesuits, known for their loyalty to the Vati-
can, had been too Catholic even for the Spanish Empire. They were
expelled from Spanish America in 1767. When Colombian liberals be-
gan their comeback in the 1850s, they threw the Jesuits out again and
went through the usual anticlerical drill, removing the fuero, making
tithes voluntary, insisting on government control over Catholic clergy,
even legalizing divorce.

In 1861, Colombian caudillo Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera rode
into Bogotá at the head of an army and inaugurated two solid de cades
of liberal rule. Mosquera was a classic Spanish American caudillo: an
in de pen dence hero, a general by the age of thirty, no po liti cal ideal-
ist. Like Mexico’s Santa Anna, Mosquera had the distinction of being
president, eventually, for both liberals and conservatives.

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C h a p t e r 6 | p r O G r e S S

17 2

At the other end of South America, Chile had a stately and
exceptional air in the 1800s. In an era when presidential palaces
seemed to have revolving doors and their residents rarely served a
full term of office, Chile was governed by only three presidents, all of
them conservatives, each of whom served two consecutive terms— a
full ten years— and none of whom was overthrown by a revolution:
Joaquín Prieto in the 1830s, Manuel Bulnes in the 1840s, and Manuel
Montt in the 1850s. The Chilean state owed its remarkable stability
mostly to its excellent system of rigged elections. Still, the conserva-
tive governments permitted unusual freedom of thought and expres-
sion, and they oversaw a period of export expansion. This formerly
remote corner of Spanish America now fairly buzzed with Eu ro pe an
traders. And what flourished under these conditions? Liberalism, of

Chile had an early dose of revolutionary liberalism during the
struggles of in de pen dence and in the 1820s, before the conservatives
took over, but nothing so traumatic as in Mexico. Chile was a differ-
ent sort of place from Mexico. Its small indigenous population, now
called Mapuches, descendants of the semisedentary Araucanos, in-
habited the far south, beyond a line of forts. The Mapuches were not
part of the national society at all. The principal landowning class of
Chile lived in a compact central valley paralleling the coast. Wheat
from Chile’s central valley had found an advantageous export outlet,
along with copper and silver, soon after in de pen dence, while Mexico’s
economy continued to sputter.

As in Mexico, Chilean liberals made an issue of church– state
connections during the mid-1800s. Because the Chilean church had
never been as rich and powerful as the Mexican church, the issue in
Chile was not so bitter. Still, freedom of worship constituted a core
liberal value. An official state religion, according to Chilean liberals,
was a vestige of Spanish colonialism. Several Chilean liberals wrote
fiery denunciations of all things Spanish, which were contrary, in
their eyes, to Progress and Civilization.

Progress was already making its debut in Chile by the
1850s. Montt, the president in those years, had once been minister
of education, and he led many progressive projects, including

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railroads, telegraphs, waterworks, and schools. Gradually, the con-
servative agenda had fallen out of step with Chilean life. So, when
the Chilean church felt the militant influence of ultramontane con-
servatism, trouble ensued. President Montt himself got embroiled
in a conflict with the archbishop, and, at the end of his second term
in 1861, Montt favored a liberal candidate for president. The switch
was peaceful but decisive. Chilean liberals remained in control for
thirty years of orderly administration and progress, during which
they curtailed the influence of the church, modernized Santiago, the
capital city, and rigged elections with the same skill as the conserva-
tives who had preceded them.

As should be plain by now, the post-1850 liberal comeback in
Latin America has a repetitive quality. It might be turbulent, as in
Mexico and Colombia, or peaceful, as in Chile. But sooner or later
the liberals took over everywhere. Each nation’s par tic u lar history
imparted a special character and timing to the liberal takeover.
Nicaraguan history, for example, slowed liberalism down temporarily
by giving Progress a bad name.

Overall, Central America repeated the basic pattern of liberal
triumph. In 1850, all the Central American republics had conserva-
tive rulers, the most powerful of whom was the great Guatemalan
caudillo Rafael Carrera, mentioned in the previous chapter. Then
liberals triumphed in one Central American country after another.
El Salvador, the traditional liberal stronghold of the isthmus since
in de pen dence, led the way in the 1850s. Costa Rica, Guatemala,
and Honduras followed, after a  delay, in the 1870s. Only Nicaragua
resisted the liberal tide; Nicaraguan liberals had disgraced them-
selves, much as Mexican conservatives did at about the same time, by
inviting foreign intervention.

Reaching out for a monarch like Maximilian was not lib-
eral style, however. In their search for outside allies, Nicaraguan
liberals instead imported a few dozen mercenary adventurers
from that stronghold of world liberalism, the United States. These
adventurers were led by one William Walker, a name people in the
United States can never seem to remember but Central Americans
can never forget. Walker was a visionary fundamentalist Christian

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from Tennessee, and, in his own eyes, a missionary of Progress.
The liberal plan backfired when Walker attempted, on his own ini-
tiative, to colonize Nicaragua for the United States. With liberal
support and force of arms, Walker briefly made himself president
of Nicaragua. He proclaimed Progress, including freedom of wor-
ship, adoption of En glish, and land grants for US immigrants.
Walker also legalized slavery, which had been abolished in
Nicaragua years before. The freebooting Walker was captured and
executed in 1860 by a joint Central American army, but the bad
smell he left in Nicaragua kept the Liberal Party out of power there
for de cades. Nicaragua did not join the hemi sphere’s liberal trend
until the 1890s.

t h e L i M i t s of Pro gr e s s for WoM en

Progress can be interpreted many ways, obviously. What did it mean
for women? In the long run, liberalism led in positive directions for
women, expanding their education and life opportunities. During
the mid-1800s, however, few Latin American women benefited from
these changes. Education for girls expanded with excruciating slow-
ness, and domestic walls still hemmed in the lives of “decent” married
women. Few, very few, were the women able to play leading roles in
public life during the 1800s. Those who did, however, could thank lib-
eral Progress. Today, we look back on them as pioneers. In their own
time, most people thought them strange.

The few women who became famous in their own right did so
in the world of letters. Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, for example,
left her native Cuba at the age of twenty- two and wrote her cele-
brated poetry, plays, and novels in Spain, where she lived for the rest
of her life; Latin American literature claimed her early, nevertheless.
In 1841, she published a novel that was banned in Cuba. The chief
protagonist of the novel Sab is a Cuban slave in love with the white
woman who owns him. Sab has to watch her marry a blue- eyed
En glishman, who is cruel to him, but the slave still sacrifices his
life for her. At the end of the novel, the woman realizes Sab’s moral
superiority despite his slave status. Like the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin

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in the United States, Sab was a literary argument for the abolition
of slavery.

At mid- century, plantation slaves in western Cuba grew
nearly a third of all the sugar sold on the world market. And Cuba
was still a land of opportunity for ambitious Peninsular Spaniards,
from opulent dukes and duchesses to officious royal bureaucrats and
ill- paid soldiers and store clerks. The royal Spanish governor of Cuba
ruled with an iron hand, and when a Cuban patriotic spirit arose in
the 1860s, he suppressed it savagely. Now Cuba’s own grueling wars
of in de pen dence began. The first installment was the Ten Years’ War,
1868– 78, which Spanish forces were able to contain in eastern Cuba,
away from the big plantations, partly by building a fortified line all
the way across the island. During the war, a Cuban revolutionary
newspaper in New York reprinted Sab for patriotic readers.

L A DY i n A L i t t e r . The traditional role of a “lady” was enforced leisure. In parts of

Brazil, women of the elite class did not even walk for themselves. The upper-class lady’s

most strenuous task was directing servants like the enslaved porters shown here. Pictures

from History/Woodbury & Page/Bridgeman Images.

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These days, the Sab story may seem a melodramatic “sob story,”
but people of the mid-1800s found sentimental romanticism power-
fully moving. The theme of Sab allowed Cuban readers to explore the
meaning of their society’s racial divisions and the possibility of some-
how overcoming them through love. The theme of interracial love was
considered scandalous, especially the love of a black man for a white
woman. Avellaneda broke social rules in her writing, as she did also
in her own notorious affairs with various men. Women who became
public figures were already breaking the normal gender rules, so they
often flouted sexual conventions, too. Avellaneda’s spirit was said to be
“too masculine” for a woman.

The Argentine Juana Manuela Gorriti was another of the few
Latin American women whose talent won her fame in the 1800s.
Gorriti’s writings were “feminine” and instructive, rather than
scandalous. More than Avellaneda, Gorriti concerned herself with
women’s issues. It is her life, rather than her writings, that inspires
us today.

Gorriti was a little girl of eight when she entered a convent
school. Argentine politics interrupted her education in 1831, when
the caudillo Facundo Quiroga forced her liberal family to emigrate
to Bolivia. She was fifteen when she met and married a dark young
man, Manuel Isidro Belzú, who would one day become president of
Bolivia. Belzú was an obscure captain at the time, and the tall, tal-
ented, blonde Gorriti was considered quite a catch. She bore three
daughters and also taught school as Belzú’s career advanced, but he
abandoned her after nine years of marriage.

Gorriti moved to Peru, where she again taught and also began
to publish. Her star rose in Lima, where she became an influential
journalist. She also regularly hosted events called tertulias or “salons.”
These were eve ning gatherings where fashionable men and women
of Lima discussed literature and Progress. They also enjoyed music
and amateur drama, but not dancing, the main event in other salons.
Gorriti thought women danced enough already— Progress called for
more serious pursuits. Gorriti’s literary salon made her a celebrated
figure of Lima’s public life. Unlike her tertulias, Gorriti’s journalistic
writings were mostly for women. They were didactic, instructing her

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readers on the proper behavior and ideas of a modern woman, often
taking inspiration from US or Eu ro pe an examples.

Gorriti’s life was less conventional than her writings. In 1866,
when a Spanish naval expedition was carry ing out gunboat diplomacy
on the coasts of Chile and Peru, it shelled Lima’s port, and Gorriti
served as a pioneer battlefield nurse in the style of Florence Night-
ingale. By this time she had gotten a divorce from Belzú (a scandal,
even though he had abandoned her) and then had a child without
remarrying. Somehow, her status as an exceptional woman allowed
her to be accepted by polite society anyway. In 1878, Juana Maria
Gorriti returned to Argentina— not to the remote region of her birth,
but to Buenos Aires, the capital of Latin American Progress. Buenos
Aires greeted her with public pomp as one of the most notable Latin
American women of her century.

Before leaving Lima, Gorriti had helped launch the career
of a younger and even more important writer. Clorinda Matto de
Turner had already made a stir at the National Women’s Secondary
School of Peru, where she sought extracurricular instruction in
“unfeminine” subjects like physics and biology. She was not quite
fifteen when she married in 1871. Turner was her husband’s name;
in traditional usage, the husband’s surname was added to his wife’s
using the preposition de. Thus Clorinda Matto became Clorinda
Matto de Turner.

Matto de Turner wrote Birds without a Nest (1889), one of
the most important early Latin American novels about indigenous
people. Earlier literary views of Latin America’s indigenous people
had presented them as romantic “savages” of some quasi- mythical
past, but Matto de Turner’s book depicted them as poor Peruvians
inhabiting the present. Like Avellaneda’s Sab, the novel told the
story of an interracial love affair— in this case, between a white man
and an indigenous woman. The woman is an orphan whose parents
died trying to defend themselves from abusive whites. Once again, a
Latin American novelist was exploring— and seeking to overcome—
her country’s deep racial divide. Although white and “decent,” Matto
de Turner was from the sierra, from the old Inca capital of Cuzco.
She regarded the indigenous people as the most authentic Peruvians

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and crusaded journalistically on their behalf. Like a good liberal of
her day, she also crusaded against what she saw as the corrupting
influence of immoral priests. Evil priests appear in several of her
novels. In fact, the star- crossed white youth and Indian maid cannot
marry in Birds without a Nest because the father of both, as they even-
tually learn to their tearful horror, is the same philandering priest.

Like her mentor Gorriti, Matto de Turner or ga nized a literary
salon and founded a periodical for women. She also published articles
controversial enough to get her newspaper burned and herself for-
mally expelled from the Catholic Church. In 1895, the government of
Peru deported her. Like Gorriti, she then traveled to Argentina, where
she lived the rest of her life as a respected educator.

The lives of these exceptional women focus our attention on
education and literacy, on race, and on the importance of US and
Eu ro pe an models in liberal visions of Progress. We will see these same
forces driving the liberal comeback in Argentina and Brazil.

Mode L s of Pro gr e s s

Argentine liberal leaders were among the most European- oriented
and literarily inclined of all. Three in par tic u lar represent Argentine
liberalism: Alberdi, Mitre, and Sarmiento. All had spent long years
in exile during the conservative reaction of the 1830s and 1840s, a
reaction personified in Argentina by Juan Manuel de Rosas. During
the Rosas years, Argentina’s liberal intellectuals gathered nearby in
Uruguay and Chile, fuming at Rosas and writing passionate po liti cal
literature. These were men of words, above all. Their lives exemplify
both the liberal infatuation with all things Eu ro pe an and liberal-
ism’s close link with written culture— education, books, newspapers.
Well beyond the customary liberal faith in Pro gress, Argentine
liberals dedicated themselves to transforming the Argentine people—
culturally, through education, and physically, through massive
Eu ro pe an immigration.

Juan Bautista Alberdi, a man who spent most of his adult life in
exile, influenced Argentine liberalism through his words alone. Born

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in the provinces, Alberdi had studied law in Buenos Aires and become
a sort of literary salon radical in the 1830s. But even literary liberals
risked bodily injury under Rosas. So Alberdi fled across the Río de la
Plata to Monte video, where he spent his time lobbing literary bomb-
shells back at Buenos Aires. Montevideo was full of liberal exiles.
It was, in fact, an international liberal stronghold protected by the
British and French navies, defended by international crusaders like
the Italian hero Giuseppe Garibaldi. Alberdi spent almost ten years of
his long, partly self- imposed exile in Chile.

When Rosas was overthrown in 1852, Alberdi published a trea-
tise titled “Bases and Points of Departure for the Po liti cal Or ga ni za-
tion of the Argentine Republic” and sent copies to the delegates who
were gathering to write a new constitution. But as liberal enemies of
Rosas streamed back into Argentina, Alberdi stayed in Chile, eventu-
ally serving as an Argentine diplomat in Eu rope, where he died more
than twenty years later. Given his obvious personal preferences for
everything Eu ro pe an, his prescriptions for Argentina should not sur-
prise anyone. Alberdi urged the government to encourage Eu ro pe an
immigration, not only because the Argentine population was small
(less than two million) but also because Eu ro pe an immigrants were
supposedly superior people, full of moral virtues and marketable
skills. Gobernar es poblar, “To govern is to populate,” became the lib-
eral slogan. Alberdi also recommended modern education to trans-
form Argentine culture and open it to Eu ro pe an influences. Rather
than studying Latin to read the wisdom of the ancients, argued
Alberdi, Argentines should learn En glish, the language of technology
and commerce.

Bartolomé Mitre was more a man of action. He was also a “lib-
eral” writer in all senses. He wrote history, biography, poetry, a novel,
Spanish translations of Eu ro pe an classics— that sort of thing, as well
as po liti cal editorials by the fistful. Unlike the shy Alberdi, Mitre also
excelled at formal public speaking. He was a military leader and a
statesman, and both talents were needed in the Argentine politics of
the 1850s.

Mitre and Alberdi ended up on opposite sides during the stormy
de cade after the fall of Rosas. They agreed on Eu ro pe an immigration

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and public education; separating them were regional rivalries within
Argentina. At issue, above all, was the relationship between Buenos
Aires (city and province) and the other Argentine provinces.

The city of Buenos Aires— rich, haughty, domineering— was
the former viceregal court and Argentina’s gateway to the world. It
dwarfed all other Argentine cities in po liti cal, demographic, and eco-
nomic importance. It stood at the mouth of the great Paraná river,
yet it lacked a good harbor. The waters off Buenos Aires were so shal-
low, in fact, that ships had to stop six or seven miles offshore and
unload their passengers and goods into smaller boats. The boats had
to stop forty or fifty yards out and unload into carts half submerged
in the shallow water. A lot of merchandise and many passengers got
soaked in the pro cess. The pastures surrounding Buenos Aires were
the country’s most productive, but they were not the only rich lands
in Argentina.

In the 1850s, steam power made it practical for seagoing ves-
sels to churn directly up the Paraná river, bypassing incon ve nient
Buenos Aires. Those upriver applauded, but Buenos Aires was deter-
mined not to be bypassed. Tensions with the rest of the country kept
Buenos Aires out of the new Argentine Confederation, established
in 1853. Instead, the Confederation made its capital three hundred
miles upriver. While Alberdi represented the Argentine Confedera-
tion in Eu rope, Mitre served Buenos Aires. The great city and its sur-
rounding province remained separate from the rest of Argentina until
1860. When the forces of Buenos Aires, led by Mitre, finally defeated
the Confederation, Mitre became president of a united Argentina.

Another anti- Rosista who had returned from exile to serve in-
de pen dent Buenos Aires (as director of schools) was Domingo Faus-
tino Sarmiento, the most influential Latin American liberal of all. His
anti- Rosas tract, Civilization and Barbarism: The Life of Facundo
Quiroga and the Geography and Customs of the Argentine Republic
(1845), written in Chile, became the classic denunciation of caudillo
rule in Spanish America. Sarmiento embraced the international
culture available through writing and education. His favorite book,
which he studied as fervently as any Philadelphian or Bostonian, was
the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. In Chile, where he lived

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for much of the 1830s and 1840s, Sarmiento worked as a teacher,
a clerk, a mine foreman, and a newspaper editor before becoming
engaged in the or ga ni za tion of Chilean public schools. He studied
En glish at night and practiced it by translating the novels of Sir
Walter Scott. Sarmiento personally created the first spelling book
and the first teacher- training institute in Chile, and he traveled to
the United States and Eu rope to study education techniques. When
Mitre became president, Sarmiento returned to the United States
as his diplomatic representative. In 1868, he succeeded Mitre as
president— elected, in fact, while in the United States— and stepped
off the ship in Buenos Aires with ten Bostonian women whom he put
in charge of teacher training in each of Argentina’s ten provinces.

Argentina’s liberal rulers uniformly promoted public education,
but Sarmiento most of all. School enrollment almost doubled during
his presidential term. Nearly a hundred public libraries were created.
And Sarmiento, in turn, chose his minister of education to be the next
president. In addition, liberal efforts to promote immigration had suc-
ceeded. Immigrants were arriving from Eu rope by the hundreds of
thousands. Eu ro pe an culture and Eu ro pe an people would transform
Buenos Aires into a city more reminiscent of Milan or Paris than of
Caracas or Lima.

Turning toward Eu ro pe an models, especially En glish and
French ones, the liberals rejected traditional Argentine culture, par-
ticularly rural culture, as unbearably “barbaric.” They rejected non-
European racial heritage too. Country people like the gauchos often
had indigenous and African, as well as Eu ro pe an, ancestry. Liberals
considered race mixture a disgrace. Leading scientific theories of the
1800s advanced racist premises. Like it or not, that was Progress, ac-
cording to the best experts of the day. And, like it or not, most Latin
American countries had a lot of race mixing, as we have seen. Here
was the “national tragedy” faced by so many Eurocentric liberals. How
would they handle it?

Disappointingly, Sarmiento, the great educator, also embodies
the darker side of Latin American liberalism in his thinking on race.
Sarmiento was the first of many Argentines to make a literary reputa-
tion writing about gauchos. In his famous descriptions, gauchos are

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dangerous characters, capable of incredible exploits but, like awe-
inspiring dinosaurs, clearly doomed to extinction. In 1861, Sarmiento
wrote chilling words in a letter to Mitre, words justifying harsh mea-
sures against the followers of a rebellious backland caudillo: “Do not
try to economize the blood of gauchos. It is fertilizer [like the blood of
animals from the slaughter house] that must be made useful to the
country. Their blood is the only part of them that is human.” In truth,
Sarmiento had little faith in the mass of the Argentine people. His
government maintained rigged elections as a standard feature of poli-
tics in liberal Argentina.

Brazil had its own, typically Brazilian, problems with liberal-
ism. It was still a monarchy and still a slave- owning society, two ob-
vious contradictions to liberal thinking. Brazil also had a large free
population of African and mixed descent that made up- to- date lib-
erals, influenced by Eu ro pe an “scientific racism,” shake their heads
sadly, as if announcing a terminal illness for the entire country. If
Brazil could go liberal, anywhere could.

As often happens, war became a catalyst for change. The Triple
Alliance War of 1865– 70 was the most terrible ever fought in South
America. It was a fiasco even for the winners— Argentina, Brazil, and
Uruguay— and wreaked utter devastation on the loser, Paraguay. Ruled
by Francisco Solano López, a dictator whom many believed insane,
Paraguay had acquired a powerful army and maintained its standoffish
attitude toward the outside world. Convinced that Argentina, Uruguay,
and Brazil menaced his outlet to the sea through the Río de la Plata,
López attacked first. The allies fought ostensibly in self- defense, sup-
posedly to topple the dictator, but they also sought commercial, strate-
gic, and territorial advantage. The armies of this war wore uniforms
and used weapons like those of the contemporaneous US Civil War.
Death tolls were similarly high. In a series of bloody battles, the allies
ground the Paraguayans to a pulp. Paraguay’s adult male population
practically vanished in the war. Brazil and Argentina both gained land
at Paraguayan expense. But the war also generated a national mood of
disillusionment in Brazil.

The Brazilian Empire had called up hundreds of thousands of
volunteers to fight Paraguayan “tyranny” in the name of civilization.

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The whole Brazilian nation, more or less, had been enlisted rhetori-
cally in a liberal cause— a cause heartily approved in Eu rope, par-
ticularly by the British, who hoped to gain better trade access to
Paraguay. But victory over that small Spanish American republic had
come so slowly, and at such a cost, as to call Brazil’s supposedly su-
perior civilization into question. And for many Brazilians, a crusade
against Paraguayan tyranny rang hollow in the presence of Brazil-
ian slavery. When the war began, slavery had recently been abolished
in the United States, making Brazil and Spanish- held Cuba the last
slave- holding societies in the Americas. Free blacks, and even some
slaves in search of their freedom, joined the ranks of Brazil’s Patriotic
Volunteers, who marched off, brass bands playing, to fight in Para-
guay. The contradiction was too obvious.

After a generation of lethargy, Brazilian liberalism began to
recover its voice during the war. Brazilian conservatives had gained
decisive dominance back in the 1840s, as the reader may recall. Lib-
eral ideas, ran the comfortable mid- century consensus among Brazil’s
ruling class, were simply too advanced for Brazilian society, a society
founded on slavery and hierarchy. Reluctantly— and their disappoint-
ment was real or not, depending on the person— elite Brazilians had
resigned themselves to a life of privilege in an admittedly backward
country, one not yet ready for democracy. Emperor Pedro II, now
grown into a tall, thick- bearded man, said such things for the record.

Pedro II seems genuinely to have believed—and genuinely to
have regretted— Brazil’s supposed unreadiness to do without him.
An emperor more unlike his impetuous father is hard to imagine.
Pedro II was a soft- spoken, studious man who dressed in somber suits
like an En glish banker. As monarch, he took his responsibilities seri-
ously and worked hard at them, exercising considerable, but not ab-
solute, power. He could name provincial governors, cabinet ministers,
senators- for- life, and members of the imperial nobility. He could dis-
solve the national assembly and call new elections at will.

Although his personal style was conservative, Pedro II was
a philosophical liberal who endorsed neither of Brazil’s two parties,
Conservative or Liberal, but held an unshakable faith in science,
innovation, and Progress. If he were not an emperor, it was said, he

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would have been a schoolteacher. He traveled extensively in Eu rope
and the United States, where he talked to scientists such as Louis
Pasteur, phi los o phers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, novelists such as
Victor Hugo, and inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell. Pedro II
hoped aloud that Brazil would one day need neither a monarchy nor a
slave- labor system, and he freed his own slaves in 1840. When repub-
licans, explicitly proposing to end the monarchy, reappeared on the
Brazilian po liti cal scene years later, Pedro went so far as to make a
leading republican intellectual his grandson’s personal tutor.

Like their emperor, the Brazilian elite endorsed liberalism
in principle while embracing conservatism in practice. Then, in the
1860s, times began to change in Brazil as elsewhere. A number of
conservative leaders, convinced of the need for reform— and think-
ing especially of slavery— broke ranks and joined the liberals. Then
a liberal prime minister clashed with Brazil’s conservative military
commander during the Triple Alliance War, and Pedro sided with the
commander, infuriating the liberals. A liberal manifesto of 1869 called
for reform of the imperial system, to make it more demo cratic, and for
the gradual emancipation of the slaves. The document ended with the
threat: “Reform or Revolution!” An even more radical liberal group
issued a second manifesto the same year, demanding limitations on
the emperor’s power and immediate abolition of slavery. In 1870, a
third manifesto also called for the end of slavery and, further, for the
emperor’s ouster and the creation of a Brazilian republic. Something
had to give.

In 1871, the conservative government caved to liberal pres-
sure and enacted a “free birth” law: Slaves would remain slaves, but
their children would be born free. Because the slave trade had stopped
around 1850, the “free birth” law signaled a public commitment to end
slavery sooner or later. Pedro II was pleased. But the last years of the
trade in the 1830s and 1840s had brought hundreds of thousands of
young Africans to Brazil, ensuring that slavery would last for de cades.
In the meantime, children born officially “free” were still required to
work until adulthood for their mother’s own er.

Although Brazilian conservatives ruled through most of the
1870s and 1880s, Progress gradually conquered hearts and minds.

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The more progressive coffee growers (those of São Paulo) began to
attract and employ Italian immigrant agricultural workers. Bit by
bit, the coffee- export economy fueled the growth of cities. And urban
Brazilians— better educated, more cosmopolitan, and not directly con-
nected to plantation life— were more likely to be persuaded by the lib-
eral vision of Progress. The signers of the above- mentioned republican
manifesto of 1870, for example, included ten journalists, thirteen en-
gineers and merchants, and twenty- three doctors of law or medicine,
but only one self- described planter.

In the 1880s, slavery again became a contentious po liti cal is-
sue. The leading abolitionist spokesman was now a liberal named
Joaquim Nabuco. Nabuco became a pop u lar celebrity whose image
appeared on cigar and beer labels. Even Rio de Janeiro’s carnival
paraders took up abolitionist themes. Nabuco and the other abolition-
ists of the 1880s spoke moral truths about slavery but condemned it,
most of all, as an obstacle to Progress. Unquestionably, slavery was a
thing of the past. After 1886, when the Spanish abolished slavery in
Cuba, progressive Brazilians bore the international shame alone. By
this time, some provinces without coffee had already freed the slaves,
and on profitable coffee plantations, slaves had begun to run away
in the thousands. Finally, overwhelming public pressure forced total
abolition without financial compensation to the former slave own ers.
Pedro was in Eu rope, so his daughter Princess Isabel, herself an abo-
litionist, signed the “Golden Law” of freedom in 1888. Four centuries
of American slavery were over at long last.

The next year, another outmoded institution, the Brazilian
monarchy itself, collapsed, its day over too. Abolition had offended
formerly stalwart monarchists, and change was in the air. Ranking
army officers had grievances against the imperial government, and
republican militants saw their chance. Always weak electorally, the
republicans had strong influence in the army. Benjamin Constant
Botelho de Magalhães, the emperor’s grandson’s republican tutor,
mentioned earlier, became a celebrated professor at Brazil’s military
academy, where he channeled the military discontent and linked it to
republicanism. In November 1889, the military proclaimed a republic.
Pedro and his family quietly left for Eu rope while telegraph wires

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p e D r o i i . Brazil’s second (and final) emperor was a moderate and enlightened ruler

who quietly stepped aside to allow the formation of a Brazilian Republic of 1889. Universal

History Archive/UIG via Getty Images.

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M O d e L S O f p r O G r e S S

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carried the news across the country, provoking astonishment but also
immediate ac cep tance. Brazilians unanimously bowed to “the inevi-
table march of Progress,” as if they had understood long ago that the
emperor had to go but had been too polite to say so.

By century’s end, liberalism served, in one form or another,
as the official ideology of every Latin American country. A powerful
consensus reigned among the region’s ruling classes, seconded by its
urban middle classes. A long period of stable liberal hegemony at last
emerged. Progress, after the model of En gland or France or the US,
was the order of the day.

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C h a p t e r r e v i e w

s t u d y Q u e s t i o n s

1. How did Progress become a hegemonic idea in Latin America,

and what was the consequence?

2. Can you describe specific elements of the mid-nineteenth-century

transportation revolution?

3. How did the transportation revolution alter Latin America’s

economic prospects and its political balance of power?

4. How do Mexico’s Reforma of the 1850s and its aftermath embody

themes of a liberal comeback throughout the region?

5. What did Progress mean to Latin American women of various

social descriptions?

K e y t e r M s a n d v o c a b u L a r y

Bartolomé Mitre, p.179

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, p.180

Pedro II, p.183

“free birth” law, 1871, p.184

Joaquim Nabuco, p.185

Triple Alliance War, p.190

fueros, p.167

Ultramontane Catholicism, p.167

Benito Juárez, p.168

Melchor Ocampo, p.168

Maximilian and Carlota, p.170–71

William Walker, p.173

Juana Manuela Gorriti, p.176

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i n t e r n at io n a L Wa r s

C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s








Lost to Brazil in
Triple Alliance War

Lost to Argentina in
Triple Alliance War

Lost to Argentina in
Triple Alliance War

Won by Paraguay
in the Chaco War

Area of fighting
in Chaco War

Area of fighting in
Triple Alliance War


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C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

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nly a handful of large wars have been fought between Latin
American nations. Yet wars have had a powerful effect on
the combatant countries. Mexico lost vast territory in its war

with the United States (1846– 48). The Triple Alliance War (1865– 70)
gave Brazil a national shock treatment, consolidated the Argentine
national state, and virtually liquidated poor Paraguay. Both Argentina
and Brazil carved off Paraguayan territory to compensate themselves
for that war.

The Paraguayans fought again, and triumphed, in a war
against Bolivia, the Chaco War (1932– 35). The Chaco is a desolate
region of suffocating heat, alternating flood with drought, west of the
Paraguay River. Competing claims to the region had long put Para-
guayans and Bolivians at odds, but the claims suddenly flared with
the discovery of oil there in the 1920s. Soldiers from the Bolivian
highlands suffered particularly in the difficult and unfamiliar Chaco
environment. Paraguayan victory in the Chaco War doubled the na-
tional territory and worked wonders for national pride. The Chaco
War turned out to be the only major war fought among American
countries in the 1900s.

Bolivia’s defeat in the Chaco War was another bitter blow for
a country on the losing side of two earlier wars fought on the Pacific
Coast. The War of the Peruvian- Bolivian Confederation (1836– 39)
had resulted from the unification of Peru and Bolivia under the mes-
tizo caudillo Andrés de Santa Cruz. The Chilean government minis-
ter, Diego Portales, more powerful than the president of Chile at the
time, refused to tolerate the unification and launched his country into
a full- scale attack, ultimately defeating Santa Cruz and ending the
Peruvian- Bolivian Confederation.

Chile repeated its victory a half century later in the War of
the Pacific (1879– 84). This war, somewhat like the Chaco War, con-
cerned a desolate zone where the discovery of mineral resources
precipitated conflicting territorial claims. The desolate zone in
this case was the Atacama Desert, a six- hundred- mile stretch of
Pacific Coast where scarcely a drop of rain has ever fallen. Spanish
colonial boundaries were never clear in this region. At in de pen dence,

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Bolivia claimed a portion of this coast, along with Peru and Chile.
By the 1870s, all three countries were selling concessions to mine
sodium nitrate deposits in the Atacama. In 1879, conflicts over
these mining concessions led to a Chilean offensive against Peru
and Bolivia. Both Peru and Bolivia lost territory, including Bolivia’s
only outlet to the sea. Chile, on the other hand, gained territory
rich in mining resources. Nitrates of the Atacama region would
provide the backbone of Chilean government revenues for the next
forty years.






















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Despite their similarities, Latin American countries also contrast.

A brief tour of the region will begin to reveal their distinctive


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zon R


A t l a n t i c
O c e a n

P a c i f i c
O c e a n

Gulf of

Caribbean Sea






ío Brav


el N orte


o R





o R




á R



s M












G u y a n a

E c u a d o r

U r u g u a y

J a m a i c a

B e l i z e

C h i l e

C u b a

C o s t a R i c a
P a n a m a

V e n e z u e l a

P e r u

E l S a l v a d o r

F r e n c h
G u i a n a

N i c a r a g u a

D o m i n i c a n
R e p u b l i c

M e x i c o

C o l o m b i a

G u a t e m a l a

S u r i n a m e

B r a z i l

H o n d u r a s

H a i t i

B o l i v i a

A r g e n t i n a

P a r a g u a y



São Paulo


La Paz





Mexico City

San Diego

Rio de




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500 1000 miles

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Mexico is a true heartland of the Americas, one of the world’s great centers
of original plant domestication, the home of corn, beans, tomatoes, chocolate,
and avocados, just to begin. Its unique modern cuisine stands as a reminder
of this ancient heritage. Partly as a result of these nutritional resources,
central Mexico was decidedly the most densely populated place in the
Americas in 1492.
There are actually many Mexicos. For starters, a simple tripartite scheme
(north, center, and south) will do. The north is the most modern and prosperous
part of ancient Mexico. Silver mining was the first activity to draw more popula-
tion into the north. Eventually the main economic attractions of the region
became associated with the United States. Railroads, mining enterprises, cattle,
and eventually agriculture and manufacturing connected northern Mexico to
its dynamic northern neighbor. The central highlands broadly surrounding
Mexico City compose the second region. Here, high mountain plateaus pro-
duced waves of indigenous empire-builders even before the Spanish arrived,
and the newcomers made it the center of their own colonizing project. As a
result, the population of the central highlands is, in most places, markedly mes-
tizo. Southern Mexico, the third region, is the most strongly indigenous today.
Therefore, it has the heaviest legacy of oppression. In Mexico, as everywhere
else, the long-term legacy of oppression is poverty. Indices of development in
the south are the lowest of the country’s three major regions.

G u l f o f

M e x i c o

B a y o f
C a m p e c h e







Gulf of


i f i c O

c e a n





i f


i a

ío B

del N


Río Balsas














León Guanajuato



Mexico City


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central aMerica

Continuing south from Mexico, we encounter the five Central American
republics: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
These five province-sized nations once formed a single republic, the United
Provinces of Central America. Neighboring Panama and Belize have histories
separate from the old United Provinces. Panama was a province of Colombia
that became independent only in 1903, making it the newest country in Latin
America. Belize was colonized by England and is not considered Central
American, or even Latin American, at all.
Guatemala is the “Land of the Mayas,” because Mayan languages
are still spoken, today, by about 40 percent of the country’s population. The
sprawling, and still mostly unexcavated, ancient cities in the Guatemalan north
were the height of Mayan civilization. Large, fully sedentary Mayan popula-
tions attracted the Spanish conquerors from Mexico soon after the destruc-
tion of the Aztecs there, but Guatemala did not have Mexico’s wealth in silver,
so it remained a second-tier colony within the Spanish Empire. The wealth
of Guatemala lay not in precious metals but in the Mayans themselves. The
Kingdom of Guatemala, as it was known during the colonial period, comprised
all of Central America, but the territory of present-day Guatemala was its heart.
El Salvador’s dense population made it Guatemala’s chief rival in colo-
nial Central America. After independence, El Salvador became a liberal strong-
hold competing against the conservative stronghold in Guatemala. After 1870,
El Salvador had the most dynamic economy in Central America, a showcase of
intensive coffee production on modern plantations.
Honduras refers etymologically to deep Caribbean waters. The Spanish
found some gold in the Honduran uplands during the colonial period, yet not

A t l a n t i c
O c e a n

P a c i f i c
O c e a n

G u l f o f

M e x i c o

r e a t e r A n t i l l e s


r A


B e l i z e

G u a t e m a l a

N i c a r a g u a

P a n a m a

C u b a

H a i t i

P u e r t o
R i c o

D o m i n i c a n
R e p u b l i c

H o n d u r a s

E l
S a l v a d o r

C o s t a R i c a





San Pedro Sula
Guatemala City



San Juan


San José


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enough to make Honduras a wealthy place. In the late 1800s, US banana com-
panies created enclaves on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Today, Honduras
is the rare Latin American country whose population remains mostly rural. Like
El Salvador and Nicaragua, it has a predominantly mestizo population.
Nicaragua has often been viewed as a potential site for an interoceanic
canal like Panama’s. During the 1800s, the British exerted considerable influ-
ence on the country’s Caribbean coast and competed with the United States for
influence in Nicaragua as a whole. The British presence had a lasting influence,
making English a common language around the Caribbean port of Bluefields.
However, the country’s main population centers are on the Pacific side.
Costa Rica, the last of the five Central American republics, has long
seemed exceptional: the country with few people of indigenous descent, the
country not dominated by large estates, the country not shattered by the violence
of dictatorship, revolution, and reaction in the late twentieth century. In the con-
temporary period, Costa Rica’s model system of parks and rain forest preserves
is a magnet for ecotourists. More in accord with the overall Central American
pattern has been the historical presence of large American-owned banana plan-
tations, worked largely by people of African descent, along the Caribbean coast. In
fact, the entire east coast of Central America seems culturally “Caribbean.”

the caribbean

The Caribbean is a swirl of influences, including English, French, Dutch, and
East Indian, as well as Spanish and African. The Latin American countries of the
Caribbean are the three Spanish-speaking ones of the “Greater Antilles.”
Cuba is by far the greatest of the Greater Antilles, making up half the
land area in the Caribbean. A close trading relationship has tied Cuba and the
United States together since the early 1800s. During most of that century,
Cuba remained a Spanish colony, but US capital already flowed into Cuban
sugar plantations, and Cuban habanera music already enlivened US popu-
lar culture. Cubans, in turn, substituted baseball for bullfighting even before
breaking with Spain. The Cuban–US political relationship has remained intense
since US involvement in Cuba’s war for independence (1898).
The Dominican Republic and French-speaking Haiti share the second
largest of the Greater Antilles, the island of Hispaniola, where Spanish coloni-
zation of America began. The Dominican Republic has a typically Caribbean
national history, having been often under the thumb of imperial powers. The
incipient Dominican Republic was so wobbly that Spain actually reclaimed it
for a few years in the 1860s. A troubled relationship with Haiti has been another
recurrent theme in Dominican history.
Puerto Rico, the last of the Greater Antilles, has a mountainous interior
of steeply jumbled slopes that create considerable isolation even across short
distances. San Juan, the capital city, was a naval stronghold of Spain during the
colonial period, and, along with Cuba, Puerto Rico remained under Spanish
control through the 1800s, long after the rest of Spanish America gained

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independence. US forces occupied both Puerto Rico and Cuba in 1898, but
unlike Cuba, Puerto Rico never became an independent country. Instead, it
was eventually annexed directly to the United States as an associated “com-
monwealth,” rather than a state.

northern South aMerica

Venezuela was the first Spanish toehold on mainland South America. It is a
Caribbean country in many ways. Unlike the Andean capital of neighboring
Colombia, Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, is near the Caribbean Sea, as are
its historically important agricultural regions. Most Venezuelan accents have
a Caribbean sound. African descent is as common in Venezuela as on other
Caribbean shores. Baseball takes precedence over soccer for Venezuelan sports
fans. But Venezuela has other faces as well. The last, comparatively low ridges
of the Andes give the country a mountainous region bordering Colombia. The
floodplains of the great Orinoco River constitute a third region of historical
importance, joining Venezuela and Colombia. Yet, there are tensions between
these neighbors with much in common. For example, Venezuela’s oil-driven
prosperity long attracted immigrants from Colombia seeking a better life, and
many entered Venezuela without the stipulated visa, creating immigration
issues similar to those between Mexico and the United States.
Colombia is quite regionally diverse. Its population is concentrated in
the Andes Mountains, which split into three parallel ranges creating long, deep
valleys that differ markedly in climate, cuisine, way of life, and accent. Region is a
primary reference in Colombian life. Stereotypically, Colombians are expected
to speak, look, and act differently from one another according to their regional
origin. While regional stereotypes exist all over Latin America (and the world),

A t l a n t i c
O c e a n

P a c i f i c
O c e a n

C a r i b b e a n S e a






co R


A m azon



G u i a n a H i g h l a n d s

A m a z o n B a s i n

l a


C o l o m b i a

V e n e z u e l a

G u y a n a
S u r i n a m e

F r e n c h
G u i a n a


Cartagena Maracaibo





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WWN79-14 MTLA.3 Map of northern South America
Fourth proof

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their profusion and intensity in Colombia is unusual. Partly, Colombian geog-
raphy has created them, but partly each regional identity has itself become a
project, elaborated in folklore, reiterated in humor, and reinforced by politics.
Colombia’s national state has been historically weak, often unable to unify and
command the disparate territories. For a time during the mid-1800s, unruly
regions became virtually independent republics in a loose national confedera-
tion. This geographic and historical background helps explain the proliferation
of armed groups able to resist national control in the late twentieth century.

andean countrieS

Ecuador (like Peru and Bolivia) is a fundamentally Andean country. A string
of high Andean valleys were home to the bulk of the Ecuadorian population
from Inca times down to the 1960s, and the Incan language is still widely spo-
ken there today. Geographically, the Andes divide Ecuador into three clearly
contrasting parts: the highlands, with the capital Quito in the center of the
country; the Amazonian lowlands to the east; and the Pacific coastal region
to the west.

P a c i f i c
O c e a n

Am azon R.





li R








A m a z o n B a s i n








E c u a d o r

P e r u

B o l i v i a






La Paz



Santa Cruz



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Peru stands historically at the heart of Andean America. Before the
Spanish conquest, it was the center of the sprawling Inca Empire, with its high-
land capital at Cuzco, and afterward, the principal center of Spanish coloniza-
tion in South America. Originally, Peru was also the richest Spanish colony.
By the eve of independence in 1800, however, Peru was already in decline,
eclipsed by Mexican wealth, population, and prestige. Independent Peru never
recovered the prominence of its colonial heyday. Peruvian geography follows
the same regional layout as Ecuador’s. In the case of Peru, the Pacific coastal
plain is a narrow desert of looming sand dunes, interrupted occasionally by
small valleys where rivers rush to the ocean, creating flat and fertile alluvial
fans and opportunities for irrigation. These veritable oases that dot the coast
were scenes of indigenous civilizations that far antedated the Incas, and they
have continued to be important scenes of Peruvian agriculture ever since. But
the majority of Peruvians live in the vast Andean highlands that rise steeply
from the coast. Many still speak the Inca language, Quechua. Finally, the east-
ern lowlands of Peru, the country’s Amazonian region, have been the last part
incorporated into national life.
Dense populations of indigenous farmers made Bolivia a great indig-
enous heartland of America. Bolivia’s main indigenous language, Aymara, is
second only to Quechua as an important Andean tongue. The great silver mine
at Potosí was the richest place in all of Spain’s global empire of the 1600s. The
Andean highlands of Bolivia constitute an especially high and wide plateau, the
altiplano. Bolivia’s eastern lowland centers economically on the thriving city
of Santa Cruz, which likes to think of itself as a land apart. Bolivia has fought
in several international wars, and lost them all. In the 1880s, Chile took the
narrow strip of Pacific coast that linked Bolivia to the sea, leaving it landlocked.
Today most of Bolivia’s imports and exports must cross its former territory,
with Chilean permission.

the Southern cone

Chile’s geographic profile is unique in the world. Its outrageous length links
climatic extremes, from the bone-dry desert north to the rainy, glacier-gouged
south. The bulk of Chile’s population has always clustered in its central val-
ley, running south from Santiago, with a temperate climate suitable for the
country’s famous wines. The Andes that divide Chile from Argentina have not
left much imprint on Chilean national life; the sea has been more important.
Following independence in 1810, Chile’s colonial isolation ended abruptly with
the steady arrival of ships from several trading nations of the North Atlantic.
Chile’s relative prosperity and compact population center allowed early politi-
cal stability. Only the city of Concepción, at the southern end of the central
valley, occasionally mounted a political challenge to Santiago, at the northern
Argentina, with a temperate climate similar to Chile’s central valley,
has been called “a city and a nation.” Buenos Aires, the capital city and one of
the greatest of all Atlantic ports, became a sprawling, immigrant-filled South

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P a c i f i c
O c e a n

A t l a n t i c
O c e a n

Strait of

io Salado








del Fuego

Cape Horn




A r g e n t i n a

U r u g u a y

P a r a g u a y

C h i l e



San Juan



San Salvador
de Jujuy




San Miguel
de Tucumán

Buenos Aires


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American version of Chicago. Today it is much, much larger than Chicago.
Metropolitan Buenos Aires accounts for roughly half the population of
Argentina. Urban Buenos Aires resembles Europe to visitors from the United
States, while the Argentine interior is more Latin American in feel. There lies the
pampa, a limitless flat horizon of fertile, well-watered agricultural land (one of
the world’s great bread baskets) and beyond, wide, arid plains sweeping to the
Andes. The pampa was home to cattle herds and gaucho herdsmen, then to
the wheat-farming Italian immigrants and their tango-dancing urban descen-
dents, who compose the more familiar international profile of Argentina. In
the colonial period, mountainous northwestern Argentina was an economic
support zone for the Potosí mines. Therefore, the Argentine northwest has an
Andean flavor, both physically and culturally.
Uruguay, the tiny republic just north of Buenos Aires, is something
like a lost province of Argentina. The Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, with
its excellent natural harbor, is a sort of miniature Buenos Aires in architecture
and atmosphere. Similarly, Uruguay’s cattle herds, watched over by gauchos
exactly like Argentine gauchos, rivaled those of Buenos Aires province through
the 1800s. Similar currents of European immigration transformed both areas at
the turn of the twentieth century.
Paraguay, nearby and with a similar-sounding name, is actually quite
unlike Uruguay. Relatively large populations of indigenous Guaraníes moti-
vated early Spanish colonization of Paraguay, in the heart of the continent,
whereas most colonization in South America hugged the coast. Paraguay
became the most substantial Spanish frontier outpost in the deep interior of
the continent, a land where almost everyone was mestizo and spoke Guaraní.
This use of an indigenous language by an entire colonial society has been rare
in Latin America. Paraguay is the most important example of it.


Brazil is a unified Portuguese America that did not split in the wake of inde-
pendence as Spanish America did. The world’s largest Portuguese-speaking
country, Brazil has had surprisingly little direct trade and other contact, his-
torically, with neighboring Spanish-speaking countries. Even today, Brazilians
and Spanish Americans, as a general rule, do not listen to each other’s music
or read each other’s authors, being far more culturally attuned to Europe
and the United States. As with Colombia, regional contrasts provide a key to
understanding Brazil. Most attractive to visitors is the colonial capital and Afro-
Brazilian cultural Mecca, Salvador (Bahia). Bahia is located in the northeast,
one of the country’s major regions. The northeast includes long stretches of
Atlantic coast, where the sugar plantations left their bitter legacy of wealth
and poverty. But the northeast also includes the arid sertão that occupies a
wide swath of the Brazilian interior, with its ranching economy and its peri-
odic droughts. The northeast was the economic hub of colonial Brazil. Today,
however, the hub is the southeast. By 1900, the southeast had already become
the location of Brazil’s largest cities (Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo), its leading

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industries, and its best infrastructure—which made it a magnet for immigrants.
The far south, another “late-blooming” region in Brazilian national life, shares
favorable indices of development and a population transformed by immigra-
tion. Even later-blooming have been the regions far from the coast, both
the Amazonian north, where several new states have been created in recent
decades, and the west, where the aggressive expansion of agribusiness has
created a zone nicknamed “Soylandia.”

A t l a n t i c
O c e a n

A mazon

Negro R.





o R.





A m a z o n B a s i n






r t


B r a z i l


Belo Horizonte



São Paulo


Rio de Janeiro




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“ U n c l e S a m ’ S n e w c l a S S i n t h e a r t o f S e l f – G o v e r n a n c e . ” This cartoon

exemplifies the neo co lo nial notion that only people of Eu ro pe an heritage could govern

themselves well. Two black Cuban in de pen dence fighters are shown squabbling like

boys, while the great Philippine in de pen dence fighter Emilio Aguinaldo is shown wearing

a dunce cap. Uncle Sam, who has just “liberated” these ill- behaved children from Spain

in 1898, seems justified (according to the cartoonist) in whipping them. From Harper’s

Weekly Magazine, 1898.

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Great export
boom under


1 8 9 8
United States

in Cuba

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Rodó publishes


1 9 1 2


1 9 2 2
Pan- American
Conference of


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he liberal plan to make Latin America resemble Eu rope or
the United States partly succeeded. But Progress turned out
differently in Latin America. True, massive changes occurred,

changes that affected the lives of everyone, rich and poor, urban and
rural. Major Latin American cities lost their colonial cobblestones,
white plastered walls, and red- tiled roofs. They became modern
metropolises, comparable to urban giants anywhere. Streetcars
swayed, telephones jangled, and silent movies flickered from Monte-
video and Santiago to Mexico City and Havana. Railroads multiplied
miraculously, as did exported tons of sugar, coffee, copper, grain,
nitrate, tin, cacao, rubber, bananas, beef, wool, and tobacco. Modern
port facilities replaced the spectacularly inadequate ones of Buenos
Aires and elsewhere.

Landowners and urban middle- class people prospered, but
the life of Latin America’s rural majority improved little, if at all. To

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the contrary, agrarian capitalism laid waste to the countryside and
destroyed traditional lifeways, impoverishing the rural people spiritu-
ally and materially. And Progress brought a new brand of imperial-
ism from Great Britain and the United States. The same countries
that modeled Progress for Latin America helped install it there, so to
speak— and sometimes owned it outright. Foreign influence was so
pervasive and powerful that Latin American historians call the years
1880– 1930 their neo co lo nial period.

Despite many transformations, neither Latin America’s sub-
ordinate relationship to Eu ro pe an countries nor its basic social
hierarchy— created by colonization— had changed. Hierarchical re-
lations of race and class, in which those at the top derive decisive
prestige and advantage from their outside connections, remained the
norm. Where once Peninsular Spaniards and Portuguese had stepped
ashore with their irritating airs of superiority and their royal appoint-
ments firmly in hand, now it was an English- speaking míster who
arrived with similar airs of superiority and princely sums to lend or
invest in banks, railroads, or port facilities. Whether in 1790 or 1890,
elite Latin Americans reacted by swallowing hard and throwing a
party for their guests. Ultimately, the “decent people’s” own status
and prosperity was linked to the outsiders, and they knew it. Ninety
percent of their wealth came from what they sold to Eu ro pe an and US
markets, and their own social pretensions, their own airs of superior-
ity at home, came from their Portuguese complexions, their Austrian
crystal, their sons’ familiarity with Paris. Neo co lo nial ism was a rela-
tionship between countries but also an internal phenomenon— and a
familiar one— in Latin America.

T h e Gr e aT e x p orT Bo om

Elite and middle- class Latin Americans had a lot to gain from Prog-
ress. First and foremost, they stood to profit from the great export
boom, over half a century of rapid, sustained economic growth, never
equaled in Latin America before or since. For example, Mexican ex-
ports, which still included silver along with sugar, coffee, and fibers,
doubled and then doubled again in the late 1800s. In fact, the total

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value of Mexican trade grew by 900 percent between 1877 and 1910.
By the early 1900s, Brazil was producing two thirds of the coffee drunk
in the entire world. Coffee now utterly dominated Brazilian exports.
Cuba depended even more on its single crop, but what a crop! Cuban
sugar production reached an astounding five million tons by 1929.
Then there was the saga of Chilean mining production— nitrates, cop-
per, iron— hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth by 1929. And on and
on. The greatest prodigy of all was Argentina. Argentina exported
twenty- one tons of wheat in 1876 and over one thousand times that
much by 1900. And the country’s exports continued to grow rapidly
into the 1920s.

From Guatemala (coffee) and Honduras (bananas) to Ec ua dor
(cacao) and Bolivia (tin), all the smaller countries of Latin America
had their own versions of the great export boom of 1870– 1930. The
quantity of railroad tracks in the region— integral to the boom, be-
cause railroads were built primarily to carry exports— went from two
thousand to fifty-nine thousand miles between 1870 and 1900.

The direct beneficiaries of this export bonanza were the
large landowners, whose property values soared with the approach
of the railroad tracks. Beneficiaries, too, were the middle- class city
dwellers— professionals, merchants, and office workers— who per-
formed secondary functions in the import/export economy. For these
people, Progress opened cultural horizons and brought material
enrichment. Still, they constituted only a tiny fraction of the Latin
American population. The middle class grew rapidly between 1880
and 1930, but even Argentina’s middle class, perhaps the largest
in the region by 1930, represented only a quarter to a third of the
population. Mexico’s smaller middle class was more typical of Latin
America. Around 1900, a million or so middle- class Mexicans were
clerking in offices, riding bicycles, and listening to US ragtime music.
A small working class— a third of a million cooks, laundresses, shoe-
makers, policemen, and so on—made up the rest of the urban popula-
tion. Meanwhile, eight million country people, mostly of indigenous
heritage, lucky to have a single change of clothes, sweated on the sun-
drenched land to produce Mexico’s agricultural products. Thanks to
Progress, their lot was actually getting worse.

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The arrival of the railroad benefited the own ers of large Mexi-
can estates by raising property values. But it also drove a lot of peas-
ants off the land, allowing the landlords to extend their holdings,
make landless peasants their employees, and multiply their profits.
Despite the official abolition of communal village property in the
1850s, many indigenous villagers had managed to hold on to their
lands through the 1860s and 1870s. But now it seemed that wherever
the tracks unfolded and opened a way for the locomotives to pass,
hissing steam and belching smoke, peasant villages lost their lands to
greedy hacienda own ers who could foreclose on a mortgage or bribe a
judge. Although Mexico was still a heavily rural country in 1910, only
about 3 percent of the people owned land. Most rural Mexicans lived

a c o l o n i Z e D w o r l D . Latin American neocolonialism was a variant of global

colonialism. While outsiders dominated Latin America only “informally,” they turned

enormous parts of Asia and Africa into outright, formal colonies, the greatest being

British India. © North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy Stock Photo.

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and worked as peons on large haciendas, some of them vast indeed. To
take an extreme but illustrative example, just three families owned a
third of the Mexican state of Colima.

The indigenous people of the Andes, too, lost their village lands
in the neo co lo nial period. In general, the landless country people of
Latin America, who for centuries had grown their own food and sup-
plied their other needs as subsistence farmers, now had nowhere
to plant their potatoes, manioc, corn, and beans. As export profits
beckoned, the own ers of haciendas and plantations acquired more
and more land. They bought land that had been public property and
evicted the families who had dwelled there without legal title, some-
times for generations. Because they worked their resident laborers
harder and planted more of their acreage in export crops, the estate
own ers left their workers less time and space to grow their own food.
Workers often got wages too small to support a family. To make ends
meet, women and children who had formerly stayed close to home,
cooking and mending and tending the family’s chickens and garden,
now had to join the field gangs who worked under the watchful eye
of an overseer. And just for good mea sure, labor- hungry landowners
pressed for and won “vagrancy” laws to harass people who got along
without wages completely. Thus did the great export boom enrich
landowners at the expense of the rural poor.

In Argentina, large numbers of Italian immigrants performed
prodigies of wheat production, but only in exceptional cases managed
to acquire their own land. What incentive did the own ers have to sell?
Some of the immigrants returned to Italy, but most went to the cities,
especially Buenos Aires. Rowdy, rootless gauchos also vanished from
the countryside as wire fences and fancy En glish breeds of cattle and
sheep transformed the open pampa. In 1876, the first refrigerator ship
took Argentine beef to Eu rope. The trade in chilled beef was vastly
more profitable than the older trade in beef jerky of prerefrigeration
days. By 1900 refrigerator ships numbered in the hundreds.

Coffee boomed in the tropics, creating several kinds of neo-
co lo nial landscapes. In the deep red soils of São Paulo, Brazil, Italian
immigrants tended coffee after abolition because freed slaves wanted
nothing to do with plantations. To attract Eu ro pe an immigrants to a

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job recently performed by slaves, the plantation own ers had to make
special concessions, such as allowing workers to cultivate their own
crops in the spaces between the rows of coffee bushes. Italian agri-
cultural workers in São Paulo proved unusually successful at making
the export boom work for them. But, like the immigrant farmwork-
ers in Argentina, they tended to move to the city eventually. Coffee
also grew in the tropical sun and crisp mountain air of Colombia and
Venezuela, Central America and the Ca rib be an. In Guatemala,
El Salvador, and southern Mexico, indigenous people became workers
on coffee plantations often owned by foreigners, especially Germans.
Although usually a plantation crop (always bad news for agricultural
workers), coffee could also be grown profitably on family farms. It con-
tributed to the growth of a rural middle class in highland areas of
Colombia, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico. Tobacco— like coffee, a delicate
crop that thrives in small- scale production— benefited small produc-
ers in Brazil and Cuba.

Sugar production and mining, in contrast, were always mas-
sive, industrialized operations that divided societies ruthlessly into
rich and poor. By the late 1800s, great gleaming sugar refineries, with
their high smokestacks and rail depots, stood like industrial monsters
amid the cane fields of northeastern Brazil, on the Peruvian coast, and
in the Ca rib be an. The own ers of the sugar refineries, like the Brazilian
senhores de engenho of the 1600s, utterly dominated the rural econ-
omy, and for the same reason. Immediate, reliable milling is crucial to
the sugar harvest. The refineries set their price, and growers had no
choice but to accept it. Factories in the fields turned cane cutters into
industrial workers. Their wages were low, and they earned them only
part of the year. Cane cutters spent part of each year unemployed—
what Cubans called “the dead time.” Mining in Mexico, Peru, Bolivia,
and Chile constituted a similarly capital- intensive activity, carried
out by powerful companies employing thousands of workers who had
little bargaining power. Because of high capital requirements, instal-
lations such as refineries for Cuban sugar, oil wells pumping Mexican
and Venezuelan crude, and deep- shaft mines in the high Andes were
usually foreign- owned. In Peru, the massive, state- of- the- art mining
complex of the US Cerro de Pasco Copper Corporation squatted at

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twelve thousand feet amid a cluster of tiny earth- colored huts where
the indigenous miners lived— something like a twentieth- century ver-
sion of Potosí.

In the rain forests of Amazonia, neo co lo nial ism brought a rub-
ber boom. The latex sap of the rubber tree was a raw material con-
sumed especially in the United States for tires. Rubber harvesters
lived isolated along riverbanks deep in the Amazon basin, tapping
sap from rubber trees. In Brazil, the tappers were mainly refugees
from droughts of the arid sertão lands of northeastern Brazil. In the
Colombian, Ec ua dor ian, and Peruvian areas of the Amazon basin,
many were semisedentary indigenous people, terrorized into wage
labor they neither needed nor wanted. Rubber workers earned tiny
wages, barely enough to pay for the food and supplies sold them by

l o S i n G G ro U n D. Remaining semisedentary people on the fringes of colonization, such

as the Mapuches of Chile, lost ground to the advance of commercial agriculture at the turn

of the century. NGS Image Collection/The Art Archive at Art Resource, New York.

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the rubber company. Meanwhile, the rubber trade produced vast prof-
its for international traders and for the companies whose steamboats
outfitted the workers and collected their rubber in periodic visits. By
1910, rubber accounted for a quarter of Brazilian export earnings.
Rubber barons could literally find no way to spend all their money. (So
why not send shirts to Paris to be properly laundered?) In Manaus,
the one Brazilian city a thousand miles upriver, in the middle of the
impenetrable forest, the rubber barons built an opera house and at-
tracted touring opera performers— though not, as myth would have it,
the immortal tenor Enrico Caruso. Meanwhile, the rubber boom rav-
aged indigenous people, their tribes decimated by alcohol and disease.
Then, by the 1920s, rubber from Malaysia definitively undercut the
price of Amazonian rubber. The rubber barons steamed away down-
river, never to return, and the rubber tappers looked for another way
to survive. Only the Manaus opera house stood as a silent reminder
of Progress.

Bananas were a neo co lo nial nightmare for the palm- studded
coasts of the Ca rib be an. US banana companies blossomed there in
the 1880s and 1890s, becoming multinational corporations— among
the first anywhere in the world. By the early 1900s, several merged
into the United Fruit Company, a banana empire operating in Costa
Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, and
Venezuela. Banana companies far overmatched the governments
of their small host countries in economic power. United Fruit made
several Central American nations into “banana republics,” where it
could keep governors, cabinet ministers, even presidents in its deep
corporate pockets. The banana companies acquired millions of acres
for their plantations, millions more for future use, and millions more
simply to head off possible competition. Sometimes, railroad builders
used land along the tracks (given to the companies as an incentive)
to start banana plantations. Sometimes, banana companies laid their
own rails. Either way, fast transport of the delicate fruit was the sine
qua non of the banana business.

Banana companies created company towns, inhabited by
managers, engineers, and agronomists from the United States,
along with their families, with miniature US neighborhoods of

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screen- porched houses on meticulously manicured lawns, virtually
sealed off from the country around them. After delivering bananas
to the United States, company ships returned with newspapers,
clothes, movies, vehicles, and food, allowing these new colonizers to
live as if they had never left home. These isolated banana enclaves
contributed little to the development of their host countries. Compa-
nies like United Fruit reserved managerial positions for white US
personnel and hired “natives” for the machete work. Governors and
ministers benefited from cordial relations with company officials, of
course. Whoever sold the banana companies land profited, too. The
companies also paid some taxes, on terms invariably favorable to
them. And when they pulled out— because of a banana blight or a
new corporate strategy— all that these multinational installations
left behind was ex- banana choppers with no job, no land, no educa-
tion, and a lot of missing fingers.

No wonder that rural people migrated to the cities as agrarian
capitalism took hold of the countryside. This flow was not yet a flood in
1900. Mexico City, today one of the biggest cities on the planet, still had
only about 350,000 inhabitants at the turn of the twentieth century.
Neither Bogotá nor Lima had many more than a hundred thousand.
All of Latin America had a comparatively small and overwhelmingly
rural population of around sixty- three million at this time. Still, cities
were growing steadily, and those that attracted new inhabitants both
from rural areas and from Eu rope grew spectacularly. At the fall of
Rosas in 1852, the city of Buenos Aires had about a hundred thousand
inhabitants. By the end of the neo co lo nial period, around 1930, it had
two million. In 1900, it was already the largest city in Latin America
at two- thirds of a million inhabitants. Rio de Janeiro, a magnet for
Portuguese as well as Italian and Spanish immigrants, was the sec-
ond biggest city of the region at just under half a million. Montevideo,
Santiago, Havana, and São Paulo followed at around a quarter million
each. By this time, virtually all the capital cities of the region boasted
electricity, telephones, and streetcars. Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and
Rio were building splendid avenues on the Pa ri sian model.

Except for the top four or five, Latin America’s neo co lo nial cities
were not places of factories and smokestacks. Industrialization would

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l a av e n i D a D e m ayo . Completed in the 1890s, the spacious main avenue of down-

town Buenos Aires was flanked by impressive buildings in a variety of modern styles. It

exemplified the transformation of capital cities in neo co lo nial Latin America. Library of

Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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come later to most of the region. Instead, cities and towns were chiefly
commercial, administrative, and ser vice centers. Now they bustled as
landowning families spent the profits of the export boom.

Money from crops, livestock, and mines bought mansions, pi-
anos, fine furniture, china, artworks, and eventually cars. All over
Latin America, landowning families began the 1900s with an exhila-
rating sense of new cultural horizons. Their prosperity allowed them
gradually to become urban people, leaving the hacienda or plantation
under the supervision of a hired administrator or a country cousin.
They went back only occasionally, for a few days’ vacation, to sample
rustic delicacies and amaze their faithful servants with tales of urban

Education was increasingly important for the sons and daugh-
ters of urbanized landowning families. Some studied engineering,
architecture, agronomy, and medicine, but the favorite degree by
far remained law. Indeed, the standard image of the landowner’s
son in 1900 is that of the young doctor of law, probably bound for
politics rather than legal practice. (All university graduates were
addressed respectfully as doctor.) Education and city life went to-
gether. Rarely could an education, even a primary education, be
gotten in the countryside. Thus Argentina and Uruguay, the most
urbanized countries in Latin America, were also the most literate.
By 1900, a majority there could read. Well over half the population
in most countries was still illiterate, however. In Brazil, a heavily
rural country that had almost no rural schools, no more than two
people in ten could read.

During these years, talented people of mixed racial heritage
continued gradually to infiltrate the white middle class. Because
education was such a scarce, prestigious commodity, nonelite Latin
Americans rarely got it— but when they did, it opened doors.

Occasionally, the person walking through the door was a lit-
erary genius, like novelist Joaquim Machado de Assis, still consid-
ered the greatest Brazilian novelist. What ever their attitude toward
his café- com- leite (coffee with milk) complexion, elite Brazilians ex-
pressed unreserved awe for his mastery of the written word. Machado
de Assis’s mother had been a laundress. He worked his way up as a

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yerba mate




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typesetter, then a journalist. In 1897, Machado de Assis became presi-
dent of the prestigious Brazilian Academy of Letters, where he pre-
sided over a distinguished (and very white) crowd of poets, statesmen,
and scholars. Mexico’s Ignacio Manuel Altamirano and Peru’s Ricardo
Palma, men of color both, likewise became “deans of national letters”
in their respective countries. Rubén Darío, a dark mestizo child prod-
igy from a small town in Nicaragua, received international tribute
for his literary genius. Even amid the generally racist neo co lo nial
climate, Latin American respect for art, especially literature, con-
ferred on men like Darío, Palma, Altamirano, and Machado de
Assis a status then unequaled by any person of color in the United
States. Darío became one of the most influential poets ever to write
in the Spanish language. For the first time ever, people throughout

m e X i c o ’ S B a S i l i c a o f o U r l a Dy o f G U a D a l U P e , d e s t i n a t i o n o f m i l l i o n s

o f p i l g r i m s y e a r l y. Traditional culture retained its appeal for many in neocolonial Latin

America, despite the vogue for all things modern and European. © Graham Kerr/National

Geographic Creative/Corbis.

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the Spanish- speaking world, including Spain, recognized a Spanish
American poet as the great master whose vision and style defined the
highest artistic expression of their civilization.

These writers were exceptional men whose stories are not
typical. Still, as part of a slow, steady pro cess happening all across
Latin America, talented mestizos were joining the middle classes of
Latin American countries, finding more opportunities and meeting
less prejudice than did socially ascendant black people in the United
States. By the turn of the century, the Mexican middle class had be-
come notably mestizo, and many other countries were not far behind.

Only in the mid-1900s would most countries of the region be-
come predominantly urban. Until 1930, the balance of population
and power rested in the countryside, where landowners controlled
not only the national wealth but also the electoral system. This
phenomenon— by which a landowner in Chile or Brazil or practically
anywhere in Latin America took his clients to the polls on election day
to “vote them”— was the backbone of every strong government in the
region. Such “managed elections” were essential to the po liti cal sys-
tem of neo co lo nial ism. On this point, the ruling liberals truly did not
deserve their name.

au T hor i Ta r i a n ru l e: ol iG a rch ie s

a n d dic TaT or sh ip s

A funny thing happened to the liberals of Latin America during their
big comeback of the 1860s and 1870s. Once in control, they forgot
about the po liti cal freedoms they had demanded under the conserva-
tive caudillos. Democracy now took a distant second place, in their
thinking, to the material Progress associated with export growth. Eco-
nomic growth required railroads and export crops, and to get them,
you needed law and order: firm, qualified government, not mass poli-
tics but “scientific” rule by the nation’s supposedly best and bright-
est, which amounted, in most cases, to its richest and whitest. The
philosophy that justified their rule was positivism, a French social
doctrine that prescribed authoritarian medicine to achieve order and

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progress and made Eu ro pe an norms into universal standards. The
new Brazilian republic put the positivist slogan “Order and Progress”
on the national flag in the 1890s.

Governance did become more orderly. As the profits of the ex-
port boom rose, government revenues from import/export taxes rose,
too. National armies and police forces received modern weapons and
a new level of training, as country after country invited Eu ro pe an
military advisors. Now national presidents commanded far more fire-
power than any regional caudillo. Railroads and telegraphs speeded
the deployment of troops to quell rebellions. Civil wars became less
frequent as elite families busied themselves with the export boom.
Higher government revenues afforded middle- class people new em-
ployment opportunities in the expanding bureaucracies and schools.
Greater stability and prosperity attracted further investment from
abroad, intensifying trade, and the cycle repeated itself. In most Latin
American countries, frequent revolutions became a thing of the past
by about 1900. Instead, stable authoritarian governments character-
ize the neo co lo nial period.

What about those— the huge majority— left out of the eupho-
ria? Progress held little appeal for them— often hurt them, in fact— so
why would they go along? For the most part, the majority had little
say in the matter. The po liti cal influence of the rural majority was
limited by income and literacy requirements for voting, and limited
even more by the practice of managed elections. The authoritarian
governments of neo co lo nial Latin America made electoral manage-
ment into an art form.

Managed elections constituted a tug- of- war between rival pa-
tronage networks, a test of strength at many levels. At the national
administrative level, those in power named electoral officials favoring
their party. That practice radically tilted the election from the outset.
At the local level, an election was still a no- holds- barred contest among
factions who tried to cast as many ballots as possible— per person—
while preventing the other side from doing the same. The countryside,
where great landowners controlled the votes and the fighting power
of many clients, was the managed election’s natural habitat. As long
as the great export boom lasted, most neo co lo nial governments had

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the landowners’ solid support, delivering reliable electoral majorities.
The judges and local authorities who administered the pro cess also
influenced the final tally. They kept the voter registration rolls and
could disqualify their opponent’s clients (“I’m sorry, sir, your name
just isn’t on the list”) while allowing even dubious votes for the “right”

Everybody knew about the fraud. Opposition newspapers and
representatives frequently denounced it. But many Latin American
electoral systems had been subtly modified to facilitate management
from above, so it was very hard to thwart. Mostly, people just endured
the fraud and learned to live with it, coming to see managed elections
as the normal way of the world.

After 1880, authoritarian governments preserved republican
forms but actually functioned as dictatorships or oligarchies. Oli-
garchies (from Greek, meaning “rule by a few”) represented a nar-
row ruling class. Within oligarchies, elections served to mea sure the
strength of client networks. Even when ballots were not freely cast or
fairly counted, they still showed who controlled what, and where—
information that helped negotiate oligarchic power sharing. Dicta-
torships, on the other hand, centered on one all- powerful individual.
Dictators might hold elections purely for the aura of legitimacy or to
impress their foreign associates. Take landowner support and a good
show of institutional legitimacy, add lucrative customs revenues and
a dash of modern military technology, and neo co lo nial governments
needed nothing else to rule— except, of course, for good relations with
Eu rope or the United States or both.

This basic power structure facilitated a half century of eco-
nomic transformation that benefited a quarter of the population at
the expense of everybody else. Oligarchies and dictatorships provided
stability, the virtue always most desired by foreign investors. That
was the virtue that a former US secretary of state had in mind when,
in a moment of diplomatic ardor, he called Mexican dictator Porfirio
Díaz “one of the greatest men to be held up for the hero worship of

The rule of Porfirio Díaz (1876– 1911), called the Porfiriato, was
the very epitome of neo co lo nial dictatorships in Latin America. Díaz

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kept up constitutional appearances, but only his candidates ever won
elections. He also had a circle of technocratic advisers steeped in the
positivist “science” of government— the Científicos, they were called.
As the value of Mexico’s import/export trade expanded by roughly ten
times during the Porfiriato, Díaz used the new revenues to strengthen
the Mexican state. He curbed regional caudillos by crushing them or
buying them off. He created public jobs for middle- class townspeople
by vastly enlarging the bureaucracy. Díaz offered just two alterna-
tives: pan o palo, meaning roughly “carrot or stick.” For example, he
subsidized the press to keep it friendly, then jailed journalists who
spoke against him. Mexico acquired a national rail system and grace-
ful, monument- lined avenues in its capital city. But as Mexico ap-
proached the centennial of Hidalgo’s 1810 uprising, the Mexico City
police had orders to hustle indigenous people away from downtown,
so that the foreign visitors would not get “the wrong impression” of

Interestingly, Díaz himself was part Mixtec. He was a man of
the strongly indigenous south, an authentic war hero who rose in the
ranks during the struggle against the French, whom he famously de-
feated on Cinco de Mayo (May 5, 1862), a red- letter date in Mexican
history. But, as with Benito Juárez, Díaz’s indigenous roots added to
his pop u lar image as a national leader without making him, in any
way, a defender of indigenous identities.

In the countryside, Díaz founded the famous rurales (mounted
national police) to secure an environment for investor confidence.
He also oversaw a massive sale of public lands, most of which went
to speculators and others who already had large properties. Almost
all the land remaining to indigenous villagers now passed into the
hands of surveying companies. Díaz welcomed foreign investment in
Mexican land, and foreigners soon owned about a quarter of it, as well
as the silver and oil underneath. Oil gushed from newly opened wells
on Mexico’s gulf coast. Champagne gushed, too, as glasses were raised
to toast the exemplary president of neo co lo nial Mexico with effusive
praise in a variety of foreign accents. Still, Díaz knew that outside in-
fluence was a mixed blessing. “Poor Mexico,” he quipped, “so far from
God, so close to the United States.”

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Except for the champagne and managed elections, government
in neo co lo nial Brazil was a very different affair. It was highly decen-
tralized, exemplifying the possibilities of oligarchic—as  opposed to
dictatorial— rule. With the emperor gone, how could far- flung land-
owning families control Brazil’s vast territory? The first Brazilian
Republic (1889– 1930) was a federation of twenty states with a weak
central government. Its first principle, contrasting markedly with
the Porfiriato, was local autonomy for each landowning oligarchy.
Cattle ranchers, coffee and sugar planters, cacao and rubber barons
from one end of Brazil to the other managed local elections to their
liking. Various regional oligarchies negotiated control of each Bra-
zilian state. Importantly, the new federal structure let each state
keep its own export revenues. In effect, the country’s state gover-
nors together determined who would be president. The two most
powerful states were the current leading coffee producers, São Paulo
and Minas Gerais, and they traded the presidency back and forth
between them.

Because the São Paulo and Minas Gerais oligarchies wanted
autonomy above all— and already had it— their federal presidents did
very little. The republicans opened Brazil for business, so to speak,
and then stood out of the way. One initiative of Brazilian neo co lo nial
government is an exception proving the rule. In 1906, the Brazilian
federal government began to buy and stockpile excess coffee, millions
of tons of it, to prevent overproduction from lowering the price. In
so doing, the coffee planters who controlled the central government
used meager federal resources to bolster privileged interests. Huge
stockpiles of coffee were burned when the system finally came crash-
ing down.

Meanwhile, northeastern Brazil provided several examples
of angry re sis tance to liberal Progress. In 1874– 75, peasants rioted
in marketplaces to defy the imposition of metric weights and mea-
sures that they were sure would cheat them. The excited crowds
then burned the official rec ords and archives that lawyers used to
evict families without legal title to land. In the 1890s, bandits with
Robin Hood reputations, backlanders of the arid sertão, became pop-
u lar heroes and the subjects of ballads in northeastern Brazil. This

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dirt- poor region of Brazil also had a tradition of wandering holy men
who fixed broken- down churches, revived traditional religious ardor,
and occasionally gained fame as miracle workers. Between 1893 and
1897, thousands of fervent believers gathered around one Antônio
the Counselor, who preached against modern materialism and the
“godless republic.” With astonishing speed, Canudos, the Counsel-
or’s backland base in the Bahian sertão, became the second largest
agglomeration of people in the state, surpassed only by the state
capital. Horrified by the specter of a fanatical prophet— the opposite
of Progress— the Brazilian federal government launched one mili-
tary expedition after another against the Counselor’s “holy city” of
Canudos, annihilating it along with most of its inhabitants, at least
ten thousand of them. Here, according to The Backlands (1902), the
famous chronicle of the event by a military engineer and brilliant
writer, Euclides da Cunha, was yet another fiery battle between civi-
lization (championed by the modern army, a hotbed of Brazilian posi-
tivism) and barbarism (represented by the Counselor and his pious

Da Cunha had been schooled in the scientific racism of his day,
but as he watched the people of Canudos resist well-armed troops,
his ideas changed. These people of distinctively Brazilian mixed race,
he decided, were not inferior. “Their reverses only made them stron-
ger. Hunger stiffened their resolve. Defeat made them hard as rocks.”
Da Cunha watched in disgust as the army used dynamite, a recently
invented tool of Progress, to destroy the last of the Holy City. “It made
perfect sense,” wrote da Cunha, in words prickly with gooseflesh and
pregnant with the future: “The army’s final assault had struck solid
rock, the bedrock of our nationality and our race.”

In the meantime the self- confident forces of Progress ruth-
lessly crushed Canudos just as, during these same years, they finally
liquidated the Cruzob people of Yucatán’s speaking cross (1901). To
stand in the way of Progress and Civilization was madness, thought
da Cunha, even as he also admired the backlanders’ spectacular
re sis tance to the repeated onslaughts of the Brazilian army. Da
Cunha’s book became a great classic of Brazilian literature, some-
what reminiscent of Sarmiento’s Facundo, which told marvelous

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G aU c h o h e ro e S . Some rural men resisted the often-corrupt “law and order” that

Progress brought to the countryside. Sometimes outlaws became heroes. The “true crime”

narrative glorifying the Argentine outlaw Juan Moreira spawned many dramatizations, such

as the one pictured here. Archivo General de la Nación, Dpto. Doc. Fotograficos, Argentina.

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stories of the gauchos even while slating them for extinction. Prog-
ress was destiny, pure and simple— a notion da Cunha shared with
most other educated Westerners around 1900. Neo co lo nial thinking,
like neo co lo nial economics, was characterized by its links to things
outside Latin America.

l in k s w i T h T h e ou T side wor l d

The influence of outside examples was not all bad, of course. The
Latin American women who campaigned for voting rights in the
1910s and 1920s were clearly inspired by examples in Eu rope and
the United States. Modern feminist movements arose in cities
where outside influences were strongest. Meanwhile, in provincial
towns and villages, patriarchy and the old honor code remained
practically unchallenged. International influences are evident in
the lives of feminist leaders, many of whom had non- Spanish, non-
Portuguese surnames: Gucovski, Scheiner, Laperriere, Moreau— all
from Argentina.

Or take Paulina Luisi of Uruguay, the first woman in her coun-
try to get a medical degree (1909). Her Italian name was typical of the
heavily immigrant population of Montevideo. In 1906, still a student,
the provocative Luisi was called an anarchist for advocating use of
a French sex- education textbook. Despite the flap, she commanded
respect and was soon representing Uruguay in international women’s
conferences and traveling extensively in Eu rope. In 1919, she began
the drive for women’s voting rights in Uruguay. Her po liti cal tact
showed when she was interviewed on that issue and delivered her
feminist perspective while demurely knitting. In 1922, she became an
honorary vice president of the Pan- American Conference of Women,
held in the United States, and advised the leading Brazilian feminist,
a much younger woman named Berta Lutz.

Bertha Lutz’s father was Swiss-Brazilian and her mother En glish.
She liked to explore and catch frogs and became a biologist, something
unthinkable for a Brazilian woman of her mother’s day. She grew up
in São Paulo, Brazil’s progressive dynamo, but left there as a young

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woman for seven years’ study in Eu rope. Returning to Brazil in 1918,
she published a feminist call to arms. Brazilian women were “lagging
behind” Eu ro pe an and US women, she wrote. Given a chance, they
could become “valuable instruments of the progress of Brazil.” Lutz, too,
attended the 1922 Pan- American Conference of Women, and she made
special friends there with the pioneer US feminist Carrie Chapman
Catt. In fact, it was during a visit with Catt following the Baltimore
conference that Lutz sketched the constitution for an or ga ni za tion for
the Brazilian Federation for Feminine Progress. Lutz and her or ga ni-
za tion deserve credit for Brazilian women’s winning the vote in 1932,
before Uruguayan, Argentine, and most other Latin American women.

Few today would question the positive influence of international
feminism on Paulina Luisi or Bertha Lutz. Indeed, the intense outside
influence we now call neo co lo nial ism was rarely identified as harmful
even during its heyday. The powerful vogue of Progress seemed uni-
versal. Liberals believed that Progress was European- oriented only
because it started in Eu rope, then spread to the rest of the world. This
idea was hard to shake off. So, in ideology and values, as in trade and
finance, neo co lo nial ism meant the absorption of Latin America into
an international system dominated by Britain and the United States.
It is here, in friction with powerful outsiders, that Latin Americans
began to feel the colonial in neocolonialism.

Until the late 1800s, it was definitely Britain that ruled the
international roost in Latin America. British power had loomed
over Latin America since the defeat of Spain and Portugal in the
1820s. Despite the overwhelming naval power of Great Britain for
almost a century, British military exploits in Latin America were
rare, however. Argentina bore the brunt of them, as during the in-
de pen dence era. Only the British seizure of a few cold and lonely
South Atlantic islands— the Malvinas in Spanish, the Falklands
in English— was of lasting consequence. Britain had little need of
Latin American colonies. It controlled territories enough elsewhere:
South Africa, India, Australia, Canada, and Jamaica, to mention
only a few of the areas under British rule at the time. British com-
mercial and financial expansion in Latin America, on the other
hand, was relentless. By 1914, when Latin America’s foreign in-
vestment and debt totaled close to $10 billion, over half belonged

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D r e S S e D t o i m P r e S S . This unidentified Mexican woman clearly belonged to the

small class of people prosperous enough to imitate Eu ro pe an fashions more or less per-

fectly when her picture was taken in the late nineteenth century. Library of Congress,

Prints and Photographs Division.

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to Great Britain, with US and French investors in distant second
and third places. British diplomats were mild- mannered when com-
pared to their French and US counterparts, because British pounds
sterling talked by themselves.

The ideological sway of Great Britain was also subtle but pow-
erful. Undeniably, Great Britain was a center of the Progress and
Civilization that so mesmerized Latin American liberals. Whereas
France remained the Latin American ideal of literary and artis-
tic culture, and Paris the fashion Mecca for “decent” women of the
middle and upper classes, Great Britain was imitated in econom-
ics and politics. The British Parliament’s Liberal and Conservative
Parties, for example, were the model for most Latin American party
systems. And while elegant ladies looked to French fashion, “decent”
gentlemen adopted British styles. Dark wool suits suitable for cool
and misty Britain became excruciating in the tropics, but fashion-
able males wore them anyway, a mea sure of their devotion to the
Eu ro pe an model.

US influence in Latin America began to overtake British influ-
ence only in the 1890s. Admittedly, the United States had invaded and
dismembered Mexico in the 1840s, and various US presidents and
secretaries of state had coveted Ca rib be an islands. But the capitalist
energies of the industrializing, railroad- building, Civil War– fighting,
West- winning United States had been turned mostly inward until, in
the 1890s, the US frontier officially closed and the country entered
the worst depression of its hundred- year history, later overshadowed
only by the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to the conven-
tional wisdom, US factories had outrun the internal demand for US
products, glutting the market. Like Great Britain earlier in the 1800s,
the United States would now have to export manufactured goods in
order to maintain industrial health at home. The US National As-
sociation of Manufacturers was formed to search for markets abroad,
especially in Latin America and Asia. At the same time, some in the
United States called for military expansion. Great Britain, France,
and many other Eu ro pe an countries, as well as Rus sia and Japan,
had recently acquired colonies in Africa and Asia. These colonies pro-
vided raw materials and captive markets for our competitors, warned

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197Foreign Investment
(in millions of dollars

circa 1914)








US Military

Puerto Rico, 1898–
Panama, 1903
Cuba, 1898–1902,
Haiti, 1915–34
Mexico, 1914, 1916–17
Nicaragua, 1909,
Dominican Republic,



M7.2 Neocolonial Investments and Interventions
Second proof

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US imperialists, and “our backyard” in Latin America was the natural
place for us to acquire colonies of our own. Also in the 1890s, US
naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote about the need for a
powerful navy and a transoceanic canal linking the Atlantic and
the Pacific. In the US presidential campaign of 1896, the victorious
Republican Party called for that canal, for annexation of the Hawaiian
Islands, strategically located halfway across the Pacific, and for in-
tervention in Cuba, where patriots were fighting for in de pen dence
against Spain.

In 1898, the United States declared war on Spain and invaded
Puerto Rico and Cuba as well as the Philippine Islands, another Span-
ish colony. The war lasted only a few weeks, in part because Spain’s
decrepit forces were already weakened by years of patriot rebellion in
Cuba and the Philippines. The Cuban rebellion had been or ga nized
by Cuban exiles in New York and coincided with a protracted circula-
tion battle between two major New York newspapers. These papers
created the term yellow journalism by using sensational stories of
alleged Spanish atrocities to boost sales. US public opinion favored
“rescuing” Cuba from Spanish tyranny. But the outcome of the war
benefited US strategic and economic interests, not those of the peo-
ple who were rescued. The United States seized these islands from
Spain and treated Cuban and Filipino patriots like criminals. Cuba
remained a protectorate of the United States for thirty- five years. By a
specific proviso, the Platt Amendment, written into the Cuban consti-
tution, US Marines could intervene in Cuba whenever the US govern-
ment thought it necessary. The Philippines, viewed as the commercial
gateway to Asia, were governed directly by the United States until the
1940s. The Hawaiian Islands, too, were annexed to the United States
in 1898. Only they and Puerto Rico were colonized permanently by
the United States. Yet, this “splendid little war,” as the secretary of
state called it, permanently projected US military power into the
Ca rib be an basin.

A future president of the United States, Theodore Roo se velt,
enjoyed the war enthusiastically. His special cavalry unit, the “Rough
Riders,” boosted Roo se velt’s po liti cal career. An admirer of Alfred
Thayer Mahan, Roo se velt had been secretary of the navy during the

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1890s. As president in 1903, he acquired a US base— along with rights
to build and control a canal— in Panama. But his bravado in doing
so offended many Latin Americans sympathetic to the United States.
Until then, Panama had been part of Colombia. To fulfill Mahan’s
vision, Roo se velt helped separate Panama from Colombia and then
bought the canal rights from the new Panamanian government only
a few days later. This shady deal, for which the US Congress later
apologized, was conducted with no native Panamanians present.
Roo se velt did not worry much about this high- handedness. To him,
Latin Americans, whom he customarily described as “dagoes,” did not
rate the consideration owed to equals.

Nor were Teddy Roo se velt’s racist attitudes unusual. In fact,
US attitudes toward the people of Latin America were colored by

BUilDinG the Panama canal was an engineering triumph and a diplomatic fiasco for

the United States in Latin America. These are the massive locks that would allow ships to

move to higher or lower levels. © CORBIS.

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intersecting veins of prejudice. As US soldiers swept aside indigenous
and Mexican claims to western North America during the 1800s,
many in the United States saw US triumphs as preordained by racial
and cultural superiority. In the early 1900s, having asserted military
power in Mexico, Central America, and the Ca rib be an basin gener-
ally, the United States gradually overthrew Britain’s old position of
dominance in Latin American trade and diplomacy. This changing of
the guard was completed by World War I (1914– 18), with its devas-
tating cost to Britain. International US hegemony spread southward
over South America in the 1920s. One of the best-known Latin Ameri-
can novels of the neocolonial period featured a greedy and malevolent
US character, “Mr. Danger,” who regarded the Venezuelan llanos “as
ready for the taking, because inhabited by people whom he considered
inferior, lacking his blonde hair and blue eyes.” Distant Argentina
remained, for a few years, a last bastion of British influence on the

US diplomats and businessmen, not to mention missionaries,
had a more sanctimonious approach than their British counterparts,
but their overall vision was similar. Rudyard Kipling, a respected
British writer of the day, famously urged the United States to “take
up the white man’s burden” of “civilizing” non- Europeans during its
post-1898 expansion. US diplomats saw precisely that role for them-
selves in Latin America. In the United States, visions of a Manifest
Destiny of irresistible, inevitable US expansion into Latin America
had stirred some people’s imaginations for generations. “The Mexican
is an indigenous aborigine, and he must share the fate of his race,”
proclaimed a US senator in the 1840s. Ideas about the racial infe-
riority of indigenous, mestizo, and black Latin Americans combined
with old Protestant prejudices against Catholic Spain. “This powerful
[white US] race, will move down Central and South America,” wrote
the US Protestant visionary the Reverend Josiah Strong, whose ideas
of white supremacy were not unusual. According to Senator Alfred J.
Beveridge, a key architect of US foreign policy, “God has marked the
American people as His chosen nation to finally lead to the regenera-
tion of the world.” British imperialists had always been more prag-
matic and less preachy.

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The overbearing US sense of superiority went double in our
Caribbean backyard. Since 1823, the reader may recall, US diplomats
had proclaimed the Western Hemi sphere off- limits to powers outside
it. The Monroe Doctrine had remained mostly bluster for half a cen-
tury. Still, along with a superior attitude, the idea that the Americas,
North and South, share a special relationship became an enduring
assumption of US policy toward Latin America. In 1905, Theodore
Roo se velt provided the Monroe Doctrine with a corollary. The Roo se-
velt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine made the US Marines a sort of
hemispheric police force to prevent Eu ro pe an military intervention
in Latin America. Eu ro pe an powers had repeatedly used gunboat di-
plomacy to extract payment for debts. Roo se velt thought that the US
government should no longer tolerate Eu ro pe an interventions. Yet, he
believed, incompetent Latin American governments would occasion-
ally need correction “by some civilized nation.” During these same
years, cartoons in US newspapers often showed Uncle Sam dealing
with Cuba, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, and other countries caricatured
as naughty “little black Sambos.” Uncle Sam was sometimes shown
as a stern but benevolent teacher, reluctantly whipping these child-
ish pranksters. Likewise, under the Roo se velt Corollary it became
US policy to discipline Latin American countries militarily when “re-
quired” by international trade and finance. And it was required fairly
often. By the close of the neo co lo nial period in 1929, 40 percent of all
US international investments were in Latin America.

Meanwhile, US diplomats had created the Pan- American
Union, an or ga ni za tion based on the ideal of free trade— and the re-
ality of neo co lo nial inequality— among countries. The Pan- American
Union was composed initially of Latin American ambassadors to
the United States meeting as a hemispheric body headquartered in
Washington, DC, chaired by the US secretary of state. At periodic
Pan- American conferences, US secretaries of state promoted trade
while Latin American representatives voiced dismay at US interven-
tions in the region. Their unanimous protests came to a head at the
Havana Conference of 1928.

By that time, Latin American diplomats had much to protest.
In addition to the interventions in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Panama

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already described, US soldiers had occupied Nicaragua (1912– 33),
Haiti (1915– 34), and the Dominican Republic (1916– 24). Some-
times, as in the Dominican Republic, these were mostly peaceful
debt- collection operations that included some “messy police work”
but also public health and sanitation projects. Sometimes, as in
Nicaragua, they were more violent military interventions. By the
late 1920s, US Marines were in a five- year shooting war with Ni-
caraguan patriot guerrillas. The guerrilla leader, Augusto César
Sandino, accused the United States of “imperialism.” He became
a hero to many Latin Americans, much the way Fidel Castro later
did, precisely because he stood up to the United States. Several US
interventions installed leaders who became long- term dictators,
corrupt petty tyrants, known for their greed and their obedience to
US policy.

r e e n v i S i o n i n G h i S t o ry. Resistance to neocolonial mindsets began among

artists. This 1893 history painting The Torture of Cuauhtemoc was before its time in

picturing the Spaniards as barbaric torturers and the Aztec leader Cuauhtemoc as a

national hero. De Agostini Picture Library/Bridgeman Images.

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Shocked by the US takeover of Cuba and Puerto Rico, Latin
America’s greatest writers began to protest. Rubén Darío raged
poetically against the “Godless” Roo se velt. The Cuban poet José
Martí began a literary movement in defense of “Nuestra América”
(Our America), which did not include the United States. Cuba’s
foremost patriot hero, called “the Apostle” of Cuban in de pen dence,
Martí began to fight Spanish colonialism at a young age. He was
exiled from Cuba at sixteen and devoted his life to the cause of
“Cuba Libre.” He edited a magazine in Mexico and taught at the
University of Guatemala. From 1881 to 1895, he wrote and worked
for the Cuban patriot cause in New York City, while reporting on
the United States for Latin American newspapers as far away as
Buenos Aires. Martí knew the United States close up, but the most
influential warning against the United States came from afar— from
a Uruguayan essayist, José Enrique Rodó, whose book Ariel (1900)
inspired an entire generation of Latin American teachers and intel-
lectuals. Like Martí, Rodó respected the United States but found
its utilitarian values alien. Rodó accused US culture of crass mate-
rialism and challenged Latin Americans to cultivate finer things—
personified by the spirit Ariel.

Colombia’s exiled literary prophet José María Vargas Vila was
more succint and less subtle in his 1902 screed, Facing the Barbar-
ians, a blunt warning about the “Yankee peril,” which he saw as “an
arrogant and voracious race, hungry for our territory . . . and disdain-
ful towards us, hatefully convinced of their own superiority.” Vargas
Vila had been wandering the wilderness, unheeded. “Wherever I have
set foot,” he wrote, “I have shouted my message from the bow of my
arriving vessel to the people: The Barbarians are coming! And no one
listened to me. And now the Barbarians have arrived.” In sum, by the
early 1900s some respected Latin American voices had begun to ques-
tion the logic of neocolonialism.

They had a difficult task, however. The cinema, with its mov-
ing pictures that heralded a new era, would bind the Latin American
imagination to Eu rope and the United States more firmly than ever.
Moving pictures first arrived in Latin America in the 1890s, with little

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time lag. For example, in 1902, six years after representatives of the
pioneering Lumière brothers showed Porfirio Díaz their flickering im-
ages of Paris, Mexico already had two hundred movie houses. Despite
some early innovations, such as the world’s first animated feature
film, produced in Argentina, Latin American movie screens soon suc-
cumbed to a US cinematic invasion that would last through the 1900s.
The main US advantage was— and would remain— its huge home
market. Hollywood had privileged access to half the world’s movie
screens, located in the United States. Hollywood soon dominated the
world’s most expensive art form because it could afford the highest
production values and the most glamorous stars. Soon Hollywood be-
gan to define what people expected in a movie. As in other respects,
US influence increased while Eu rope lost ground during World War I.
After the war, 95 percent of the movies Latin American audiences
were watching came from Hollywood.

By the 1920s, however, the warnings of Darío, Martí, Rodó,
and Vargas Vila had sunk in. Latin Americans widely admired San-
dino in his fight against the US Marines, and a tide of national-
ism rose in country after country. Nationalist sentiments did not
fit the neo co lo nial mold, and they generated po liti cal energies
capable of breaking it. The limitations of the mold were becom-
ing unpleasantly evident. Although neo co lo nial Latin America had
grown eco nom ical ly, it had developed much less. Export agricul-
ture had boomed for half a century, but industry was still lacking.
Landowners, foreign investors, and the middle classes generally
had profited, but many ordinary Latin Americans, especially rural
people, suffered a decline in their standard of living. Governments
were more stable, but rarely more democratic— and often less so.
Many of them seemed totally in thrall, first to Great Britain, then
to the United States.

Then the neo co lo nial mold was shattered totally by an inter-
national event akin, in its impact, to the Napoleonic Wars. The New
York stock market imploded in 1929, the international system of
trade and finance came crashing down around everyone’s ears, and
the world slid gradually into two stormy de cades of Depression and

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war. Demand for Latin American export products plummeted. From
Mexico to Brazil to Argentina, the importation of Progress screeched
to a halt. The external supports of neo co lo nial ism had disappeared,
and its internal supports would soon crumble, as nationalists top-
pled oligarchies and liberal dictators from the Rio Grande to Tierra
del Fuego.

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C h a p t e r r e v i e w

s T u d y Q u e s T i o n s

1. How did the great export boom transform Latin America, and

how did it not transform it?

2. What sorts of commodities did Latin America export, and how

were they produced? How did new immigration from Europe alter

the demographic picture?

3. What sorts of governments arose to oversee the neocolonial order

in Latin America?

4. How did nineteenth-century scientific racism function, basically,

to up-date the caste system?

5. How did Britain, France, and the United States help define the

region’s neocolonial experience?

k e y T e r m s a n d v o c a B u l a r y

Canudos, p.211

Paulina Luisi, p.213

Bertha Lutz, p.213

1898 war, p.218

Manifest Destiny, p.220

Roosevelt Corollary to the

Monroe Doctrine, p.221

neocolonialism, p.194

the great export boom, p.194

United Fruit Company, p.200

rubber boom, p.200

Joaquim Machado de Assis, p.203

Rubén Darío, p.205

Porfirio Díaz, Porfiriato, p.208

rurales, p.209

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n e w i m m i G r aT i o n T o

l aT i n a m e r i c a

C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

he period 1870– 1930 saw one part of Latin America totally
transformed by a new kind of immigration, roughly equivalent,
in size and impact, to the earlier forced immigration of enslaved

Africans. The new immigration was principally a mass movement of

B U e n o S a i r e S c o n v e n t i l l o . Courtesy of Archivo Nacional, Buenos Aires.

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laborers from southern Eu rope, displaced by economic changes at
home, seeking a better life in the New World. This immigrant flow
paralleled similar immigration to the United States, peaking in the
years before World War I. The new immigration gave Argentina,
Uruguay, and southern Brazil a separate identity as the continent’s
most European- style societies.

The countries of the Southern Cone (those already mentioned,
plus Chile) got nine- tenths of the Eu ro pe an immigrants. Why? Al-
though they usually ended up in cities like Buenos Aires or São Paulo,
these immigrants generally envisioned themselves farming at first.
Unfamiliar tropical environments— most of Latin America is tropical,
after all— did not attract them as farmers. The lands of the Southern
Cone, on the other hand, would grow Eu ro pe an staples like wheat
and grapes. Then too, as agricultural workers, the Eu ro pe an immi-
grants had good reason to fear Latin American systems of slavery and
debt peonage, and the far south of the continent was relatively free
of these. With no fully sedentary indigenous people and no profitable
plantation crop, the sparsely settled lands of the Southern Cone had
escaped the worst legacies of colonial exploitation. Now, thanks to the
new immigrants, these poorest parts of the old Iberian empires would
become the richest part of Latin America in the 1900s.

Argentina was the main destination. During these years, over
five million Eu ro pe an immigrants poured into the fertile provinces
around Buenos Aires. The great city itself became a South American
version of Chicago, with half its population composed of Eu ro pe an im-
migrants in 1914. In that year, 30 percent of the Argentine population

c o u n T r y o f o r i G i n m i l l i o n s o f i m m i G r a n T s

Italy 4.2
Spain 3.0
Portugal 1.2
Germany 0.3
France 0.3
Rus sia 0.3

Magnus Mörner, Adventurers and Proletarians: The Story of Migrants in Latin America
(Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985), 50.

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was foreign- born, overwhelmingly Italian and Spanish but also Irish,
Jewish (from Rus sia and eastern Eu rope), German, Austrian, French,
En glish, and Swiss. New arrivals in the city often lived in conventillos,
decaying colonial mansions that had been partitioned into tiny rooms.
These immigrants tended not to form US- style ethnic neighborhoods,
so Buenos Aires conventillos housed diverse collections of people. A
social historian of Argentina describes the census information for a
Potosí Street conventillo in the early 1900s:

The 207 inhabitants of this conventillo filled thirty
rooms and took up the same floor space which one
well- to- do family of ten to fifteen members and five
to ten servants would have occupied. Some nuclear
families lived in individual rooms: a Spanish
washerwoman in her sixties with four children,
the oldest of whom was widowed and lived here
with his six- year- old Argentine- born son; an Ital-
ian shoemaker with his wife and three children,
all born in Italy; a French mason and his French
wife (a washerwoman), and their four children, all
born in Buenos Aires; a widowed Spanish washer-
woman and her five children, the three oldest born
in Uruguay and the youn gest two in Buenos Aires.
More common was the group of men, some single and
others married to wives they had left in Eu rope, who
had banded together to form a single room.*

Many of these immigrants had farmed, as renters or share-
croppers, before deciding that metropolitan Buenos Aires offered bet-
ter opportunities. In the bustling early 1900s, they were becoming
Argentine, dancing the tango and inventing  the Italian–Spanish
slang called lunfardo in which tango lyrics came to be written, impart-
ing a special character to the city of Buenos Aires— and to its smaller
Uruguayan twin, Montevideo.

*James R. Scobie, Buenos Aires: Plaza to Suburb, 1870– 1910 (New York: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 1974), 51.

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Southern Brazil was second to Argentina as an immigrant des-
tination in 1870– 1930. It welcomed Italians aplenty, Portuguese too,
as well as Spanish and German and eastern Eu ro pe an Jewish immi-
grants. The Brazilian cities of Rio de Janeiro and, above all, São Paulo,
attracted immigrant flows similar to those arriving in Buenos Aires
and Montevideo. Their living situation, too, was similar. Entire fami-
lies occupied individual rooms in larger structures called “beehives.” A
Brazilian novelist described a beehive, where many of the inhabitants
worked as laundresses, waking up at five o’clock in 1880s Rio:

Soon a buzzing agglomeration of men and women
had gathered around the outside water faucets.
One after another, they bent down and washed
their faces in the threads of water that flowed from
the low faucets. A puddle gradually formed under
each faucet, so that the women had to tuck their
skirts up between their thighs to keep them dry.
They exposed their tanned upper arms and necks
as they held their hair atop their heads so as not
to wet it. The men did not worry about that. To the
contrary, they stuck their heads right under the fau-
cets, rubbing their faces and blowing their noses in
their hands. The doors of the latrines opened and
closed incessantly. No one stayed inside long, and
people emerged still buttoning trousers and skirts.
The children did not wait for the latrine and did
their business in the high grass behind the houses.

The buzz peaked as the pasta factory began to op-
erate down the block, adding the monotonous puff-
ing of its steam engine to the cacophony. Around
the faucets, an enormous bunch of cans—especially
large kerosene cans—had collected, and the splash-
ing sound became a steady gurgle as people filled
them with water. The laundresses were beginning
their work, filling washtubs, hanging up clothes that
had been left to soak overnight. Some began to sing.

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A few aspects of the Brazilian picture were distinctive. The ar-
rival of many Japanese was unique to São Paulo. Farther south, in the
Brazilian states of Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul,
various distinct ethnic colonies emerged in the countryside, where
immigrants were granted land. Germans, for example, frequently
kept apart, speaking German, farming European crops, and building
spic-and-span little settlements that have maintained their cultural
distinctness down to the present day. Despite their distinctness, how-
ever, these immigrants, too, have gradually integrated themselves
into Brazilian life. Something similar happened in southern Chile.

Other Latin American countries received a sprinkling of im-
migration. The largest- scale flow outside the Southern Cone was
Spanish immigration to Cuba, which continued to fill Havana and
other Cuban cities with Spanish store clerks, artisans, and laborers
even after Cuban in de pen dence. Meanwhile, people of Middle Eastern
descent (often lumped together as “turcos,” or “Turks,” in Latin
American slang) owned retail businesses all over the continent. By
2000, three of their descendants had become presidents of Argentina,
Colombia, and Ec ua dor. A man of Japa nese descent had become
president of Peru.

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D i s t r i b u t i n g A r m s . Nationalist movements transformed Latin America in the mid-1900s.

This mural, painted on the walls of Mexico’s Department of Public Education in 1928 by Diego

Rivera, exemplifies the militant nationalist mood. Rivera depicted his wife, Frida Kahlo, among

those distributing arms to Mexican revolutionaries. © 2016 Banco de México Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo

Credit: Schalkwijk / Art Resource, NY.

1 9 1 0


1 9 2 9
Stock- market

neo co lo nial


1 9 3 0 s



1 9 3 7 – 4 5
Estado Novo

in Brazil

1 9 4 5

Mistral wins

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or nations to be united internally, they have to know who they
are; they need a clear and positive sense of national identity.
Four centuries of Latin American transculturation— the cre-

ative pro cess of cultural give and take— had given rise to a multitude
of differences in speech, in customs, in attitudes. Intertwined with the
pro cess of transculturation, the pro cess of race mixing had created
national populations that were also distinctive.

During the colonial period, Eu ro pe an rulers had assigned
American difference a negative meaning— an essentially “po liti cal”
act. Then independence- minded Creoles reversed that attitude in
their nativist rhetoric of 1810– 25 (“Americanos, you are the true sons
of the soil!”), again as a power move, a matter of politics. But nativism
faded after the Spanish and Portuguese were expelled, except when
occasional foreign intervention revived it. The new nationalism that

2 33

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swept the region in the 1900s was another wave of the earlier nativist
spirit, now with a strong economic agenda.

Who were the new nationalists, and what were they after?
The nationalists very often were urban, middle- class people, recent
immigrants or of racially mixed heritage. They had benefited less than
landowners from the export boom. They rarely could travel to Eu rope
or the United States, rarely could afford to import all the Progress
they wanted. Neo co lo nial elites had created glass bubbles of Eu ro pe an
culture in Latin American countries, but middle- class nationalists,
too numerous to fit inside those bubbles, committed themselves to a
larger, more ambitious, and above all, more inclusive vision of change.
The nationalists would shatter the neo co lo nial bubbles, breathe Latin
American air, and feel pride when young factories made it smoky,
because industrialization was the practical goal they most desired.

Unlike the neo co lo nial elites, they would also feel comfortable
in Latin American skins. Nationalism fostered collective self- respect
by positively reinterpreting the meaning of Latin American racial
and cultural difference. The nationalists declared psychological in de-
pen dence from Eu rope. No longer slaves to Eu ro pe an fashion, Latin
Americans would create styles of their own, especially in painting,
music, dance, and literature. True, they would still watch Hollywood
movies and listen to US jazz, but they also would teach Paris to tango
and New York to rumba.

Nationalism’s wide appeal— reaching far beyond its “core con-
stituency” of middle- class urban people— gave it a special power.
Four centuries of colonial and then neo co lo nial exploitation had left
a bitter, divisive legacy in Latin America. In de pen dence in the 1820s
had created the outlines of countries, but not cohesive national soci-
eties. Neo co lo nial ism, with its official racism and its railroads con-
necting exportable resources to seaports, but not connecting major
cities to each other, had done little to advance national integration.
The nationalists’ simple truths— that everybody belonged, that the
benefits of Progress should be shared, and that industrial devel-
opment should be the priority— offered an important principle of
cohesion. Nationalist critiques of imperialism also provided a clear,
external focus for resentment— foreign intervention, both military

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2 35

and monetary. And a shared enemy is po liti cally useful. Like all
rhetoric, nationalist rhetoric sometimes rang hollow, and nationalism
had its dark side, too, as we shall see. Yet, nationalists who rejected
the premise of white superiority and directed practical attention to
long- neglected matters of public welfare clearly had a new and ex-
citing po liti cal message. Nationalism attracted the ardent support
of people across the social spectrum— something that liberalism had
never really done. No wonder the advent of nationalism marks a clear
watershed in the history of the region.

Latin American nationalism celebrates the unique— a par tic u-
lar historical experience, a par tic u lar culture. This ethnic nationalism
is more like the German or French variety than like US national-
ism, which tends to focus on a set of shared po liti cal ground rules and
ideals. The US version is sometimes called civic nationalism. Conse-
quently, signs of ethnic identity— folk costume, for example, or tradi-
tional foods— take on a nationalist importance in Latin America that
they lack in the United States. In addition, ethnic nationalism tends
to emphasize the idea of race— often, the idea of racial purity. German
Nazism of the 1930s offers an extremely unpleasant example.

Latin American nationalism, on the other hand, emphasizes
mixed- race, mestizo identities. The racial optimists of the neo co lo nial
1890s, persuaded by doctrines of “scientific racism” emanating from
Eu rope and the United States, believed that national populations
could— and should— be whitened over time, through immigration and
intermarriage. And these were the optimists! The racial pessimists
claimed that race mixing inevitably caused degeneration. Thus people
of color who made up the Latin American majority were to be excluded
or, at best, phased out from the neo co lo nial vision of the future.

In contrast, Latin American nationalists celebrated the mixing
of indigenous, Eu ro pe an, and African genes. Each country’s unique
physical type, argued some nationalists, was an adaptation to its en-
vironment. Back in neo co lo nial 1902, Euclides da Cunha had called
Brazil’s mixed- race backlanders “the bedrock” of Brazilian nationality
and had begun to question their supposed inferiority. A generation
later, in the 1930s, the idea of inferior races was dying a well- deserved
death in Latin America— officially, if not in racist hearts— and mestizo

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nationalism had made the difference. For example, the Cuban poet
Nicolás Guillén celebrated two metaphorical grandfathers, the slave
and the conquistador, in his poem “Ballad of the Two Grandfathers”
(1935). The poet imagined these two contrasting ancestors as shadows
that only he could see, always at his side:

With his bone-tipped lance,
his wooden drum with rawhide head
—my black grandfather.
With his ruffled collar,
his grey and warlike armor
—my white grandfather.

The poet claimed both ancestors and did not identify with one more
than the other. He imagined his black grandfather’s bare feet and
“stony-muscled torso.” He imagined his white ancestor’s “pupils of
Antarctic glass.” The white one was certainly colder, more remote.
But the shadows of both ancestors were the poet’s allies. Neither
could be his enemy, because both were a part of him. Therefore, race
mixing had resolved the historical antagonism between white and
black, at least partially and subjectively, in the person of the poet. As
a metaphor for his mixed descent, the two grandfathers of Guillén’s
poem defined his racial identity in a positive way.

In a larger sense, metaphors of race mixing provided a
positive myth of descent for Cuba as a mestizo (or mulatto) nation.
Guillén’s poetry had a musicality that was intended to echo percus-
sive African rhythms, and some poems phonetically imitated black
Cuban speech. These choices signaled a profound rejection of the
Eurocentric aesthetic typical of earlier periods of Latin American
history. And Guillén, while he became the most acclaimed exponent
of Afro- Cuban poetry, was hardly unique. Instead, he was part of
a much broader literary and artistic current that also included
the Négritude movement of the French Ca rib be an. Furthermore,
a string of fine contemporary novelists— Cuba’s Alejo Carpentier,
Peru’s Ciro Alegría, and Guatemala’s Miguel Ángel Asturias— used
African and indigenous themes to put their countries on the literary

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2 37

map. Not only did these nationalist authors deny the premise of
Eu ro pe an racial superiority but they raised the idea of race mixing to
a special position of patriotic honor. And they did so even as Hitler’s
Nazis were successfully promoting the doctrine of white supremacy
in Eu rope.

W h i t e n i n g i n t h r e e g e n e r At i o n s . Redemption of Ham, by Modesto Brocos y

Gomez. This 1895 Brazilian canvas illustrates the outmoded neo co lo nial idea that Eu ro pe an

immigrant blood would “whiten” Latin American populations. Three generations— a black

grandmother, a mulatta mother, and her white child— are intended to show the whitening

that resulted from the women’s finding lighter- skinned partners. The father of the child,

a Portuguese immigrant, is seated to one side. Nationalist thinking on race did away with

the official goal of whitening and made African and indigenous roots a point of pride.

Courtesy of Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro/Wikimedia Commons.

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b r o W n P r i D e . The Coffee Grower (1934) by the internationally recognized Brazilian

paint er Cândido Portinari is a confident and powerful figure in no need of whitening. Like

many nationalists, Portinari artistically celebrated the dignity of the working class. São

Paulo Museum of Art.

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Nat ioNa l is t s ta k e P ow er

You might guess where the nationalist eruption started— a country
where neo co lo nial ism had done its worst, where nationalism drew
energy from repeated foreign invasions, where people of mixed race
were now the majority, a country that had already elected a president
with no Eu ro pe an blood— Mexico. The centennial of Hidalgo’s 1810
rebellion saw the outbreak of the twentieth century’s first great social
revolution, the Mexican Revolution (with a capital R).

By 1910, Porfirio Díaz had dominated Mexico for thirty- four
years, and he was getting old. Reformers backed the presidential can-
didacy of Francisco Madero, a slim gentleman from northern Mexico.
Madero wanted only for Díaz to share more power among the Mexican
elite, but the dictator refused. Madero’s appeal broadened when Díaz
jailed and then exiled him. Now Madero got radical. He talked of
returning lands unfairly taken from indigenous communities. Among
many others, people of an indigenous community called Anenecuilco
had lost land to encroaching sugar plantations during the years of
neo co lo nial Progress. A leader of Anenecuilco, one Emiliano Zapata,
allied his own uprising with Madero’s national movement. Zapata’s
image— broad sombrero and black mustache, cartridge belts across
his chest, riding a white stallion— became an icon of the Mexican
Revolution. But Emiliano Zapata represents only one of many local
leaders of rebellions that broke out all over Mexico. Unable or unwill-
ing to fight them, Díaz left for Pa ri sian exile in 1911.

Suddenly, Mexico was full of “revolutionaries” with vastly differ-
ing backgrounds and goals. They had agreed only on the need to oust
Díaz. Who would rule now? Madero tried first but failed. He was re-
moved by a general— with an approving nod from the US ambassador
to Mexico— and assassinated in 1913. Years of upheaval followed in
1914– 20, as various forces fought it out, their armies crisscrossing the
Mexican countryside with women and children in tow. New weapons
of the World War I era, especially machine guns, added their staccato
music to the dance of death. In the northern state of Chihuahua, and
then nationally, Pancho Villa built an army of former cowboys, min-
ers, railroad workers, and oil field roustabouts very different from the

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peasant guerrillas of southern movements like Zapata’s. A third move-
ment, better- connected, more urban and middle- class, finally gained
the upper hand and drafted a new, revolutionary constitution in 1917.
These so- called Constitutionalists, fairly typical of the nationalist core
constituency throughout Latin America, may be called the winners of
the Mexican Revolution. Their po liti cal heirs controlled the destiny of
Mexico for the rest of the 1900s.

The Constitution of 1917, still Mexico’s constitution, showed
strong nationalist inspiration. Article 27 reclaimed for the nation all
mineral rights, for instance, to oil, then in the hands of foreign com-
panies. It also paved the way for villages to recover common lands
(called ejidos) and for great estates to be subdivided and distributed to
landless peasants. In principle, Article 123 instituted farsighted pro-
tections (although practice would vary) such as wage and hour laws,
pensions and social benefits, the right to unionize and strike. The new
constitution also sharply limited the privileges of foreigners and, as
a legacy of earlier Mexican radicals, curbed the rights of the Catholic
Church. The Mexican church now lost the rest of its once- vast wealth.
It could no longer own real estate at all. Its clergy, their numbers now
limited by law, could not wear ecclesiastical clothing on the street nor
teach primary school. Anticlerical attitudes exemplify the revolution-
aries’ commitment to destroy traditions associated with old patterns
of cultural hegemony. Leaders who emerged from the Constitutional-
ist movement strengthened their rule in the 1920s. They did away
with both Zapata and Villa, crushed Mexico’s last renegade caudillos,
and fought off a challenge from armed Catholic traditionalists in the
countryside. (These devout counterrevolutionary peasants were called
Cristeros from their habit of shouting “Long live Christ the King!”)
Finally, the Constitutionalists created a one- party system that would
last, in various permutations, until the late twentieth century.

This party was first called National, then Mexican, and finally
Institutional. But for seven de cades it remained a Revolutionary
Party. Its official heroes were Madero, Zapata, and Villa, its official
rhetoric full of revolutionary and nationalist images. Despite incal-
culable destruction and horrendous loss of life (a million people died),
the Revolution had been a profoundly formative national experience.

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t h e h i s t o rY o F m e X i C o . Two partial views of the great Diego Rivera mural in

Mexico’s National Palace. © 2016 Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums

Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artist Rights Society. Photo: Bridgeman Images.

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It had created powerful new loyalties and would loom on the imagina-
tive landscape of Mexican politics for generations. Two US interven-
tions during the years of fighting— a punitive invasion against Villa,
who had raided a town in New Mexico, and a US occupation of the port
of Veracruz— only added nationalist luster to the Revolution. The new
government also brought some material benefits to the impoverished
rural majority. A road- building program lessened their isolation, and
some land was distributed— though not nearly enough for everyone.
Major initiatives in public education began to reduce the country’s
80 percent illiteracy rate. The Mexican minister of education in the
1920s was José Vasconcelos, one of the hemi sphere’s leading cultural
nationalists, who celebrated the triumph of what he called (colorfully,
but confusingly) the Cosmic Race, meaning mestizos.

The great Mexican paint ers Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who
married in 1929, illustrate Mexico’s revolutionary nationalism. Diego
Rivera was huge, ugly, magnetic, and brilliant. He was a muralist, a
public paint er whose works covered walls and ceilings. He painted
like a tornado for days straight, eating, even sleeping on the scaf-
fold. Rivera’s crowded murals depict, above all, Mexico’s indigenous
heritage. He worked from 1923 to 1928 painting Vasconcelos’s Min-
istry of Public Education with scenes of open- air schools and indig-
enous peasants dividing land won by the Revolution. In 1929– 30, he
painted Mexico’s National Palace (built by heirs of the conquerors!)
with images of Aztec Tenochtitlan’s colorful bustle, images that show
the Spanish conquest as a greedy, hypocritical bloodbath. In Rivera’s
mural, Cortés, resembling a troll, looks on as the conquerors slaugh-
ter, enslave, and count gold. Rivera’s nationalist message is vivid—
and likely to remain so: he painted al fresco, on wet plaster, so that his
murals became part of the walls themselves.

Frida Kahlo, by contrast, painted small self- portraits, one after
another. She painted especially while bedridden. Surviving polio as
a girl, she had a horrible traffic accident that led to dozens of surger-
ies. Her body, like Aleijadinho’s in colonial Brazil, was literally dis-
integrating while she created. Her paintings explore a private world
of pain, but also humor and fantasy. “I paint my own reality,” she
said. Eu ro pe an surrealists began to admire her in the late 1930s, but

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recognition elsewhere, including Mexico, came later. Frida expressed
her nationalism in personal ways— fancy traditional hairstyles, pre-
Columbian jewelry, and the folk Tehuana dress of southern Mexico
(floor- length, to conceal her leg withered by polio). She especially en-
joyed wearing these clothes in the United States, where Diego painted
in the 1930s. Frida loved Mexican folk art, like the papier- mâché
skeletons that decorate Day of the Dead celebrations.

The nationalism of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo was widely
shared in Mexico during the 1920s and 1930s. Everything national had
become fashionable— folk music (corridos) and dance ( jarabes), tradi-
tional dishes (tamales and moles), old- style street theater (carpas),
and artisan objects (like Frida’s papier- mâché skeletons). Mexican
movies featuring musically macho charros like Jorge Negrete, a
Mexican version of the US singing cowboy, now competed with Holly-
wood. The nationalism of many Mexican revolutionaries had Marxist
overtones. Diego and Frida, for example, joined the Communist Party
and offered their home to the exiled Rus sian revolutionary leader
Leon Trotsky, who lived with them for several months.

Far away, in Argentina and Uruguay, nationalism showed a
different face. In this most urbanized, literate, and middle- class part
of Latin America, the core constituency of nationalism was stronger
than in Mexico. So the nationalists of Argentina and Uruguay were
able to take over without a revolution. Uruguay, in par tic u lar, soon
had one of the most progressive governments in the world.

During the 1800s, Uruguay had been just another war- torn
minirepublic battered by more powerful neighbors. Its po liti cal
struggles were entangled with those of neighboring Argentina. Then
Uruguay’s economic growth during the post-1880 export boom paral-
leled Argentina’s phenomenal per for mance. As in Argentina, Uruguay’s
delirious prosperity was controlled through managed elections. The
country’s great nationalist reformer José Batlle y Ordóñez began as a
tough, traditional politician. Batlle used his first presidency (1903– 7)
mostly to vanquish po liti cal rivals. But having established broad support
in the heavily immigrant middle and working classes of Montevideo, he
used his second term (1911– 15) to launch the reform movement known
simply by his name: Batllismo.

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Batllismo was not about race or cultural uniqueness. It was
more a civic and economic nationalism. Batllismo meant concerted
state action against “foreign economic imperialism.” It brought an
unpre ce dented level of government involvement to the Uruguayan
economy: tariffs to protect local businesses; government monopoly
over public utilities, including the formerly British- owned railways
and the port of Montevideo; government own ership of tourist hotels
and meat- packing plants; and lots of state- owned banks to spread
credit around. In accord with Batlle’s determination that “modern
industry must not be allowed to destroy human beings,” Uruguay
became the hemi sphere’s first welfare state, complete with a mini-
mum wage, regulated working conditions, accident insurance, paid
holidays, and retirement benefits. Public education, a matter of spe-
cial pride in Uruguay since the 1870s, received further support, and
the university was opened to women.

Batllismo transformed Uruguay forever, but the reforms
depended, at least in part, on prosperous times to fund its ambitious
social programs. In addition, this was an urban movement that left
rural Uruguay virtually untouched. Batllismo was also aggressively
anticlerical, making Uruguayan society among the most secular in the
hemi sphere. Traditional Catholic Holy Week, formerly a somber time
of religious pro cessions, became Tourism Week in modern Uruguay.
To eliminate caudillo rule once and for all, Batlle even tried to abolish
the one- man presidency in favor of an executive council. Ironically,
many saw Batlle himself as a caudillo— but a “civil caudillo,” unlike
the military caudillos of the 1800s.

Across the Río de la Plata, in Argentina, another “civil caudi-
llo” representing urban interests overthrew the country’s landowning
oligarchy by means of (believe it or not) an election in 1916. “The revo-
lution of the ballot box,” they called it. Hipólito Yrigoyen, the winner
of that election, led an essentially middle- class reform party with con-
siderable working- class support, the Radical Civic Union. When the
Radicals won the election of 1916, jubilant crowds pulled Yrigoyen’s
carriage through the streets of Buenos Aires while flowers rained from

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The Radicals quickly entrenched themselves, creating the first
truly mass- based po liti cal party in the history of Latin America. Not
by any means above engaging in patronage politics, the Radical Civic
Union distributed plenty of pensions and public employment to its
supporters. Meanwhile, the reforms it enacted were less impressive
than Uruguay’s. The Radicals talked economic nationalism, but the
role of foreign capital in Argentina did not diminish. Yrigoyen’s one
significant act of economic nationalism was the creation of a govern-
ment agency to supervise oil production.

Still, Yrigoyen’s presidency marked an important change, not
so much because of what he did, but because of what he represented.
Poorly dressed and lacking in social graces, Yrigoyen was a man of the
people. He hated the elegant elite of Buenos Aires, and they hated him
back. Yrigoyen framed politics in moral terms, as a kind of civic reli-
gion. He never married and lived a reclusive life of legendary frugality
in a simple dwelling that his enemies called the presidential “burrow.”
A famous anecdote exemplifies his disdain for the trappings of power.
A friend, it is said, asked for a personal souvenir. Yrigoyen gestured
vaguely toward a cardboard box overflowing with medals and honors.
“Help yourself,” he replied.

Ordinary Argentines could visit the president to ask for some
humble bit of patronage. Yrigoyen cared little about Eu rope and also
maintained an Argentine diplomatic tradition of resisting US hemi-
spheric initiatives. During World War I, despite US pressure, he
insisted on Argentine neutrality. The greatest stain on his record is
his violent repression of or ga nized labor during the “Tragic Week” of
1919 and the strike of Patagonian sheep herders in 1921. Yrigoyen
was succeeded by another member of the Radical Civic Union, but he
returned to the presidency himself in 1928, now senile, hardly fit to
steer Argentina through the turbulent 1930s. Although he soon lost
popularity and had to leave office, all Buenos Aires turned out for
Yrigoyen’s funeral a few years later.

Batlle and Yrigoyen were individual leaders of towering impor-
tance, not generals on horse back, but caudillos nevertheless. Nationalist
politics was mass politics that often focused on such leaders. Another

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was Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, who led Peruvian nationalists mostly
from exile.

Haya de la Torre was first exiled from Peru in 1920 for lead-
ing student protests against Peru’s pro- US dictator. In Mexico, whose
revolution strongly impressed him, the young radical intellectual
founded an international party, the Pop u lar American Revolutionary
Alliance (APRA), as a kind of collective self- defense against economic
imperialism in Latin America. Haya de la Torre preferred the term
Indo- America, to highlight the region’s indigenous roots, exactly the
way Mexican muralists such as Rivera did. This nationalist empha-
sis on indigenous roots is called indigenismo. Another young Peru-
vian intellectual of the 1920s, José Carlos Mariátegui, imagined an
indigenous socialism combining Inca models with Marxist theory. But
Peru, when compared to Mexico, remained more ethnically split: the
highlands heavily indigenous, the coast more black and white. Conse-
quently, indigenismo was less successful as a unifying force in Peru.

APRA did not go far as an international party. Still, by threat-
ening to make indigenismo more than theory or fiction, the move-
ment had a powerful impact on Peru. APRA terrified conservatives.
The party’s mass rallies filled the streets with poor and middle- class
people who roared their contempt of the oligarchy, their fury at impe-
rialism, and their loyalty to the “Maximum Leader,” Haya de la Torre.
In 1932, APRA revolted after “losing” a managed election. The army
crushed the uprising with mass executions, and APRA was banned
from Peruvian politics. But the popularity of the outlawed party and
its perpetually exiled leader only increased as years passed.

Ciro Alegría, a fervent, high- ranking APRA militant, was one
of the many nationalists who had to flee Peru. While living in Chile,
he began to write fiction inspired by indigenismo. Peruvian novel-
ists had explored indigenismo for de cades, since the time of Clorinda
Matto de Turner. Still, it is appropriate that the greatest indigenista
novel, Alegría’s Wide and Alien Is the World (1941), emerged from the
ranks of APRA. Writers like Alegría defended indigenous people, but
the main practical goal of indigenismo was changing its subjects to fit
the wider world. Perhaps it is not so odd that Alegría wrote his book
for a New York publishing contest. He won and became one of the

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inDigenismo. The Indian Mayor of Chincheros (1925) by José Sabogal, Peru’s principal

indigenista paint er, shows a community leader holding his staff of office in an idealization

of traditional indigenous life. José Sabogal, The Indian Mayor of Chincheros: Varayoc, 1925,

Museo de Arte de Lima.

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best- known of the many Latin American writers cultivating non-
European roots in the 1930s and 1940s.

Nationalists did not take power everywhere in Latin America,
but nationalism showed its po liti cal potency even where it did not
rule. In many countries conservatives managed to co- opt national-
ist influences or hold them in check. That was the case in Colombia,
where nationalists tried to outflank traditional rural patron- client
networks by unionizing urban workers and appealing directly to their
self- interest. The conservatives’ hold on Colombia was too strong,
however, to allow nationalist reformers to gain much headway. Ru-
ral oligarchies held their ground, region by region, while pop u lar
discontent accumulated in the enormous following of a fiery pop u lar
leader, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. Gaitán rose to national fame denouncing
a massacre of banana workers who worked for a U.S. multinational
corporation, and his angry condemnations of power and privilege put
the word oligarchy into Colombia’s everyday vocabulary. Two de cades
later, discontent would finally explode in violence.

Meanwhile, effective nationalist reform had to wait in other
countries as well. One was Venezuela, despite (or perhaps because of)
the country’s oil wealth— all of it flowing through concessions to for-
eign companies. As a result of the freely bubbling black gold and easy
money, Venezeula’s rulers were able to avoid the pop u lar outreach
that essentially defined nationalist movements. Such outreach was
often carried out by communist and socialist grassroots organizers,
new players on the po liti cal stage of Latin America. Chile saw plenty
of that kind of outreach, however, especially during the thirteen- day
“Socialist Republic” associated with a flamboyant leader known as
Marmaduke Grove, but Chilean nationalists of the Right vied quite
successfully against those of the Left, and no single government con-
solidated power. In Cuba, the overthrow of an unpop u lar neocolonial-
style dictator in 1933 was carried out by a wide nationalist co ali tion
that included inspirational university professors and left- wing stu-
dents, as well as noncommissioned army officers and enlisted men
led by one Sergeant Fulgencio Batista. Batista was a poor man who
had been a cane cutter and whose mulatto coloring represented, to
some extent, the same nationalist aspirations symbolized by Nicolás

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Guillén’s “Ballad of the Two Grandfathers.” But Batista wanted power,
above all, and he bowed so compliantly to US instructions that he was
allowed to run Cuba as a client state of the United States for de cades,
his nationalist gestures reduced to mere window dressing.

Nationalism made the most striking changes when stable
governments were able to combine mass mobilization with economic
transformation. That transformation involved a rejection of the basic
neo co lo nial model of export- oriented economic growth, which brings
us to the Great Depression.

isi a N d ac t i v is t G ov er Nm eN t s

of t he 1930 s

The Great Depression of the 1930s finished the de mo li tion of neo-
co lo nial ism and energized nationalist movements throughout Latin
America. In the years following the 1929 crash of the New York stock
market, the volume of Latin America’s international trade contracted
by half in a violent spasm. Governments that depended on the export
boom collapsed everywhere.

As the 1930s progressed, however, an important phenomenon
occurred, a positive side effect of the collapse of international trade.
The name of this phenomenon—import- substitution industrializ-
ation— is a mouthful, and historians usually prefer ISI for short. But
the name says a lot. Earnings from exports had gone down, down,
down, and with them, the ability to import manufactured products.
The ISI pro cess occurred as Latin American manufacturers filled the
market niches left vacant by vanishing imports. Those who believe
that trade is always mutually beneficial should ponder a startling
fact: The 1930s interruption of trade— the interruption that idled so
many factories in the United States and Europe—had the opposite
effect in parts of Latin America, where industrialization took off in
these same years. ISI gave the nationalist critics of economic imperi-
alism a persuasive case against the old import–export trade.

ISI had really begun before the 1930s, most notably when World
War I interrupted the import–export system in 1914– 18. Buenos

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Aires, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Mexico City were already be-
coming major industrial centers. Overall, though, Latin American
industries remained minor- league players. Until the 1930s, they could
not compete with export sectors like agriculture or mining. Now that
changed, and Latin American industrial production increased sub-
stantially. Nationalists made industrialization a point of pride. For
them, industrialization meant moving out of the neo co lo nial shadow
and controlling their own national destiny. The nationalist govern-
ments of the 1930s and 1940s therefore engaged in Batllista- style
economic activism: setting wages and prices, regulating production
levels, manipulating exchange rates, and passing protective labor
laws. They also promoted direct government own ership of banks, pub-
lic utilities, and key industries.

Unfortunately, not all Latin Americans got the benefits of ISI.
As a rule, the larger the national market, the more likely import-
substituting industries will thrive. Therefore, the most populous
countries of the region— Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina— were the
main beneficiaries. Chile and Uruguay, despite their small popula-
tions, also underwent considerable ISI. Their comparatively high liv-
ing standards provided more prospective consumers per capita. But
small countries with predominantly poor rural populations could not
absorb the products of many factories. So ISI meant little in Ec ua-
dor or Bolivia, Nicaragua or Honduras, Paraguay or the Dominican

Nor did ISI bring all varieties of industrial growth, even to the
big countries. Light industry (producing mass- consumption items
like soap, matches, beer, biscuits, shoes, aspirin, and cheap cloth)
responded most to the market opportunities of ISI. Heavy indus-
try (producing “durable goods” like cars, radios, and refrigerators)
responded less. Heavy industry required equipment that simply had
to be imported. And it required steel. A national steel industry meant
joining the big leagues. Only Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Chile did
so during the 1940s.

Brazil—with over twice as many inhabitants as any other
Latin American country in 1930, but still heavily rural and dependent
on agricultural exports— offers an excellent example of ISI in action.

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Within two de cades, industry would surpass agriculture as a percent-
age of Brazilian GDP. Although market forces explain most of this
gain, economic nationalism played its part as well. The story of na-
tionalist politics in Brazil centers once again on an individual leader,
by far the best known and most beloved of all Brazilian presidents—
Getúlio Vargas.

Those in search of US analogies might well call Getúlio Vargas
the Franklin D. Roo se velt of Brazil. Note that, from a Latin American
perspective, FDR and his relative, Theodore Roo se velt, stand worlds
apart, never to be confused. The first Roo se velt seemed an enemy to
Latin Americans, the second a friend. Vargas’s first period in office
(1930– 1945) parallels FDR’s multiterm presidency, except that Var-
gas later returned, for a total of nineteen years as Brazilian president.
Vargas, like FDR, made famous use of the radio and vastly expanded
the national government. Both men were masterful politicians, but
physically unimposing: FDR paralyzed by polio, Vargas short and
jolly. Both exuded a contagious optimism. Both died in office— Vargas,
memorably, by his own hand.

The Brazilian “coffee kingdom,” Latin America’s largest oligar-
chic republic, had begun to crumble during the 1920s. Considering
Brazil’s oligarchic politics hopelessly corrupt, rebellious young army
officers, collectively known to history as the Tenentes (lieutenants),
staged desperate symbolic uprisings. One was a bloody gesture of defi-
ance on Rio’s glamorous Copacabana beach in 1922. A bit later, other
Tenentes formed a thousand- man armed column and marched for two
years and countless miles through the Brazilian backlands trying to
drum up support for their revolutionary nationalist vision. Mean-
while, the coffee economy lurched from crisis to crisis in a permanent
state of overproduction. By 1927, the government’s coffee valorization
program was fighting a losing battle. Its vast stockpiles of unsold cof-
fee only continued to accumulate. Then came the Depression, and the
price of coffee dropped to less than a third of its already low price on
the world market.

The rise of Vargas magnificently illustrates the po liti cal con-
sequences of 1929. The following was an election year, and Vargas,
governor of Rio Grande do Sul, a rising state but not a coffee producer,

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ran against the official candidate of São Paulo, a representative of the
pro- coffee interests that had dominated Brazil for two generations.
Although the electoral managers produced an official victory for King
Coffee’s candidate, the old king had lost his grip. This time, opposition
forces forcibly disputed the election results. With the support of the
army, Vargas seized the presidency. This “Revolution of 1930” became
a clear turning point in Brazilian history.

For seven years, Vargas ruled as a more or less constitutional
president over a country suddenly filled with new po liti cal energies.
No more would conservative liberalism alternate with liberal conser-
vatism. All sorts of new ideologies were afoot. The “revolutionaries”
of 1930 had included both frustrated liberals opposed to King Coffee
and the idealistic young Tenentes, strong nationalists who despised
liberals. The Tenentes absorbed the new radical ideologies of the day.
Some of the most famous Tenentes joined the Communist Party, mak-
ing it the heart of the Alliance for National Liberation (ALN). With
the ALN, the radical left became a real power contender in Brazil
for the first time. Meanwhile, on the far right, a group calling them-
selves Integralists drew inspiration from Eu ro pe an fascism. The Inte-
gralists saluted each other with out- thrust arms, used a symbol (the
Greek letter sigma) slightly reminiscent of the Nazi swastika, and
wore colored shirts, like Hitler’s brownshirts or Mussolini’s black-
shirts, when they acted tough in the streets. Their shirts were patri-
otic Brazilian green.

Vargas deftly negotiated the po liti cal tangles of the early 1930s,
playing liberals, conservatives, communists, Tenentes, and Integral-
ists against each other. Then, in 1937 he assumed dictatorial power
with the support of the army and went on the radio to announce a
nationalist institutional make over for Brazil: the Estado Novo, or
New State. The Estado Novo was a highly authoritarian government,
in which all legislative bodies were dissolved, po liti cal parties were
banned, and mass media were censored. Vargas scrapped liberal-
inspired federalism and sent centrally appointed “interventors” to di-
rect state governments. The police of the Estado Novo operated with
brutal impunity. Yet, despite all this, Vargas remained pop u lar. Why?

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Vargas was pragmatic, flexible about his means, more inter-
ested in results than basic principles— another trait he shared with
FDR. Always, too, he was a nationalist. Nationalism was the common
ground of his multiclass alliance and the animating spirit of the Estado
Novo. From far left to far right, everyone, it seemed, was a national-
ist now. These were the 1930s, after all, when nationalist movements
were on a roll around the world.

Everything was “national this” and “national that” in the
Estado Novo. Vargas even ceremoniously burned Brazil’s state flags
to symbolize the unchallenged primacy of the national government.
The Estado Novo spawned dozens of government boards, ministries,
and agencies, a bit like the “alphabet soup” agencies of FDR’s New
Deal, to further the nation’s common goals and welfare. National
councils and commissions were created to supervise railroads, min-
ing, immigration, school textbooks, sports and recreation, hydraulic
and electrical energy, and so on. The Estado Novo founded a National
Steel Company and built a massive steel mill between the two most
industrialized cities, Rio and São Paulo. Its National Motor Factory
turned out engines for trucks and airplanes. It prohibited foreign own-
ership of newspapers. And in the far south of Brazil, where German,
Italian, and other Eu ro pe an immigrants had established agricultural
colonies and maintained a separate culture and language, the Estado
Novo exerted new assimilationist pressures. Immigrants were told to
speak Portuguese and integrate themselves into the national society.

Like Mexico’s Revolutionary Party, the Estado Novo celebrated
race mixing, and it encouraged Brazilians to embrace their African
heritage. In 1933, the positive qualities of racial and cultural “fusion”
had been promoted in a landmark study, The Masters and the Slaves,
by a young anthropologist named Gilberto Freyre. Freyre argued that
Brazil’s African heritage, far from constituting a national liability, as
in racist theories, had created Brazil’s distinctive national identity
and imbued all Brazilians, whether or not they knew it, with aspects
of African culture. Brazilians seemed eager for Freyre’s unifying
message, and a whole field of Afro- Brazilian studies suddenly arose
with official encouragement. During these years, too, the spirited

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g e t u L i o VA r g A s . Between 1930 and 1945, Vargas ruled Brazil as a revolutionary,

then as constitutional president, and finally, as dictator. In 1951, he was elected for a final,

truncated term. Leonard Mccombe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images.

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Afro- Brazilian samba became accepted as the country’s cultural sig-
nature, vigorously promoted by the mass media of the Estado Novo.

Carmen Miranda— a singer, dancer, and actress whose trade-
mark was headgear apparently made of fruit— rode the nationalist
samba wave to movie stardom first in Brazil, which now had its own
movie industry, and later in the United States. Carmen Miranda em-
bodied paradox. In Brazil, her movie roles filled the niche—national
musicals featuring national music— that the charro singing cowboys
did in Mexico. But her later US movie- star image was a generic,
gesticulating, “hot Latin” caricature that today seems far from
nationalistic. She created this persona to suit US rather than Brazil-
ian taste. Still, her outrageous costume, often blamed on Hollywood,
was pure Rio de Janeiro; a carnival- kitsch version of traditional Afro-
Brazilian Bahiana dress. Her samba moves were carefully studied
from Bahian teachers. But Miranda was not Afro- Brazilian herself.
In fact, she was Portuguese, although she grew up in Brazil. Still,
her dancing made her Brazilian— both according to her (“Tell me,” she
said, “if I don’t have Brazil in every curve of my body!”) and accord-
ing to the Brazilian public that applauded her in the 1930s. Miranda
made nine sold- out South American tours. In 1940, after performing
for FDR at the White House, she returned to a hero’s welcome in Rio
de Janeiro. But her popularity in Brazil plummeted when Brazilians
heard her sing in En glish.

Across Brazil, a pro cess of cultural self- discovery was under-
way. A landmark festival, São Paulo’s Modern Art Week of 1922, in-
augurated an innovative nationalist current in the Brazilian arts.
Among those associated with the São Paulo modernist movement
was Heitor Villa- Lobos, who integrated Brazilian folk melodies into
his classical compositions, just as Chopin and Liszt had done with
Polish and Hungarian folk melodies for similar nationalist reasons
a century earlier. Under Vargas, Villa- Lobos worked on a national
program of musical enrichment, arranging huge concerts for tens of
thousands. Today Villa- Lobos is by far Latin America’s best- known
classical composer. Another leading light of São Paulo’s Modern Art
Week was writer Oswald de Andrade. “Tupi or not tupi, that is the
question,” declared Andrade, with typically Brazilian tongue- in- cheek

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lightheartedness, in his influential Cannibalist Manifesto of 1928. Re-
calling certain Tupi dietary customs, Andrade suggested that Brazil-
ian artists meta phor ical ly “cannibalize” Eu ro pe an art— consume it,
digest it, then combine it with native and African influences to invent
a new art unique to Brazil. Meanwhile, storytellers of northeastern
Brazil were creating a great narrative tradition with strong nation-
alist roots. Among them was Jorge Amado, long Brazil’s best- known
novelist. Amado’s books are almost always set in Bahia, where Brazil’s
African roots are especially deep. Like Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and
many other nationalist artists and writers, Amado became strongly
committed to a revolutionary Marxist vision during the 1930s.

The government of Vargas, too, eventually moved leftward,
as we will see. In the 1930s and 1940s, though, Vargas’s policies
were hard to place on the left- right spectrum of po liti cal ideologies.
Nationalism, not socialism, was the vision he used to reconcile the
demands of industrialists and industrial workers. The Estado Novo
made industrialization a priority, and its extensive labor legislation
disciplined the labor force, which the factory own ers wanted, but also
protected it, which the workers needed. The Estado Novo created
government- affiliated labor unions by the hundreds, but it did not
allow them to strike. Instead, worker grievances were to be adjudi-
cated by the government. It was a paternalistic system, not controlled
by the workers themselves. Still, it constituted an improvement over
earlier years, when worker protests had been simply “a matter for
the police.” An impressive array of social legislation— from health and
safety standards to a minimum wage, a forty- eight- hour work week,
retirement and pension plans, and maternity benefits— was put in
place for industrial working- class and urban middle- class people.

Like Argentina’s and Uruguay’s, Brazil’s nationalist movement
was urban- based and urban- oriented. Only in Mexico, where peasants
in arms had helped make a revolution, did nationalism transform ru-
ral society too. The period of greatest transformation was unquestion-
ably 1934– 40, during the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas.

Whereas Vargas, like FDR, came from a rich landowning
family, Cárdenas had humble village beginnings. He had fought
ably in the Revolution and then become governor of his home state,

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Michoacán, in rugged and conservative western Mexico. Thirty- nine
years old when be became the Revolutionary Party’s presidential can-
didate, Lázaro Cárdenas was known for his loyalty to the cause, but
not for his initiative. He surprised everyone by seizing the reins of
power and galloping out to infuse the whole country with his vision of
a better, fairer Mexico. He started this pro cess during his campaign
for election. As the Revolutionary Party’s official candidate, he ran un-
opposed, yet he campaigned like an underdog, ranging across sixteen
thousand miles of Mexican countryside, visiting remote villages— on
horse back, if necessary— as no presidential candidate had ever done
before. Cárdenas did not forget about the villages of Mexico after be-
coming president, either.

During his six years in office, he distributed almost forty- five
million acres of land, twice as much as in the previous twenty- four
years put together. He gave his support to labor organizations and,
unlike Vargas, defended their right to strike. Government support of
striking workers even led to a major international confrontation in
1938. These workers were employed by British and US oil companies
that operated along the northeastern gulf coast of Mexico. When the
companies and the strikers submitted their dispute to government
arbitration, the arbitrators awarded the workers an increase in pay
and social ser vices. The foreign own ers refused to pay, however. The
Mexican Supreme Court reviewed and upheld the decision, but still
the foreign companies stonewalled. The foreign own ers were shocked
when Cárdenas then decreed the expropriation of the oil companies
in accord with Article 27 of the Mexican constitution. Few mea sures
have ever been more pop u lar with the Mexican people, who volun-
tarily contributed part of their meager earnings to help the govern-
ment compensate the foreign own ers. Even the Catholic Church, de-
spite its long and bitter conflicts with the revolutionary government,
rang its bells in jubilation when the oil expropriation was announced.
Mexico’s “declaration of economic in de pen dence,” as it became known
inside the country, gave rise to a national oil company, PEMEX. The
railroads had already been nationalized, less noisily, in 1937.

Great Britain severed diplomatic relations as a result of the oil
expropriation, and the US oil companies clamored for intervention,

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but FDR had other ideas. The world seemed a dangerous place in
the 1930s, and FDR thought the United States badly needed allies in
Latin America. As world war loomed on the horizon, he did everything
possible to cultivate Latin American goodwill. In his inaugural ad-
dress, he announced a “Good Neighbor Policy” toward Latin America.
The idea was not totally new in 1933. Republican US presidents of the
1920s had already begun to abandon the aggressive interventionism
of earlier years, finding that it created more problems than it solved.
In 1933, however, at the seventh congress of the Pan- American move-
ment, FDR’s representatives publicly swore off military intervention.
In addition, Cuba and Panama were no longer to be “protectorates”
where US Marines could come and go at will. The result was a re-
markable change in the mood of US– Latin American relations. FDR
then took advantage of improved relations to advance hemispheric se-
curity arrangements in successive Pan- American conferences during
the late 1930s and early 1940s. Carmen Miranda, now living in the
United States, made Good Neighbor movies, and so did Walt Disney;
an example is the 1945 animated feature The Three Caballeros, in
which Donald Duck joins forces with a Brazilian parrot and a Mexican

If the nationalization of Mexico’s oil industry in 1938 was the
acid test of the Good Neighbor Policy, it passed. Relations between
Latin America and the United States became friendlier than ever
before or since. After the United States entered the war, all the coun-
tries of Latin America eventually joined as allies. The small states of
Central America and the Ca rib be an, closest to the United States in all
senses, signed on immediately. Sadly, however, some of the quickest to
join the war effort were former “beneficiaries” of US military interven-
tion, now in the hands of pro- US dictators. Some of these were outra-
geous petty tyrants, like Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic,
about whom FDR supposedly admitted: “He may be a bastard, but
he’s our bastard.” Ours rather than the enemy’s was the point. Chile
and Argentina— much farther away from the United States and dip-
lomatically more aloof, with many immigrants from “the other side,”
Germany and Italy— were the last to join the US war effort. Brazil,
in contrast, became the most helpful ally of all. The “bulge of Brazil,”

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reaching far east into the Atlantic, had major strategic importance in
the Atlantic war, and Vargas allowed the construction of US military
bases and airstrips there. In addition, a Brazilian infantry division
went to fight in Italy alongside US troops. Mexican fighter pi lots, for
their part, flew missions in the Pacific, doing much to mend relations
between Mexico and the United States.

World War II also gave further stimulus to ISI— more, even,
than had the Depression— not only in Brazil, but everywhere.
Government spending for war production brought US industry hum-
ming back to life— although now building tanks and bombers instead
of cars and buses. US demand for Latin American agricultural exports
also recovered. Foreign earnings in hand, the Latin American middle
classes were ready for a shopping spree, but consumer goods could
not be bought in the United States or Eu rope because of the war.
So, with demand up and foreign competition still out of the picture,
Latin American industries continued to flourish. In 1943, for exam-
ple, Brazil’s exports totaled about $445 million, a $135 million trade
surplus. For the first time ever, many Latin American countries had
favorable balances of trade with Eu rope and the United States.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, the nationalists could take
credit for leading the major countries of Latin America successfully
through stormy times. Great things seemed just over the horizon. If
their industrialization continued at the rate of the prior de cade, Brazil,
Mexico, Argentina, and possibly others would soon get the heavy
industries characteristic of the world’s most developed countries.

At the same time, a sweeping transformation of public culture
suggested that Latin America’s bitter legacy of racial hierarchy and
po liti cal exclusion was fast disintegrating. The hallways of Mexico’s
palace of government— truly “corridors of power”— now proudly dis-
played Diego Rivera’s huge murals depicting the achievements of
indigenous Mexico and the evils of Spanish colonization. The black
samba dancers of Rio de Janeiro were now acclaimed as exponents
of Brazilian national culture, and their carnival parades received
state subsidies. Across the board, Latin Americans were taking pride
in themselves and each other. The advent of the phonograph, radio,
and cinema had made Argentina’s great tango singer, Carlos Gardel,

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C h a p t e r 8 | N a t I O N a L I S M

26 0

an idol throughout Latin America. Audiences loved the handsome
Gardel’s tangos so much that they sometimes interrupted his movies
to make the projectionist rewind and repeat a song. Gardel was on a
triumphant international tour in 1935 when his plane crashed on a
Colombian mountainside, tragically ending his still- ascendant career.
Then, in 1945, Gabriela Mistral, a Chilean poet, became the first
Latin American to receive a Nobel Prize. In literature, as in painting
and music, Latin America was finally world- class.

Yet great problems remained. For one thing, nationalism,
ISI, and the growth of an urban middle class had left some parts
of Latin America virtually untouched. Central America provides a
good example. The internal markets of Central American countries
were too small to support much industrialization. So old- style land-
owning oligarchies had not, for the most part, ceded control to more
progressive nationalist co ali tions on the isthmus between Panama
and Guatemala. In the years when nationalists like Cárdenas were
breaking the back of Mexico’s landowning class, old- fashioned coffee-
growing oligarchies still ruled much of Central America.

In Guatemala, many coffee growers were Germans who had
little interest in the country’s national development. Guatemala’s
ruler throughout the years of the Great Depression and World War II
was a liberal authoritarian of a classic neo co lo nial cut, Jorge Ubico,
who came to power promising “a march toward civilization” and whose
main concern was promoting the cultivation and exportation of coffee.
Ubico wanted Guatemala to be the closest ally of the United States in
Central America, and during his presidency the United Fruit Com-
pany became the country’s single dominant economic enterprise. El
Salvador, a miniature version of the old Brazilian Coffee Kingdom,
represented the worst- case scenario. There, a grim dictator, Maximil-
iano Hernández Martínez, a dabbler in the occult, defended El Salva-
dor’s King Coffee so brutally that 1932 became known in Salvadoran
history as the year of “The Slaughter.” Most of the victims— more than
ten thousand— were indigenous people. To be an “Indian” became so
dangerous in the 1930s that indigenous Salvadorans gradually said
good- bye to their ethnic identity. They hid their distinctive clothing,
spoke only Spanish, and tried to blend in. Ironically, in the same years

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I S I a N d a C t I v I S t G O v e r N M e N t S O f t h e 1 9 3 0 S


when indigenismo became an official creed in nationalist Mexico and
elsewhere, the native heritage of stubbornly neo co lo nial El Salvador
practically ceased to exist.

The United States generally put a lid on nationalism in Cen-
tral America and the Ca rib be an. US co- optation of Fulgencio Batista’s
nationalist impulse in Cuba has already been mentioned. In a num-
ber of countries, the rulers of this period actually owed their jobs to
US intervention. Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza and the Dominican
Republic’s Rafael Trujillo had been placed in power, indirectly, by US
marines. Both deployed a bit of nationalist imagery, but both distin-
guished themselves above all, for their greed, corruption, obedience to
the United States, and determination to retain power at all cost. Tru-
jillo renamed the capital city after himself and erected a large electric
sign that proclaimed the motto “God and Trujillo.” His most national-
ist undertaking was the massacre of Haitian immigrants.

Even in Latin American countries where nationalism was a
more serious force, rhetoric often outran reality. Despite the popular-
ity of indigenismo and mestizo nationalism, racist attitudes lingered
everywhere in Latin America. The poet Gabriela Mistral never forgave
the Chilean elite that made her feel inferior early on because of her
mestizo coloring. Also, urbanization had outrun existing housing and
city ser vices. Shantytowns, constructed by rural migrants in search
of industrial jobs, sprawled on the outskirts of major Latin American
cities. It was hoped that these would be temporary; in the meantime,
blackouts and water shortages became routine. Outside of Mexico, the
Latin American countryside had felt few of the improvements brought
by nationalism. More industrial jobs were needed for the migrants
who arrived day by day in the shantytowns. Meanwhile, Latin Ameri-
can industries remained technologically far behind those of Eu rope
and the United States. They had prospered under the special condi-
tions of ISI during the Depression and World War II, but they would
have to improve rapidly to be competitive in the postwar period.

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C h a p t e r r e v i e w

s t u d y Q u e s t i o N s

1. How did nationalist politics engage broad enthusiasm throughout

Latin America after 1929? Particularly, what was the new

nationalist ideology of race, and how was it embodied in the arts?

2. Why did Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) play such a

central role in nationalist economic thinking?

3. Why did nationalists often appear as revolutionaries? Was

nationalism left or right on the political spectrum?

4. What characterized the political style of leaders like Cárdenas,

Vargas, and later, Perón?

5. How did the 1930s depression and World War II affect the

relationship between Latin America and the United States?

k e y t e r m s a N d v o c a b u l a r y

ISI, p.249

Getúlio Vargas, p.251

Carmen Miranda, p.255

Lázaro Cárdenas, p.256

Good Neighbor Policy, p.258

Rafael Trujillo, p.258

mestizo nationalism, p.235

Emiliano Zapata, p.239

Pancho Villa, p.239

Diego Rivera, p.242

Frida Kahlo p.242

APRA, p.246

indigenismo, p.246

09_BBF_28305_ch08_232-265.indd 262 13/06/16 11:07 AM


C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

P o P u l i s t l e a d e r s o f t h e

t w e N t i e t h c e N t u r y

he mid- twentieth century was a time of charismatic leaders in
Latin America. Generally they were electrifying speakers with
a nationalist message. They became populists by directing

their message to poor and lower- middle- class voters. Populist versions
of nationalism dominated Latin America’s po liti cal scene after World
War II. Populists invariably cultivated a folksy style, often a paternal-
istic one; “Father- knows- best” paternalism is generally a conservative
trait. On the other hand, populists often used radical rhetoric, blasting
oligarchies and economic imperialism. Their behavior in office is very
hard to categorize on a left– right po liti cal spectrum. But in the cold war
days of 1948– 89, any leader who talked a lot about workers was likely
to be viewed as a leftist, or even as a communist, by US diplomats. The
result was a lot of confusion. Recognizing this confusion is essential to
interpreting the turbulent politics of the cold war in Latin America, our
next stop.

JuAn AnD e VA Perón. Courtesy 

of UPI, Bettmann/Corbis.


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C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

26 4

Peru’s Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre, the creator of APRA, qualifies
as a populist. When he ran for president in 1932, the frightened Lima
elite called him a communist, but the Peruvian communists criticized
him just as much. Haya’s real issues were nationalist ones— cultural
pride (“Indo- America”) and anti- imperialism (“Foreign firms extract
our wealth and sell it outside our country”). Although he never became
president of Peru, Haya de la Torre established a powerful bond with
Peruvian voters that lasted a quarter century. Populist leaders like
Haya de la Torre awakened the kind of personal loyalties inspired by
caudillos in the 1800s.

Ec ua dor’s José María Velasco Ibarra, another famous orator,
worked similar magic. His self- bestowed title of “National Personi-
fication” exemplifies the idea, used by many populists, of a mystical
identification with the masses. “Give me a balcony, and I will return
to the presidency,” he famously declared, and it was no empty boast.
From the 1930s to the 1960s, Velasco Ibarra’s nationalist rhetoric got
him elected president of Ec ua dor no fewer than five times, always
from a slightly different position on the left- right spectrum. Usually,
the army expelled him before the end of his term.

Colombia’s Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was perhaps the most fiery
orator of them all, although, like Peru’s Haya de la Torre, he never
reached the presidency. When Gaitán stepped to the microphone
before a Colombian crowd, he often reminded them of his own poor
upbringing and early humiliations, and they loved him for it. He
did not have to remind them of his dark mestizo coloring, for it was
plainly visible and, anyway, never forgotten by anyone— least of all by
the light- skinned elite. Gaitán’s assassination in 1948 triggered one of
the greatest urban riots ever to occur in Latin America— the Bogotazo,
an upheaval that shattered the Colombian capital, took two thou-
sand lives, and etched itself in the mind of every Colombian living at
the time.

Mexico’s Lázaro Cárdenas, who reenergized Mexico’s institutional
revolution in the 1930s, was another populist. Cárdenas was less a

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C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s


high- flown public speaker than a nonstop grassroots campaigner, who
mingled comfortably with the common people and received crateloads
of letters from humble petitioners, just as FDR did in the United States.
In fact, Cárdenas spent little time in Mexico City, preferring to travel
tirelessly around the country, hearing the grievances and requests of
humble petitioners who came hat in hand, then dispatching his presi-
dential decisions from tables set up in dusty village squares.

Brazil’s ex- dictator Getúlio Vargas, creator of the Estado Novo,
made a comeback in the 1950s, as we shall see. And he came back
as a left- leaning, vote- winning populist. Vargas exemplifies the puzzle
of pop u lism. Was he really a worker’s candidate, defending the little
guy, or was he using pro- labor rhetoric opportunistically? The answer
is yes, or rather, both. The Estado Novo had persecuted the Communist
Party. It had been paternalistic in many ways. But Vargas’s nationalist
policies had made him truly pop u lar among the Brazilian poor. In fact,
a radiantly smiling Vargas, described as “father of the poor,” became
a principal theme in Brazil’s literatura de cordel (pop u lar narrative
poems sold in cheap pamphlets on the street), a good gauge of positive
lower- class attitudes.

Argentina’s Evita and Juan Perón were probably the great-
est and most controversial populists of all. Their story is told in the
next chapter. The bedrock of their Peronist movement was the loyalty
of Argentine workers to the calm, fatherly figure of Perón and to his
glamorous consort, a loyalty that has never gone away. The Peróns won
this loyalty in part by raising the workers’ standard of living. But there
was more to it than that. Like Vargas, Perón had a famous smile that
seemed to function as a blank screen on which people projected their
own hopes and dreams. Officially, the Peróns espoused a po liti cal “third
position”— not the left or the right— but their movement eventually
split on left– right lines.

09_BBF_28305_ch08_232-265.indd 265 13/06/16 11:07 AM

C u b a n r e v o l u t i o n a r i e s o f 1 9 5 9. The Cuban Revolution was a truly pop u lar move-

ment that helped put a Marxist tilt on nationalism throughout Latin America. Marxist

ideology offered a persuasive explanation of Latin American problems as well as a clear

prescription for direct revolutionary action. Leaders Che Guevara and Fidel Castro quickly

became heroes for young revolutionaries in many countries. Lester Cole/CORBIS.

1 9 4 6
Perón elected
president of

1 9 5 2
MNR takes
power in

1 9 5 4

of Arbenz in

1 9 5 9

march into


1 9 6 1
Bay of Pigs


10_BBF_28305_ch09_266-295.indd 266 13/06/16 11:09 AM

fter World War II, Latin American industrialization lost
momentum. The 1930s nationalist dream of economic in de­
pen dence proved difficult to achieve in the postwar world.

Meanwhile, population growth accelerated as improvements in sani­
tation and health radically lowered the death rate. Argentina, Cuba,
Colombia, and Brazil had been the world’s fastest­ growing countries
since 1900. In 1900, there were 61 million Latin Americans; in 1950,
there were 158 million and, only ten years later, already 200 million.
Urban population rocketed. Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo,
Mexico City, Havana, and Santiago all surpassed a million inhabitants
after World War II. By 1960, Lima, Caracas, Bogotá, and Recife did, as
well. Soon Latin American countries became among the most urban­
ized in the world. Latin American economies expanded, too, but not
enough to meet the basic needs— much less the hopes and dreams— of
the added millions.



2 67

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C h a p t e r 9 | r e V O L U t I O N

26 8

Carolina Maria de Jesús had more dreams than most. In 1947,
when she built herself a shack of used lumber, cardboard, and flat­
tened tin cans in a São Paulo shantytown, she was thirty­ three years
old. She had come to the city seeking a better life. A single mother,
she provided for her children by collecting waste paper, which she
carried in a burlap bag and sold for about twenty­ five cents a day. Her
life resembled her neighbors’ lives, except for her second­ grade educa­
tion. She could read and write, and her literacy gave her imagination
wings. She found usable notebooks in the trash and wrote about her
life and her aspirations. She had filled twenty­ six notebooks when, in
1958, a reporter discovered her and published an extract of her diary.
Brazilian middle­ class readers were stunned to read words written in a

s h a n t y t o w n D w e l l e r s . As migrants poured into Latin American cities in the

mid- twentieth century, many found no housing, so they constructed shanties in vacant

lots. This shantytown is in an unglamorous part of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Granger

Collection, New York.

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P o s t – W o r l d W a r I I P o P u l I s m


shantytown. Her diary became a best­ seller in Brazil and was eventu­
ally translated into thirteen languages. It became her ticket out of the
shantytown. But millions of others stayed, eating putrid food, dying
from preventable diseases, miserable and desperate.

Many in Latin America began to believe that truly revolutionary
change was needed. Meanwhile, Latin American nationalists began to
see their war time “good neighbor” as, once again, their old imperialist
adversary. Nationalism was at the heart of their anti­ US attitude. Fre­
quently, nationalism joined in a powerful combination with another
ideology, Marxism. But not all Latin American nationalists became
Marxists in the postwar period, by any means. Nationalist leaders
who made a vigorous outreach to the common people without being
Marxists were often called populists.

P os t–Wor l d Wa r II P oP u l Ism

Pop u lism was basically a leadership style, one that focused on mass
politics and winning elections. The postwar period saw significant
strides in Latin American democracy as voting was opened to women,
the voting age was lowered to eigh teen, and literacy requirements
were struck down. Many countries made voting a legal obligation.
In Brazil, a majority voted to make Getúlio Vargas president again
in 1951— despite his clearly demonstrated dictatorial inclinations—
because his government had raised the hope of material betterment for
so many. In the postwar period, the nationalists who had come to power
all over Latin America depended, as few governments before them,
on the freely expressed suffrage of large numbers— basically a co ali tion
of middle­ class people and industrial workers.

Pleasing this co ali tion was harder than pleasing a handful of
landowners here, a handful of landowners there, and trusting elec­
toral management to do the rest, as neo co lo nial rulers had done. To
win elections in the postwar period, the nationalists adopted popu­
list po liti cal tactics, such as flying candidates around the country for
huge rallies and making ample use of radio. The populists bashed the
old rural oligarchies and their imperialistic accomplices outside the

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C h a p t e r 9 | r e V O L U t I O N


country. Populist appeals were calculated to attract working­ class vot­
ers with a vision of radical improvement of living conditions, without
scaring away middle­ class voters with images of class warfare. Na­
tionalism helped give a sense of unified purpose to the new co ali tion.

Populist politics kept power away from the old coalition— the
combination of oligarchic and foreign economic interests— that had
governed most of the region before 1930. The economic power of land­
owners and international financiers had been eclipsed when the great
export boom went bust, but they were poised to make a comeback when
the import–export system revived. The old co ali tion still exercised deci­
sive influence over voting in the countryside. So Latin American nation­
alists had to win— and win big— in the industrializing cities.

Meanwhile, Latin American industrialization began to slow
alarmingly after World War II. With imported consumer goods back
on the shelves, the window of opportunity closed for ISI. US consumer
goods were again available to satisfy pent­ up demand. To compete, Latin
American manufacturers needed capital goods: new machinery for their
factories. Trade surpluses in the war years had provided buying power
to acquire industrial machinery from Eu rope and the United States. But
Eu rope was rebuilding its own factories destroyed by the war, and that
rebuilding created a shortage of capital goods on the world market.

US economists, backed by unanimous US business and dip­
lomatic pressure, recommended a return to pre­1929­ style import–
export trade. Latin American countries, explained the US economists,
should do what they did best: concentrate on their “comparative
advantage” as low­ wage producers of raw materials and foodstuffs.
That would help the world’s industrial countries, in turn, do what they
did best: produce all the gadgets (for instance, cars and electronics)
and cultural goods (such as movies and clothing styles) that defined
modernity. According to liberal economic theory, the result would
be an improved standard of living for everyone. According to Latin
American nationalists, on the other hand, the result would be a return
to neo co lo nial ism. For them, industrialization had become the bot­
tom line of national development, the only thing that could level the
economic playing field between Latin America and the already indus­
trialized countries.

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P o s t – W o r l d W a r I I P o P u l I s m

27 1

This “developmentalist” interpretation found an influential
voice in the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), set
up by the United Nations. The guiding light of ECLA was an Argen­
tine, Raúl Prebisch, who became the most influential Latin Ameri­
can economist ever. His economic analysis focused on Latin America’s
“peripheral” position (exporting raw materials) within a global econ­
omy increasingly dominated by an already industrialized “center”
(the United States and Eu rope). For most Latin American economists,
Prebisch’s center­ periphery, or de pen den cy, model replaced the liberal
theory of comparative advantage as a guide to action. The problem,
they believed, was not how to find comparative advantages on the pe­
riphery, but how to escape from it and join the industrialized center.

During the postwar years, then, Latin American nationalists
faced a set of stiff challenges: urgent social needs, a counterattack from
their old po liti cal adversaries, a weakening economic base, and the hos­
tility of the United States. Populist politics was, in large mea sure, a
response to these challenges. Events in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico
illustrate variants on the populist theme.

Argentina, the richest, most industrialized, urban, and literate
country in Latin America during this time, also had the most dynamic
nationalist movement: Peronism. The Argentine military had con­
trolled the country during the 1930s, acting sometimes as national­
ists of a right­ wing sort, but more often as guardians of the old social
hierarchy. Juan Perón, for whom the Peronist movement is named,
was a nationalist army officer who, as secretary of labor, won a strong
following among Argentine workers. Fearing Perón’s influence, the
government removed him, but on October 17, 1945, an im mense dem­
onstration of workers converged on downtown Buenos Aires to demand
his return. Ever after, Peronists solemnly commemorated October 17 as
Peronist Loyalty Day, and their enemies annually groaned about it as
Saint Perón’s Day. Perón gave the frightened Argentine elite a lot to
groan about after his election by a wide margin in 1946.

Perón’s presidency of Argentina (1946– 55) witnessed the rapid
unionization of the country’s industrial workforce. For de cades, the
industrial working class would remain the mainstay of the Peronist
movement. Perón and his wife, Eva Duarte— Evita to the millions who

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C h a p t e r 9 | r e V O L U t I O N

27 2

adored her— raged, in good nationalist fashion, at the traditional land­
owning oligarchy, a class unloved by urban people in general. Evita
played a large role in mobilizing the Peronist movement. Her dramatic
gestures in favor of Argentina’s poor helped the movement broaden its
populist constituency beyond or ga nized labor.

A glamorous actress of radio soap operas when she met Perón,
Evita had been poor and socially ostracized as a girl. She, too, had come to
Buenos Aires from “the sticks,” at the same time as had so many Peronist
workers. She felt she understood them. She certainly spoke their lan­
guage. Even her lavish wardrobe, with a Eurochic far from Frida Kahlo’s
peasant garb, suited the Argentine workers’ taste. Evita’s flashy style in­
vited them to savor her triumph: “I’m one of you. And I haven’t forgotten
you. My glory is yours, too.” Her greatest pride, she declared, lay in de­
serving “the love of the humble and the hatred of oligarchs.” She created
a Social Aid Foundation where she liked to hand out charity personally.

Evita helped win the vote for Argentine women in 1947 and advo­
cated equal pay for equal work. But her slavish adoration of Perón reeked

J u a n a n D e va P e r Ó n addressing the multitude in downtown Buenos Aires on

October 17, Peronist Loyalty Day. Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images.

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P o s t – W o r l d W a r I I P o P u l I s m

27 3

of patriarchal tradition, and she believed that a woman’s highest aspira­
tion should be marriage and motherhood: “We were born to be homemak­
ers, not to go around in the street.” Evita never used the word leader to
describe herself. “He is the leader,” she said of her husband. “I am only
the shadow of his superior presence.” In her impassioned speeches, more
powerful than Perón’s, Evita presented herself as a mediator, a “bridge
of love between Perón and the people.” Evita died suddenly of cancer in
1952, amid wrenching demonstrations of public grief. The picture on
page 263 shows Evita’s last public appearance, shortly before her death.

Nationalism guided Peronist economics, and the United States
protested vociferously. The Peronist government tried to end foreign
own ership of, well, almost everything in Argentina. In addition to pub­
lic utilities, it bought or expropriated the country’s important meat­
packing plants, banks and insurance companies, and, most famously,
the extensive British­ owned railway system. At the same time, it
expanded social ser vices and the bureaucracy to administer them.
The centerpiece of the Peronist program was a five­ year drive for
industrialization­ or­ bust, subsidized at the cost of the agricultural
export sector. What happened, however, was more bust than indus­
trialization. A severe economic downturn and an unpop u lar tiff with
the Vatican undermined the movement’s middle­ class support.

The military exiled Perón in 1955. But Peronism, by improving
workers’ lives, restoring their dignity, and, above all, giving them hope,
had won a permanent place in many Argentine hearts. Perón could ac­
tivate Peronist loyalties even from exile. In 1957, for example, a quarter
of the electorate voided its ballots in response to his remote control. The
Peronists could not quite govern, but nobody else could rule without
them. A rocky road lay ahead for Argentina.

Brazilian history ran more or less parallel, except that Brazil’s
populist co ali tion was not as strong. Brazil’s urban working and middle
classes, in a country more rural and more dependent on export agricul­
ture, remained proportionately much weaker than Argentina’s. Still,
the Vargas years had created momentum— and the Vargas years were
not over. When the Brazilian military ushered Vargas out of office in
1945, the nationalist leader had already prepared a populist come­
back by founding not one, but two po liti cal parties. Vargas returned

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C h a p t e r 9 | r e V O L U t I O N


to the presidency in 1950 as the victorious candidate of one of these,
the Brazilian Workers’ Party. But he accomplished little. In 1954,
he committed presidential suicide, quite literally. His suicide note
ranted against dark “forces and interests” that “sucked the blood of
the Brazilian people” and frustrated his nationalist goals. The dramatic
death of Vargas produced an awesome outpouring of public grief, simi­
lar to the Argentine reaction at Evita’s death two years previously.

Brazil’s populist co ali tion bumped ahead under other presi­
dents. But development fever upstaged the commitment to the im­
poverished millions like Carolina Maria de Jesús. The new capital
at Brasília, conceived as an ultramodern design of massive, widely
spaced apartment blocks, was constructed with vast outlays of gov­
ernment resources at the expense of surging inflation. Its location
in the sparsely populated interior of the country optimistically sig­
naled a new frontier. Its design was decided by an international com­
petition and reflected the futuristic urban planning of Le Corbusier.
Brasília’s strikingly original public buildings, such as the partly subter­
ranean cathedral, made their creator, Oscar Niemeyer, the best­ known
Latin American architect of the century. This “space­ age” urban mirage
took shape in the late 1950s, during the poignant years of hardship
described in Carolina de Jesús’s diary. Inaugurated in 1960, Brasília is
the perfect symbol of the post­ Vargas moment in Brazil.

The perfect symbol of the moment in Mexico, on the other hand,
was the PRI: the Institutional Revolutionary Party, with an accent on
Institutional rather than Revolutionary. The military had now been de­
finitively subordinated to the PRI, and Mexico had a one­ party system of
admirable stability— but questionable democracy— in which each outgo­
ing president handpicked the next PRI candidate. And the PRI candi­
date never lost. The only thing “revolutionary” about the PRI now was
a nationalist devotion to the Mexican Revolution’s heroes and slogans.
But the Mexican Revolution, if defined as a fight for social justice and a
vindication of the downtrodden masses, was dead in the postwar period.

Mexican industrial growth continued, however. Landowner
power had been definitively shattered, and the PRI held the po liti­
cal loyalty of the many who had benefited from land reform. Because
the government marketed food grown on the restored common lands

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o n s e t o f t h e C o l d W a r


called ejidos, it could hold food prices down and thereby, in effect, sub­
sidize urban living standards. Although the Mexican Revolution had
been largely a rural uprising, its ultimate winners were urban people.
Industrialization continued. The Mexican currency held rock­ steady,
in contrast to roaring inflation elsewhere. As in Brazil, the economic
pie grew overall, but the redistribution of wealth stopped. The major­
ity of Mexicans would not see great improvement in their welfare dur­
ing the PRI’s half­ century rule.

onse t of t h e Col d Wa r

The 1950s were a time of frustration for most Latin Americans. The
United States, now definitively replacing Eu rope as the ultimate model
of Progress, displayed a brilliant postwar prosperity, with living stand­
ards previously unimaginable. Glossy magazines and movies showed
Latin Americans what they were missing. The good life, proclaimed
US media, meant having a refrigerator, even a car. But, for most Latin
Americans, to have a refrigerator was a stretch— and a car, absurdly
out of reach. Having modeled “the good life” to this attentive and yearn­
ing audience, the United States offered little help in getting there.

Now a superpower, preeminent in the world, completely un­
challenged in the hemi sphere, the United States no longer seemed
a good neighbor. Latin American disenchantment with the United
States began in 1947, with the announcement of the US Marshall
Plan. The Marshall Plan spent vast sums rebuilding Eu rope to jump­
start postwar prosperity and limit the appeal of communism. Among
the major recipients of Marshall Plan aid were the US enemies of
World War II. Former Latin American allies of the United States, also
struggling for prosperity, thought they rated similar help; but Latin
America got only about 2 percent of US foreign aid between 1946 and
1959. Latin American diplomats raised the issue at hemispheric meet­
ings, but US priorities lay elsewhere. Western Eu rope, with the Soviet
armies nearby and vigorous communist parties in several countries,
was judged the danger zone, followed by Asia. Latin American issues
hardly concerned US policymakers.

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So, instead of aid, Latin Americans got a lean diet of diplomatic
pressure from the United States. In 1947, the United States convened
hemispheric nations to sign the Rio Pact, a permanent Pan­ American de­
fensive alliance. In 1949, China’s communist revolution triumphed, and
Soviet Rus sia tested an atomic bomb. Now the cold war began in earnest.

The US population was thirsty for coffee, hungry for bananas,
and ready, having shifted away from arms production (although the
“military­ industrial complex” formed a permanent pillar of the post­
war economy), to provide consumer goods in return. The few more­
sophisticated, heavier industries that now began to appear in Latin
America were often subsidiaries of US multinational corporations. They
routinely installed used machines that had been retired from their US
plants, equipment already obsolete in the United States. The result, logi­
cally enough, was factories planned not to be competitive with those in
the United States— a bitter pill for nationalists bent on economic in de­
pen dence. According to the ECLA analysis, this kind of industrialization
only reinforced the economic subordination of Latin America. For US
policymakers, on the other hand, the expansion of the multinational cor­
porations was a natural development of global capitalism. Free­ market
capitalism was viewed as “American,” and US prosperity depended on it,
at home and abroad. Any kind of Latin American economic nationalism
was therefore “un­ American,” something to be combated.

In the grip of an anticommunist witch hunt at home, the US State
Department began to regard virtually any Latin American opposition as
a sign of “creeping communism.” The principal venue of US anticommu­
nist diplomacy was the Or ga ni za tion of American States (OAS), a beefed­
up version of the Pan­ American Union, no longer managed exclusively
by the United States but always dominated by it. Rather famously, a
chorus of unsavory dictators such as Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Re­
public, “Papa Doc” Duvalier in Haiti, and Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua
followed the US line in the OAS, overwhelming any opposition (on a
one country– one vote basis) from larger nations like Mexico, Brazil, and
Argentina. In 1954, the OAS issued the Declaration of Caracas, saying
that all Marxist revolutionary ideology was necessarily alien to the West­
ern Hemi sphere. Therefore, Marxist revolutionary movements, com­
posed of peasants, workers, and university students, would be treated as

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foreign invasions. US diplomats had begun to view Latin America strictly
through cold war goggles. Everywhere, they saw red— or, at least, “pink.”

In Venezuela, for example, US diplomats endorsed the dicta­
tor Marcos Pérez Jiménez, who had hosted the 1954 meeting of the
OAS, because they thought Pérez Jiménez was at least better than
the nationalists of Venezuela’s Demo cratic Action Party. Demo cratic
Action had convincingly won Venezuela’s free election of 1947, but it
was too pink by half for the US State Department. On the other hand,
the dictator Pérez Jiménez, who made both Demo cratic Action and the
Communist Party illegal, seemed reliably friendly to US oil compa­
nies, now in the midst of a major Venezuelan oil boom. Like Trujillo,
Duvalier, and Somoza, Pérez Jiménez was unsavory— but nonetheless
acceptable as one of “our bastards.”

Guatemala’s OAS representative voted alone against the an­
ticommunist Declaration of Caracas, calling instead for Latin Ameri­
can solidarity against US pressures. Here— infuriatingly, for US
diplomats— was the pinkest Latin American government of the hemi­
sphere. To combat it, the US State Department abandoned its 1933
pledge of nonintervention in the internal affairs of Latin American
countries. Instead of sending in US Marines, however, it inaugurated
an indirect form of military intervention— the “proxy” force, recruited
among the local enemies of the targeted government. Proxy forces
were armed and trained, usually in secret, by another new player of
the cold war era, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Following a string of grim dictators, Guatemala had enjoyed an
exciting and hopeful “de cade of spring” between 1944 and 1954. Two
demo cratic elections had seated nationalist presidents, one after an­
other, by wide margins— unprecedented events in the country’s history.
The first of these reformist presidents was Juan José Arévalo, a formerly
exiled university professor who returned to oversee legislative advances
such as social security, a new labor code, and a new constitution. Al­
though hardly radical, he described his philosophy as “spiritual social­
ism,” troubling words for US diplomats and for officers of the United
Fruit Company, with large banana plantations in the country. When
the nationalist government urged better pay for Guatemalan workers,
accusations of “communistic” behavior sounded in Washington.

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n i X o n i n C a r a C a s , 1 9 5 8 . The angry reception given in Venezuela to the visit

of a US vice president illustrates how US–Latin American relations had deteriorated

during the Cold War. Paul Schutzer/Life Magazine, Copyright Time Inc./The LIFE Premium

Collection/Getty Images.

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Then came the second reformist president, an idealistic thirty­
seven­ year­ old army officer named Jacobo Arbenz. Arbenz went beyond
speeches and legislation to push for big changes on the ground. In this
country where half the people were illiterate Mayan peasants, treated
more or less like animals by the own ers of the coffee plantations, who
retained great influence, Arbenz started to confiscate large estates and
divide them up for peasant cultivators. In addition, his government
expropriated land from United Fruit, along with Guatemala’s foreign­
owned railway. The cries of communism now became intense, both in
the United States and in Guatemala.

The Arbenz government was doing no more than other national­
ist governments (and the United States in the radical 1930s) had done
before it. But Guatemala was small, close, and previously obedient to
the United States. Furthermore, just as the US diplomats suspected,
Marxist ideas were becoming increasingly persuasive to nationalists
in Guatemala. Arbenz had embraced them, and so had many of the
shop­ floor activists who propelled the country’s unionization and the
grassroots organizers who carried out the land reform. Some became
members of the Communist Party, and many believed, along with mil­
lions of other Latin American nationalists, that the United States was
their imperialist enemy, bent on bleeding them dry. A number of impor­
tant US policymakers, including Secretary of State John Foster Dulles,
had a personal interest in the United Fruit Company’s banana empire.
The same was true of 1954 CIA chief Allen Dulles, John’s brother.

Most Guatemalan generals were far more conservative than
Arbenz. Revolutionaries within the Arbenz government wanted to arm
a people’s militia as a counterforce to the army. They arranged for an
arms shipment from Czech o slo vak i a, then part of the Soviet­ controlled
Eastern bloc, the last straw for US policymakers. Shortly thereafter, a
US proxy force invaded from Honduras. Instead of fighting the invasion
force, which was puny, the Guatemalan army joined it, ousting Arbenz.
The State Department then announced a landmark victory for “democ­
racy” in Guatemala. But the post­ Arbenz military rule of Guatemala
turned out, by all accounts, to be utterly murderous. As the de cades
passed and the grisly death toll mounted, US diplomats began to view
the intervention of 1954 as a tragic overreaction. To see why, let us

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compare Guatemala to Bolivia, another mostly indigenous country with
similar problems and about equal population.

Bolivia’s National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) took power
in 1952, just as the Arbenz government moved into its final phase. The
MNR was entirely as nationalist as the government of Arbenz. In ad­
dition, the MNR showed clear Marxist influences. But because Bolivia
is farther away from the United States, because US business interests
were less affected by MNR expropriations, and because the Moscow­
oriented Communist Party clearly lacked clout in Bolivia, the US State
Department decided to remain “constructively engaged” with the MNR.
Instead of arming a proxy force, it sent US aid.

Bolivian wealth rested on tin mining, much of it controlled by
three incredibly opulent Bolivian families who lived in Eu rope. It was
said that the young heir of the Patiño family, the richest clan of all,
got an allowance larger than the country’s bud get for public education.
The MNR received support from the miners’ unions and their militias,
who made deafening displays of their sentiments by tossing lit sticks
of dynamite, a tool of their trade, the way mischievous boys elsewhere
throw firecrackers. The MNR nationalized the tin mines and con­
ferred substantial improvements in wages and benefits on the miners.

Indigenous Bolivians, whose peasant communities had been los­
ing their land steadily for generations, now took the initiative, and the
MNR supervised a substantial land reform. Almost sixty thousand poor
families got title to a parcel of land to farm. Another important move
of the revolutionary government— mindful of events in Guatemala, no
doubt— was to reduce the power of the Bolivian army to a shadow of its
former self.

Revolutionary change took a toll on middle­ class living stan­
dards, however. Peasants with title to land now fed their own families
better, so they sent less food to urban markets, raising prices there.
Improved conditions for miners cut into the profits of Bolivia’s main
export earner. Furthermore, because tin refining continued to be
done outside the country, where refiners kept the price of tin as low
as possible, the mines began to operate in the red. Consequently,
more conservative elements within the MNR gained influence, and
US aid strengthened their hand. In the long run, the US policy of

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“constructive engagement” with the Bolivian revolution proved more
effective than the Guatemalan­ style intervention. Bolivian peasants
and miners still got the land and wages they deserved, and the coun­
try’s government steered clear of Soviet Rus sia.

As the 1950s advanced, the battle lines of the Cold War began
to affect everything that happened in Latin America, even literature.
Literature has always been po liti cal in the region, and during the
Cold War, most authors sided with the left.

Take Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda. The most pop u lar poet of
twentieth­ century Latin America, Neruda was lusty, expansive, demo­
cratic, and plainspoken. His Twenty Poems of Love and One Desper-
ate Song (1924) are among the most widely recognized and recited
in the Spanish language. Neruda’s greatest theme was “América”
itself— mostly Spanish America— but he roamed the world over. Like
Gabriela Mistral, Chile’s earlier Nobel Prize– winning poet, Neruda
held a series of diplomatic posts, serving as consul in Asia, Eu rope,
and the Americas between 1927 and 1945. This sort of tribute to liter­
ary talent is a Latin American tradition. Neruda’s heart was with “the
people,” which meant, in mid­ twentieth­ century Latin America, siding
with the revolutionaries. After World War II, he returned to Chile and
devoted himself to revolutionary politics. In 1945, Neruda was elected
senator for Chile’s Communist Party. The great poet’s reputation was
at its height as the Cold War settled over Latin America in the 1950s
and 1960s.

Argentina’s Jorge Luis Borges, another literary giant with an
international reputation, makes an interesting contrast to Neruda.
Like Neruda and many other Latin American authors, Borges had
strong international affiliations. He spent a few years in Switzerland,
studied briefly at Cambridge, and translated works from German,
French, and above all, En glish. Borges loved the En glish language
and even wrote some poetry of his own in En glish. But the Argen­
tine Borges was a retiring and bookish man, far different from the
carousing, rambling Neruda. Born in Buenos Aires, Borges seldom left
there for long. And for most of his life, he was blind. His world was
a private, shadowy theater of Fictions and Dreamtigers, the titles of
two of his books. For Borges, rustic gauchos and the brawling poor

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neighborhoods of Buenos Aires were literary motifs. He liked them as
themes for an Argentine national literature, but he was no “man of
the people” and he sympathized with the military in its long struggle
against Perón. Nevertheless, Borges created short stories so star­
tlingly innovative and imaginative that he became, if anything, more
influential in literature than Neruda. Many believe that Borges never
won the Nobel Prize only because of his unpop u lar right­ wing views.

t h e C u b a n r e volu t Ion

After the 1950s, Latin American nationalists increasingly adopted a
Marxist perspective on history and a revolutionary vision of the future.
Influential poets, novelists, artists, folk­ singers, and social scientists—
not to mention outspoken students at public universities throughout
the region— expressed the Marxist revolutionary vision. And they did
so just as anticommunism became the overriding imperative of US
policy toward Latin America.

The rise of Marxist ideology among Latin American nation­
alists had little to do with Soviet Rus sia, a remote, unhelpful, and
uninspiring ally. Nor was the Marxist dream of a perfect future with­
out inequalities or injustice more convincing in Latin America than
elsewhere. It was Marxist historical analysis that made persuasive
sense to Latin American nationalists bent on dismantling neo co lo nial­
ism. The Marxist view of capitalism, highlighting class exploitation,
seemed an apt description of Latin American experience. The Leninist
theory of imperialism— suggesting that a privileged class within the
dominated countries would profit from collaboration with the outsid­
ers’ imperial plan— also seemed quite accurate in Latin America. In
the 1950s, Marxism was becoming associated with nationalist strug­
gles for decolonization and self­ determination around the world. And
if the imperialist United States hated and feared Marxism, many
Latin Americans found that simply a further incentive to study it.

The Marxist diagnosis of Latin America’s big problems
was injustice— not a wrong policy here, a bad decision there, but
injustice woven into the fabric of a society founded on conquest and

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dedicated, over the centuries, to maintaining inequalities. The prognosis
was grave. Rapid population growth and urbanization were creating
massive shortages of the most basic social necessities. Children on
the street, whole neighborhoods built on garbage dumps— the toll in
diminished lives was (and is) unspeakable. The recommended treat­
ment was revolution, not reform. And by revolution, Marxists meant
not simply a new, better government overthrowing a corrupt old one,
but rather a full reshuffling of the social deck, pulling down the well­
to­ do and powerful who had enjoyed their privileges for so long in
the presence of misery— worse, at the expense of misery— and redis­
tributing the wealth among everybody. Social revolutionaries did not
hesitate to confiscate fortunes extracted from generations of slaves
and indebted peons. And they believed that US multinationals were
only a new version of the Spanish and Portuguese empires, siphoning
riches from what one influential book called The Open Veins of Latin
America. Aspirin would not cure this cancer, believed the Marxist
revolutionaries. The situation called for major surgery.

An Argentine medical student, later famous as “Che” Guevara
(his real name was Ernesto), reached this conclusion in the early 1950s.
Rebellion ran in Che’s family. His mother before him had gained a radi­
cal reputation by brazenly smoking cigarettes in public. Che thought
that Latin American poverty was linked to, and maintained by, an im­
perialist international economic system of awesome power. The victims
of that system, among whom Che included all the countries of Latin
America, could free themselves only by acting together. He began to
show his “internationalist” vocation by cycling for thousands of miles
to see for himself the poverty and oppression of the indigenous peoples
of the Andes. Then, hearing of inspiring reforms underway in Arbenz’s
Guatemala, Che went to participate. From Guatemala, he escaped to
Mexico when US­ backed army officers toppled Arbenz in 1954. Che was
now a bona fide Marxist revolutionary, “a soldier of America,” as he
told his father when he left home, and he considered the battle against
capitalist imperialism his battle, anywhere in the world.

In Mexico, Che met Fidel Castro, a different kind of revolu­
tionary, an intense nationalist immersed in the po liti cal traditions
and struggles of his own country, Cuba. Castro was the son of a

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sugarcane­ growing family who, as a law student in the late 1940s,
was inspired by the idealistic, mildly socialist, and above all, keenly
anti­ imperialist themes of the student movement. In Cuba, as in Latin
America as a whole, 1950s anti­ imperialist attitudes focused almost
exclusively on the United States, and nowhere were anti­ imperialist
feelings stronger than among Cuban nationalists. When US diplomats
orchestrated the formation of the OAS in 1948 in Bogotá, Colombia,
Castro traveled there to attend a parallel anti­ imperialist meeting of
student activists. In opposing the United States, the internationalist
Che and the nationalist Fidel saw eye to eye.

The two met in Mexico because Fidel, along with his brother
Raúl and others, had been exiled from Cuba. Their crime was resisting
the US­ backed military dictatorship of yet another of “our bastards,”
Fulgencio Batista. In 1953, shortly after an elected Cuban government
was overthrown by Batista, the Castro brothers led a disastrous attack
on the dictator’s army. But their gesture of defiance, which cost the
student rebels many lives, proved pop u lar with the Cuban people. Fidel
and Raúl Castro were let out of prison and shipped off to Mexico as a
sign of dictatorial benevolence. Within a couple of years, in late 1956,
they were ready to launch their next pinprick attack on Batista, whom
they regarded— because of his US backing and his staunch support of
US anticommunism in the OAS— as an agent of imperialism.

The eighty­ two invaders— many of them idealistic, middle­ class
youngsters— crowded aboard an incongruous assault vehicle, an old
yacht with the unwarlike name, ironically in En glish, Granma. Their
landing in Cuba did not go well, partly because local peasants alerted
the army, and only a handful of the Granma’s assault force survived to
make history. In the meantime, they made legend, beginning with the
magical number of remaining fighters— twelve, the number of Christ’s
disciples, symbolic of the guerrillas’ physical vulnerability and spiri­
tual superiority. Fidel, Raúl, and Che— now amounting personally
to a quarter of the invasion force— made it into the Sierra Maestra
mountains of eastern Cuba, where they successfully played a deadly
game of hide­ and­ seek with the army for the next two years. A se­
ries of highly sympathetic articles about them appeared in the New
York Times. Even the US government began to qualify its support of

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Batista, and re sis tance to the dictator inside Cuba became virtually
unanimous. Seeing no future, Batista suddenly left the country on the
last day of 1958, and the bearded guerrillas of the mountains met a
tumultuous welcome in Havana.

To show that their revolution had only just begun, they did not
shave or take off their khakis. The revolutionaries dispensed rough
justice against the dictator’s henchmen, trying and executing 483 of
them in three months. At interminable mass rallies and equally inter­
minable televised speeches, Castro explained his vision of a new Cuba.
The revolutionary government retained a high level of pop u lar sup­
port. Anyone watching the nationalist revolutions that had swept over
Latin America in the twentieth century knew what to expect: mea sures
against “economic imperialism,” possibly including expropriation of for­
eign companies, and, above all, land reform. Land reform began almost
immediately, in May 1959.

Which side would the new Cuban government be on in the Cold
War? That was the US State Department’s main question, overshadow­
ing even the very considerable US economic interest in Cuba. The cre­
ation of “a Communist beachhead ninety miles from our shores” would
be intolerable in their eyes. Was Castro a communist?

Never—not as a student radical in the 1940s, nor as a guerrilla
leader in the 1950s— was Castro close to the Moscow­ line Cuban Com­
munist Party. Nor had the Communist Party played any substantial
part in the overthrow of Batista. But when Fidel went on tele vi sion
for his five­ hour chat on the structural changes of a “real revolution,”
the Marxist inspiration of his vision was obvious. The only thing that
could reassure people in the United States, it seemed, was a demon­
stration that the Cuban Revolution would be aligned with the United
States against international communism. In their own terms, the
Cuban revolutionaries were being asked to betray everything they
had fought for: to side with “economic imperialism” against the forces
of “national liberation.” Fidel and Che never even considered it.

And Castro had a way of rubbing in the point. On a 1960 trip to
New York, he delivered a four­ hour lecture in the United Nations on
the topic of US imperialism. At a Harlem hotel, he met with Malcolm
X and other critics of US policies at home and abroad. In February of

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the same year, he began to arrange an alternative Rus sian market for
Cuban sugar, long sold almost exclusively in the United States, and in
June he bought Rus sian oil, offered at an advantageous price. When
Cuba’s US­ owned oil refineries refused to pro cess this “red” crude,
Fidel expropriated them. In July came the US government’s response:
an end to US purchases of Cuban sugar, responsible for three quar­
ters of Cuba’s export revenue. In August, the revolutionary government
struck back by expropriating more US­ owned property, from sugar
mills and mines to telephone and electric companies. In the second half
of 1960, the United States declared an embargo on all trade with Cuba,
and word reached Havana of a proxy force being trained and equipped
by the CIA to invade the island.

This time, however, the proxy technique failed miserably.
Despite their hopes, the anti­ Castro Cubans who landed at the Bay of

los barbuDos, “the bearded ones.” To show that the revolution was only beginning, the
Cuban revolutionaries did not shave their beards after their 1959 victory. In the center is Fidel

Castro. Another barbudo, not pictured here, was Che Guevara. Popper Foto/Getty Images.

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Pigs in 1961 sparked no internal rebellion. The new Cuban army was
a direct outgrowth of Castro’s revolutionary army of 1956– 58 and to­
tally loyal to him. It quickly defeated these invaders. But they seemed
unlikely to be the last invaders. The Cuban military alignment with
Soviet Rus sia, what US policymakers had so dreaded, now took shape
as a defense against new invasions from the United States.

In mid­1962, high­ flying US spy planes called U­2s began to
photograph nuclear missile installations under construction, and in
October they got a clear picture of a missile. A few days later, US
President John F. Kennedy issued an ultimatum to the Rus sians:
withdraw the missiles “or else.” The world held its breath. The Cuban
Missile Crisis was one of the most dangerous moments in the Cold
War. Finally, the Soviets agreed to remove their missiles in return for
a US agreement not to invade Cuba. Aside from petty harassment by
the CIA— involving such escapades as an exploding cigar and schemes
to make Fidel’s beard fall out— the military threat from the United
States had ended.

The debilitating effects of the US embargo, however, would go
on for de cades. The intention was to cut off not only US trade, but also
all trade between Cuba and countries allied with the United States.
Cuban trade with the rest of Latin America was strangled thanks to
the US grip on the OAS. Sanctions applied even to Cuba’s trade with
neutral countries. Any vessel that docked in Cuba would be unwelcome
afterward in US harbors. As a result, Cuba’s external trade shifted
decisively to distant countries aligned with Soviet Rus sia.

Cuba was expelled from the OAS despite the opposition of the
largest Latin American countries. Here, again, was the power of the
many small countries that always voted with the United States in
the OAS. Gradually, Cuba became a center for re sis tance to US policy
in Latin America and a training ground for Marxist revolutionaries.
Moscow had decided that, in most of Latin America, conditions propitious
for a social revolution did not yet exist. But Che Guevara had developed
a new theory of guerrilla warfare based on the Cuban experience in the
Sierra Maestra mountains. Revolutionary conditions could be created,
thought Che, by small, committed guerrilla groups like the Granma
expedition. These groups would establish focos, focal points of guerrilla

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activity to jump­ start a larger revolution. Che himself vowed to repeat
the Sierra Maestra experience on a continental scale— to make the
Andes “the Sierra Maestra of South America.” His ill­ fated Bolivian
mission, which began in 1966, was meant to do just that.

Che traveled to Bolivia disguised as a balding Uruguayan
businessman and launched his continental revolution with a mere
fifty guerrillas— thirty Bolivians and various international (especially
Cuban) volunteers. This time, though, the tiny but idealistic revolution­
ary force did not triumph. Che himself suffered from prolonged asthma
attacks that incapacitated him and disheartened his followers. The
Bolivian peasants were suspicious of the guerrillas, and none joined
the movement. Meanwhile, the Bolivian army picked them off one by
one, until only a handful remained; still, when he was finally captured,
interrogated, and executed in 1968, Che had become a hero throughout
Latin America, not so much for what he did as for how he died trying.

Che had left Cuba partly because of his own frustrations there.
Che was a theorist and visionary who believed that, for true social­
ism to function, money should be abolished and people should work
for ideals. But as revolutionary president of Cuba’s national bank,
then minister of industry in the early 1960s, he found those changes
easier to envision than to implement. Che had been foremost among
those insisting that the sugar­ heavy Cuban economy must diversify
and industrialize. He had shaped the revolution’s first assault on the
problem of underdevelopment, an impatient “crash” industrialization
plan. Grand promises of aid came from Soviet­ aligned countries in
Eu rope and also from China. The Soviet government alone pledged to
build a hundred factories in Cuba, but it soon changed its tune. Like
the United States, Soviet Rus sia really preferred to exchange its own
manufactured products for Cuban sugar. Could the revolution harness
sugar— that old dragon, devourer of generations of slaves and other
impoverished workers— for the common good? Maybe so, thought stub­
bornly optimistic Cuban revolutionaries in the late 1960s. The sugar
plantations, along with nearly everything else, now belonged to the
Cuban state, making them the property of the Cuban people. So, in
the years after Che’s death, Castro pursued a startling new economic
goal— a ten­ million­ ton sugar harvest.

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As the revolutionary government worked feverishly to increase
production, middle­ class people reluctantly volunteered to blister
their hands chopping sugarcane on the weekends. Dissent was not
permitted. When a well­ known poet was publicly silenced, the news
produced unease among revolutionary sympathizers inside and
outside Cuba.

Many outsiders were rooting for the Cuban Revolution. In then­
communist East Germany, university student Tamara Bunke, later
better known by her guerrilla pseudonym, Tania, felt that the Cuban
Revolution was also her fight. Tania was born and grew up in Buenos
Aires, where the Bunke family had fled to escape the Nazis during the
1930s, returning to Germany after World War II. When Che Guevara
led a trade mission to East Germany in 1960, Tania was his interpreter.
Inspired by the revolution’s project to transform Latin America, she
traveled to Cuba and threw herself into work brigades, the militia, the
literacy campaign— but she wanted something more heroic. By 1964,

P o l i C e v e r s u s s t u D e n t s . Guatemalan students battle police during a street

demonstration in 1962. Many university students, along with artists, intellectuals, and

unionized workers, were inspired by the Cuban Revolution during the 1960s. AP Photo.

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she got it, going to Bolivia alone as a secret agent to lay the groundwork
for Che’s last, doomed campaign. By 1967 she was dead, along with
almost all the others. In death, she became a hemispheric symbol of
revolutionary commitment and self­ sacrifice, much like Che himself.
From Argentina to Mexico, baby girls were named Tania in her honor.

There were musical reverberations of revolution throughout
Latin America, too. Folk music with protest themes became the in­
ternational sound track of revolutionary or ga niz ing. Undercover in
Bolivia, Tania had posed as a folk music collector. The spiritual mother
of this “new song” movement was a Chilean woman, Violeta Parra.
Parra was not of the sixties generation. In fact, she was old enough
to be the mother of the young protest singers who gathered around
her in the 1960s. Several were, in fact, her children. Parra, a superb
lyricist herself, was steeped in Chilean folk music. Her music was more
personal than revolutionary, and personal despair led her to commit
suicide in 1967, the same year of Tania’s death. But to the sixties gen­
eration, her music represented an authentic Latin American spirit of
protest. Parra killed herself with characteristic flair in a carpa, a tent
set up in the tradition of traveling folk performers. The young musi­
cians whom she had inspired soon scattered. Ultimately, Havana would
be the international center of the “new song” movement.

By the late 1960s, the Cuban Revolution had become a potent
symbol for young people all over the hemi sphere. All but the most com­
mitted Latin American anticommunists felt im mense satisfaction at
seeing a Cuban David stand up to the US Goliath. For Latin Ameri­
can socialists— including more and more students, union leaders, and
young people in general— the Cuban Revolution had a lot to show. It
had vastly increased educational opportunities, making decisive strides
toward full literacy and exemplary public health. It had improved hous­
ing in long­ neglected rural Cuba. It had championed the full equality
of black Cubans, who before the revolution had been legally banned
from some beaches to suit the race prejudice of US tourists. Cuban
movies and poster art, particularly, communicated the promise of a
vibrant, creative revolution throughout Latin America. Cuba’s Casa de
las Americas offered the region’s most prestigious literary prize. Cuban
nationalists, so long frustrated by Spain’s long rule in Cuba and the

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t h e C u b a n r e v o l u t I o n


humiliating Platt Amendment, gloried in the revolution. For them,
Cuba’s international prominence helped compensate for what the
revolution did not offer.

The Cuban Revolution did not offer the individual liberties so
central to liberalism, such as the right to speak against the government
and to travel outside the country. These received a low priority in revo­
lutionary thinking. Only a small minority in Latin America could afford
to travel outside the country anyway, reasoned the revolutionaries. If
revolution was major surgery, the operating room would need tight dis­
cipline. Why permit anyone to disrupt the team spirit? Restoring hope
of a decent life to the  destitute majority seemed worth infringing the
personal liberties of the most fortunate citizens.

To anticommunists, especially in the United States but also in
Latin America, the surgery of social revolution created a Frankenstein’s
monster— unnatural, powerful, and frightening. Communism chal­
lenged not only individual liberties but also older, even more traditional
values like patriarchy and social hierarchy. Anticommunists regarded
the revolutionary vision as “brainwashing” or the consequence of a
viruslike contagion. And suddenly, from the perspective of US anticom­
munists only recently attentive to events south of the border, the conta­
gion was here, in “our backyard”—“just ninety miles from our shores,”
in fact. The stage was set for conflict.

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C h a p t e r r e v i e w

1. How did Latin American relations with the United States change

after World War Two?

2. In particular, what high hopes of Latin American nationalists

were disappointed in a postwar world?

3. In what ways does the 1954 US intervention in Guatemala

exemplify patterns of the emerging Cold War in Latin America?

What is to be learned by comparison with Bolivia?

4. What things made a Marxist view of history persuasive to many

Latin Americans in the 1950s and 1960s?

5. Did the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 present a

plausible model for would­be guerrillas around the region?

s t u d y Q u e s t I o n s

populism, p.269

ECLA, p.271

Juan and Eva Perón, p.271

Rio Pact, p.276

Jacobo Arbenz, p.279

Pablo Neruda, p.281

Marxism, p.282

K e y t e r m s a n d v o C a b u l a r y

Cuban Revolution, p.282

Che Guevara, p.283

Fidel Castro, p.283

Bay of Pigs, p.286

Cuban Missile Crisis, p.287

Liberation theology, p.293

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l I b e r at I o n t h e o l o g y


he Catholic Church played no part in the Cuban Revolution,
which totally marginalized religion and turned churches into
public auditoriums. Historically, the Catholic Church had been,

above all, a powerful bulwark of the status quo and therefore a prime
target of revolutionaries. But churchmen could be revolutionaries, too.
Father Miguel Hidalgo and Father José María Morelos had shown that
during Mexico’s in de pen dence struggle. Friar Bartolomé de las Casas,
the early advocate for indigenous people, had led the way in the 1500s.

In the 1960s, Latin America’s radical priests again followed
the lead of las Casas. Father Camilo Torres was one. A son of the Co­
lombian upper class, Torres taught Latin America’s most “subversive”

M a s s i n t h e r u r a l a n D e s . Photograph by Severo Salazar. © Panes Pictures/TAFOS

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29 4

academic discipline, sociology, at the National University. Sociolo­
gists were seen as pink because they talked a lot about social class, a
favorite Marxist category of analysis. Torres did sound like the Cuban
revolutionaries when he demanded “fundamental change in economic,
social, and po liti cal structures,” something he believed Colombia’s
traditional Liberal and Conservative Parties could never accomplish.
Torres desired revolution, which he saw as “the way to bring about
a government that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, teaches the
ignorant, and puts into practice works of charity and brotherly love.”
Father Torres joined a guerrilla army and died fighting in 1966.

Religious revolutionaries of the early 1960s saw Latin America’s
problems much as the Marxist revolutionaries did. Only a few joined guer­
rilla armies, however. Most believed that faith and good works were more
powerful than guns. They took inspiration from the work of Paulo Freire,
the region’s greatest teacher of literacy, then at work among the peasants
of impoverished northeastern Brazil. Freire argued that peasants were
intelligent adults eager to empower themselves. He believed that meth­
ods used with schoolchildren were not appropriate in helping poor adults
learn to read. For illiterate adults, learning to read and write meant taking
greater charge of their own lives. So Freire developed a method of interac­
tive learning and, to describe it, coined the term “consciousness­ raising.”

In 1968, when the Conference of Latin American Bishops held
a landmark meeting in Medellín, Colombia, the bishops discussed the
usefulness of Freire’s approach. They agreed that the church should
take “a preferential option for the poor,” and they discussed the forma­
tion of Christian “base communities,” in which believers would gather
to read and discuss the Bible in something like one of Freire’s literacy
groups. The bishops also talked of liberating people from the “institu­
tionalized violence” of poverty. This was not violence in the ordinary
sense. Rather, Latin America’s Catholic bishops had begun to see
hunger, ignorance, and rampant disease as tragically  preventable
damage to human lives. Governments that failed to prevent that
damage were committing institutionalized violence. Its victims often
saw the damage they suffered as something natural, an inevitable
part of being poor. Consciousness­ raising in Christian­based commu­
nities could unmask institutionalized violence and strip away its seem­
ing naturalness. Here were Catholic teachings designed to undermine,

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C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s


rather than reinforce, Latin America’s ancient patterns of hierarchy and
hegemony. This new message said nothing about suffering patiently
through life to gain heavenly compensation. Instead, it called for soup
kitchens, day­care co­ ops, and neighborhood or ga niz ing. It demanded
government responsibility. In a region well known for religious fervor,
the result might be powerful. That, at least, was the hope of priests and
nuns who lived and worked in poor neighborhoods.

“Liberation theology” became the general name for the movement
that had crystallized at the 1968 bishops’ conference. Liberation theol­
ogy immediately stirred enormous interest, both for and against. Con­
servatives pointed to Father Camilo Torres and cried “Communism!” In
fact, the religious revolutionaries did have something in common with
the Marxist ones. They shared a sense of emergency and the basic prem­
ise that Latin America required sweeping, fundamental change. They
were equally committed to relieving the plight of the poor. Both believed
that existing power structures were stacked against them. Despite the
many disagreements between Marxist and Christian ideologies, these
revolutionaries could logically see each other as potential allies.

A conservative reaction began immediately within the Catholic
Church itself. Exponents of liberation theology have been passionate
and eloquent, but never a majority. By the late 1970s, a new pope,
John Paul II, threw the power of the Vatican fully against them. John
Paul’s formative experience as a Catholic leader in communist Poland
made him inexorably opposed to Marxism, and he believed that Latin
America’s religious revolutionaries had crossed the line. The Vatican’s
campaign began at the 1978 Conference of Latin American Bishops
held in the Mexican city of Puebla. It included the systematic appoint­
ment of Latin American bishops hostile to liberation theology and
even the official “silencing” of liberation theologians. Likewise, the
pope visited Nicaragua in 1983 to support a conservative archbishop
against Sandinista revolutionary leaders who were Catholic clergy
and exponents of liberation theology. (The Sandinista revolution will
be discussed in the next chapter.) “Silence!” shouted the pope three
times at the angry pro­ Sandinista crowd, in a memorable moment of
direct confrontation. Gradually, the liberation theology movement lost
momentum in the 1980s before even 1 percent of Latin Americans had
participated in a Christian­based community.

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M o t h e r s o f t h e P l a z a d e M ayo . The return of niños desaparecidos, “disappeared

children,” is what these Buenos Aires protestors demanded, day after day, in front of the

presidential palace during the 1980s. Carrying banners and poster- size photos of the

children whom they wanted back alive, the courageous mothers had to settle more often

for news of their children’s abduction and clandestine murder by the Argentine military

during its “dirty war” against Marxist guerrillas called Montoneros. Photograph by Enrique

Shore, Woodfin Camp and Associates Inc.

1 9 6 4
Military coup

in Brazil

1 9 7 3
Military coup

in Chile

1 9 7 8
Puebla confer-
ence of Latin


1 9 8 4
I, Rigoberta


1 9 9 0

electoral defeat

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1 0

fter the Cuban Revolution exploded like a flare in the night
sky, a beacon of hope for some and a signal of danger for
others, the Cold War came to Latin America in full force.

The Cuban government did what it could— not very much, offering
training but rarely money or arms— to aid Marxist revolutionaries in
other countries of the region. Soviet Rus sia never played a major role
outside Cuba. Still, the US State Department saw any Marxist revo-
lutionary movement as a Soviet proxy force. US policy encouraged a
violent counterrevolutionary reaction that spread over the region in
the 1960s and 1970s.

Admittedly, Marxism and the Cuban example were very prom-
inent. That was no figment of the US State Department’s imagina-
tion. Furthermore, Latin American Marxists did believe that Soviet
Rus sia was on their side. But images of the USSR figured little in the


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C h a p t e r 1 0 | r e a C t I O N

29 8

appeal of Latin American Marxism. Almost never did the Marxist
revolutionaries of Latin America or ga nize because of Rus sian
prompting or depend on Rus sian aid, much less operate on Rus sian
instructions. There simply were no Soviet proxy guerrilla forces
in Latin America equivalent to those created by the US govern-
ment. Nationalism remained the bedrock of revolutionary feeling.
Among most Latin American revolutionaries of the day, to accept
Marxism meant basically one thing: to side with the weak and
impoverished masses against the rich minority and the US multi-
national corporations.

On the other side stood those who thought revolution spelled
disaster. Latin Americans took this position for various reasons.
The upper class and most of the middle class were logically anti-
communist because they feared losing their privileged status. But
traditional patronage networks involved many poor people in the an-
ticommunist cause as well. Sometimes, the anticommunists success-
fully branded Marxist ideas as foreign to Latin America by tirelessly
exaggerating the international connections of revolutionary move-
ments. And after all, Marxism, like liberalism in the early 1800s, re-
ally was an imported ideology, and poor and culturally conservative
people— of whom there are many in Latin America, especially in the
countryside— might not think that radical university students spoke
for them.

Nat ioNa l Secu r i t y D o c t r i N e

The most important US anticommunist allies, by far, were the armed
forces of Latin America. The working alliance between the US mili-
tary and Latin American armed forces, dating from World War II,
had become an explicitly anticommunist alliance after the war. It
involved permanent US military aid for Latin American armies, as
well as training at the US military’s School of the Americas, where
the basic curriculum could be summed up as counterinsurgency—
how to fight guerrillas. The overall logic of the anticommunist

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N a t i o N a l S e c u r i t y D o c t r i N e

29 9

alliance, sometimes called “national security doctrine,” ran as follows:
Latin American armed forces are key US allies in defense of the “free
world,” and counterinsurgency is their special role. The strategic
naval and air power of the United States will handle any communist
invaders from outside the hemi sphere. Latin American armies, for
their part, should turn their guns inward against “the internal en-
emies of freedom”: revolutionary organizers in factories, poor neigh-
borhoods, and universities.

It is easy to see what Latin American generals liked about their
alliance with the US military. The US alliance increased the power
of Latin American armies within their own countries. Furthermore,
national security doctrine offered a glorious mission— defending the
“free world” or even “Western civilization”— and this mission won
them rich and powerful friends as a fringe benefit.

The creation of the military alliances was complemented in
the 1960s by a new US aid policy. In a clear reaction to the Cuban
Revolution, US President John F. Kennedy announced— belatedly,
in 1961— a sort of Marshall Plan for Latin America, to be called the
Alliance for Progress. The basic idea of the Alliance for Progress was
exactly that of the Marshall Plan: to reduce revolutionary pressures by
stimulating economic development and po liti cal reform. “Those who
make reform impossible will make revolution inevitable,” declared
Kennedy, in reference to the danger of communism in Latin America.
US aid to Latin America increased. But making substantial changes
in whole societies is harder, and much more expensive, than supply-
ing guns and counterinsurgency training. The Alliance for Progress
quickly ran out of steam. By the 1970s, Latin American generals
believed that the region would inevitably fall to communist revolution
unless they prevented it.

For military officers steeped in national security doctrine, the
Cuban Revolution had been a call to battle stations, and, in their view,
the situation grew more dire as the 1960s advanced. Spray- painted
revolutionary slogans seemed to cover every available wall. Marxism
was becoming the predominant po liti cal philosophy among Latin
American artists, social scientists, and nationalist intellectuals in

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3 0 0

s a N t o d o M I N G o , 1 9 6 5 . Latin American militaries usually fought their Cold War bat-

tles without allied US “boots on the ground.” The one direct US military intervention, show

here, occurred in the Dominican Republic. Daily Express/Archive Photos/Getty Images.

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N a t i o N a l S e c u r i t y D o c t r i N e

3 01

general. The 1960s New Cinema of Brazil and other countries gained
critical acclaim with gritty films designed, according to one filmmaker,
“to make the people aware of their own misery.” Revolutionary Cuba’s
upstart film industry soon became one of the best and most influential
in Latin America. The vogue of Marxist thought could be felt with
par tic u lar intensity at public universities. A novelistic “Boom” had
made Latin American literature famous throughout the world, and its
prestigious authors spoke for revolution. Colombia’s Gabriel García
Márquez, for example, traveled often to Cuba and shared a warm
friendship with Fidel Castro. García Márquez’s novel One Hundred
Years of Solitude (1967), arguably the best- known Latin American
novel of the century, climaxes with a massacre, as government
machine guns fire into crowds of workers on strike against a US
banana company. The real event, involving the United Fruit Company,
took place in 1928 near the Colombian author’s home. Other Boom
authors, such as Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes and Peru’s Mario Vargas
Llosa, shared the general admiration for revolutionary Cuba in
the 1960s. Even the Catholic Church, long a pillar of tradition and
hierarchy, developed a dissenting wing that aligned itself with the
revolutionaries, as we have seen. When radios played the Beatles
singing “Back in the USSR you don’t know how lucky you are,” even
the youth counterculture seemed, in military eyes, to conspire against
national security.

Perhaps a siege mentality explains the gruesome violence
committed from the 1960s to the 1980s by Latin American militaries
against their “internal enemies.” What ever explains it, military use
of secret kidnapping, torture, and murder as counterinsurgency tech-
niques became widespread. With the “free world” depending on them
to combat the “red tide,” Latin American militaries targeted anyone
suspected of sympathizing with the guerrillas— student protesters,
labor leaders, peasant organizers— snatching them off the streets
and “disappearing” them forever without legal record. “This is war,”
explained the generals. They were doing what they had to, they said,
to defeat communist guerrillas.

By the 1960s, these were often urban guerrillas. Urban guer-
rillas lived and fought in big cities, where they could menace the

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3 02

government, strike at army headquarters, or kidnap and ransom
an industrialist to finance their operations. By the same token,
with their enemies literally around the corner, urban guerrillas
were extremely vulnerable. Their only protections were secrecy
and anonymity. To identify guerrillas and find their hideouts, Latin
American security forces subjected prisoners to a variety of horrors,
including repeated rape over a period of weeks, electric shocks to
nipples and testicles, permanent blindfolding, and psychological tor-
ment such as being forced to witness the torture of a loved one. Many
in Latin America believe that such techniques were taught at the
US School of the Americas. One thing is certain: National security
doctrine maintained the climate of emergency used by torturers to
justify their acts.

US policy called for democracy but helped trigger dictator-
ship. National security doctrine encouraged Latin American armed
forces to take an increasingly active role in national life, promot-
ing economic development and public health, for example. As they
gained this kind of experience, some officers began to consider civil-
ian politicians an unnecessary hindrance. Civil liberties such as the
right to denounce torture reduced the military’s freedom to smash
its enemies by any means necessary. To  save democracy from the
Marxists, the generals destroyed it themselves in a series of pre-
emptive strikes.

The government of one Latin American country after another
was now taken over by executive committees composed of generals
and admirals. These were called juntas, like the provisional govern-
ments founded in Spanish America after Napoleon imprisoned the
king of Spain in 1808. The military juntas of the 1960s, 1970s, and
1980s tried to keep things under collective institutional control,
avoiding the emergence of an unpredictable Perón. The nonpersonal-
ist nature of the new military dictatorships led po liti cal scientists
to speak of “bureaucratic authoritarianism.” By the mid-1970s, a
plague of bureaucratic authoritarianism had swept through South
America, and constitutional civilian governments survived in only a
few countries.

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M i l i t a r y r u l e

3 03

M il i ta ry ru l e

Brazil offers a perfect example. Brazilian military leaders, who had
fought alongside US forces during World War II, enjoyed close ties to
the United States. The US response to the Cuban Revolution put the
Brazilian military on “red” alert, and the generals saw danger every-
where. To their dismay, even the decidedly unrevolutionary Brazilian
president, elected in 1960, pinned a medal on Che Guevara to signal
diplomatic in de pen dence from the United States. This president
eventually resigned, but his vice president, who was on a visit to Red
China at the time of the resignation, was even worse in military eyes.
Limiting his powers, they watched his every move.

They did not like what they saw. The new president was João
Goulart, a po liti cal protégé of Getúlio Vargas. Labor minister in the
last Vargas government, Goulart had inherited leadership of the
Vargas constituency, Brazil’s nationalist co ali tion of the urban middle
and working classes. But that co ali tion had unraveled after the Cuban
Revolution, when frightened middle- class voters bolted to the right.
So Goulart redoubled his outreach toward urban workers, his rhetoric
sounding more radical each day. Foreign investors feared expropria-
tion. In a climate of sharp and unpredictable po liti cal confrontation,
the economy stalled completely.

Meanwhile, the land- hungry Peasant Leagues of desperately
impoverished northeastern Brazil began to admire the Cuban model,
and Brazilian landowners resolved to fight land reform tooth and nail.
The military feared that Goulart might build a new revolutionary
co ali tion of workers and peasants, capable of steamrollering all re sis-
tance. So, with the knowledge and collaboration of the US ambassador
and the US military attaché in Brazil, and with US naval support off-
shore standing by, Brazilian generals seized control of the country. The
US ambassador interpreted the coup as the “single most decisive vic-
tory for freedom in the mid- twentieth century.” But the Brazilian mili-
tary ruled undemo cratically for twenty years following their 1964 coup.

Brazil had no tradition of military rule per se. So military lead-
ers carefully maintained the outward appearance of constitutional

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3 0 4

government. If laws got in their way, they decreed a change in the
laws. They decreed that their enemies had no po liti cal rights for ten
years. They decreed that there were only two legal po liti cal parties,
which Brazilians joked about as the “Yes” party and the “Yes, sir”
party. Opposition emerged anyway. Before dissolving the congress, an
unconstitutional act, the generals decreed amendments that let them
dissolve it legally. When urban guerrillas or ga nized in the late 1960s
and early 1970s, the military attacked them— and anybody around
them or suspected of supporting them— with out- of- uniform “death
squads.” Meanwhile, they kept meticulous files on official prisoners,
files that even recorded their interrogation under torture. Eventually,
an archbishop sympathetic to liberation theology and basic human
rights was able to compile copies of these files to document military

The Brazilian military had various currents within it. Moder-
ate constitutionalists were in control from 1964 to 1967, but as pro-
test mounted, hard- liners with more dictatorial inclinations took
over. The hard line dominated the government from 1968 to 1974,
after which pop u lar protest temporarily subsided and the regime
relaxed somewhat. Along with generals who took their cues from the
United States, there were right- wing nationalists who talked freely
of making Brazil into a world power. The nationalists paid special
attention to road- building and development projects in the Amazon
basin, through which Brazil’s borders run, believing that otherwise,
the country might lose this vast territory.

The Brazilian military had a nationalist commitment to in-
dustrialization, too. It drove relentlessly toward a new level of heavy
industrialization, the manufacture of durable consumer goods.
Middle- class protest subsided in the early 1970s, partly because the
economy had begun to grow explosively. For a few years, the gov-
ernment spoke proudly of a Brazilian economic “miracle.” Growth it
certainly was; a miracle it was not. The military government had
created conditions in which new industries could thrive at the ex-
pense of Brazil’s poor majority. Not tied to a broad electoral co ali tion,
the military could hold down wages and “disappear” anyone who com-
plained. It could attract international capital with a “safe climate for

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M i l i t a r y r u l e

3 0 5

foreign investment,” meaning low wages, no strikes, few restrictions,
and no expropriations. And it could freely channel resources into de-
velopmental priorities like mining, transportation, steel production,
and oil refining.

Heavier industries used less of Brazil’s abundant unskilled
labor, and their products were aimed mostly at a middle- class mar-
ket. Therefore, most people in Brazil, where the middle class was a
distinct minority, benefited little or not at all from the “miracle” of the
early 1970s. Military policies put more money and credit not in the
hands of the poor who most needed it, but in the hands of better- off
people likely to buy cars, electronics, and domestic appliances. In a
country half- malnourished, the malnourished half got only one-tenth
of the income gains between 1964 and 1974. Instead, the bulk of those
gains went to the richest tenth of Brazilian society. Some miracle! The
cake had to rise, said the generals, before it could be sliced. But they
really had no plans for distributing this prosperity. Instead, they pur-
sued their vision of Brazilian greatness by constructing some of the
world’s biggest, and most environmentally devastating, hydroelectric
dams— also highways, bridges, and airports.

Then the miracle was over. Oil prices had been rising steeply
since the early 1970s, and Brazil imported a lot of oil. For a while,
sudden oil profits, the so- called petrodollars, flowed from oil- rich
countries like Saudi Arabia and Iraq into international banks, then
out of the banks as low- interest, short- term loans into oil- poor coun-
tries like Brazil. The Brazilian military government borrowed billions
of petrodollars to maintain its developmental drive. They also bor-
rowed petrodollars to import expensive petroleum, in a vicious circle.
A more creative reaction was the program to make cane- alcohol fuel
for cars, fuel that eventually powered a quarter to a third of Brazilian
motor vehicles. Then, in the late 1970s, the second shoe dropped when
international interest rates rose dramatically. Brazil’s foreign debt
mushroomed. By the early 1980s, Brazil had the world’s largest for-
eign debt.

Brazilian industries now produced cars, buses, and trucks
with all- Brazilian components. However, when the value of Brazil’s
manufactured exports surpassed the value of its coffee exports in the

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early 1970s— a historic moment for economic nationalist dreams— it
happened partly because so many Brazilians could not afford the
items being exported. Ironically, half- malnourished Brazil was now
one of the world’s leading exporters of food. Beginning in 1978, mas-
sive strikes of workers in São Paulo, the country’s industrial heart, an-
nounced the revival of pop u lar opposition to the military’s regressive
social policies. After saving Brazil from the “Cuban threat” very early
on, the military had used economic growth to justify its continued au-
thoritarian rule. Now, in the early 1980s, with an economic meltdown
and an awakening opposition on its hands, the military was finally
ready to bow out.

The legacy of military rule was worse, much worse, in Argentina
and Uruguay, scene of a “dirty war” fought by the armed forces against
urban guerrillas. Argentina and Uruguay could not be more unlike
Brazil at this time, in their high overall standard of living and their
unequaled indices of literacy and life expectancy. Yet this did not save
them from the crisis unleashed by the Cold War.

Whereas in the early 1960s Brazilian generals were dreading
what might happen if industrial workers and peasants joined forces,
Argentine generals were dreading what already had happened—
Perón. The exiled leader was still directing the now outlawed Peronist
movement personally, and the industrial workers of Argentina still
revered him. Perón had never been a Marxist, but during the Cold
War any working- class movement looked suspicious to anticommunist
eyes. A few years after ousting Perón in 1955, the Argentine military
had stepped aside and allowed civilian rule to resume, but whenever
it allowed the Peronists to compete in elections (1962, 1965), the mili-
tary came hurrying back to annul a Peronist victory. Then, in 1966,
two years after the military takeover in Brazil, the Argentine armed
forces set up their own version of a bureaucratic authoritarian state,
with similar goals: to eliminate the revolutionary threat, hold down
wages, and encourage foreign investment. The Argentine military
government also mirrored Brazil’s official anticommunist repression,
but with ghoulish intensity.

Not easily repressed, Argentine revolutionaries drew strength
from their Peronist heritage and from deeper socialist and anarchist

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3 07

roots. The Argentine military, on the other hand, did not benefit
from economic growth comparable to the Brazilian “miracle” of
these years. Without carrots to distribute, it relied on the stick.
The killing began in the late 1960s and escalated through the
1970s, making the Brazilian record of military torture and murder
appear child’s play by comparison. A number of tenacious Marxist
guerrilla movements, their members often young, urban, middle-
class, and university educated, fought against the Argentine military
government. Many Montoneros, the best known guerrillas, came
from Peronist families and still considered themselves Peronists,
although their ideology had swerved left. The military responded
with death squads that “disappeared” probably more than twenty
thousand people, murdered them— after interrogation and torture—
and disposed of their bodies secretly, disclaiming any knowledge of
their victims’ whereabouts.

This dirty war continued even after the military finally per-
mitted Perón’s return to Argentina, where he became president in
1973. Sick and in his late seventies, Perón himself now appeared less
dangerous than the supposedly Peronist guerrillas. Unfortunately, he
died almost immediately. His second wife, Isabel, a former nightclub
dancer who had been made vice president, now stepped into the role
of Evita, as a po liti cal leader in her own right, but she had none of
Evita’s charisma. The Peronist movement split apart utterly, and Isabel
Perón was replaced by a new military president in 1976. Now the
counterinsurgency operations moved into homicidal high gear, and
the military finally succeeded in exterminating its guerrilla enemies.
The generals proudly announced the triumph of “Judeo- Christian
civilization,” but, as the Argentine economy continued its twenty- year
pattern of fits and starts, only Argentina’s 1978 home- team victory
in the World Cup soccer championship bolstered their popularity.
Encouraged by government secrecy, most Argentines tried not to
notice the dirty war.

But in the late 1970s, mothers carry ing photographs of their
“disappeared” children began to protest in the main square of down-
town Buenos Aires, the Plaza de Mayo. The military called them
crazy. Not wanting to know the grisly truth, people looked the other

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3 0 8

way. Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, as they became known, did
not give up. They used white scarves embroidered with the names of
their disappeared children as a kind of uniform. Middle- aged school-
teachers, social workers, sales clerks— desperate to do something,
anything— they became the conscience of a nation, living proof of
the military’s secret, dirty war. The Argentine military, which loudly
proclaimed its mission to defend traditional values such as respect
for motherhood, could not touch Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo,
although it called them las locas, “the crazy women of the Plaza.”
Gradually, the whole world recognized and honored the truth of their
crazy accusations. This did not bring their children back, but it was

Across the Río de la Plata, in Uruguay, military repression
took a similar path. Unlike their Argentine counterparts, the Uru-
guayan generals had no Peronist movement to fear. Compared with
Argentina, Uruguay had been notably placid since World War II.
Between 1951 and 1966, Uruguayans even implemented Batlle’s
earlier proposal for an executive committee in place of a one- man
presidency. Despite economic problems, Uruguayan standards of liv-
ing remained the envy of the hemi sphere. Then a group called the
Tupamaros tried to precipitate a revolution, just as Che attempted
to do in Bolivia.

Formed in 1964, the Tupamaro urban guerrilla movement
was directly inspired by the example of the Cuban Revolution. The
Tupamaros recognized the absence of revolutionary conditions in
Uruguay. Not relying on spontaneous combustion, they hoped to spark
a hope, set an example, and ignite a larger conflagration in surround-
ing countries. The Tupamaros carried out daring, brilliantly planned
operations designed to impress public opinion. One of their most flam-
boyant stunts was tunneling into a prison to free captured comrades.
In 1967, the Uruguayan president declared martial law to fight the
Tupamaros. The military began a gradual takeover, completed in
1973. It then annihilated the Tupamaros, who, as urban guerrillas
in a country with only one city to speak of (Montevideo), were quickly
cornered once torture penetrated their cover. The dark curtain of bu-
reaucratic authoritarianism descended on this once privileged society.

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By the end of the 1970s, Uruguay had more po liti cal prisoners, rela-
tive to its size, than any other country in the world.

Dic tator Sh ip a l MoS t e v ery w her e

The sad fate of stable, demo cratic Uruguay shows how the Cold War
ravaged even countries not prone to insurgency or dictatorship. Chile
is the best example of all. No other Latin American country could
equal Chile’s record of constitutional government. For years, Chilean
democracy had negotiated major ideological differences. The Chilean
Communist Party was one of the oldest and strongest in the hemi-
sphere. It had participated in electoral co ali tions with various other
parties of the left since the 1930s. This was the kind of Communist
Party that frustrated Che Guevara because it did not advocate armed

In the Chilean presidential election of 1958, a socialist-
communist co ali tion got almost one-third of the vote. Their candidate
was Salvador Allende— like Che, a medical doctor and a Marxist.
Allende was not an advocate of armed revolution, however. He was
committed to Chilean constitutional traditions. In the 1964 election,
Allende ran again and did even better, despite the fact that the CIA
bankrolled his chief opponent. Alarmed by Allende’s popularity, the
US State Department made Chile a model of the Alliance for Prog-
ress aid program— but to no avail. In the 1970 presidential election,
Allende won. The co ali tion called Pop u lar Unity now had its constitu-
tional chance to show what it meant by “a Chilean road” to socialism.

But ambitious dreams of social transformation—nationalization
of Chilean copper, coal, and steel, along with most banks, not to men-
tion land reform— outran Pop u lar Unity’s electoral strength. Allende
had won the three- way election with a plurality of 36 percent. The two
losers, both more conservative than Allende, had garnered 63 percent
between them, and they were now united, more or less, in opposition
to the Pop u lar Unity government. Allende’s enemies found a powerful
ally in the CIA, which pumped money to the candidates opposing Pop-
u lar Unity. The CIA now adopted a “firm and continuing policy,” as one

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US military interventions
(directly or by proxy)






Urban guerrillas
late 1960s

Peasant Leagues
early 1960s




Shining Path

Military reformism



1979–92 FSLN




Arbenz Gov.




Right-wing dictatorships
at their high point
(late 1970s)


M10.1 Latin America in the Cold War
Second proof

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agency directive quite explicitly put it, “that Allende be overthrown by
a coup.” The US State Department used all its leverage to cut off in-
ternational credit to Allende’s government. As Pop u lar Unity imposed
price freezes and wage increases to raise the living standards of the
Chilean poor, triple- digit inflation roared. Very prosperous Chileans
(industrialists, lawyers, physicians, and architects) as well as moder-
ately prosperous ones (shop keep ers and various small entrepreneurs
such as in de pen dent truckers) fought the initiatives of Pop u lar Unity,
sometimes with CIA support.

Meanwhile, the Pop u lar Unity government retained the strong
backing of urban workers whose hopes for the future had soared.
Many supporters, in fact, thought Pop u lar Unity too timid. Workers
moved directly to take over factories that the government had been
slow to nationalize. Some urged strong mea sures against reaction-
ary organizations. But Allende insisted, as always, on working within
constitutional restraints. He had some reason for optimism. The
expropriation of the copper industry had, in fact, been widely pop u lar,
and in the 1971 midterm elections, Pop u lar Unity won by a bigger
margin than ever.

Then Chilean army tanks rolled into the streets on September
11, 1973. Refusing safe passage out of the country, Allende went to his
office and died under attack by his own armed forces. Here, in the es-
timation of US Cold Warriors, was yet another victory for democracy.

The Chilean coup turned out to be the bloodiest such takeover
in the history of Latin America. Thousands of supporters of Pop u lar
Unity, from folksingers to peasant organizers to university professors,
were herded into the Santiago soccer stadium, many never to be heard
from again, their bodies shuttled to secret mass graves. As in Brazil,
Argentina, and Uruguay, thousands fell victim to a well- organized
program of official but clandestine torture and murder. Closing the
legislature, the military governed by decree for seventeen years. For
most of that time, it had the firm support of the US State Depart-
ment. The exception was the presidential term of Jimmy Carter, who
emphasized human rights as a criterion of US foreign policy. Although
ridiculed as unrealistic by the Cold Warriors, Carter’s policy definitely
inhibited the military blood fest in Chile and Argentina, and juntas

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all over Latin America heaved a sigh of relief when Ronald Reagan, a
confirmed Cold Warrior, took office as US president in 1980.

The Chilean dictatorship was basically a bureaucratic authori-
tarian regime, except that the original leader of the 1973 coup, Gen-
eral Augusto Pinochet, had a leading role unparalleled in Brazil or
Argentina. Sadly, exceptional Chile had for once become the epitome
of a Latin American trend.

Peru, on the other hand, constitutes an interesting exception
to the trend, because its military government was not driven by anti-
communist reaction. Peruvian officers announced revolutionary inten-
tions that were explicitly not communist but also not capitalist. Their
program showed a sincere desire to serve Peru’s poor majority, and
it amounted mostly to old- fashioned nationalism: a truly ambitious
agrarian reform in a country of vast rural poverty, nationalization
of oil and other industries, and indigenista themes, such as raising

t h e C h I l e a N C o u P. Positioned on a rooftop, Chilean soldiers fire on the palace of

government during the military overthrow of President Salvador Allende in 1973. The

coup leader, General Augusto Pinochet, took over Chile with US support. OFF/AFP/Getty


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Quechua to the formal status of co-national language with Spanish.
Other aspects, such as promotion of employee- owned companies, were
more novel. Overall, Peru’s military government, which lasted from
1968 to 1980, was hard to categorize in Cold War terms. Although a
dictatorship, it was not guilty of heinous human rights violations.

The revolutionary government of Cuba, which expressed strong
support for the Peruvian regime, could be described the same way in
the 1970s and 1980s. It remained authoritarian, and the army, long
headed by Fidel Castro’s brother Raúl, constituted one of its chief
pillars. But the revolutionary state worked steadily to improve the
lives of Cuba’s poor majority, and it never committed the wholesale
mayhem so characteristic of anticommunist military governments.

Mexico, on the other hand, bucked the military trend completely.
Marxism had influenced a generation of Mexican students no less than
elsewhere. But revolutionary socialism was nothing new in Mexico, so
its anticommunist reaction was less fearful, less violent. The rhetoric
of the PRI— officially a “revolutionary party,” after all— had employed
socialist motifs off and on for de cades. In the 1930s, Mexico had
seen real land reform and the expropriation of major foreign- owned

t h e t l at e l o l C o M a s s a C r e . The Mexican army’s massacre of protesting Mexico

City students in 1968 was the most notable Cold War event in the country. Marcel·lí Perelló/

Wikimedia Commons.

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industries. Precisely for this reason, the PRI retained considerable rev-
olutionary legitimacy and, through its massive patronage, kept a firm
grip on industrial workers, urban middle classes, and country people
alike. Buoyed by an oil boom, too, the PRI could absorb any challenge in
the 1960s and 1970s. Its one famous sign of momentary panic, as Mexico
prepared to host the Olympic Games in 1968, was a wanton massacre of
protesting university students in the Tlatelolco district of Mexico City.
They had gathered by the thousands to chant things like “Fidel, Fidel,
give the Yankees hell!” They carried signs saying things like “We don’t
want Olympics! We want Revolution!” The number who died is still un-
known. As for Mexican generals, they had not been key po liti cal players
for de cades. And in the United States, dire warnings about “Red” Mexico
were already half a century old and not very scary. US governments had
long since learned to live with a “revolutionary” Mexico.

t h e l a S t col D wa r B at t l e S:

ceN t r a l a M e r ic a

By the mid-1970s, the revolutionary tide had turned in Latin America.
Reactionary anticommunist dictatorships, in turn, began to recede.
Bureaucratic authoritarian governments collapsed in the late 1970s
and 1980s because of their own mistakes and excesses— the creation
of colossal debts, hyperinflation— but also because their anticommu-
nist crusades had already succeeded. What excuse, now, for dictator-
ship? In Argentina, the military government made a desperate bid
for nationalist glory by identifying a new, external enemy— Great
Britain. Initially, the military got considerable public support for its
1982 war with Great Britain over the Falkland, or Malvinas, Islands.
But the gambit backfired when ill- equipped, poorly trained Argentine
soldiers quickly surrendered. Nothing disgraces military rulers like
military defeat. In 1983, Argentina had real elections and sent the
armed forces back to the barracks.

Uruguay got a civilian president in 1984, Brazil in 1985. Peru,
Ec ua dor, and Bolivia had already returned to constitutional rule, too,
by that time. Meanwhile, revolutionaries and reactionaries in Central

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31 5

America fought what turned out to be the last major battles of the
hemi sphere’s thirty- year Cold War.

Central America, with its volcanoes, tropical forests, and steep
cascading rivers, had barely felt ISI. All Central American countries
depended heavily on a few agricultural exports, especially coffee and ba-
nanas. Their populations numbered only a few million, and their capi-
tal cities had only a few hundred thousand inhabitants each. In Central
America, urban workers and middle classes had not curbed the power
of landowners, who still controlled the national wealth. Therefore, rural
oligarchies still dominated Central America in the 1970s, half a century
after nationalist movements overthrew them elsewhere. The fate of the
Arbenz government in Guatemala, the first major hemispheric battle-
field of the Cold War, points out another barrier to Central American
nationalism— the habit of US intervention in our backyard. Through-
out the Cold War years, Central America was plagued by greedy tyrants
who enjoyed US support because of their furious anticommunism.

Furious anticommunism certainly characterized the rulers
of Guatemala. Guatemalans had groaned under ruthless military
or military- controlled governments ever since 1954. The landown-
ers of Guatemala and El Salvador lived in dread of massive peasant

US strike



Pacific Ocean









Major US

military presence


Guerrilla insurgencies
against US-supported


I N T H E 1 9 8 0 S

M10.2 Central America in the 1980s
Third proof

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uprisings. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Guatemalan armed forces car-
ried on a dirty war against rural guerrilla armies and urban opponents
such as student activists and labor leaders. To deprive the guerrillas
of support, indigenous peasants were herded into new “model” villages
that served as rural concentration camps. “Low- intensity conflict”
became the US strategists’ new term for all this. The term has its
logic, from the perspective of a desk at the Pentagon, but for the fami-
lies of the “disappeared” college students whose bodies turned up in
garbage dumps, for indigenous people like Rigoberta Menchú, whose
mother and brother were tortured and murdered by the Guatemalan
army, these conflicts were not lacking in “intensity.”

Rigoberta Menchú was a Quiché Mayan woman whose commu-
nity wished only to raise its crops and follow its traditional customs.
Rigoberta’s father became a peasant or ga niz er and her brothers joined
the guerrillas. Rigoberta herself was influenced by liberation theology
and became a spokesperson for her people. In 1992 she won the Nobel
Peace Prize for calling world attention to the atrocities of Guatemala’s
dirty war. The story of her life, I, Rigoberta Menchú (1984), became
essential reading for anyone interested in the “low- intensity conflicts”
of the Cold War. It was later shown that she had merged her own story
with other people’s, but no one could deny the existence of the horrors
she described. The Guatemalan death toll spiraled toward two hun-
dred thousand, and the military perpetrated 95 percent of the atroci-
ties, just as her story suggested.

Costa Rica, at the other extreme of Central America in all
senses— geographical, social, and political— largely escaped the cross-
fire of the Cold War. Because Costa Rica had few indigenous inhab-
itants before the conquest— and, more to the point, because those
few were then liquidated by the conquerors— this whitest of Central
American countries was less burdened by exploitative colonial hierar-
chies. Consequently, it was less po liti cally explosive, too. Besides, one
of Costa Rica’s more innovative presidents had taken the precaution
of abolishing the army in the 1940s.

In between Central America’s geographic and demographic ex-
tremes was Nicaragua, land of the famous anti- imperialist Augusto
César Sandino, whose guerrilla war against the US Marines had won

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the rapt attention of nationalists all over Latin America in the 1920s.
Since the 1930s, Nicaragua had been ruled by a single family, the
Somozas. The Somozas personified the perverse side effects of US
anticommunism in Cold War Latin America. The Somoza dynasty
had its origins in the US intervention against Sandino, when the first
Somoza, Anastasio, whose main qualification was that he spoke good
En glish, headed the Nicaraguan National Guard. Somoza invited
Sandino to parlay, had him assassinated, and then used the National
Guard to take over Nicaragua. Various Somozas ran the country
almost as a private estate from the 1940s into the 1970s. They were
sturdy anticommunist allies who also preserved enough demo cratic
window dressing to satisfy US diplomats. Symbolically, the Somoza
mansion stood near the US embassy on a hill overlooking Managua,
the Nicaraguan capital. Rumor had it that an underground tunnel
connected the two buildings. Anastasio Somoza’s son, also Anastasio,
who ruled the country in the 1970s, was a West Point graduate and
head of Nicaragua’s US- trained, US- equipped National Guard. Mean-
while, the Somoza family wealth swelled to include about a fifth of
Nicaragua’s best land, the country’s airline, and other such trifles.

By 1961, Nicaragua had a revolutionary movement formed in
Havana, but also inspired by Nicaragua’s own strong anti- imperialist
traditions. Like Cuba and Mexico, Nicaragua had long suffered US
intervention, and nationalist resentments ran deep there. Remember-
ing Sandino’s earlier anti- imperialist struggle, the revolutionaries of
the 1960s called themselves the Sandinista National Liberation Front
(FSLN). For almost two de cades, the Sandinistas alone resisted the
Somozas. Then, in 1978, the dictator Anastasio Somoza overplayed his
hand, assassinating Joaquín Chamorro, publisher of a conservative
opposition newspaper. Chamorro’s death finally united Nicaraguans
of the left and the right against the Somozas. A widespread rebellion
began, and the veteran Sandinistas assumed leadership. Eventually,
the uprising swept away the National Guard despite its arms and
training. Somoza fled Nicaragua for Miami. His fate illustrates the
international dimensions of the conflict. In search of a comfortable
exile, the unpop u lar Somoza accepted the hospitality of Paraguay’s
anticommunist strongman, Alfredo Stroessner, one of the world’s most

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durable and repressive dictators. But Somoza had hardly unpacked
his bags in Asunción when Argentine guerrillas, who considered him
their enemy too, found him and put an antitank rocket through the
windshield of his bulletproof Mercedes Benz.

Back in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas took charge, shoulder-
ing aside Violeta Chamorro, widow of the murdered publisher, who
represented the late- blooming anti- Somoza forces of the right. The
Sandinistas had nonnegotiable revolutionary plans. Their Cuban in-
spiration was reflected in their campaigns for full literacy and public
health. Hundreds of Cuban teachers, medical personnel, and sanitary
engineers arrived to help. France, Spain, and West Germany sent
substantial aid, too. US President Jimmy Carter also gave cautious
support, but he was soon replaced by Ronald Reagan. From Reagan’s
perspective, Nicaragua was just another square on the Cold War
chessboard. As long as the Sandinistas identified themselves as revo-
lutionary friends of Cuba, nothing else mattered. The Cold War lan-
guage of Reagan found a mirror image in Sandinista rhetoric about
that “scourge of the human race,” the United States. Confrontation
was in the cards.

Following their defeat in 1979, Somoza’s trusty National Guard
had regrouped in Honduras under CIA supervision. The Argentine
military government, triumphant in their dirty war, sent trainers
for this new US proxy force called the Contras, for counterrevolution-
aries. Through the 1980s, the Contras raided Nicaragua from bases
on the Honduran side of the Honduran- Nicaraguan border. Reagan
called them “Freedom Fighters” and supported them unwaveringly.
Honduras filled with US military personnel, supply dumps, and air
bases. The Contras gained recruits among Nicaraguans disaffected
by the Sandinista revolution. Contra raiders could wreak havoc and
cripple the economy, but they could not hold Nicaraguan territory.

Havoc was enough, however. The Sandinistas had to concen-
trate their time and money on defense. US forces mined Nicaragua’s
harbors to cut off its trade with other countries. Gradually, the Nica-
raguan economy disintegrated. By 1988, Nicaragua had quintuple-
digit inflation. In 1990, the Sandinistas lost an election on which they
had staked everything. In a stunning defeat, the young Sandinista

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guerrilla leader Daniel Ortega took second place to Violeta Chamorro,
who became the first woman ever elected president in Latin America.
In the 1990s, Nicaragua remained divided, a circumstance dra-
matized by Chamorro’s own family, which included several promi-
nent Sandinistas as well as opposition leaders. At one point, two of
Chamorro’s sons edited the country’s two main newspapers, both the
Sandinista Barricada and the anti- Sandinista Prensa.

The uprising against Somoza, and then the Contra war, had
killed tens of thousands of Nicaraguans. El Salvador suffered even
more. Like Nicaragua under the Somozas, tiny El Salvador had a
totally undemo cratic anticommunist government through the 1960s
and 1970s. If Nicaragua had a classic dictatorship, El Salvador had an
equally classic landowning oligarchy, called the “fourteen families” or,
sometimes, “the forty families.” The precise number matters less than
the general fact of oligarchic rule by the few.

The misery of the rural poor had made El Salvador a social
pressure cooker by the 1970s. Long before coffee, Spanish conquest
and colonization had pushed El Salvador’s indigenous people off level
agricultural land onto then- unwanted volcanic slopes, where they re-
established their communities. But those fertile slopes, once terraced,
were perfect for coffee. So when coffee cultivation began in the 1870s,
prospective coffee planters wanted the slopes also. Liberal reforms
then privatized the indigenous people’s newly valuable community
lands, and, little by little, in fair deals and unfair ones, coffee planters
bought them. Indigenous Salvadorans became agricultural peons on
estates that had once been their own lands. Workers were many—
tiny El Salvador is among the most densely populated landscapes in
the Americas— and wages low. Very gradually, the rural poor began to
starve. During the 1920s, the Salvadoran Communist Party became
one of the strongest in Latin America, but its attempt to lead a major
uprising was savagely crushed in “the Slaughter of 1932.” Military
and military- controlled governments then followed one another in
El Salvador for almost half a century, all staunchly anticommunist
and allied with the United States. In the 1960s, El Salvador became
a showcase of the Alliance for Progress, but little improved in the

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Then, in the 1970s, the Salvadoran church began to take libera-
tion theology’s “preferential option for the poor.” In effect, the country’s
highest Catholic authority decided that anticommunism itself was an
unholy cause. Archbishop Oscar Romero was a quiet man, named to
head the Salvadoran church because he seemed conservative to the
Vatican. But anticommunist death squads changed his heart by tar-
geting priests and nuns who worked with the poor. “Be a Patriot, Kill
a Priest” was the anticommunist slogan. Moved by the butchery of his
clergy and flock, the archbishop spoke against the army. The anticom-
munists viewed this as a dangerous heresy. One day in 1980, a po liti-
cal assassin gunned down Archbishop Romero in front of the altar as
he celebrated Mass.

As with Nicaragua’s FSLN, Salvadoran revolutionaries drew
on history in naming the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front
(FMLN). Farabundo Martí was a martyred hero of the Salvadoran
left, a communist or ga niz er of the indigenous uprising of 1932. In ad-
dition, Martí had served with Sandino in Nicaragua against US forces
there. In the 1980s, the FSLN tried to return the favor by helping the
FMLN against the US- backed Salvadoran army. But the Sandinistas,
fighting to keep the Nicaraguan revolution alive, could offer only a few
crates of munitions to the FMLN. The Reagan administration seized
on this connection to announce that communism was spreading by
contagion from Cuba to Nicaragua to El Salvador. Starving Salvador-
ans, in this view, would never think of rebelling otherwise. Critics
of Reagan’s policy, meanwhile, spoke as though the FSLN would, for
some reason, never contemplate aiding the FMLN. Neither version
captured the truth exactly. The military murders of four nuns from
the United States brought Central American issues home to observers
of US foreign policy. Were our tax dollars paying for these bullets that
cut down priests and nuns in the name of democracy? Massive public
opposition to US policy in Latin America, led especially by religious
groups, arose now for the only time in the Cold War.

Through the 1980s, FMLN guerrillas held large portions of the
Salvadoran countryside. They had strong backing, especially among
the country people of remote, mountainous areas along the Honduran
border. The FMLN blew up bridges and power lines and levied “war

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taxes” on vehicles traveling through their territory. But they could not
defeat the army. The Salvadoran military, for its part, had US train-
ing and equipment. Its troops rode he li cop ters into guerrilla territory
on search- and- destroy missions. They clambered up the sides of vol-
canoes seeking FMLN units near to the capital city. Sometimes, when
they thought no one was looking, the army conducted mass executions
of peasants whom they suspected of aiding the guerrillas. One day
in 1981, for example, an elite US- trained battalion entered the tiny
village of El Mozote and systematically slaughtered almost everybody
there, hundreds of unarmed, unresisting men, women, and children.
Ironically, their military intelligence was not very good: El Mozote, it
turned out, was not a guerrilla base at all. In fact, many of the fami-
lies at El Mozote had recently converted to US- oriented evangelical
Protestantism, and they probably favored the government over the
guerrillas. El Mozote illustrates the grisly, indiscriminate violence of

s a lva d o r a N G u e r r I l l a . An FMLN fighter, one of many women in the guerrilla

ranks, stands guard in 1983. On the wall behind her is one of the revolutionary slogans

that covered walls all over Latin America from the 1960s through the 1980s. Photograph

by Ivan Montecino; image by Bettmann/CORBIS.

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32 2

military anticommunism in Central America. Understandably, Salva-
dorans fled their country by the tens and then hundreds of thousands,
many to the United States.

Because the FMLN refused to participate in elections, wary of
fraudulent “management,” the anticommunists invariably won, as-
suring US aid for the elected government. As the war dragged on and
the death toll mounted— forty, fifty, sixty thousand— anticommunist
electoral strength grew. The country was sick of war, and by 1990, the
war was a stalemate. The stubborn optimism that had sustained the
revolutionary vision now drained away day by day. The Nicaraguan
election of 1990 ended the Sandinista revolution. In Eu rope, the dra-
matically rapid crumbling of the Soviet bloc had begun. An FMLN
victory seemed further away than ever. And, even if achieved, an
FMLN victory would not bring peace; the Nicaraguan experience
showed that. So, in 1992, the FMLN signed a peace treaty and laid
down its arms. Meanwhile, the Guatemalan insurgents, too, were
running out of steam. A peace born of exhaustion settled over Central

The Cold War was over. But in Latin America, nobody had won;
there were only losers. Across the hemi sphere, the revolutionary
fervor of the 1950s and 1960s had burned itself out in the 1970s and
1980s. In a few places, such as Uruguay, guerrilla movements had
led to the collapse of demo cratic governments. In many other places,
such as Brazil and Chile, generals inspired by national security
doctrine had precipitated the terror. Either way, bright hopes of finally
undoing Latin America’s original sin of social injustice had drowned
in blood and disillusionment. Latin America had been thoroughly
militarized, occupied by its own armed forces. During the 1990s,
guerrilla movements remained active in spots— Colombia, Peru,
southern Mexico— but the sense of a continental revolutionary tide
had evaporated totally. As in the rest of the world, the end of the Cold
War clearly marked the end of an epoch. A new period of history was
about to begin, or so it seemed.

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32 3

C h a p t e r r e v i e w

Mothers of the Plaza de

Mayo, p. 296

Alliance for Progress, p. 299

João Goulart, p. 303

Brazilian “miracle”, p. 304

Tupamaros, p. 308

Popular Unity, p. 309

Salvador Allende, p. 309

K e y t e r M S a N D v o c a B u l a r y

Rigoberta Menchú, p. 316

“low-intensity conflict”, p. 316

Anastasio Somoza, p. 317

Sandinistas, p. 317

FMLN, p. 320

Oscar Romero, p. 320

El Mozote, p. 321

S t u D y Q u e S t i o N S

1. How did the Cold War context define US–Latin American

relations from the 1950s through the 1980s?

2. Can you trace the emergence of the anticommunist alliance

between the US armed forces and Latin American armed forces?

3. Meanwhile, what happened to elected governments, for example,

in Brazil and Chile?

4. Can you define guerrilla warfare, foco, proxy force, junta, and

dirty war?

5. What other countries of Latin America became Cold War


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32 4

C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s

l a v io l e N c i a , pa B l o
e S c o B a r , a N D c o l oM B i a’ S

l o N g t o r M e N t

olombia’s population surpassed Argentina’s in the 1990s, mak-
ing it the third most populous Latin American country after
Brazil and Mexico. Despite its size and importance, Colombia

has not figured frequently in our story because of its often excep-
tional politics. For example, conservatives, rather than liberals, ruled
Colombia in the neo co lo nial period. During the stormy years of the
Cold War, the Colombian military never took over the country directly.
While debt and inflation ravaged Latin America in the 1980s, a
so- called Lost De cade for hopes of economic growth, Colombia’s econ-
omy stayed robust. And Colombia’s contrary tendencies continued
into the new millennium. With the Cold War over and revolutionaries
in retreat everywhere else in the hemi sphere, the guerrilla armies of
Colombia expanded their operations.

An unusual level of violence has plagued Colombia since the
1940s, when conflicts erupted across the Colombian countryside
after the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the famous populist
leader. This period, accurately called La Violencia, lasted well into
the 1950s. Although channeled by Colombia’s traditional parties, the
liberals and the conservatives, La Violencia was less about politics
than about socioeconomic conflict in the countryside. Terrified peo-
ple flocked into the cities, abandoning their rural property or selling
out cheaply. Others stayed and bought up the land at bargain prices.
The use of violence increased in petty street crime, which rose to
astounding levels in the major cities. Middle- class women began to
remove their earrings and men their wristwatches before setting foot

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32 5

downtown. In the late 1970s, the rate of violent death in Colombia
began to set world rec ords for a country not at war.

It was in this context of lawlessness that Pablo Escobar
pioneered a new business, smuggling marijuana and then cocaine to
the United States. Escobar created a mafia empire and became a pow-
erful figure of or ga nized crime, much like Al Capone in an earlier pe-
riod of US history. Recall that the mafia business of Capone likewise
centered on an illegal drug, Prohibition- era alcohol. Escobar’s ver-
sion of Capone’s Chicago was the Colombian city of Medellín, and his
mafia became known as the Medellín cartel. The terrible scourge of
easy money now lent new energy to the violence rampant in Colombian
life. US consumers of illegal drugs were able to pay huge sums for the
Colombian product. Colombian- grown marijuana, which dominated
the trade in the 1970s, was of higher quality than the Mexican mari-
juana formerly consumed in the United States. Cocaine, which came
from coca leaves grown in Peru or Bolivia, then refined in and ex-
ported from Colombia, dominated the trade in the 1980s. It was a new
drug to most US consumers, made available in large quantities for the
first time by Escobar’s or ga ni za tion. The great wealth of the drug traf-
fickers translated, as great wealth will do, into power and influence.

Meanwhile, Colombia suffered its own version of the Cold
War. Rural guerrilla armies with their roots in La Violencia of the
1950s, especially the FARC, were now seen, and saw themselves, as
Marxist revolutionaries. A daring group of urban guerrillas called the
Nineteenth of April Movement—M-19, for short— raised the sword of
Simón Bolívar, taken from a museum display case, to symbolize the
new revolution. Like the Tupamaros in Uruguay, Colombia’s M-19
carried out spectacular strikes with high public- relations value. In
1980, they took over the embassy of the Dominican Republic in Bogotá
during a party, when it was full of diplomats, including the US ambas-
sador, and held them hostage for two months before escaping to Cuba.
In 1985, M-19 seized the Colombian Supreme Court building. The
government refused to negotiate and, after ten hours of ultimatums,
it sent a tank in through the front door, followed by troops with guns
blazing. Ninety- five civilians— among them, all the country’s Supreme
Court justices— died in the crossfire.

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C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s


Then things got even worse. The FARC and a second army of
rural guerrillas, the ELN, forced landowners to pay “war taxes,” and
the landowners began to create their own paramilitary forces to help
the army fight the guerrillas. Country people found themselves caught
in the middle. If they helped the guerrillas, they risked death at the
hands of the paramilitaries or the army. But the guerrillas might kill
those who refused to help them. Meanwhile, the guerrillas, who had
turned kidnapping into one of their principal fund- raising activities,
had the bad idea of abducting members of rich mafia families. The
drug traffickers struck back with massive violence. Medellín became
a war zone where teenage boys were enlisted by the hundreds as hit
men. Under pressure from Colombian police and courts, the drug traf-
fickers escaped prosecution by slaughtering any judge willing to sign
a warrant against them.

When threatened with extradition to the United States, Escobar
and his associates reacted with “narco- terrorism.” Truck bombs carry-
ing tons of dynamite exploded on the streets of Colombian cities, and
the Medellín cartel collectively resisted arrest and extradition. Jour-
nalists and politicians who spoke for extradition were murdered or
kidnapped. Escobar and others offered to surrender in return for a
guarantee of non- extradition. In 1991, that deal finally went through.
Escobar surrendered and moved into a jail especially constructed near
Medellín, ironically in a former drug- treatment facility. Although he
was in custody, the lax conditions of his imprisonment— in which he
gradually surrounded himself with luxury furnishings in mafia- style
poor taste— allowed Escobar to continue to supervise his illegal busi-
ness interests by remote control. Within a year, he had flown the coop.
But now, despite the estimated $3 billion that Escobar had amassed,
he led a miserable existence, permanently on the run. Finally, in
1993, Colombian police found Escobar by tracing his son’s telephone.
Escobar was still on the phone when the police arrived at his door.
The world’s most famous criminal died ingloriously as he fled across
a Medellín rooftop.

Meanwhile, the drug trade that he initiated had become a
source of income for the guerrillas too. The entry of the guerrilla
armies into the drug trade threatened a further escalation of conflict

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C o u n t e r C u r r e n t s


in Colombia at the close of the millennium. For a while at least, the
Colombian government became the world’s third largest recipient of
US aid. Meanwhile, a number of failed attempts to negotiate with
the guerrillas led to the election of Alvaro Uribe, a hard- line presi-
dent determined to win a military victory. Penniless people displaced
from the war zones flooded into Colombian cities already swollen by
two generations of rapid growth. Colombia’s long torment was still far
from over.

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The pleasures of GlobalizaTion. At the dawn of the new millennium, consumer

culture is everywhere in Latin America. For the well- off minority, the new accessi bility of

imported goods brings long- awaited satisfactions. But for the poor majority, like the residents

of this poor Caracas neighborhood, where people can afford to consume little, the lure of

consumer culture produces mostly anger and frustration. Diego Giudice/Corbis.

1 9 9 0 s



1 9 9 4

takes effect;
Zapatistas rebel

2 0 0 1

defaults on its
external debts

2 0 0 6
Lula reelected

president of

2 0 1 0
and reces-

sion slow US

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A fter the Cold War came neoliberalism. For a while, it seemed that nationalism was down for the count.
Nationalism definitely seemed passé in 1990s Latin America,

an embarrassing country cousin, a discredited attitude from the six-
ties generation. Latin American revolutionaries (outside of Cuba) had
always received little support from the Soviet Union, but they did
always like the idea of belonging to a powerful international move-
ment. In fact, Marxist revolutionaries had always seen themselves as
the tide of history, but now the tide had gone out. The breakup of the
Soviet Union left the United States, the world champion of capitalism,
as the one remaining military superpower. The collapse of communism
in Europe and the liberalization of the Chinese economy had made
capitalism no longer seriously challenged by any alternative economic
model. Capitalism was the only game in town, or rather, on the planet.
The United States, because of its then-predominant influence in the


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33 0

international economy, made the rules of the game. And what’s the
political ideology that arose with capitalism and usually accompanies
it? Liberalism, obviously. That’s why liberalism, naturally enough, re-
turned to favor everywhere in post–Cold War Latin America. The new
generation of liberals are called neoliberals because they are new, not
because their ideology differs from that of previous liberals. For better
or worse, neoliberalism—with a familiar emphasis on free trade, ex-
port production, and the doctrine of comparative advantage—reigned
supreme in Latin America at the turn of the third millennium.

By the mid-1990s, it seemed that every president in the region
was a neoliberal. Take Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a formerly Marx-
ist sociology professor, a famous dependency theorist who had inspired
a generation of radical social scientists throughout Latin America and
the United States during the 1970s and 1980s. When he was elected
president of Brazil in 1994, Cardoso did not govern as a radical pro-
fessor. If capitalism was the only game in town, he reasoned, Latin
American nations would have to play it and win. The Peronist leader
twice elected president of Argentina in these years governed as a neo-
liberal, and so did the PRI presidents of Mexico, supposed heirs of
another great nationalist tradition, govern as neoliberals. In fact,
Carlos Salinas and Ernesto Zedillo, who led the embattled Institu-
tional Revolutionary Party in the 1990s, both had professional train-
ing in neoliberal economics at US Ivy League universities. Neoliberals
got the encouragement of the US government, and they put up sails to
catch turn-of-the-century winds of globalization.

Neoliberals jettisoned all trappings of economic nationalism
and embraced the basic liberal faith in the free market. So they sold
off, or privatized, the state-run corporations and public services that
nationalists had created all over Latin America as declarations of “eco-
nomic independence.” State bureaucracy is often inefficient around
the world, and state-run telephone and oil companies had proved more
or less fiascoes in Latin America. Free-trading neoliberals slashed the
import tariffs that nationalists had raised to protect Latin American
industries. They deregulated capital flows, for example, removing
nationalist-inspired limits on profit that multinational corporations
could freely take out of a country each year. They reduced or removed

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the nationalist-inspired subsidies that made basic foodstuffs and pub-
lic services affordable for the poor. Neoliberals also initiated all-out
assaults on inflation, which substantially undermines the functioning
of the market. Everything the neoliberals recommended had already
been tried in Latin America before 1930. Their ideas had produced
grossly unequal economic growth that eventually provoked a backlash.

Still, neoliberals gained some credibility by weathering the debt
crisis that had started in the 1980s. During the 1980s, many Latin
American countries had struggled to keep up payments on foreign
debts. These debts had grown suddenly huge, thanks to high world oil
prices and heavy short-term borrowing in the 1970s. Overwhelmed,
Mexico and Brazil temporarily stopped payments in 1982. As world
interest rates rose steeply in the 1980s, large short-term loans had
to be refinanced at much higher rates. The national debts of Latin
America mushroomed, much as the US national debt was doing at
the same time. The difference: Latin American debts were “external,”
owed mostly to foreign banks. The external debts of the region as a
whole rose from $105 billion (1976) to $397 billion (1986), with Mexico
and Brazil owing the most. Countries that defaulted on their external
debts would find themselves internationally bankrupt and isolated.

Foreign lenders, such as those of the influential International
Monetary Fund (IMF), believed that the solution to Latin American
insolvency lay in free-market policies. So they enthusiastically pro-
moted the neoliberal policies of the so-called Washington Consensus.
To encourage neoliberalism in Latin America, foreign lenders gradu-
ally “rolled over” the external debts of one country after another into
long-term bonds. These debts continued to increase in the 1990s, but
now the borrowing countries could make the payments. The IMF typi-
cally insisted on reductions in social spending, and Latin America’s
poor felt the pinch of this belt-tightening. Still, the crisis passed, and
the region seemed to have turned a corner.

Neoliberalism acquired a strong cachet of success by curbing hy-
perinflation, too. The hyperinflation that had plagued both Brazil and
Argentina for decades was halted rather spectacularly. During the 1990s,
Latin America was heralded among US investors as a great emerg-
ing market, offering vast investment opportunities. Neoliberal policies

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encouraged foreign capital in Latin America—and in it came, billions
of dollars’ worth. US fast-food franchises sprang up in major cities from
Chile to Mexico. In 1994, the creation of the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), the linchpin of Mexican neoliberalism in the
1990s, seemed portentous to people on both sides of the border. One year
later, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay inaugurated their own
free-trade zone, called MERCOSUR. The freer trade of the 1990s al-
lowed middle-class apartment dwellers from Mexico City to Santiago to
access the Internet, tune in via satellite to US or European television,
and become avid consumers in a transnational economy. Neoliberal re-
ductions in tariff barriers brought lower prices and greater variety in
everything imported, from cars to VCRs to cellular telephones.

The neoliberals also attracted new transnational corporations
to Latin America, but the impact of that strategy was mixed. One of
the most common transnational operations was, and is, the maquila-
dora, an assembly plant using lots of cheap labor, most often women’s
labor, to put together imported parts. Low tariffs facilitate maquila-
dora production. For example, maquiladoras on the Mexican side of
the US border might receive parts from Asia, assemble them, then
send the finished products across the border for sale in the United
States. Maquiladora workers meant little to the companies that em-
ploy them. Women who became pregnant, for example, were quickly
fired in most cases. Low labor costs constituted the maquiladoras’
main reason for being in Latin America. So neoliberal governments
tried to hold wages down, even as food and transportation subsidies
were withdrawn from the poor.

Chile stood out as the neoliberal poster child. Chile’s neoliberal
economic reforms began during the years of dictatorship, famously
advised by economists from the University of Chicago, whom the Chil-
eans called Chicago Boys. In the 1990s, Chile boasted low inflation,
good credit, steady growth, and diversified exports, going roughly
equally to European, Asian, and American countries. The expansion of
the Chilean economy had been so steady and vigorous that it benefited
all Chileans to some extent—but, as elsewhere, the middle classes
benefited most. Meanwhile, Chile’s distribution of wealth remained
among the most unequal in Latin America, a region that is among the

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2,238 2,700
















Growth of
External Debt
1982, 1992, 2002
(in billions of dollars)

GDP per capita
(in dollars, 2003)2,700


M11.1 Neoliberal Economies
Third proof

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33 4

most unequal in the world. The best-case scenario of neoliberalism, in
other words, still promised least to the neediest.

In a nutshell, consumers, mostly middle-class people, gained
much from neoliberal economic policies. To “shop the world,” without
trade barriers, is obviously an advantage for those with sufficient
spending money. Latin America’s middle classes lived better and grew
noticeably larger because of their participation in post–Cold War eco-
nomic globalization. But most Latin Americans are still not middle
class. Defining and measuring social class is tricky, but in broad terms,
one could say that today about a third of Latin Americans are middle
class, the largest proportion ever. Still, a third are poor by any stan-
dard, and a another third are full of hopes and dreams but still very far
from a secure middle-class life, including work with decent pay, medi-
cal care, education for their children, and possibly a car. Measured in
dollars, the US economy generates over $54,000 per person, but the
Brazilian, Mexican, and Argentine economies only around $12,500,
the Colombian economy something like $8,000, and the Bolivian and
Honduran economies less than $3,500, according to 2014 statistics.

Poor Latin Americans benefited much less from the neolib-
eral turnaround than did the middle classes. As small-time consum-
ers, they were unable to shop the world to much advantage. Most of
the wages earned by Latin America’s multitudinous poor went for
bare essentials such as rice and bus fare, day after day, month after
month. Those costs were going up. With what they had left over, poor
people bought inexpensive clothing sold in bins, toiletries arrayed on
the edge of the sidewalk, a plastic bucket this week, a cheap digital
watch the next. For them, globalization meant, more likely, the loss
of a job as factories collapsed across the region, devastated by foreign
competition that the nationalists had kept out. Millions of workers
faced long-term unemployment or underemployment in the so-called
informal service sector. They hawked Chiclets at bus stops, washed
windshields at intersections, and collected recyclables in rickety carts.

Meanwhile, neoliberal reforms reduced government spending,
a step toward balancing national budgets and reducing debt, but at a
bitter social cost. The subsidies, protected industries, state-run cor-
porations, and large bureaucracies that the nationalists had created

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in Latin America were inefficient, true enough. But they also had pro-
vided a living for millions whom the neoliberals left unemployed. Simi-
larly, state-run services had lost money partly because they provided
electricity or running water to the very poor. Privatized telephone com-
panies, for another example, improved telecommunications for those
who could afford a phone, but affording a phone became more difficult.

In many ways, the impact of neoliberal reforms resembled the
impact of liberal reforms in 1870–1930. Latin America became more
“modern” in the technological sense. Foreign capital and foreign prod-
ucts poured in. The lives of better-off people improved, but the poor
majority was mostly left behind. Post–Cold War capitalist expansion in
Latin America has been based on extractive industries such as mining
and on the exportation of raw materials and agricultural commodities,
just as in 1870–1930. This is not a plan, but rather, a simple response to
the global maket in which the great new player is China. China’s surg-
ing industrial growth, construction boom, and consumer awakening
needed vast quantities of raw materials and agricultural commodities,
particularly after 2000. Exportation of commodities and raw materi-
als has generated considerable wealth in Latin America, of course, but
little of that wealth goes to miners and farmworkers. Moreover, extrac-
tive economies famously fail to diversify, industrialize, or develop.

By the year 2000, Latin Americans were remembering why
they had loved nationalist leaders like Cárdenas, Vargas, and Perón
who stood, above all else, for the idea that the common people must
not be left behind. The blush was off the neoliberal rose already by
September 11, 2001, when a terrorist attack brought down the twin
towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Mexico’s neoliberal presi-
dent, Carlos Salinas, had already earned universal disgrace for
the massive corruption of his administration. The years 1994–95
saw the worst economic crisis to occur in Mexico in decades. Urban
delinquency reached new heights in the Mexican capital and many
of the region’s other largest cities, provoking some of the biggest pro-
test demonstrations ever seen anywhere. The optimism of the 1990s
evaporated afterward, in most of Latin America, despite the new cars
and computers enjoyed by the middle class, as globalization failed no-
tably to produce universal prosperity. Argentina, a country that had

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implemented all of the rigorous recommendations of the International
Monetary Fund, imploded economically in December 2001, defaulting
on its foreign debts. Indigence and social deprivation reached heights
perhaps never witnessed before in Buenos Aires.

Gradually, in country after country across Latin America, vot-
ers began to reject the neoliberal vision of free-market supremacy by
electing presidents who embodied nationalist traditions from the mid-
twentieth century. Among these traditions were occasional references
to socialism and revolution, but all the “new left turn” presidents kept
their countries securely attached to the capitalist world economy. They
wanted, not to overthrow and replace capitalism, but to harness it for
nationalist goals. Unlike their neoliberal adversaries, these leaders did
not regard the free market as an unmitigated blessing. Instead, they
viewed capitalism as a powerful and dangerous tool, like dynamite,
ideal for some purposes, absurdly wrong for others. Above all, the new
generation of leaders swore to place the well-being of the vulnerable
above the logic of capital. That was the chief basis for their appeal and
the reason they were elected. And they stood together in international
forums, forcefully dramatizing their refusal to toe any policy line drawn
by the United States. By 2010, presidents who more or less matched
this description governed most of the countries of the region.

In 2002, Brazilians elected Luiz Inácio da Silva, “Lula,” a former
metalworker and union leader, to govern Latin America’s largest, most
populous, and most economically dynamic nation. Before becoming
president, Lula had spent twenty years forging a cohesive and demo-
cratic grassroots labor party, the PT, running unsuccessfully for presi-
dent over and over. He finally won on his fourth try. Lula’s most urgent
goal was to ensure that no Brazilian go to bed hungry, yet this “zero
hunger” initiative proved difficult to achieve, given Brazil’s enormous
debt obligations. Lula vowed to meet those obligations and advanced
toward his social goals with a caution that disappointed many of his
more radical supporters. However, the “family scholarship” instituted
by the PT government, providing income support for poor families as
long as they kept their children in school, began to reduce poverty and
encouraged poorer voters to reelect Lula in 2006. The Brazilian econ-
omy forged ahead, showing remarkable resilience during the global

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recession that began in 2008. Overall, Brazil’s new nationalist govern-
ment offered a steady and substantive counterexample to neoliberal
governance along the lines promoted by the Washington Consensus.

Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez, a former army officer, offered
a different sort of nationalist alternative. Flamboyant, reckless, and out-
spoken, Chávez contrasted with Lula in all sorts of ways. His first bid
to take over Venezuela, back in 1992, had been a coup attempt. Then, in
2002, he survived an attempted coup against his own elected presidency
and entrenched himself in power for the rest of the decade. Chávez chan-
neled resources to poor Venezuelans largely in the form of patronage in
exchange for their support for his political initiatives. This admittedly
less-than-desirable approach was still better than the Venezuelan poor
had gotten in the past, and they rewarded Chávez with powerful loyalty.
His extensive use of “Bolivarian” imagery and quotations suggested the
idea of Latin American solidarity against the United States. On the other
hand, Chávez’s furious rhetoric and domineering use of government
authority against his political adversaries won him the implacable

T h e “ n e W l e f T T u r n . ” Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Brazil’s Luís

Inácio “Lula” da Silva, and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa in a high-spirited photo op following

their 2008 meeting in Manaus, Brazil. © HO/Reuters/Corbis.

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33 8

hostility of the Venezuelan middle class. In 2009, he won a referendum
eliminating term limits and allowing him to be reelected indefinitely.
In addition, Chávez was the most high-profile of Latin America’s new
nationalist presidents internationally, active in a number of projects
for regional integration. His death in 2013 exposed large institutional
weaknesses and left a deeply divided Venezuela.

A third notable new nationalist president, Bolivia’s Evo
Morales, took office in 2006. Morales is an indigenous Aymara, the first
to rule this largely indigenous country since the time of the Spanish
Conquest. As a boy he herded llamas, and as a young man he headed
a union of coca growers, producers of the leaves consumed by Bolivia’s
indigenous people since time immemorial—but also consumed as a
raw material by refiners of cocaine. Morales thus began his political
career by resisting US-inspired efforts to eradicate the crop that pro-
vided his followers’ livelihood. As president, Morales has his base of
support in the heavily indigenous Andean highlands, and he has been
systematically opposed in the lowland eastern region around Santa
Cruz, the country’s principal pole of economic growth. The opposition
is founded not only on regional economics but also on the antagonism
expressed around Santa Cruz toward the bid for political empower-
ment by the Aymara and Quechua supporters of Morales. Despite that
opposition, Morales has called a constituent assembly and managed to
oversee the creation of a new constitution, in 2009, that significantly
improves the situation of Bolivia’s long-oppressed indigenous majority.

Meanwhile, in Chile, socialist Michelle Bachelet was elected in
2006, replaced in 2010 by a neoliberal businessman, but returned to the
presidency in 2014. Bachelet is one of many leaders of the region whose
personal history speaks more eloquently than any attempt at ideologi-
cal definition. Bachelet’s father was an official of the revolutionary Pop-
ular Unity government who was detained and tortured repeatedly by
the US-supported Pinochet government. Bachelet and her mother were
also tortured. José Mujica, president of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015,
was a Tupamaro guerrilla who spent many years in prison for his po-
litical work. In office, Mujica was a citizen president who resided in a
modest house, refused pomp, and used 90 percent of his salary to help
other people. Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s chief of staff before being elected

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to replace him as president of Brazil in 2011, is another of today’s Latin
American presidents who was a young revolutionary during the Cold War.

Powerful symbolism—and the content, too, is meaningful. Latin
America’s anti-neoliberal presidents have made a real-life difference.
While the extractive boom buoyed up national economies, some of the
benefits have been channeled directly to the poorest citizens by condi-
tional cash transfer programs like Brazil’s family scholarship. This is
part of the reason that Latin America today seems more middle class
and less impoverished, overall, than ever before.

Let’s not exaggerate, though. Despite the high-profile anti-
neoliberal presidents, the logic of the capitalist world market still reigns
in Latin American economies. The region’s current relative prosperity
has come partly from better governance but partly, it must be said, from
market globalization. Presidents are highly visible figureheads who
often have limited control over state and local politics, where business
interests remain dominant. In Brazil, the Workers’ Party’s attempts to
govern through payments to state and local political machines led to a
major corruption scandal. Even at the presidential level, Mexico and
Colombia, the second and third most populous Latin American countries,
bucked the anti-neoliberal trend. In the first decade of the twenty-first
century, both countries elected presidents of a strongly neoliberal orien-
tation, closely associated with US interests. Nor are future directions
clear. Current trends have been driven by an extractive export boom
that now shows clear signs of abating as China’s market growth slows.

Meanwhile, regular elections, mostly free and open, have
characterized Latin America since the Cold War; violent political con-
frontations and episodes of brutal repression have become exceptional
where once they were routine. The guerrilla movements that had
sprouted throughout Latin America during the 1960s mostly disap-
peared in the 1990s, too.

Colombia is the biggest exception. In Colombia, two well-
established Marxist guerrilla armies, the ELN and the much larger
FARC, had roamed the countryside and controlled parts of it for
decades by the 1990s. Thousands of young men and women had more
or less grown up in the insurgency. It had become a way of life. These
guerrillas did not lay down their arms in despair when the Cold War

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ended. Taxing drug traffickers and kidnapping for ransom generated
enough cash flow for the guerrillas to go on fighting indefinitely. Instead
of disappearing, they gained ground and appeared in promotional inter-
net videos wearing new uniforms. They even continued under the infa-
mous (or famous, depending on your view) commander whose nom de
guerre “Tirofijo,” or “Sureshot,” had been a household word in Colombia
for two generations. For a while in the 1990s, Colombian middle-class
families sometimes formed convoys under army escort to drive their cars
between major cities. Various attempts at peace talks went nowhere.

In the year 2000, the FARC still waved an old-fashioned
Marxist revolutionary banner that now held limited inspiration for
Colombians. The FARC did update its image, a bit, with Bolivarian
nationalist imagery, as Hugo Chávez was doing in Venezuela. But
Colombians were tired of war and weren’t buying the revolutionary
makeover. Instead, they elected a hard-line, defeat-the-FARC-at-all-
cost president, Alvaro Uribe (2002–10), who showed himself to be
capable, meticulous, hardworking, and effective. Impartial Uribe was
not. His father had died at the hands of rebels. He always denied
paramilitary connections, despite evidence to the contrary. Under
Uribe, the Colombian army and paramilitaries reversed guerrilla ad-
vances, winning him reelection as one of the most popular presidents
in the country’s history. Uribe’s defensive minister succeeded him and
began the long process of climbing down from the carnage of victory.
The guerillas had been pushed back, but not destroyed. Meanwhile,
more than 220,000 Colombians had died and five million had been
displaced from their homes by political conflct since the 1950s. Peace
talks resumed in 2012 and neared completion in 2015.

Mexico’s post–Cold War guerrillas, the new Zapatistas, were
quite different, a newly formed organization, involving primarily in-
digenous people in the far south of the country, Chiapas. This uprising
was a direct protest against the North American Free Trade Agree-
ment (NAFTA) and the country’s neoliberal turn. The rebels believed
neoliberalism would ruin their economic chances as small producers.
They were right. At the ideological level, Mexico’s perpetually ruling
PRI was then rehabilitating the image of Porfirio Díaz, long painted
as a villain by nationalists. The new textbooks also downplayed old

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revolutionary heroes like Emiliano Zapata. On the day when NAFTA
took effect in 1994, indigenous rebels calling themselves Zapatistas
declared their opposition. These new Zapatistas were Mayas from vil-
lages near the Guatemalan border, an area of Mexico remote from
Zapata’s old stomping ground. They had learned about the old Zapata’s
land reform in school. They had immediate demands relating to agri-
cultural land, but they also had a broader vision. They took Zapata’s
name to remind Mexico of its nationalist heritage. Subcomandante
Marcos, the mysterious ski mask–wearing, pipe-smoking Zapatista
spokesperson, soon appeared on T-shirts all over the country.

The new Zapatista uprising was a fly in the neoliberal oint-
ment. It could not threaten the PRI militarily, but it tarnished the
country’s open-for-business image. The Zapatista leadership showed a
certain media savvy. It had a website. It could mobilize sympathizers
in Europe and the United States. Hundreds of them went to Chiapas,
as international human rights observers. There they observed gov-
ernment armed forces wreaking havoc in Mayan villages suspected
of supporting the rebels. Although it made a show of negotiating, the
Mexican government devoted itself mostly to deporting the observ-
ers and crushing the rebelion. To do so, it used all the tried-and-true
techniques of “low-intensity” warfare, including widespread arming of
village anti-insurgent militias, which have shown a repeated ten-
dency to run amok, as in Colombia.

The new Zapatistas never had a prayer of defeating the Mexi-
can army. Or rather, prayers they did have. The cause of indigenous
people was still the cause of the Catholic Church in Chiapas, where
Friar Bartolomé de las Casas had been bishop himself for a few years
in the 1500s. Like Las Casas four hundred years earlier, the indig-
enous Zapatistas haunted the conscience of a whole society. They rep-
resented a potent moral, rather than military, force.

Another guerilla challenge to neoliberalism came from the
Shining Path insurgency that arose in the Peruvian highlands. The
Shining Path’s campaign of terror owed more to the mystical vision of
its charismatic leader, Abimael Guzmán, than to its old-style Marxist
ideological roots. It drew strongly on the Peruvian indigenismo, seek-
ing inspiration in the imagery of a sort of Inca revival. Shining Path

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militants possessed a rare esprit de corps that maintained its potency
even during years of imprisonment. Unfortunately, their courage and
dedication were harnessed to a quasi-religious spirit that condoned
cataclysmic violence. Shining Path made striking gains in the heav-
ily indigenous Andes, where orthodox Marxist insurgencies had never
found many followers. And the movement flowed, along with the enor-
mous internal migration of indigenous people from the highlands, to
Lima. At the same time, it spread from its highland strongholds in
the opposite direction, down the eastern Andean slopes toward the
Amazon Basin, into areas of coca production along the Huallaga
Valley. There Shining Path began to support and protect coca growing
to finance its operations throughout Peru. However, Shining Path lost
momentum after the capture of its visionary leader in 1992.

These post–Cold War insurgencies were isolated and did not
affect the lives of most Latin Americans at all. Their ideologies com-
manded little support. The big picture was the decline of guerilla
activity in the region. Nonetheless, the new Zapatistas, and, in a way,
the Shining Path too, advanced claims that indigenous people were
making all over neoliberal Latin America.

Their emphasis on indigeneity was new, a very post–Cold War
phenomomenon, but in some ways, the list of indigenous grievances
was five hundred years old. In 1992, the five-hundredth anniversary of
Columbus’s first voyage became the specific occasion of indigenous meet-
ings and declarations. Understandably, the mood was one of mourning
rather than happy commemoration. At an international meeting in La
Paz, Bolivia, representatives of widely scattered indigenous peoples—
Maya, Ñañú-Otomí, Kuna, Cherokee, Quechua, Tarahumara, Aymara,
Guaymí, and Nahua, among others—declared, on the subject of the glo-
rious Discovery of America: “Our wise men were persecuted, tortured,
massacred. Our sacred books and symbols were destroyed. Our gold
and silver, stolen. Our territory, usurped.” They had a point. And it was
a point that few Latin Americans could fail to recognize.

Whether gathering in Mexico or Ecuador or Bolivia, indigenous
leaders demanded sufficient land to farm and a fair share of govern-
ment benefits. But above all, they asked to be allowed to remain them-
selves, preserving their language, their lifeways, and aspects of their

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political autonomy. These demands collided with mestizaje, the idea of
racial and cultural mixture that had been used to formulate national
identities around the region in the twentieth century.

Mestizaje had seemed an advanced idea in the 1930s when
compared with white supremacy. As a nationalist ideology, mestizaje
was very powerful. By the first decade of the twenty-first century,
generations of nationalist teaching had instilled in most Latin Ameri-
cans a strong respect for symbols of their mixed-race origins. Mestizo
nationalism, with its emphasis on racial and cultural amalgamation,
remained the touchstone of national identities wherever people of
indigenous descent carried demographic weight—especially Mexico,
Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and
Bolivia. Brazilians, too, remained overwhelmingly enthusiastic
about the idea of mestiçagem (their version of the same thing) as a
national idea. That’s at least partly why Brazil’s Unified Black Move-
ment (MNU) still failed to mobilize many black Brazilians around an
awareness of their shared identity as victims of racism. Pointing out
racial discrimination seemed “unpatriotic” in countries that had pre-
maturely declared themselves racial democracies.

Mestizo nationalism now functions, at its worst, as a denial
or coverup of discrimination. The frequent claims that Latin Ameri-
can societies have transcended racism simply aren’t true. Dark skin
color, whether indigenous or African, remains a social disadvantage.
And even at its best, mestizo nationalism still puts race at, or near,
the center of the national idea. According to nationalist ideology in
Mexico and elsewhere, for example, a mestizo could be considered
somehow “more Mexican,” racially, than others born in Mexico. The
mestizo image does describe many, perhaps most, Latin Americans,
but it marginalizes others. In the Dominican Republic, for example,
the mixed-race image excludes people of strong African descent, espe-
cially immigrants from Haiti, who appear “too black to be Dominican.”
In Mexico, Central America, and the Andes, it excludes indigenous
people, pushing them to “stop being Indians,” adopt a mestizo identity,
and enter the national mainstream. The Mayan Zapatistas and other
indigenous leaders of the new millennium resisted the pressure to ac-
culturate with new determination. In Latin America overall, however,

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people who maintained an indigenous identity in 2010 constituted
only a small percentage of the population.

Latin America has always been a prism for US views of race,
as this book has exemplified. In the post–Cold War period, racial and
ethnic politics in Latin America showed a mulitculturalist influence
that reflected the mood in the West generally. But multiculturalism
undercuts the basic national concept in most Latin American coun-
tries. The region’s twentieth-century national identities, organized
around the idea of racial and cultural mestizaje, were not multicul-
tural but rather, the opposite. Mestizaje was about creating unity, not
about fostering diversity. Indigenous or African identities were hon-
ored retrospectively, as original ingredients of the mixture, but they
were not to be defended in the present or preserved for the future.
Twentieth-century mestizaje had conjured up a sort of national ethnic
stereotype, “the mestizo,” whose music, accent, cuisine, and pheno-
type supposedly represented the whole nation. Reduced to this carica-
ture, the idea seems a bit absurd.

In practice, however, mestizaje is not so bad as national con-
cepts go. Its genius, in fact, is its inclusiveness. When not reduced to a
caricature, mestizaje means more an ongoing process than a particular
racial type. In practice, it comes down to the ideas that everyone is part
of the mix and that non-white origins are okay. Whatever its draw-
backs, mestizo nationalism constituted a popular step forward in Latin
American racial politics during the 1930s, and it retains plenty of ap-
peal today among rich and poor, black, white, indigenous, and mixed.

So, though Latin American societies are recognizing and valuing
diversity more, they have not let go of race-based national ideas. When
the nation is defined racially, somebody is always going to get marginal-
ized. The original sin of social exploitation has not yet been undone in
Latin America. The hegemony of European race and culture remains in-
tact. Ugly racial caricatures and stereotypes retain surprising currency.
Nonetheless, the great majority of Latin Americans, including the mid-
dle classes and even some of the very rich, now honor their indigenous
and African heritage, at least theoretically. It’s an odd combination.

Meanwhile, transculturation, that dynamic engine of Latin
American identities, has continued. For example, capoeira, an

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Afro-Brazilian combination of dance and martial art, now has ad-
herents of all races throughout Brazil and worldwide. Meanwhile, in
Bahia, a principal center of capoeira’s development, black Brazilian
youth have adopted both Jamaican reggae and US soul music as their
own, while in Rio de Janeiro, the young people of the favelas have
their own version of gangasta rap. Variants of West African religion,
including Brazilian Candomblé and its first cousin, Cuban Santería,
have acquired many new believers, black and white, since the late
twentieth century. These religions include a pantheon of gods, each
associated with particular qualities, somewhat as in ancient Greek
religion. For example, teenage surfers in Bahia, Brazil, now com-
monly put themselves in the hand of Iemanjá, goddess of the sea, as
they paddle into the breakers. Another rapidly growing religion,
Umbanda, freely combines African and European elements to pro-
duce something uniquely Brazilian. Candomblé and Umbanda cer-
emonies include moments of spirit possession, when worshippers feel
possessed by invisible forces. In traditional Candomblé, these forces
are interpreted as West African gods. In Umbanda, however, most are
Brazilian spirits, including the spirits of indigenous people and
African slaves. Many new converts, especially to Umbanda, are mid-
dle class and white.

Another tide of religious change transforming Latin America
in 2015, far larger in terms of numbers, is the rise of Protestantism,
notably in Brazil but also elsewhere, from Chile to Guatemala. Among
the fastest-growing Protestant groups are the Pentecostals and other
evangelical Christian faiths that originated in the United States.
After four centuries in which virtually everyone in Latin America was
at least nominally Catholic, some countries will soon be one quarter
or more Protestant. While missionaries planted the original seed of
this growth, evangelical Christianity is now fully acclimated and
self-directing in Latin America. The Mormon Church sends out prob-
ably the most consistent and persistent waves of young, clean-cut
missionaries. Liberation theology has continued to recede after the
Cold War, but there is no sign of an end to the religious energies of
Latin American Catholics, who make informal saints of deceased
pop-culture idols and leave offerings of headlights at roadside shrines.

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And now the pope is an Argentine known for modesty and tolerance
and unswerving loyalty to the country’s San Lorenzo soccer team.

No, it’s not your father’s Latin America anymore, as I said in
chapter 1, citing how much had changed since the Cold War. Overall,
life in Latin America resembles life in the United States more than
it used to. There has been a notable Americanization of attitudes,
practices, institutions, and material culture. Moreover, there is much
more hemispheric interconnection than before and a sense that both
north and south face global challenges.

Take Latin America’s environmental challenges. The pristine
beaches and primeval forests and innumerable species are disappear-
ing, just as everywhere else. And the biggest challenge, global warm-
ing, is the very one we all face. Environmental devastation is the
inevitable result of capitalist development, apparently, and it is worse
in developing countries than in developed ones, because avoiding or
fixing it is expensive. In addition, letting factories pollute is one way
of attracting multinational corporations to Latin America. The area of
maquiladora production along Mexico’s border with the United States
constitutes a well-known example.

Latin America’s most famous environmental issue, since the
Cold War, concerns the Amazon rain forest. A significant fraction of
the rain forest had already been destroyed before it became an issue
in the late 1980s, but it is truly enormous and still occupies roughly a
third of Brazil’s national territory, as well as parts of Venezuela, Colom-
bia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. It remains, by far, the largest tropical
forest in the world. Human activity hardly made a scratch on the Am-
azonian forest until the 1960s. It had remained the home of scattered
indigenous people with a sprinkling of settlers along the major riv-
ers, many of them descendants of rubber tappers who arrived around
1900. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian military government
launched one major World Bank–funded development project after an-
other in the Amazonian rain forest, logging it, cutting highways into
it, promoting massive mining projects (iron, gold, manganese, nickel,
copper, bauxite) that stripped and tore it, and building gargantuan
hydroelectric dams that flooded thousands of square miles of it.
Highly poisonous mercury pollution, a by-product of gold mining,

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entered Amazonian waterways by the ton. Brazil’s military gov-
ernment was especially eager to populate the country’s remote
Amazonian borders, which it regarded as a security risk, with “real
Brazilians” rather than indigenous people. In Ecuadorian Amazonia,
oil drilling wrought devastation. The forest tribes were decimated by
disease. Some melted away to nothing in only a few years.

Still, the Brazilian and Ecuadorian governments were deter-
mined to exploit the resources of Amazonia. After all, as they pointed
out, the rich farmlands of the Midwestern United States had once
been mostly forested and inhabited by indigenous people, too. But
tropical rain forests are not like other woodlands. One of the world’s
oldest habitats, rain forests have developed a biodiversity unequaled
anywhere else on the planet. Even more than elsewhere, pervasive
webs of symbiotic relationships make rain-forest organisms super-
specialized and intricately interdependent. That interdependence, in

M i n i n G W a s T e . A wave of toxic mud washed over this Brazilian village when a dam

collapsed in 2015, killing at least seventeen people. The devastation associated with

mining affects many countries in Latin America. Douglas Magno/AFP/Getty Images.

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turn, makes rain-forest ecologies uniquely fragile. When large areas
of the forest are cut down, a few species of trees grow back, but the
original biodiversity is permanently lost. Another kind of fragility
comes from the thin Amazonian soil, which is quickly washed away
by torrential rains when shorn of protective tree cover. As a result,
cleared land quickly erodes and becomes almost useless.

In the 1980s, when something like six thousand square miles
of the forest were disappearing each year in clouds of smoke the size
of Belgium, the disastrous consequences of Amazonian development
became obvious. Rondônia, a western state bordering on Bolivia, was
the Brazilian government’s great model of agricultural colonization.
But even when the land was allotted to poor settlers from other parts
of Brazil, arriving by the hundred thousand each year, Amazonian
colonization rarely worked. The would-be colonists had high hopes but
little preparation, and less than a tenth of Rondônia turned out to be

s e T T l e r i n b r a z i l i a n a M a z o n i a . Burning the rain forest is a way of clearing it

for agriculture. Cleared land in the Amazon Basin is unlikely to retain its fertility for more

than a few years, yet the burning continues because of demand for land. Photograph by

Michael Harvey/Panos.

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suitable farmland anyway. Under post–Cold War democratic govern-
ments, destruction has slowed but not stopped. Most of the agricul-
tural settlers gave up after only two or three years. Their plots were
often bought by wealthy ranchers.

Ranching, which uses a lot of land and employs few people, ac-
counts for much of the deforestation in Amazonia. The ranchers are
often large-scale speculators for whom ranching is a business venture
rather than a way of life. Commonly, they live in cities, work in air-
conditioned offices, and leave the ranching itself to hired administra-
tors. They buy enormous tracts of land, clear them with bulldozers,
put cattle on them until the degraded soil and scrubby vegetation will
no longer support even cattle, then sell the land and move on. After
all, they are in business to make money. Harnessing the profit motive
to social goals, that’s what the new nationalists want to do, but it is a
job that mostly remains to be done.

In the meantime, all the recently booming extractive enterprises
leave a considerable environmental footprint and raise questions of
sustainability. Even Brazil’s remarkable boom of soy cultivation is
a “green revolution” that seems too resource intensive to last long.
Global capitalism operates on a short-term basis in Latin America, as
everywhere else.

If understanding Latin America has always challenged us in
the United States, perhaps the challenge is getting easier. After all, in-
creasingly the Latin Americans are us. In a United States more heav-
ily immigrant than anytime since the early 1900s, Latin Americans
are the most numerous immigrants. People of Latin American descent
now compose the country’s biggest minority group, representing over
a seventh of our total population. Mexicans and Mexican Americans
in the southwest, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in New York, and
Cubans in Florida form large, influential communities. Well over half
of all US Latinos are of Mexican descent, but Latin Americans of many
other countries can now be found throughout the United States. It is
important to recognize that US Latinos are divided along national,
racial, and ethnic lines. In fact, the umbrella term Latino means little
outside the United States. Only here do Mexicans, Puerto Ricans,
and Bolivians, brought together by the Spanish language, begin to

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see each other as Latinos. And Brazilians generally do not identify as
Latinos, even in the United States.

Immigration from Latin America is changing US culture.
Spanish-language publications abound. There are Spanish-language
television networks. Supermarkets all over the country carry torti-
llas, cilantro, and plantains. Small tiendas mexicanas, frequented
by farm workers, dot the rural South. Everybody’s tastes are chang-
ing. Sales of spicy salsa have surpassed sales of an older American
favorite, ketchup. Another kind of salsa, the fabulously polyrhythmic
dance music, was born of Cuban parentage in New York and was dis-
seminated from there throughout the Caribbean basin. Salsa remains
beyond the ability of most US dancers. Fortunately, Dominican immi-
gration brought merengue and bachata and then (from Panama and
Puerto Rico) came reggaeton, all more rhythmically straightforward
music, easier for gringo dancers to learn. More recently, we’ve been
learning the most difficult of Latin American dances, tango.

Large-scale immigration also brings challenges. As tens of
thousands of people made the perilous desert crossing in search of
work and a better life for themselves and their families in the United
States, all sorts of issues arose en route and at their destination.
Much of the recent wave of migrants went to places that formerly
received few immigrants, especially southeastern states like North
and South Carolina, dramatically transforming the cultural picture of
many a depopulated small town. In a conflictive world of large uncer-
tainties, the transformations created by rapid immigration produce
fearful reactions; and political opportunists of various stripes exploit
those fears. The result is not pretty. It involves calls for a forbidding
border fence of gargantuan length to keep the migrants out. It in-
volves laws mandating the systematic deportation of those who are
already here. Sometimes, it involves scapegoating the migrants (as
if they were personally responsible for the global economic realities
that drive their migration) and attempting to limit the healthcare and
education available to them and their children. Zealots volunteer
to patrol the border themselves and to maintain watch via remote
surveillance cameras that can be monitored on the Internet from the
comfort of their living rooms. It all seems un-American. But, of course,

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C h i C a G o , M ay 2 0 0 6 . Mass pro- immigration demonstrations occurred in many US

cities as a response to anti- immigration initiatives in the first de cade of the twenty- first

century. Photograph by Steve Schapiro/Corbis.

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it isn’t. What could be more American, after all, than being an immi-
grant and then, after a few decades, fearing immigration and reacting
against it? It is a troubled process, but no place can make it work, in
the end, like the United States of America.

Because of the Great Recession of 2008–10, though, net immi-
gration from Latin America went effectively to zero and has stayed
minimal. Some migrants arrive, but as many leave. Also, undocu-
mented residents who once traveled back and forth annually to see
family are staying put in the United States. In 2014 and 2015 the
salient immigration issue involved unaccompanied minors who had
begun to migrate in large numbers from Honduras, Guatemala, and
El Salvador, crossing Mexico largely by jumping on freight trains the
way hoboes did during the Great Depression in the United States.

The special push factor behind this strange migration was
violent street gangs in the young people’s countries of origin. These
maras, as they are called, are street gangs that traffic drugs and wear
distinctive tatoos. Immigrant youth formed them in the United States
years ago, adopting the style and ethos of existing gangs here. De-
ported from the United States, they took their gang identities with
them, and the maras went viral. In Honduras, Guatemala, and El
Salvador, the maras extort money by threatening kids with violence
and then arranging, for thousands of dollars, their arduous escape to
the United States. Young people who survive the odyssey are appre-
hended and locked up indefinitely for the criminal act of entering the
country without a visa (or a passport). Sometimes, they are held in
for-profit detention centers that have an investment in keeping them
detained. Sometimes, the detention centers even use these minors as
cheap labor to generate further profits.

The criminal traffic that has energized the maras of Central
America has also been wrecking havoc within Mexico. Bascially, it’s
a fight to supply the voracious US market for illegal drugs, including
methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Several cartels
are competing for distribution rights, and because their business is
illegal, they compete with bullets and bombs. Lately there has been
an intensification of the violence as various cartels have hired merce-
naries with special forces training, including “pyschological” warfare.

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T h e u s – M e X i C o b o r D e r h a s n o w b e e n f o r t i f i e d a g a i n s t m i g r a n t s f r o m t h e

s o u t h . The US side is to the left. © Piotr Redlinski/Corbis.

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a n u n D o C u M e n T e D M i G r a n T i s q u e s t i o n e d a t t h e U S – M e x i co b o r d e r

b e f o r e b e i n g d e p o r te d f r o m S a n D i e g o i n 2 0 0 9. © DAVID MAUNG/epa/Corbis.

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35 5

Decaptitations to intimidate the business competition, you see. The
enormous profits are what drive the violence, and the illegal market
is what yields the profits. Around Latin America, drug laws are being
liberalized to reduce the profitability of the traffic. In 2013, Uruguay
became the first country anywhere to fully legalize marijuana with
the purpose of eliminating the criminal violence associated with the
drug’s illegality.

So, will globalization and neoliberalism solve Latin America’s
basic problems of social inequity? There is very little sign of that
happening. In fact, global capitalism is clearly trending in the other
direction, toward greater inequality in the distribution of wealth. How
about the new parties and leaders that have opposed neoliberalism
from the nationalist left? In electing them, Latin American voters
have strongly registered their reservations about a totally unfettered
free market. The new generation of Latin American leaders have im-
pressive patriotic bona fides, and they can think for themselves. Over-
all, they have been pragmatic, playing the only game in town, which
lately has been an extractive export boom reminiscent of a hundred
years ago. They have been hoping that the resulting resources will
prepare their countries for the inevitable bust. The bust now appears
to have begun.

I wish them well.

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IMF, p.331

NAFTA, p.332

maquiladora, p.332


“new left turn”, p.336

Lula, p.336

K e y t e r m s a n d v o c a b u l a r y

Hugo Chávez, p.337

Evo Morales, p.338

World Bank, p.346

Amazonia, p.347

Latinos, p.349

maras, p.352

s t u d y Q u e s t i o n s

1. What is neo-liberalism, and how does it relate to the old


2. How did neoliberalism gain such wide acceptance after the

Cold War?

3. How have Latin American economies evolved in the new era of


4. What new challenges do Latin American countries face in the

early twenty-first century?

5. What characterized the “new left turn” presidents of the early

twenty-first century?

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o f

F o r e i g n L A n g u A g e

T e r m s A n d K e y C o n C e p T s

1898 war: a war declared by the United States on Spain that resulted
in the invasion of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippine Islands. The
war lasted less than a year due to the weakness of Spain’s forces.
Publically rationalized as a gallant rescue of the Cuban people, the
war was part of a larger geopolitical strategy to secure transoceanic
naval links.

Salvador Allende: elected president of Chile in 1970. He proposed
a “Chilean road” to socialism quite different from the armed struggle
proposed by Che Guevara. Allende was eventually overthrown by a
US-backed military coup.

Alliance for Progress: proposed by President Kennedy, this was an
aid program designed to quell revolutionary unrest in Latin America
following the success of the Cuban Revolution. By the 1970s, however,
the program had failed.

Amazonia: the basin of the Amazon River, containing the world’s
largest rain forest, occupying parts of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador,
Peru, Bolivia, and especially Brazil.

Americanos (Spa. and Port.): the nativist term used during the wars
of independence to suggest a natural alliance among all people born in
America against the Spaniards and Portuguese.

APRA: the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance, a Peruvian
political movement that aimed to stave off economic imperialism across
Latin America. While it did not succeed as an international movement,
its program to reclaim indigenous roots had a lasting impact in Peru.

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Jacobo Arbenz: president of Guatemala who enacted progressive
reforms before being toppled by a US-backed proxy force in 1954.

Aztec Empire: Mesoamerican empire that extended through the
Central Valley of Mexico, uniting numerous small, independent states
under a single monarch. By the late fifteenth century, the Aztec
Empire may have ruled over as many as 25 million people. In 1521,
they were conquered by the conquistador Hernan Cortés.

Bandeirantes (Port.): the wandering frontier raiders of colonial Brazil,
based mostly in São Paulo. Their chief activity was slave hunting.

Bay of Pigs: failed CIA operation that, in April 1961, deployed a band
of Cuban rebels to overthrow Fidel Castro’s Communist regime.

Simón Bolívar: the greatest leader of Latin American independence
struggles, called “the Liberator” in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador,
Peru, and Bolivia.

Bourbon and Pombaline reforms: reforms initiated by the Bour-
bon dynasty of Spain and royal minister Marquis de Pombal in Por-
tugal that sought to tighten control over their New World colonies in
the 1700s.

Brazilian “miracle”: the economic boom of Brazil in the late 1960s
and early 1970s during the country’s period of military rule. Increased
foreign investment during this period was channeled by the military
into development projects like mining, transportation, steel produc-
tion, and oil refining.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca: early Spanish explorer who provided
descriptions of nonsedentary people living in Texas and across northern

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Cabildo (Spa., equivalent to câmara in Port.): the city council, one of
the most important institutions of colonial government. Around 1810,
at the outset of Spanish America’s wars of independence, open city
council meetings (cabildos abiertos) constituted early steps toward
independent authority.

Canudos: a locality in northeastern Brazil, led by the “prophet”
Antonio Conselheiro, that resisted the authority of the new Brazil-
ian Republic in the 1890s. In 1897, the federal government destroyed
Canudos to restore order, massacring most of its inhabitants.

Lázaro Cárdenas: revolutionary nationalist president of Mexico
from 1934 to 1940 who cultivated a respect among the people by cam-
paigning throughout the countryside where he was originally from.
During his six years in office, he distributed land, supported labor
organizations, and, most famously, oversaw the nationalization of
Mexican oil in 1938.

caste system: a social hierarchy encoded in law and based on inher-
ited characteristics, real or imagined. Latin America’s colonial caste
system corresponded more or less to what we call race. Caste can be
usefully contrasted to class, which is based more on socioeconomic

Caste War of Yucatan: the most prolonged indigenous rebellion
in nineteenth-century Latin America. The Mayan people rose up,
inspired by prophetic religious messages from a talking cross, to
cleanse their land of white and mestizo intruders. They called them-
selves Cruzob, a Mayan/Spanish term for “people of the cross.”

Fidel Castro: in 1959, his Communist regime came to power in Cuba
after two years of guerrilla warfare against the dictator Fulgenico

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Batista. He enacted land redistribution programs and nationalized
all foreign-owned property. The latter action as well as his political
trials and summary executions damaged relations between Cuba and
the United States.

caudillo (Spa.): a strong political leader who commands the personal
loyalty of many followers. The mid-1800s was the heyday of caudi-
llismo. Although Brazil has also seen strong leaders, caudillismo has
operated more powerfully in Spanish America.

Científicos: see Porfiriato.

clients: in political terms, clients receive benefits (such as protection
or government employment) from a patrón in return for their loyalty
(in civil wars or elections, for example).

comparative advantage: a concept promoted by free-market liberal
economists. If each producer specializes in what it produces with com-
parative advantage, free trade then theoretically creates maximum
benefits for all involved. Nationalist economists had a counterstrategy,
ISI (import-substitution industrialization).

core/fringe: an analytical concept used to assess the geography of
large social systems. The core areas of the Spanish and Portuguese
colonies (e.g., Mexico, Peru, and northeastern Brazil) were defined
by their large populations and profitable export products. The fringe
areas were poorer and attracted fewer colonists. An analogous con-
cept, center/periphery, is applied to the geography of international
economic relationships.

costumbrismo (Spa.): an artistic and literary form dedicated to
depicting (and thereby defining) national customs and lifeways during
the mid-1800s.

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Creole (equivalent of criollo, Spa.): a person of Spanish descent born
in the New World. Brazilians of Portuguese descent tended to be called
simply brasileiros. See also Peninsular.

Hugo Chávez: president of Venezuela from 2002 until his death in
2013. The most high-profile of Latin America’s “new left turn” presi-
dents, Chavez secured his power through a patronage system with
Venezuela’s poor. His domineering use of government against political
adversaries, however, made him unpopular with the middle class.

Hernán Cortés: the Spanish conquistador who conquered the Aztec
Empire and set the precedent for other plundering conquistadores.

Cuban Missile Crisis: thirteen-day US-Soviet standoff in October
1962, sparked by the discovery of Soviet missile sites in Cuba; the
crisis was the closest the world has come to nuclear war since 1945.

Cuban Revolution: led by Fidel Castro, with notable participation by
Che Guevara, this was the most influential revolutionary movement
in twentieth-century Latin America. Soon after its 1959 triumph, the
Cuban Revolution allied with the Soviet Union, making Cuba the
Latin American nemesis of the United States for the next half century.

Rubén Darío: a mestizo Nicaraguan writer who became one of the
greatest Spanish-language poets in the early 1900s. His was a leading
voice of protest against US interventions in neocolonial Latin America.

Porfirio Díaz: authoritarian ruler of Mexico during the late nine-
teenth century.

decent people: the phrase gente decente (Spa.) was used especially in
the 1800s to separate prosperous families of European blood and cul-
ture from the poor majority of indigenous, African, or mixed heritage

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G l o s s a r y

people (collectively called the pueblo in Spanish America and the povo
in Brazil).

dirty war: the guerra sucia (Spa.) was a campaign of terror waged
by the Argentine military against left-wing guerrillas and their sym-
pathizers (real and imagined) in the 1970s. Similar but smaller cam-
paigns were carried out simultaneously by the Chilean, Uruguayan,
and Brazilian militaries.

ECLA: the Economic Commission for Latin America set up by the
United Nations and led by Argentine economist Raúl Prebisch in
the post–World War II period. ECLA advanced a “developmentalist”
economic policy against the classical liberal theory of “comparative

economic dependency: a theory that asserts that the global economy
is divided into two parts: the center and the periphery. The center
(mostly Europe and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s) was
industrialized and wealthy, whereas the periphery was poor and eco-
nomically dependent on the center.

ejido (Spa.): common lands belonging to a town or village. The Mexi-
can Revolution famously restored and created ejidos during its land
reform of the 1920s and 1930s.

El Mozote: a small village in El Salvador that was the site of a US-
advised anticommunist attack during the FMLN uprising of the
1980s. The village was incorrectly thought to be a guerrilla base. The
slaughtered villagers were actually evangelical Christians.

enclave: an area sealed off, in some way, from its surroundings. In
Latin American history, the most famous enclaves were created by
outside economic interests, such as mining and banana companies.

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encomienda (Spa.): an institution whereby groups of indigenous
people were legally “entrusted” to a Spanish conqueror with the duty
of paying him labor and/or tribute. In return, the holder of the enco-
mienda (the encomendero) was to provide instruction in the Christian

Encounter: formerly called “the Discovery of America,” the Encounter
marks the moment when the world of native Americans collided with
the world of Europeans, affecting and changing both worlds forever.

Estado Novo (Port. for “New State”): the Brazilian regime created
by Getúlio Vargas, 1937–45. The Estado Novo’s industrialization pro-
gram and general expansion of government activities were typical of
mid-1900s nationalist movements.

FMLN: the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, the guerrilla
army that challenged the government in El Salvador’s civil war of the
1980s. In 1992, the FMLN signed a peace treaty, demobilized, and
became a left-wing political party that exists to this day.

focos: focal points of guerrilla activity intended to create revolution-
ary conditions in adjacent areas. Che Guevara was the principal expo-
nent of this strategy (called foquismo) in Latin America.

“free birth” law: a law passed in Brazil in 1871. It freed children
born to enslaved mothers after that year, but it stipulated that the
“free” children would still have to serve their mothers’ owners until
reaching adulthood.

fueros (Spa.): a term for special legal privileges traditionally extended
to the clergy and military officers. In nineteenth-century Mexico,
fueros became a major bone of contention, attacked by liberals,
defended by conservatives.

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GNP, GDP: two similar measures of total national economic activ-
ity: Gross National Product and Gross Domestic Product. The former
is a more inclusive measure, which includes the profits of companies
operating abroad.

Good Neighbor Policy: President Franklin Roosevelt’s non-
interventionist approach to Latin America during the 1930s and
World War II. FDR believed that the United States needed friends and
allies in Latin America to face the global crisis of depression and war.

Juana Manuela Gorriti: Argentine-born nineteenth-century author,
one of the few Latin American women whose talent won her fame in
the 1800s. Gorriti’s writings were instructive and often concerned
with women’s issues rather than scandalous.

João Goulart: president of Brazil, following in the Vargas tradition
of labor populism, overthrown by a military coup in 1964.

the great export boom: a late nineteenth-century explosion in expor-
tation, usually of a single crop per country, that led to rapid, sustained
economic growth (but not industrial development) in Latin America.

guano: excrement of bats and seabirds that serves as high-quality fertil-
izer, famous for fueling a “guano exportation boom” in mid-1800s Peru.

Che Guevara: an Argentine medical student whose participation in
the Cuban Revolution made him one of the most famous Latin Ameri-
can revolutionaries. In Cuba, Che developed a theory of guerrilla war-
fare, and he died attempting to implement it later in Bolivia.

hacienda (Spa.): a large property owned by one family, generally of
Spanish descent. In contrast to plantations (such as Brazilian sugar
plantations, for example), many haciendas did not produce lucrative
export crops.

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Haitian Revolution: the great slave uprising led by Toussaint
L’Ouverture that began in the French colony of Haiti in 1791 and resulted
in the elimination of slavery and the foundation of the Republic of Haiti.

hegemony: a basic principle of social control, in which a ruling class
dominates others ideologically, with a minimum of physical force, by
making its dominance seem natural and inevitable. Hegemony usu-
ally involves some degree of negotiation.

Miguel Hidalgo: led the first uprising for Mexican independence
in 1810.

Iberia: the peninsula defining the southwestern extreme of Europe,
separated from France by the Pyrenees Mountains. Both the Spanish
and Portuguese are Iberians, so that term is often used to discuss
their combined colonial presence in America.

IMF and World Bank: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and
World Bank are major institutions that helped reorganize interna-
tional financing after the Second World War. They were key to the neo-
liberal policies called, in Latin America, “the Washington Consensus.”

Inca Empire: empire of Quecha-speaking rulers in the Andean valley
of Cuzco that encompassed a population of 4 to 6 million. They were
conquered by the conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1533.

Indigenismo (Spa.): a literary, artistic, and political movement
beginning in the late 1800s, but most characteristic of twentieth-
century nationalism, that honored indigenous heritage but focused on
assimilating indigenous people into national life.

Isabel of Castile: Queen of Castile, a kingdom located in the middle
of modern-day Spain. In the 1490s, she funded the explorations of
Christopher Columbus.

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ISI, import-substitution industrialization: the creation of domes-
tic industry to provide products previously imported. ISI occurred in
Latin America mostly during the mid-1900s, encouraged by interrup-
tions of international trade and by nationalist economic policies.

King João: King of Brazil whose court in Rio de Janeiro became the
political center of the Portuguese-speaking world in 1808. He was the
only European monarch ever to reign in America.

Benito Juárez: Mexico’s great nineteenth-century president of fully
indigenous ancestry; his most famous struggle was against the French
puppet emperor of Mexico, Maximilian.

Bartolome de las Casas: a Catholic missionary who renounced
the Spanish practice of coercively converting Indians and advocated
for their better treatment. In 1552, he wrote A Brief Relation of the
Destruction of the Indies, which described Spain’s cruel treatment of
the Indians.

Latinos: an umbrella term designating the Spanish-speaking popula-
tion of the United States. Latinos constitute the largest immigrant
population of the US, with over half of all Latinos being of Mexican

legitimacy: a quality of governments generally recognized as proper
and legal by those whom they rule.

Empress Leopoldina: the wife of Pedro I, Leopoldina played a critical
role in convincing Pedro to declare Brazil’s independence. Her death,
due to pregnancy complications, paved the way for Pedro I’s downfall.

liberalism: a cluster of political ideas, emphasizing liberties of vari-
ous civil, political, and economic kinds. Latin American liberalism
focused on European and, later, US models.

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liberation theology: a small but influential grassroots movement
within the Latin American Catholic Church beginning in the late
1960s. In accord with liberation theology, consciousness raising and
social organizing among the poor became central missions.

“low intensity conflict”: US strategy for combatting guerrilla armies
in Central America. It included depriving guerrillas of support by forc-
ing rural civilians into what were essentially concentration camps.

Paulina Luisi: the first woman to receive a medical degree in
Uruguay (in 1909), she was also the leader of the country’s feminist
movement and fought to secure voting rights for women. In 1922, she
became an honorary vice president of the Pan-American Conference of
Women held in the United States.

Lula: Luiz Inácio da Silva, also known as “Lula,” president of
Brazil from 2003-2011. A metalworker and union leader before
establishing the grassroots Labor Party, he won the presidency on
the fourth try.

Bertha Lutz: Brazil’s leading feminist who founded the Brazilian
Federation for Feminine Progress, which played a critical role in
securing women the vote in 1932.

Joaquim Machado de Assis: widely considered Brazil’s greatest
nineteenth-century author. This grandson of slaves became president
of the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1897.

managed elections: elections at least partly manipulated by the
government to influence the outcome. Such elections were a standard
element of rural life throughout Latin America until the middle of the
1900s. Managing urban elections is more difficult and requires an
especially powerful government (such as Mexico’s PRI).

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Manifest Destiny: a vision of US territorial growth in the mid-1800s.
According to this vision, it was “manifest” (totally obvious) that
according to the laws of history, the United States would (and should)
expand to the Pacific Ocean, occupying Native American and Mexican
lands by force, if necessary.

maquiladora: an assembly plant that uses cheap labor, mainly poor
women, to put together imported parts. Low tariffs facilitate maqui-
ladora production.

maras: violent street gangs of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salva-
dor that traffic drugs and are identifiable by their distinctive tattoos.
During the recent ebb of immigration to the United States, the maras
have been responsible for a spike in the arrival of young people fleeing
the gang violence in Central America.

Marxism: form of scientific socialism created by Karl Marx and
Friedrich Engels that was rooted in a materialist theory of history.

Maximilian and Carlota: Emperor and Empress of Mexico installed
by the invading French forces in 1862. Maximilian was killed in 1865.
Carlota escaped back to Europe, but was insane for the rest of her life.

Mayas: fully sedentary civilization that ruled over large stretches of
Mesoamerica; Mayan territory comprised a series of kingdoms, each
built around ritual centers rather than cities.

Melchor Ocampo: Liberal politician who exemplified the anti-clerical
tenor of Mexico’s mid-1800s Reform. Ocampo scandalized the nation
by announcing that God did not exist.

Rigoberta Menchú: a Mayan indigenous woman of Guatemala who
won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for exposing the country’s dirty
war. Her life story was published as I, Rigoberta Menchú (1984) and

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became essential reading for anyone interested in Central America’s
“low-intensity conflicts.”

MERCOSUR: a free-trade zone inaugurated in the 1990s by Brazil,
Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Mestizo (Spa.): of mixed race, especially indigenous American and
European. The Portuguese equivalent, mestiço, just as often refers
to an African-European mix. (For simplicity, only the Spanish
version is used in the text. Mestizaje, the noun form, means “race

Carmen Miranda: Brazilian singer, dancer, and actress who eventu-
ally became a “hot Latin” caricature for Hollywood. She starred in
musicals featuring Brazilian dance and wore an iconic headgear made
of fruit, derived from Afro-Brazilian carnival-kitsch.

mita: a labor draft exacted by the Inca Empire and, after the con-
quest, by the Spanish colonial rulers of the Andes. Colonial mita work-
ers traveled to work, above all, in the silver mines, the most famous of
which was Potosí.

Bartolomé Mitre: first president of a united Argentina. He success-
fully led the forces of Buenos Aires against the Confederation, uniting
the two regions. Mitre (like his colleague Sarmiento) epitomizes the
nineteenth-century liberal man of letters.

Moctezuma: leader of the Aztec Empire who fell from power
when taken hostage by Cortés during the invasion of Tenochtitlan
in 1521.

Monroe Doctrine: a foreign policy (first announced by US President
James Monroe in 1823) by which the United States proclaimed
European “hands off ” the Western Hemisphere, reserving it for US

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influence. The doctrine was rarely invoked until the expansion of US
naval power in the 1890s.

Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine: a sort of rider
added by Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, whereby the US military
would function as a hemispheric policeman in protection of
European and US economic interests.

Evo Morales: President of Bolivia elected in 2006, the first indige-
nous man to be president of that majority-indigenous country. Morales
began his political career fighting off US-inspired efforts to eradicate
the country’s ancient coca crop.

Francisco Morazan: Honduran-born caudillo whose French con-
nections and federalist convictions were typical of Central American
liberals in the early nineteenth-century.

José María Morelos: Hidalgo’s lieutenant, and later, Mexico’s second
major leader of independence. The objectives of Morelos, like those
of Hidalgo, were truly radical. Both died well before the end of the

Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo: a group of Argentine mothers who
raised awareness about the dirty war being conducted by the military
against guerrilla insurgents during the Cold War. They gained inter-
national recognition for their efforts.

Joaquim Nabuco: leading abolitionist spokesman and liberal of
Brazil in the 1880s.

NAFTA: the North American Free Trade Agreement that eliminated
trade barriers in 1994 between the United States, Canada, and Mexico,
making North America the largest free-trade zone in the world.

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nationalism: a political movement (dominant in the mid-1900s)
espousing a strong state, national pride, and economic development.
Latin American nationalists oppose “imperialist” outside influence.
Often, but not always, they show a real commitment to defending the
poor majority.

Mestizo nationalism: a common definition of Latin American
national identities founded on the notion of race mixture. This
became an official definition of national identity in many Latin
American countries during the mid-1900s.

nativism: a political attitude pitting all those of native birth against
those born elsewhere. Nativist attitudes, promoted by the patriots
during the independence wars, were part of the early development
of nationalism. Nativism can also be an attitude of prejudice against
poor immigrants, as in Argentine and US history.

neocolonialism: an informal sort of “colonization” by outside pow-
ers, associated in Latin America with the 1880–1930 period. Although
politically independent during these years, Latin American countries
experienced occasional military intervention as well as overpowering
economic and cultural influence from Great Britain, France, and the
United States. See postcolonialism.

neoliberalism: an updated version of liberalism that swept Latin
America in the 1990s, following the period of Cold War reaction and
military rule.

Pablo Neruda: Nobel laureate and one of the most popular poets of
twentieth-century Latin America. He also traveled the world as a for-
eign diplomat for Chile’s government and in 1945 was elected senator
for Chile’s Communist Party.

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G l o s s a r y

“new left turn”: a general trend in Latin American politics, at the
dawn of the twenty-first century, away from the neoliberal policies
of free-market supremacy, reviving nationalist traditions of the mid-
twentieth century.

oligarchy (from Greek, “rule by the few”): a cluster of powerful fami-
lies able to dominate a local, state, or national government because of
their social and economic influence. In Latin America, oligarchies of
large landowners held sway in many countries between 1880 and 1930
when the most common alternative was dictatorship.

Pampas: a nonsedentary indigenous people who, before disappearing,
gave their name to the fertile and well-watered grasslands of Argen-
tina, south of the captial, Buenos Aires.

patriarchy: a general principle of male superiority whereby “fathers
rule,” both in households and in society at large. It was more prominent
in Spanish and Portuguese societies than in indigenous societies before
the Encounter, but colonial rule implanted it strongly in Latin America.

patronage: the granting of benefits by a wealthier or more powerful
person, a patron ( patrón in Spanish, patrão in Portuguese), to a per-
son further down the social hierarchy. Patronage is repaid by loyalty
and various services. See clients.

Pedro I: the first monarch of the independent Empire of Brazil, which
separated from Portugal in 1822. Pedro had been born a prince of
Portugal’s ruling Braganza dynasty and led Brazilian independence
with a nod from his father, Portugal’s King João.

Pedro II: Emperor of Brazil who came to power when his father, Pedro I, was
forced out in 1831. Pedro exercised his considerable, but limited, power
with moderation and a progressive outlook. He was exiled by a military
coup in 1889, bringing the establishment of the first Brazilian Republic.

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G l o s s a r y

Peninsular (Spa.): a Spaniard resident in the New World during the
Independence period. The conflict between Peninsulars and native-
born Creoles became important at that time.

peon: an agricultural worker who lives and works on a large estate,
such as a Spanish American hacienda. Peons were not slaves, but they
commonly lacked freedom of movement, being tied to the hacienda, at
times by debt. The peon’s situation is called peonage.

Juan and Eva Perón: Juan Perón was president of Argentina from
1946 to 1955, and was swept into power by mass support from the
industrial working class. Workers remained his most loyal supporters
throughout his presidency. He founded a durable nationalist move-
ment called Peronism. His wife, Eva, a former actress, played a critical
role in his presidency and became a national figure in her own right.

Francisco Pizarro: a Spanish conquistador who led the expedition
that conquered the Inca empire in the 1530s.

Popular Unity: the coalition of Left parties that secured the presi-
dency of Chile for Salvador Allende in 1970. Allende was overthrown
by a US-backed coup in 1973.

populism: a style of politics aimed at the urban working and middle
classes, who, together, composed the populist coalition. Most vigorous
in the years following 1945, populism generally employed nationalist
themes and promoted ISI.

Porfiriato (Spa.): the long period of rule by Mexico’s Porfirio Díaz,
1876–1911, often cited as a prime example of neocolonialism in Latin
America. Díaz imposed strict political control, encouraged European
and US investment, and gave special influence to a group of positivist
thinkers called Científicos.

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G l o s s a r y

positivism: a social philosophy (associated especially with the French
thinker Auguste Comte) of great influence in neocolonial Latin
America. Positivists cultivated a “science of society,” with “Progress”
as its centerpiece. In practice, positivism defined its supposedly scien-
tific principles in highly Eurocentric terms. One element of positivist
thought, for example, was “scientific racism.”

postcolonialism: the lingering effect of previous colonization on
nations that have gained their formal independence. In Latin America,
the language, laws, religion, and social norms implanted by Spanish
and Portuguese colonizers carried over almost entirely between 1825
and 1850, making the new, politically independent countries postcolo-
nial in cultural terms. See neocolonialism.

Potosí: possibly the most productive silver mine in the history of the
world, it opened (in what is now Bolivia) in the 1540s.

Progress: in the meaning common in the 1800s and 1900s (signaled
in the text by capitalization), Progress was any application of advanced
technology, any importation of European or US material culture, or
any transformation that made Latin American societies more like
their European or US models. Especially before 1930, Progress was
equated with Civilization, the opposite of Barbarism (a term used to
brand African and indigenous American cultures as primitive).

proxy force: a military force representing the interests of a country not
formally involved in the fight. The Contras who attacked Nicaragua in
the 1980s are a famous example of a US proxy force in Latin America.

quilombo (Port.): a settlement where escaped slaves lived out of
Brazilian slave owners’ control. Brazil’s largest and most famous
quilombo was Palmares. Such settlements existed also in the
Caribbean region, where they were called palenques (Spa.).

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G l o s s a r y

Reconquest of Iberia: the process by which King Ferdinand and
Queen Isabella pushed the Moors out of Spain, completed in 1492.

regency: those who rule on behalf of a monarch unable to rule person-
ally for whatever reason, often age or illness. Regents ruled in the
name of Brazil’s underage prince, Pedro, during the 1830s. When he
was crowned Pedro I in 1840, the regency ceased to exist.

Rio Pact: a permanent Pan-American defensive alliance signed in
1947. It perpetuated the US–Latin American military alliance of
World War II and extended it into the Cold War.

Diego Rivera: most important of the revolutionary Mexican mural-
ists who covered the walls of Mexico’s public spaces with depictions of
the nation’s indigenous heritage during the mid-1900s.

Oscar Romero: Archbishop of El Salvador who preached liberation
theology after the anticommunist cause began targeting priests and
nuns. He was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass.

Juan Manuel de Rosas: a caudillo who dominated Argentina from
1829 to 1852. He was a rancher from the cattle frontier whose militias
proved a valuable asset during his rule, when he used violent means
against opponents and employed political imagery and mass propa-
ganda to consolidate his position.

Manuela de Rosas: daughter of Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de
Rosas, who helped manage the public relations of her father’s rule.

royal fifth: a 20 percent tax that the Spanish Crown placed on mining.

rubber boom: surge in the tapping of natural latex in the Amazonian
region at the dawn of the twentieth century, producing great wealth
for merchants, but little for the people of the region.

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G l o s s a r y

rurales (Spa.): the mounted national police of Mexico founded by Por-
firio Díaz to impose order in the countryside.

Sandinistas: revolutionaries of the FSLN (Frente Sandista de Liber-
ación Nacional) who came to power in Nicaragua in 1979.

José de San Martín: Argentine general who created an army of
Argentine-Chilean patriots that became, along with Bolívar’s, one of
the most important military forces in the fight for independence in
South America.

Antonio López de Santa Anna: a flamboyant Mexican caudillo and
war hero, he seized political power in 1834 and installed himself as
president numerous times over his nearly forty-year career.

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento: one of the most influential Latin
American liberals of the nineteenth century, he brought US education
models to Argentina and, in 1868, was elected president of the country.

sedentary: patterns of indigenous life that occurred most often in
highland environments. Sedentary people had fully sustainable agri-
culture, allowing the creation of cities and large, complex social orga-
nizations. In a few cases—the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas—sedentary
people built large empires.

semisedentary: patterns of indigenous life that were typical of
forest environments. Semisedentary people practiced shifting
agriculture and moved their villages every few years. They
organized themselves in tribes and clans that rarely num-
bered more than a few thousand. Example: the Tupian people
of Brazil (also Paraguay).

nonsedentary: patterns of indigenous life that were typi-
cal of grasslands, especially arid ones. Nonsedentary people

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G l o s s a r y

depended on gathering and hunting for food. They moved con-
stantly, and their social organizations were therefore simple.
Examples: the Chichimecas of Mexico and the Pampas of

senhor de engenho (Port.): literally, “lord of a mill,” referring to a mill
for processing sugarcane. The senhores de engenho, who also owned
sugar plantations, were dominant figures in the society of colonial Brazil.

silver mining: the backbone of the colonial Spanish American export
economy, with chief extractive centers in northern Mexico and Peru.

Anastasio Somoza: authoritarian ruler of Nicaragua, overthrown
by the Sandinistas in the 1970s. The Somoza dynasty had governed
Nicaragua since an earlier Anastasio Somoza was put in place by US
marines in the 1920s.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: a seventeenth-century Mexican nun who
became a leading intellectual of her day. She was eventually silenced
for activities considered inappropriate for women.

state: in political analysis, a collective name for the institutions of
government power, including courts, schools, bureaucracy, police, and
armed forces. The state can be usefully contrasted to the nation, the
shared identity (ideally, but not always) felt by people who live within
a state.

sugar plantations: the backbone of the colonial Brazilian export
economy, analogous to silver cultivation in Spanish America.

Tenochtitlan: the capital city of the Aztec Empire. The city was built
on marshy islands on the western side of Lake Texcoco, which is the
site of present-day Mexico City.

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G l o s s a r y

transculturation: the creative interaction between two cultures,
resulting in a new culture. Transculturation among Europeans, Afri-
cans, and indigenous Americans created distinctive Latin American

Triple Alliance War: greatest international war in the history of
South America, pitting Paraguay against Brazil, Argentina, and
Uruguay from 1865 to 1870.

Rafael Trujillo: pro-US dictator of the Dominican Republic during
the mid-1900s, who, like Nicaragua’s Somoza, was placed in power by
US Marines.

Tupac Amaru II: a Peruvian claiming descent from Inca rulers who
led a failed indigenous rebellion in the 1780s.

Tupamaros: flamboyant urban guerrillas of Uruguay in the 1960s
and 1970s.

Tupi, Tupinambá: semisedentary, forest-dwelling people who inhab-
ited large parts of Brazil at the arrival of the Portuguese. Closely
related to the Guaraní people of Paraguay.

ultramontanism: an orientation within the Catholic clergy that
stressed loyalty to the pope above loyalty to royal or national authori-
ties. The Jesuit order was famous for its ultramontane loyalty.

United Fruit Company: US commercial banana empire that consoli-
dated earlier operations in the Caribbean Basin, to become one of the
world’s first multinational corporations in the early 1900s.

Getúlio Vargas: ruler of Brazil in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s,
whose nationalist, populist, pro-labor tendencies dominated Brazilian
democracy into the twenty-first century.

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G l o s s a r y

viceroyalty: the largest administrative subdivision of the Spanish
and Portuguese empires in America, ruled by a viceroy who acted in
the place of the king.

Pancho Villa: a Mexican revolutionary initially based in the north
who led an army of miners, railroad workers, former cowboys, and oil
field laborers.

William Walker: fundamentalist Christian from Tennessee who
tried to colonize Nicaragua for the United States in the mid-1800s.

Emiliano Zapata: revolutionary general who led an army of indig-
enous villagers and became an icon of the Mexican Revolution.

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A 2 5

F u r T h e r A C K n o w L e d g m e n T s

From its original conception to the final selection of its title and cover
art, W. W. Norton editor Jon Durbin had an active intellectual involve-
ment in the first edition of this project at every stage. He is, quite
simply, this book’s co- creator. Karl Bakeman had a similar role in
the second edition. Jon Durbin rejoined the team for the third edition.
Since then, he has convinced me of the need for a companion reader,
and helped to integrate more pedagogical support into the text and
the teaching package. I am also grateful for the efforts of Travis Carr,
who helped manage the manuscript, Trish Marx, who handled photo
research, Caitlin Moran, who served as the project editor, and Eric
Pier-Hocking, who served as the production manager. In addition, six
reviewers commissioned by W. W. Norton contributed very substan-
tially to the manuscript, thanks both to their specialized professional
expertise and to their general understanding of what makes a good
introduction to Latin American history for US readers. Let me,
therefore, hereby acknowledge my debt of gratitude to Peter Beattie
of Michigan State University; Alan Durston of York University;
Sarah Franklin of the University of North Alabama; Frank Guridy
of the University of Texas-Austin; Mark Healey of the University

13_BBF_28305_gls_A1-A26.indd 25 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A 26

F u r t h e r A c k n o w l e d g m e n t s

of California-Berkeley; and Edward Murphy of Michigan State
University. I am also grateful to all the reviewers who helped shape the
second edition of the companion reader, Born in Blood and Fire: Latin
American Voices: Marjon Ames of North Carolina Wesleyan College;
Patrick Barr of Ohio University; Peter Blanchard of the University
of Toronto; Sharika Crawford of the United States Naval Academy;
Steve DePasquale of Kankakee Community College; Sarah Franklin
of the University of North Alabama; Kevin Funk of the University of
Florida; Susan Gauss of the University of Albany; Steven M. George of
Columbus State Community College; Alistair Hattingh of Muskingum
University; Catherine LeGrand of McGill University; Tia Malkin-
Fontechhio of West Chester University; Jan McCauley of SUNY
Broome Community College; Marc McLeod of Seattle University;
Okezi Otovo of Florida International University; Kim Richardson
of the University of South Carolina, Lancaster; Heather Roller of
Colgate University; Thomas Saylor of Concordia University; Kirsten
Schultz of Seton Hall University; and Carolina Zumaglini of Florida
International University.

13_BBF_28305_gls_A1-A26.indd 26 13/06/16 11:11 AM

i n d e x

and areas affected by slave trade, 36,

37, 38
slavery among, 35
as slaves in Latin America, 3–4,

34–36, 63 (see also slavery)
Afro-Brazilian identity, 253, 255–56
agrarian capitalism, 194, 201
Aguinaldo, Emilio, 192
Agustín I, 113
Alamo, Battle of the, 159
Alberdi, Juan Bautista, 178–80
Alegría, Ciro, 236, 246, 248
Aleijadinho, 81, 242
Alfonso the Wise, 25
Allende, Salvador, 309, 311
Alliance for National Liberation (ALN), 252
Alliance for Progress, 299, 309, 319
ALN (Alliance for National Liberation), 252
Altamirano, Ignacio Manuel, 205
Alvarez, Juan, 168
Amado, Jorge, 256
Amaru II, Tupac, 93, 107, 118
Amazon basin, 19

in colonial period, 61
development of, 304
rain forest of, 199, 346–49, 347, 348
rubber boom in, 199–200

Americanos, 107, 109, 120, 145, 233
American Revolution, 10
Andes regions

indigenous people of, 197
mestizo self-image in, 343
mining in, 198
sierra, 158

Andrade, Oswald de, 255–56
Anenecuilco, 239
Angola, 38, 74
anticommunism, see Cold War

Antônio the Counselor, 211
APRA (Popular American Revolutionary

Alliance), 246, 264
Araucano people, 77
Arawak people, 39, 44n, 56
Arbenz, Jacobo, 279–80, 283, 315

Arévalo, Juan José, 277
Argentina, 120

beef exports from, 197
British military intervention

and, 214
climate of, 3
as colonial fringe area, 76
economic implosion in, 335–36
European immigrants to, 4, 179, 197,

228–29, 230
exports boom and, 195
Gorriti in, 176–77, 178
independence struggles and, 97, 101,

105–7, 112, 113, 115
industrialization in, 250, 259
liberal intellectuals in, 178–82
literacy rate of, 203
Matto de Turner in, 178
MERCOSUR and, 332
middle class of, 195
military rule in, 306–8, 311, 314
mothers of the “disappeared children”

in, 296, 296, 307–8
nationalism in, 243, 244–45, 256
Nicaraguan Contras and, 318
Peronism in, 265, 266, 271–74,

population growth of, 267
population of, 2
postcolonial fragmentation in, 139
Rosas as caudillo of, 133, 134, 135,

137, 150, 152, 158
Somoza and, 318
steel industry of, 250
in Triple Alliance War, 182, 189, 190
in World War II, 258

Argentine Confederation, 180
Ariel (Rodó), 192, 223
Asturias, Miguel Ángel, 236
Atacama Desert, 190–91, 191
Atahualpa, 40, 42, 43
Australia, 214
authoritarian government, 206–11, 213

see also military rule
authoritarianism, bureaucratic, 302, 306,

308, 312, 314

Note: Page numbers in italics refer to illustrations.

A 27

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I n d e x

Avellaneda, Gertrudis Gómez de,
174–75, 177

Ayacucho, Battle of, 94, 115
Aymara, 4, 74, 118, 338, 342
Aztec Empire, 16, 19, 20, 22

fall of, 39–40, 42, 43, 44
Franciscan missionaries and, 51
Malínche and, 45
religion of, 42, 69
Tenochtitlan, 19–20, 21, 40, 41, 42

Azurduy, Juana, 118

Bachelet, Michelle, 338
Backlands, The (da Cunha), 211
Bahia, 256
Bahian slave conspiracy, 147–48
“Ballad of the Two Grandfathers”

(Guillén), 236, 249
bambucos, 145
bananas, 200–201

from Honduras, 195
map of locations of, 204

bandeirantes, 78, 79, 81
Barbados, 144
Barricada, 319
“Bases and Points of Departure for the

Political Organization of the
Argentine Republic” (Alberdi), 179

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 205
Bastidas, Micaela, 118
Batista, Fulgencio, 248–49, 261, 284, 285
Batlle y Ordóñez, José, 243, 244, 245,

250, 308
Batllismo, 243–44
Bay of All Saints, 32
Bay of Pigs invasion, 266, 286–87
Beatles, 301
Belize, 77
Bell, Alexander Graham, 184
Beltrán, Manuela, 116
Belzú, Manuel Isidro, 177
Beveridge, Alfred J., 220
biodiversity, 347
Birds without a Nest (Matto de Turner),

177, 178
Bocanegra de Lazo de la Vega, María

Gertrudis, 118
Bogotá, 2, 3, 71, 118, 201, 267, 284, 325
Bogotazo, 264
Bolívar, Simón, 94, 113, 115, 119, 135, 325

Bolivia, 115, 120
Amazonian rain forest in, 346
in Chaco War, 189, 190
Guevara’s campaign in, 288
independence struggles and, 105,

118, 120
indigenous population of, 3
ISI and, 250
mining of tin in, 195, 280
Morales and, 337, 338
US constructive cold-war

engagement with, 280–81
in War of the Pacific, 191, 191

Bonaparte, Napoleon, see Napoleon I
Bonpland, Aimé de, 138
Borges, Jorge Luis, 281–82
Bourbon dynasty, 82
Bourbon reforms, 82, 84–85, 92
Brasília, 274

Brasília as capital of, 274
coffee and, 140, 185, 195, 197–98,

210, 251
in the early 1970s, 305–6
slaves and, 144, 197–98

in the colonial period, 61, 71
Bourbon and Pombaline reforms

and, 84–85
fringe areas of, 75, 78–79, 81–82

diamond fields of, 86
foreign debt of, 305, 331
“French-style” conspiracies in, 92–93
gold mining in, 81, 82
illiteracy in, 203
immigration to, 197–98, 228, 230–31
independence struggles and, 95, 97,

107, 109–12
indigenous people in, 51
industrialization in, 250, 259, 304–5
João and, 99, 100, 109, 110
liberalism in, 109–10, 140, 142–43,

Lula and, 336, 337
MERCOSUR and, 332
military rule in, 296, 303–6, 322

Amazonian development and,

Argentina and, 306
end of, 314
torture under, 306, 311

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I n d e x

nationalism in, 250–57, 337
Afro-Brazilian identity and, 253,

ISI and, 250–51
in military government, 303,

Vargas and, 251–53, 256–57,

265, 269
neocolonial government in, 210–11,

New Cinema of, 301
population of, 2, 267, 324
populism in, 273–75
Portugal and, 28–34, 98
in postcolonial period, 126, 127,

139–40, 142–43
as British market, 123
end of monarchy, 185, 187
under Pedro I, 140, 142
under Pedro II, 142–43, 183–84,

185, 186
Protestantism in, 345
racial composition of, 31, 47, 253
religion in, 69, 74–75
rubber boom in, 199–200
slavery and, 4, 74–75, 79, 81

abolition of, 160, 185
Bahian slave conspiracy, 147–48
“free birth” laws and, 184
independence movement and, 111
liberal manifestos against, 185
Paraguay and, 183
Pedro II and, 184
postcolonial, 129, 139, 140, 142,

143, 144
restriction of, 109, 144
women and, 125, 126

steel industry in, 250, 253
sugar production in, 58–59, 59, 61,

73, 198
colonization and, 31, 32, 34
postcolonial, 140

tobacco production in, 198
in Triple Alliance War, 182, 184,

189, 190
in World War II, 258–59
see also Amazon basin

Brazilian Academy of Letters, 205
Brazilian Federation for Feminine

Progress, 214

Brazilian Party, 111–12
Brazilian Workers’ Party, 274
Brief Account of the Destruction of the

Indies, A (Las Casas), 52–53
Brocos y Gomez, Modesto, 237
Bry, Theodore de, 16
“buckaroos,” 77
Buenos Aires, 180

in colonial period, 71, 76
Gorriti and, 177
immigrants in, 197, 227, 228, 229, 230
independence struggles and, 106–7
as industrial center, 249–50
modernization of, 193, 202
population growth of, 2, 201, 267
as viceregal capital, 58

Bulnes, Manuel, 172
Bunke, Tamara, 289–90
bureaucratic authoritarianism, 302, 306,

308, 312, 314

cabildo abierto, 101
Cabral, Pedro Alvares, 16, 29
cacao, 78, 92, 195, 204
caciques, 44, 44n
Calderón de la Barca, Frances, 124
California, 159
Caminha, Pero Vaz de, 29, 30–31, 45
Canada, 214
Candomblé, 345
Canek, 92
Cannibalist Manifesto (Andrade), 256
Canudos, 211
capitalism, 143, 336

agrarian, 194, 201
free-market, 276
Marxist view of, 283
post-capitalist expansion of, 335
see also multinational corporations

capoeira, 344–45
Capone, Al, 325
Caracas, 106, 113, 267
Cárdenas, Lázaro, 256–57, 260,

264–65, 335
Cardoso, Fernando Henrique, 330
Caribbean gold rush, 56
Caribbean region

bananas and, 200
coffee and, 198
colonial fringe areas in, 77–78

I n d e x

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I n d e x

ethnic mix in, 47
religion in, 69
Spanish conquest of, 38
sugar production in, 198

Carlos IV, 97–98, 99
Carlota, Empress, 171
carpas, 243
Carpentier, Alejo, 236
Carrera, Rafael, 137, 173
Carter, Jimmy, 311–12, 318
Caruso, Enrico, 200
Casa de las Americas, 290
caste system, 86–89, 95, 153

honor and, 153
independence struggles and, 95
Morelos on, 104
see also social classes

Caste War of Yucatán, 147
Castile, 26
Castro, Domitila de, 149–50
Castro, Eugenia, 152
Castro, Fidel, 222, 266, 283–87, 286,

301, 313
Castro, Raúl, 284, 313
Catari, Tupac, 93, 118
Catholic Church and Catholicism, 2, 60

and bias of writers toward Latin
America, 124

Chiapas rebellion and, 341
in Cold War era, 7
in Colombia, 171
continuing energies of, 345
Cuban Revolution and, 293
cultural hegemony and, 63, 67
first non-European pope chosen

by, 2
indigenous people and, 51–53, 67, 69
Latin Americans’ acceptance of, 55
liberals and, 165, 167–68
liberation theology and, 293–95,

301, 320
in Mexico, 165, 167

end of prominence of, 171
liberal anger against, 167–68
Mexican Revolution and, 240
oil expropriation and, 257

postcolonial conflicts, 129
Catt, Carrie Chapman, 214
cattle hides, exportation of, 76, 78
cattle lands, Spanish fringe areas as, 77

caudillos, 132, 133–39
Batlle and, 244
Mexican Constitutionalists and., 240
regional, 207, 209

cell phones, 6
center-periphery model, 271
Central America

Caribbean coast of, 77
caudillos in, 137
coffee and, 198
Cold War anticommunism in, 315–22
ISI and, 315
liberal reform in, 172–74
map of (1980s), 315
mestizo self-image in, 343
nationalism and, 260–61, 315
nations formed from, 139
social inequality in, 3
United Fruit Company in, 200

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 277,
286, 287, 309, 311

Central Junta, 100–101
Chaco War, 189, 190
Chamorro, Joaquín, 317
Chamorro, Violeta, 318, 319
charismatic leaders, 133
charros, 243
Chávez, Hugo, 337, 337–38, 340
Cherokee people, 342
Chesapeake Bay colonies, 59, 60
Chiapas rebellion, 341
“Chicago Boys,” 332
Chihuahua, 239
Chile, 76–77

Argentine liberals exiled in, 179,

climate of, 3
immigration to, 231
independence struggles and, 107, 113,

115, 116
ISI and, 250
liberal reform in, 172–73
military rule in, 296, 311–12, 312, 322
mining in, 195, 198
Mistral and, 260, 261
nationalism in, 248
neoliberalism and, 332, 334, 338
population of, 2
steel industry of, 250
in War of the Pacific, 190–91, 191

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A 31

I n d e x

in War of the Peruvian-Bolivian
Confederation, 190

in World War II, 258
China, 276, 288, 335
chinampas, 20
chinganas, 116
Christian reconquest of Iberia, 25–26,

27, 28, 44
church-state conflicts, postcolonial, 129
CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), 277,

286, 287, 309, 311
Científicos, 209
Cinco de Mayo, 209

in colonial period, 69, 71, 73
education and, 203
modern transformation of, 193
in neocolonial period, 201, 202, 203
overcrowding in, 283
see also specific cities

civic nationalism, 235
Civilization and Barbarism

(Sarmiento), 180
climates and landscapes, 2–3
cocaine, 325
Cochabamba, patriot women of, 118
coffee, 197–98

Brazil and, 140, 185, 195, 197–98,
210, 251

in the early 1970s, 305–6
slaves and, 144, 197–98

in El Salvador, 198, 319
Guatemala and, 195, 198, 260, 279
map of locations of, 204
market for, 162
Mexico and, 194, 198

Coffee Grower, The (Portinari), 238
Cold War, 4–5, 8–9, 276–77, 297

Colombia and, 324, 325
Cuban Missile Crisis and, 287
Cuban Revolution and, see Cuban

Declaration of Caracas and, 276
economy during, 5–6, 7–9
end of, 322
literature and, 281–82
map of Latin America in, 310
nationalism and, 329
populists and, 263
relationships during, 6–7

revolutionary organizations during, 8
rural and urban differences during,

US constructive engagement with

Bolivia during, 280–81
Venezuela and, 277

Cold War anticommunism
Batista’s support of, 284
Costa Rica and, 316
in El Salvador, 319–22
in Guatemala, 315–16
Mexico and, 313
national security doctrine and,

298–302, 322
in Nicaragua, 316–19
revolutionary vision and, 291
US diplomacy immersed in, 276–77,

US overthrow of Arbenz during, 279
working class movements and, 306

Colima, 197
collective landholding, 169, 196–97
Colombia, 139

Amazon basin in, 199, 346
coffee and, 198
Comunero rebellion in, 118
constitutions in, 138
drug trafficking in, 325, 326–27
free peasants of mixed blood in, 143
Gaitán in, 264
guerrilla warfare in, 322, 324–27
La Violenca in, 324–25
liberal reform in, 171
nationalism in, 248
New Granada, 58, 77–78
Panama and, 219
population of, 2, 267, 324
postcolonial fragmentation in, 139
rural middle class in, 198
telephones in, during Cold War, 6
Torres and, 294
United Fruit Company in, 200
urban guerrillas in, 325, 339–40

colonization and colonialism, 9, 17–18,
50, 55–56

of Brazil, 28–34
economics of, 56–61
encomienda system, see

fringe areas of, 75–82, 113

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 31 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A 32

I n d e x

hegemonic control in, 63–68, 99
indigenous women and, 45–46
Las Casas and, 52–53
late colonial transformations, 82–89
maps of

colonial administrative divisions, 83
original areas of (1500-1700), 60

mestizo children and, 45, 46
race mixing and, 85–89, 87
rebellions against, 91–93
transculturation in, 68–75, 89
see also indigenous peoples

Columbus, Christopher, 16, 26, 28
Communism and Communists

Arbenz and, 279
Castro and, 284, 285
Chilean Communist Party, 309
China and, 276
Cuban Revolution and, 291
in El Salvador, 319
liberation theology and, 295
Marshall Plan and, 275
Neruda and, 281
Tenentes and, 252
and U.S. view of Latin American

opposition, 276, 320
Vargas and, 265
Venezuela and, 277
see also Marxism

comparative advantage, 270, 271
Comunero uprisings, 92, 118
Conference of Latin American Bishops

of 1968, 294
of 1978, 295

conquest, 17–18, 50, 55
of Aztec and Inca Empires, 39–43
“conquistadoras” in, 46
conversion to Christianity after,

motives behind, 50–51

consciousness-raising, 294–95
conservatives, 129–30, 132, 139, 147,

157, 161
in Brazil, 142, 184–85
in Chile, 171–72
in Colombia, 171, 248, 324
liberation theology and, 295
in Mexico, 147, 170
in mid-19th century, 165, 166, 167
past as attractive to, 165

Constitutionalists, 240
Constitution of 1917, 240
Constitution of Cádiz, 101, 112
consumers and consumer culture,

328, 334
Contras, 318
conventillos, 229
convents, 54
Copacabana beach uprising, 251
Copán, 22
copper, 204
Correa, Rafael, 337
corridos, 243
corruption, government, 132–33,

251, 335
Cortés, Hernán, 39–40, 42, 45, 46,

124, 242
Costa Rica, 139

anticommunism and, 316
liberal reform in, 173
rural middle class in, 198
United Fruit Company in, 200

costumbrismo, 145, 146, 147, 148
counterinsurgency, 298, 299, 307
Creoles, 101–2

independence struggles and,
106–7, 119

in aftermath of, 116
in Argentina, 105–7
liberalism and, 128
in Mexico, 102–4, 107, 112, 113, 135
nativism and, 107, 109, 233
in Peru, 104–5, 107
in Venezuela, 105–6, 107

Peninsulars and, 101–2
Cristeros, 240
Cruz, Juana Inés de la, 54, 62–63, 74
Cruzob Mayas, 147, 148–49, 211
Cuauhtemoc, 222
Cuba, 39, 68

Avellaneda and, 174–75
as colonial fringe area, 76, 77
folk dance popularity in, 145
immigration to, 231
literary movement in, 223, 236–37
nationalism in, 248–49, 261, 284,

plantation crops from, 78
population growth of, 203, 267
Santería from, 345

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 32 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A 33

I n d e x

slavery in, 4, 68, 126, 129, 144,
175, 183

Spanish control over, 115, 139, 156
sugar production in, 78, 144, 195,

198, 286
tobacco production in, 198
United States and

interventions in, 192, 217, 218, 221,
223, 249

protectorate status and, 258
wars of independence in, 175
see also Cuban Revolution

Cuban Americans, 349
Cuban Missile Crisis, 287
Cuban Revolution, 12, 266, 266, 283–87,

286, 297, 299
Bay of Pigs invasion and, 286–87
Brazilian response to, 303
Catholic Church and, 293
industrialization difficulties of,

international support for, 289–90
national security doctrine and, 299
repression of dissent, 289, 291
revolutionary government resulting

from, 313
Sandinistas and, 318
sugar production and, 286, 288–89
Tupamaros and, 308
US policies and, 286

cultural hegemony
colonial Catholicism and, 63
in postcolonial period, 148–49
race mixing and, 89
see also hegemony

culture of Latin America, 2, 68, 82
Brazilian nationalism and, 253,

honor code, 65–66, 152–53
racial injustice and, 259
see also transculturation

Cuzco, 22, 24

da Cunha, Euclides, 211, 213, 235
Darío, Rubén, 205–6, 223, 224
dating, 6–7
Day of the Dead, 243
death squads

in Argentina, 307
in Brazil, 304

debt, foreign, 331, 333
“decent people,” 153, 163, 169, 177, 194

see also caste system; social classes
Declaration of Caracas, 276, 277

in Chile, 309
liberals’ disregard of, 206
loss of faith in, 138–39
post–World War II, 269

Democratic Action Party, 277
dependency theory and model, 14, 271
diamond mining, 86
Dias, Henrique, 67
Díaz, Bernal, 20
Díaz, Porfirio, 208–9, 224, 239, 340

authoritarian governments as,

US triggering of, 302
see also military rule

“dirty war”
in Argentina, 296, 306–8
in Guatemala, 316

“disappeared” persons, 301
in Argentina, 307–8
in Brazil, 304
in Guatemala, 316

“Discovery” vs. “Encounter,” 342
diseases, indigenous peoples and, 32, 34,

35, 39, 40, 44, 47
Disney, Walt, 258
Dominican order, 52
Dominican Republic

immigration to New York from, 349
ISI and, 250
mestizo self-image in, 343
Trujillo and, 258, 261
U.S. occupation of, 217, 222

Dreamtigers (Borges), 281
drug trafficking, 325, 326–27, 340,

352, 355
Duarte, Eva, see Perón, Evita
Dulles, Allen, 279
Dulles, John Foster, 279
Duvalier, “Papa Doc,” 276, 277

ECLA (Economic Commission for Latin
America), 271, 276

Economic Commission for Latin America
(ECLA), 271, 276

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 33 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A 3 4

I n d e x

economic imperialism, 244, 246, 283, 285
economic independence, 267, 330
economic nationalism, 244, 276, 306,

economy and economics, 2, 14

in Argentina under military rule, 307
capitalist transformation, 143
during Cold War, 5–6, 7–9
colonial, 56–61

Bourbon and Pombaline reforms,
82, 84–85

fringe areas and, 75
and Cuban industrialization vs. sugar

production, 288–89
dependency theory and model, 14, 271
export boom, 194–206
import-substitution industrialization,

249–50, 259, 270
“informal” service sector and, 334
liberalism and, 161–62, 270
neocolonial transformation, 208
neoliberalism, see neoliberalism
postcolonial, 143, 154

coffee in Brazil and, 140
landowners in, 144–45
subsistence agriculture, 144

postcolonial devastation and, 130
transportation revolution and, 162

Ecuador, 139
Amazon basin in, 199, 346, 347
cacao from, 195
independence struggles and, 105
indigenous population of, 3
ISI and, 250
revolt in, 92
as semi-fringe area, 78
Velasco Ibarra and, 264

church’s control of, 65
in Cold War era, 7–8
Mexican Revolution and, 242
for urbanized landowning families, 203
in Uruguay, 244
for women and girls, 124, 174–75

ejidos, 240, 275

managed, 206, 207–8, 210
in postcolonial politics, 138–39
in the post-World War II period, 269
see also democracy; politics

El Mozote massacre, 321–22
ELN, 310, 326, 339
El Salvador, 139, 315–16

coffee and, 198, 319
liberal reform in, 173
military rule in, 319–20
nationalism and, 260–61
revolutionary struggles in, 319–22

emboabas, 81
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 184
encomiendas, 43–44, 46

of conquered Moors, 44
Las Casas and, 51–52
New Laws and, 52, 91

Encounter, 17–18
Africans and, 34–36, 38
Brazil and, 28–34
disease and, 32, 34, 35, 39, 40, 44, 47
fall of Aztec and Inca Empires,

Iberia and crusading mentality, 22–23,

England, see Great Britain
Enlightenment, 98
environmental devastation, 346–49,

347, 348
Equiano, Olaudah, 36
Escobar, Pablo, 325, 326
Estado Novo, 232, 252–53, 256, 265
ethnic nationalism, 235
Eurocentrism, 153–54, 163

of liberals, 129
Argentine liberal leaders, 178, 182
postcolonial, 129, 153–54

neocolonialism and, 234
and postcolonial domination by

whites, 148–49
postcolonial social classification

and, 154
export boom, 194–206

authoritarian government and, 207–8
Great Depression and, 249

of United Fruit land in Guatemala, 279
of US oil refineries in Cuba, 286

Ezcurra, Encarnación, 150, 152

Facing the Barbarians (Vargas Vila), 223
Facundo (Sarmiento), 211, 213
Falkland Islands, 214, 314

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 34 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A 35

I n d e x

Farabundo Martí National Liberation
Front (FMLN), 310, 320–22, 321

FARC, 325, 326, 339, 340
feminist movements, 213–14
Fernando VII, 99, 101, 102, 103, 106, 112
Fictions (Borges), 281
Florentine Codex, 51
FMLN (Farabundo Martí National

Liberation Front), 310,
320–22, 321

focos, 287–88
folk music and dance, 145, 243, 290
foreign investment in Latin America

map of, 217
in Mexican land, 209
United States and, 224

colonial acquisitions of, 216
cultural influence of, 123, 215, 216
gunboat diplomacy of, 158
Hispaniola and Jamaica claimed

by, 77
immigrants from, 228, 229
interventions in Argentina, 135
liberalism in, 10, 128
Mexico and

intervention in 1838, 135
Maximilian and, 170

Napoleonic Wars and, 98–99, 101,
109–10, 112

postcolonial Latin America and,

Sandinistas and, 318
subversive philosophies from, 92–93
see also French Revolution

Francia, José Gaspar Rodríguez de, 138
Franciscan order, 51
Franklin, Benjamin, 180
fraud, managed elections as, 208
“free birth” laws, 184
free market, 330, 331, 336
free-market capitalism, 276
free trade

foreigners in Brazilian ports and,

landowners and, 144
neoliberalism and, 330, 332

Freire, Paulo, 294
French Revolution, 10, 54, 98
Freyre, Gilberto, 253

fringe areas of colonization, 75–82, 113
FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation

Front), 296, 317–19, 320
Fuentes, Carlos, 301
fueros, 167–68, 169
fully sedentary peoples, 19, 47

Gaitán, Jorge Eliécer, 248, 264, 324
García Márquez, Gabriel, 301
Gardel, Carlos, 259–60
Garibaldi, Giuseppe, 179
gathering, indigenous life and, 18
Gaucho, The, 147
gauchos, 77, 181–82, 197, 212, 213
GDP (Gross Domestic Product), 333
gender roles, 65–66, 71, 175, 176
German immigrants, 198, 228, 229, 230,

231, 253
German Nazism, 235
Girardot, Atanasio, 108
global capitalism, 276
globalization, 10, 328, 335–36, 355
glyphs, 23
Gobernar es poblar, 179
Goiás, 81
gold mining, 56, 58, 81, 82
“Good Neighbor Policy,’ 258
Gorriti, Juana Manuela, 176–77, 178
Goulart, João, 303
gracias al sacar, 88
Graham, Maria, 123
Granada, kingdom of, 26
Granma, 284, 287
Great Britain

Argentina and, 314
capital surplus in, 162
colonial acquisitions of, 216
France and, 99
gunboat diplomacy of, 158
Hispaniola and Jamaica claimed

by, 77
interventions in Argentina, 135
Latin American trade in hands of,

liberalism in, 10, 99, 128
neocolonial influence of, 214, 215, 216
oil expropriation and, 257–58
Portugal and, 98, 214
postcolonial Latin America and,


14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 35 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A 36

I n d e x

slavery and, 109, 144
Spain and, 28, 97–98, 101, 214
trade with Latin America, 122, 123
World War I and, 220

Great Depression of the 1930s, 216,
224–25, 249, 251, 261

Great Recession of 2008-10, 252
Grove, Marmaduke, 249
Guacayllano, Catalina, 66
Guanajuato, 103, 104

Inca Empire and, 20
map of locations of, 204
Peru and, 126, 157–58

Guaraní language, 75
guasos, 77
Guatemala, 139

anticommunism in, 315–16
Arbenz government in, 279–80,

Asturias in, 236
Bolivia and, 280–81
Carrera and, 137
Che Guevara in, 283
coffee and, 195, 198, 260, 279
as colonial fringe area, 78
Cuban Revolution and, 289
“decade of spring” in, 277
indigenous population of, 3, 58
liberal reform in, 173
nationalism in, 260, 279
United Fruit Company in, 200, 260,

277, 279
Guayaquil meeting, 115
Guaymí people, 342
Gucovski, 213
Guerrero, Vicente, 112–13
guerrilla warfare

by Castro’s force, 284–85
in Colombia, 322, 324–27
in El Salvador, 320–21, 321
in Guatemala, 316
Guevara and, 287–88
by Morelos’ followers, 112
in Nicaragua, 316–17
in Peru, 322
Torres and, 294
see also urban guerrillas

Guevara, Che, 266, 283, 285, 287–88,
290, 303

Castro and, 283, 284
Chilean Communist party and, 309
Tupamaros and, 308

Guevara, Isabel de, 46
Guillén, Nicolás, 236, 249
gunboat diplomacy, 158, 221
Guzmán, Abimael, 341

haciendas, 73, 144, 197

Dominican mixed-race image
and, 343

Duvalier in, 276
slave rebellion in, 95, 96
U.S. occupation of, 217, 222

Havana, 76
Cuban Revolution and, 266, 285
immigrants in, 231
“new song” movement and, 290
population of, 201, 267

Havana Conference, 221
Hawaiian Islands, 218
Haya de la Torre, Victor Raúl, 246, 264
hegemony, 63–68

in colonial period
and legitimacy of monarchy, 99
through patriarchy, 65–67, 71
through religion, 63
transculturation and, 68–69

colonial Catholicism and, 63
in postcolonial period, 148–49

definition of, 63
race mixing and, 89

Hidalgo, Miguel, 102–4, 106, 107, 167,
170, 293

hierarchies of power and status
Communist and, 291
cultural attacks on, 259
liberal vision of equality vs., 128
neocolonialism and, 194

Hill, Henry, 124
Hispaniola, 39, 77
Honduras, 139

bananas from, 195
ISI and, 250
liberal reform in, 173
Nicaragua and, 318
United Fruit Company in, 200
US proxy force invasion of, 279

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 36 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A 37

I n d e x

honor code, 152–53
persistence of, 213
social role and, 65–66, 71

horses, 76, 105–6
Huascar, 43
Hugo, Victor, 184
Humboldt, Alexander von, 122–23
hunting, indigenous life and, 18–19

I, Rigoberta Menchú, 296, 316
Iberia, 22, 23, 25–26

Christian reconquest of, 25–26,

patriarchal legal principles of, 65
see also Portugal; Spain

Iberian invaders of America, 17–18
and colonial economics, 56
map of, 37

Iemanjá, 345
illiteracy, 203, 279, 294
IMF (International Monetary Fund),

331, 336

of Europeans to Latin America, 4,
201217, 227–31

to Argentina, 4, 179, 197
to Brazil, 253

from Latin America to United States, 6,

economic, 244, 246, 283, 285
Leninist theory of, 282
nationalism vs., 234–35
neocolonialism and, 194
populists’ attack on, 263, 269–70
Sandino on, 222

import-substitution industrialization (ISI),
249–50, 261, 270

Central America and, 315
World War II and, 259

Inca Empire, 16, 19, 20, 22
Araucanos and, 77
fall of, 39, 40–43, 44
religion of, 42
stonework of, 24
sustainable agriculture in, 20

independence, economic, 267, 330
independence, struggles for, see wars of

India, 214

Indian Mayor of Chincheros, The
(Sabogal), 247

indigenismo, 246, 261
Peru’s military government and, 312
Shining Path and, 341

indigenous peoples, 2, 3, 9, 17, 18–20,
21, 22, 37

of the Andes, 197
Aztec Empire, see Aztec Empire
Birds without a Nest on, 177, 178
in Brazil

fringe areas and, 78
Tupi, see Tupi people
Vieira and, 74–75

Catholic Church and, 51–53, 67, 69
as city-dwellers, 71, 73
colonization and, see colonization

and colonialism
Creoles’ fears of, 107
diseases and, 32, 34, 35, 39, 40, 44, 47
in El Salvador, 319
fully sedentary, 19
hegemony and, 63, 67
idealistic European defenders of, 50–53
Inca Empire, see Inca Empire
liberal leaders and, 129
mestizo nationalism and, 235–37, 237,

261, 343–44
in Mexico, 169, 239
neoliberalism challenged by, 342–43

by Mexican Zapatistas, 341
by Peruvian Shining Path, 341–42

nonsedentary, 18, 22, 135
of pampa, 18, 22, 135
in Paraguay, 75
Peruvian Creoles’ fear of, 107
in postcolonial period, 143, 153
revolts by, 91–92, 102–3
rubber boom and, 199
semisedentary, 19, 22, 61, 199, 199
Tupac Amaru II and, 93, 104
wars of independence and, 95,

102–4, 119
see also Mayas

“Indo-America,” 264

China and, 335
Cuban Revolution and, 288–89
import-substitution and, 249–50, 270
in Mexico, 259, 274

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 37 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A 3 8

I n d e x

nationalism and, 249–50, 258–59,
270, 304–5

slowdown of, 267, 270
World War II and, 258–59

Industrial Revolution, 162
“informal” service sector,” 334
Inquisition, 28, 65, 66–67
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI),

240, 274–75, 313–14, 330, 341
Integralists, 252
intermarriage, 86
International Monetary Fund (IMF),

331, 336
international trade, see trade, foreign
Internet, 332
Isabel, Queen, 26, 28
ISI, see import-substitution

industrialization (ISI)
Italian immigrants, 4, 197, 201, 228,

229, 253
Iturbide, Agustín de, 113, 135

Jamaica, 77, 144, 214
Japan, 216
Japanese immigrants, 231
jarabes, 145, 243
jazz, 234
Jesuits, 30, 34, 51, 61, 74–75, 78, 79,

85, 171
Jesús, Carolina Maria de, 268–69, 274
João VI, 99, 100, 109, 110, 142
John Paul II, 295
Journal of an Expedition 1400 Miles up the

Orinoco, 300 up the Arauca, 123
Journal of a Residence in Chile during

the Year 1822 (Graham), 123
Juárez, Benito, 160, 160, 168–69, 170,

171, 209
Juárez Law, 160, 169
juntas, 302, 311

Kahlo, Frida, 232, 242–43, 256, 272
Kennedy, John F., 287, 299
Kipling, Rudyard, 220
Kuna, 342

landholding, collective, 169, 196–97

in Brazil, 303

in Chile, 77, 172
Colombian guerrilla warfare and, 326
electoral system controlled by, 206,

Evita Perón and, 272
international trade and, 161
in Mexico, 196
neocolonialism and, 193, 195, 196–97,

203, 207–8, 224
postcolonial clout of, 133, 144–45
post-WWII hopes of, 269

land reform
by Arbenz in Guatemala, 279
in Bolivia, 280
in Cuba, 285
in Mexico, 313

landscapes and climates, 2–3
La Paz, indigenous leaders’ meeting

at, 342
Laperriere, 213
Las Casas, Bartolomé de, 51–53, 293, 341
Latin America, 1–2, 55, 170

climates and landscapes, 2–3
in Cold War, 4–5, 276–77, 310
conquest and colonization in, 9,

17–18 (see also colonization
and colonialism; conquest)

culture of, 2, 68, 82
economics of, 2, 14, 335 (see also

economy and economics)
liberalism in, 9–10, 11 (see also

map of, 8, 141
nationalism in, 10–11 (see also

old thinking on, 11–12, 14
original sin in history of, 17–18, 17n, 47
population of, 2, 201, 267, 324
post-Cold War capitalist expansion

in, 335
racial diversity of, 3–4
social inequality in, 3
stereotypes about, 12
in U.S. and British imagination, 123
wars of independence, see wars of

“Latino,” as a term, 349–50
Le Corbusier, 274
Leopoldina, Empress, 150
Lerdo Law, 169

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 38 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A 39

I n d e x

liberal economic theory, 270
liberalism, 9–10, 11, 154

in Argentina, 178–82
in Brazil, 109–10, 140, 142–43,

Catholic Church and, 165, 167–68
in Central America, 172–74
in Chile, 172–73
collective landholding and, 169
in Colombia, 171, 324
comeback of, 161–62
immigration and, 179
as imported ideology, 298
in Mexico, 160, 165, 167–71, 172
in mid-19th century, map of, 166
Napoleonic Wars and, 98–99, 101
nativism and, 109
neoliberalism and, 10, 330, 335
political freedoms forsaken by, 206–7
postcolonial period and, 127–32,

144, 154
Progress and, 165, 210–11, 214
in Spanish revolution, 112
United States and, 157
and wars of independence, 97
women and, 174–78

liberation theology, 293–95, 301, 345
Brazilian archbishop and, 304
in El Salvador, 320
Menchú and, 316

Lima, 57, 58, 71, 76
British firms in, 123
export-driven growth in, 157, 158
Gorriti and, 176–77
population of, 2, 201, 267
San Martín and, 115

Lincoln, Abraham, 160
Lingua Geral, 51, 79
literacy, 149, 203
literatura de cordel, 265

of Boom authors, 301
Cold War and, 281–82
Marxism and, 301
postcolonial, 145, 146, 147
revolutionary, 301
see also specific authors and poets

llaneros, 106, 113
Llosa, Mario Vargas, 301
López, Francisco Solano, 182

“Lost Decade,” 324
Louis XVI, 98
low-intensity conflict, 316
Luisi, Paulina, 213, 214
Lula da Silva, Luiz Inácio, 328, 336,

337, 338
lunfardo, 229
Lutz, Berta, 213–14

M-19 (Nineteenth of May Movement), 325
Machado de Assis, Joaquim Maria,

203, 204
Madero, Francisco, 239, 240
Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, Las, 296,

Magalhães, Benjamin Constant Botelho

de, 185
magic, women’s use of, 66–67
Mahan, Alfred Thayer, 218
Malaysia, 200
Malcolm X, 285
Malês, 148
Malínche, 45, 46, 58, 124
Malintzin, see Malínche
Malvinas, 214, 314
managed elections, 206, 207–8, 210
Managua, 317
Manaus, 200
“Manifest Destiny,” 220
Mansa Musa, 38
Mapuches, 172, 199
maquiladoras, 332
Marcos, Subcomandante, 341
Mariátegui, José Carlos, 246
Marie Antoinette, 98
marijuana, 325
marriage contract in Spanish social

structure, 46
marriage in Cold War era, 7
Marshall Plan, 275, 299
Martí, Farabundo, 320
Martí, José, 223, 224
Martín (son of Cortés by Malinche), 46
Martín (son of Cortés by Spanish wife), 46
Martínez, Maximiliano Hernández, 260

Castro and, 285
Declaration of Caracas and, 276–77
in Guatemala, 280
as imported ideology, 298

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 39 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A4 0

I n d e x

with Inca models, 246
Latin American, 297–98
on Latin American history, 282–83
liberation theology and, 295
in Mexico, 313
MNR in Bolivia and, 279
nationalism and, 256, 269, 282, 299,

301, 330
religious revolutionaries and, 294
Rivera/Kahlo and, 243

Masters and the Slaves, The (Freyre), 253
materialism, 223
Mato Grosso, 81
Matto de Turner, Clorinda, 177–78, 246
Mawe, John, 124
Maximilian, 170
Mayas, 19, 20, 22, 58

Caste War of Yucatán and, 147
city-states of, 22
glyphs of, 23
Guatemala and, 279
at La Paz meeting, 342
revolt by, 92
Zapatistas as, 341

Medellín cartel, 325, 326
Menchú, Rigoberta, 316
mestizo nationalism, 235–37, 237, 261,

mestizos, 45, 75, 343–44

Cast War of Yucatán against, 147
children, 45, 46
conservative nostalgia and, 165
“Cosmic Race,” 242
folk dances of, 145
Latin American nationalism and,

235–37, 237
as liberal leaders, 168
as part of the middle class, 205–6
postcolonial social mobility of, 153

metric weights and measures, 210
Mexican Revolution, 232, 239–43,

274–75, 341
Mexican Self-Portrait, A, 145, 147
Mexica people, 20, 40
Mexico, 20

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
in, 205

Catholic Church and, 51, 165, 167, 171
coffee and, 194, 198

as colonial viceroyalty, 58
under Díaz, 208–9, 239
export boom in, 194–95
foreign debt and, 331
guerrillas movements in, 322
Guevara in, 283
independence struggles and, 97, 101,

112–13, 167
Creoles-Peninsulars conflict, 102
Hidalgo’s rebellion, 102–4, 107,

Morelos’ rebellion, 104, 112, 293

indigenous people in, 47
industrialization in, 259, 274
ISI and, 250
lack of navigable rivers in, 130
liberalism in, 160, 165, 167–71, 172
Marxism and, 313
Maximilian as emperor of, 170
middle class of, 195, 206
mining in, 56, 57–58, 130, 194, 198
nationalism in, 239–43, 256–57

under Cárdenas, 256–57, 264–65
mestizo, 343
rural society and, 256

neoliberalism in, 330, 332
“New Spain” and, 44, 58
nonsedentary people in, 18
oil production in, 198, 258, 314
Peninsulars in, 147
postcolonial economic decline in, 131
postcolonial fragmentation in, 139
PRI in, 274–75, 313–14
Rivera murals in, 232, 241, 242
Santa Anna and, 135
Spanish invaders’ conquest of, 39–43
steel industry of, 250
United States and

interventions, 216, 217, 242
in Madero’s removal, 239
map of borders of, before 1848,

war (1846-1848), 159
World War II and, 259

Mexico City, 3
in colonial period, 57, 71
as industrial center, 250
modernization of, 201
population of, 2, 201, 267
Scottish woman’s view of, 124

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 40 13/06/16 11:11 AM


I n d e x

Michoacán, 257
middle class, 193

anticommunism of, 298
in Argentina, 195
in Bolivia, 280
in Brazil, 304
during Cold War, 6, 7, 8, 9
in Cuba, 289
free trade and, 334
liberal comeback and, 162
in Mexico, 195, 207
nationalism and, 234, 269
in neocolonial period, 203, 206
populism and, 270
rural, coffee and, 198

Middle Eastern immigrants, 231
military-industrial complex, 276
military rule, 301–2

in Argentina, 306–8, 314
in Brazil, 303–6, 314, 322
in Chile, 296, 311–12, 312, 322
in El Salvador, 319–20
in Peru, 312–13
in Uruguay, 306, 308–9, 311, 314

Minas Gerais, 81, 82, 210
mining, 56–58, 198–99

in Bolivia, 198
in Chile, 77, 195, 198
in Mexico, 56, 57–58, 130, 194, 198
in Peru, 56–57, 57, 58, 77, 130,

and transport across Atlantic

Ocean, 56
see also gold mining; silver mining;

tin mining
minirepublics, 137–38
Miranda, Carmen, 255, 258
Mistral, Gabriela, 232, 260, 261, 281
mita, 47
Mitre, Bartolomé, 178, 179–80, 181, 182
Mixtec, 58
MNR (National Revolutionary

Movement), 280, 310
MNU (Unified Black Movement), 343
Moctezuma, 39, 40, 45
Modern Art Week of 1922, 255–56
modernization theory, 12
moles, 243
Monroe Doctrine, 157, 170, 221
monsoons, 61

as colonial fringe are, 76
immigrant population in, 201, 213,

229, 230
liberal exiles in, 179

Montoneros, 296, 307, 310
Montt, Manuel, 172, 173
Moors, 25–26, 27, 28, 44
Morales, Evo, 337, 338
Morazán, Francisco, 137
Moreau, 213
Moreira, Juan, 212
Morelos, José María, 104, 106, 107, 112,

167, 293
Morisco, 88
Mormon Church, 345
Mosquera, Tomás Cipriano de, 171
Motolinia, Toribio de, 51
moving pictures

nationalists and, 234
revolutionary, 301
U.S. dominance in, 223–24

Mozambique, 38
Mujica, José, 338
multiculturalism, 342–43
multinational corporations, 2

environmental devastation and, 346
Latin American industries as

subsidiaries of, 276
Marxist view of, 283, 298
neoliberalism and, 330
US banana companies as, 200

Cuban, 68
revolutionary, 290

Nabuco, Joaquim, 185
NAFTA (North American Free Trade

Agreement), 6, 328, 332,

Nahua people, 342
Nahuatl language, 20, 44, 47, 69, 74
Ñañú-Otomí people, 342
Napoleon I, 94, 98, 99, 100, 110, 112, 302
Napoleonic Wars, 98–99, 100–101,

109–10, 112
Napoleon III, 170–71
narco-terrorism, 326
National Association of Manufacturers,

US, 216

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 41 13/06/16 11:11 AM


I n d e x

nationalism, 10–11, 233–37
anti-U.S. attitude in, 269
Arbenz and, 279
in Argentina, 243, 244–45, 256
in Brazil, 250–57, 337

Afro-Brazilian identity and, 253,

ISI and, 250–51
in military government, 303, 304–5
Vargas and, 251–53, 256–57

Central America and, 260–61, 315
in Chile, 248
civic, 235
in Colombia, 248
in Cuba, 248–49, 261, 284, 290–91
Cuban Revolution and, 266
economic, 244, 276, 306, 330–31
ethnic, 235
flaws in reality of, 261
industrialization and, 249–50,

258–59, 267, 270
inefficiency and, 335
Marxism and, 269, 282, 299, 301, 330
mestizo, 235–37, 237, 261, 343–44
in Mexico, 170, 171, 239–43, 256–57
in Nicaragua, 261, 317
in Peru, 246, 248, 312–13
populism and, 263–65, 269–70, 271
post-WWII challenges to, 271–72
revolutionary feeling and, 298
in Rivera mural, 232
turn away from, 329
in Uruguay, 243, 256
U.S. neocolonialism vs., 224
in Venezuela, 248
and wars of independence, 97

national liberation, 285
National Revolutionary Movement

(MNR), 280, 310
national security doctrine, 298–302, 322

authors’ and intellectuals’ opposition
to, 299, 301

military rule and, see military rule
torture and, 302

National Steel Company, 253
nativism, 233

as independence strategy, 107, 109–12
nationalism and, 233–34
postcolonial, 145, 147

Nazism, 235, 236, 252

Negrete, Jorge, 243
neocolonialism, 193–94

authoritarian government in, 206–11,

cartoon on, 192
in Columbia, 324
export boom and, 194–206, 207–8
Great Depression and, 249
investments and interventions during,

map of, 217
liberal economic theory and, 270
nationalists and, 234
outside influences and

feminism, 213–14
Great Britain, 214, 216
United States, 216–25

neoliberalism, 10, 196, 328, 330–32,
333, 355

challenges by indigenous peoples to,

Shining Path, 341–42
Zapatistas, 341

challenges by political leaders to,

in Chile, 332, 334, 338
impact of reforms, 334–35

Neruda, Pablo, 281
New Cinema of Brazil, 301
New Granada, 58, 77–78, 139
New Laws of the Indies for the Good

Treatment and Preservation of the
Indians, 52, 91

New Mexico, Pueblo rebellion of, 91–92
“New Spain,” 44, 58
New York Times, 284
Nicaragua, 139

ISI and, 250
nationalism and, 261, 317
revolutionary struggles in, 295,

316–19, 321, 322
slavery in, 174
Somoza in, 276
United Fruit Company in, 200
United States and, 217, 221, 222
Walker and, 173–74

Niemeyer, Oscar, 274
Nineteenth of April Movement

(M-19), 325
niños desaparecidos, 296
Nobel Prize, 232, 260, 281, 316

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 42 13/06/16 11:11 AM


I n d e x

nonsedentary peoples, 18, 22, 135
North American Free Trade Agreement

(NAFTA), 6, 328, 332, 340–41

OAS (Organization of American States),
276, 277, 284, 287

Oaxaca, 168–69
Ocampo, Melchor, 167–68
O’Gorman, Camila, 150–51
oil production, 198

Brazil and, 305
Cuba and, 286
foreign debts and, 331
map of locations of, 204
Mexican boom in, 314
Mexico and, 257–58
Venezuela and, 277

Olaya, Jose, 117
Old World, 17, 34–35

authoritarian governments as, 208,
210, 252

in Central America, 260
in Colombia, 248
Evita Perón and, 272
nationalists vs., 225
populists against, 263, 269–70

One Hundred Years of Solitude (García
Márquez), 301

Open Veins of Latin America, The, 283
Organization of American States (OAS),

276, 277, 284, 287
organized crime, 325–26
original sin of Latin American history,

17–18, 17n, 47
Ortega, Daniel, 319
Ortiz, Fernando, 68
Ouro Preto, 92–93

Páez, José Antonio, 135, 137
palenques, 92
Palma, Ricardo, 205
Palmares, 79, 92
pampa, 133, 135
Pampas peoples, 18, 22
Panama, 208, 219, 221

protectorate status of, 258
United Fruit Company in, 200

Panama Canal, 219, 219

Pan-American Conference of Women
(1922), 192, 213, 214

Pan-American Union, 221, 276
Paraguay, 75, 120

Chaco War and, 189
Francia and, 137–38
ISI and, 250
MERCOSUR and, 332
racial composition of, 75
Somoza’s exile in, 317–18
in Triple Alliance War, 182, 189, 190

Paraná, 231
Parra, Violeta, 290
partisan politics, 129–30

see also politics
Pasteur, Louis, 184
paternalism of populist leaders, 263
Patiño family, 280
patriarchy, 65–67

Communism and, 291
in neocolonialist period, 213
Perón and, 273
in postcolonial period, 152

patrón, 144
patronage politics, 132–33

anticommunism and, 298
managed elections and, 207–8 (see

also managed elections)
Peasant Leagues, 303, 310
Pedro I, 110–11, 111, 112, 127, 140, 142
Pedro II (emperor of Brazil), 142–43,

183–84, 185, 186
PEMEX, 257
Peninsulars, 101–2

of Argentina, 106
Creoles and, 101–2
Cuba and, 175
in Mexico, 102–3, 113, 147
neocolonialism and, 194

peons, 143–44
Pérez Jiménez, Marcos, 277
Pernambuco, 32, 58, 110
Perón, Evita, 263, 265, 271–73, 272
Perón, Isabel, 307
Perón, Juan, 263, 265, 266, 271, 272, 272,

273, 282, 306, 307, 335
Peronism, 271–74, 306–7

Alegría in, 236
Amazon basin in, 199, 346

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 43 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A4 4

I n d e x

as colonial viceroyalty, 58, 76
Gorriti in, 176–77
guano boom in, 126, 157–58
Haya de la Torre and, 264
independence struggles and, 97,

104–5, 107, 112, 115, 118
indigenous population of, 3, 47, 74
Matto de Turner in, 177–78
military rule in, 312–13, 314
mining in, 56–57, 57, 58, 77, 130,

nationalism in, 246, 248, 312–13
Pizarro’s rebellion in, 91
population of, 2
postcolonial economic decline in, 131
postcolonial fragmentation in, 139
Shining Path in, 341–42
sugar production in, 198
in War of the Pacific, 191, 191
in War of the Peruvian-Bolivian

Confederation, 190
petrodollars, 305
Philippines, 218
Pinochet, Augusto, 312
Pizarro, Francisco, 40, 42, 43
Pizarro, Gonzalo, 91

coffee, 197–98
in Cuba, 78
slavery and, 61, 73, 78–79
sugar, 58–59, 61, 78

Platt Amendment, 218, 291
Plaza de Mayo, mothers of, 296, 307–8

bureaucratic authoritarianism, 302,
306, 308, 312, 314

managed elections, 206, 207–8, 210
“Order and Progress” as liberal theme

for, 207
of patronage, see patronage politics
populist, see populism; populist

of postcolonial period, 129, 132–39
see also democracy; military rule

Poma, Guamán, 72, 74
Pombal, Marquis de, 82
Pombaline reforms, 82, 84–85
Popular American Revolutionary Alliance

(APRA), 246, 264
popular sovereignty, 98–99, 130

Popular Unity, 309, 310, 311, 338
population growth, 267, 283
populism, 269–75

Argentina and, 271–74
in Brazil, 273–75
industrialization slowdown and, 270
in Mexico, 274–75

populist leaders, 263–65
Porfiriato, 208–9, 210
Portales, Diego, 190
Portinari, Cândido, 238

Brazil and, 28–34, 98, 142
Christian reconquest in, 25–26, 28
France and, 98
Great Britain and, 98, 99, 214
immigrants from, 201, 228, 230
Inquisition and, 66–67
liberalism and, 128
Napoleon’s conquest of, 99–100
patriarchy and, 65–67
Pombaline reforms and, 82, 84
postcolonial influence of, 156–57
seaborne empire of, 61
slave trade and, 34, 35–36, 38
See also Iberian invaders of America

positivism, 206–7
postcolonial period, 116, 127–28

in Brazil, 127, 139–40, 142–43
as British market, 123
under Pedro I, 140, 142
under Pedro II, 142–43
during regency years, 142
slavery in, 126

daily social life in, 143–54
liberalism and, 127–32, 144, 154
map of new nations during, 141
politics and leadership in, 132–39
visitors’ view of, 122–25
women in, 149–53

Potosí silver mines, 56–57, 57, 58, 76, 199
poverty, 3

Guevara and, 283
liberation theology and, 294–95
of Mexican rural workers under

neocolonialism, 197
women in, 267–68

povo, o, 153
Prebisch, Raúl, 271
Prensa, 319

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 44 13/06/16 11:11 AM


I n d e x

PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party),
240, 274–75, 313–14, 330, 341

Prieto, Joaquín, 172
privatization, 330
Progress, 163–65, 193, 194, 214

Brazilian monarchy and, 185, 186, 187
as destiny, 213
and Gorriti on dancing, 176
Great Depression and, 225
liberals and, 206
Manaus opera house and, 200
models of, 178–87, 216, 275
nationalists and, 234
racism and, 181
slavery as obstacle to, 185
technological, 162–65, 164
uneven distribution of, 158
and Walker in Nicaragua, 173–74
for women, 174–78, 175

prostitution in postcolonial period, 152
Protestantism, 345
proxy forces, US, 277, 279, 286–87,

310, 318
pueblo, el, 153
Pueblo rebellion of New Mexico, 91–92
Puerto Ricans in New York, 349
Puerto Rico

rural middle class in, 198
slavery in, 129
Spanish control over, 115, 139, 156
United States and, 217, 218, 221, 223

Pyramid of the Sun, 20

Quechua, 3, 22, 47, 74, 313, 338, 342
Quetzalcoatl, 39–40
Quiché language, 74
quilombos, 79, 80, 92
Quiroga, Facundo, 176
Quito, 92, 113

race, caste system and, 86–89, 95,
102, 153

racial discrimination
Cuban Revolution and, 290
liberalism and, 129

racial diversity, 3–4
racially mixing, 85–89, 87, 233, 234

Brazil and, 31
Estado Novo and, 253, 255

liberals’ disapproval of, 181
nationalists and, 235–37, 237, 343–44
neocolonial period and, 235
Paraguay and, 75

Argentine liberals and, 182
nationalism and, 261
of neocolonialism, 234
scientific, 182, 211, 235
in United States, 219–20

Radical Civic Union, 245
railroads, 130, 158, 162, 163

banana plantations and, 200
exports boom and, 195, 196
neocolonial expansion of, 193
for troop deployment, 207

ranching, 340
Reagan, Ronald, 312, 318, 320
rebellions, colonial, 91–93
Recife, 267
Redemption of Ham (Brocos y Gomez),

Reform of 1850s (Mexico), 165, 167–71
refrigerator ships, 197
regency years (Brazil), 142

Afro-Brazilian, 345
and Christian reconquest of Iberia,

25–26, 28
colonization and, 9, 30
cultural hegemony and, 63–68
of idealistic European defenders of

indigenous peoples, 50–53
in Mexico, 167
transculturation and, 69, 70
see also Catholic Church and

religious revolutionaries, 293–94, 295
resentment, nativism and, 109
revolutionary movements

in Cold War era, 8
in colonial period, 91–93

in Mexico, 102–4
in Peru, 91

in Cuba, Cuban Revolution
ELN, 310, 326, 339
in El Salvador, 320–22
FARC, 325, 326, 339, 340
in Haiti, 95, 96
M-19, 325

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 45 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A4 6

I n d e x

Marxism and, 276–77, 282–83, 294,
298, 325, 329

Montoneros, 307, 310

in Brazil, 252
in Mexico, 239–40

Sandinistas, 295, 317–19, 321, 322
Shining Path, 341–42
Tupamaros (Uruguay), 308, 310,

325, 338
Zapatistas, 328, 341
see also guerrilla warfare; urban

Revolution of 1930, 252
Rio de Janeiro, 81–82

dancers in, 185, 259
French influence on, 123
immigrants in, 230
as industrial center, 250
João’s court in, 100, 109
population of, 2, 201, 267
shantytowns in, 268
slavery and, 125
see also Brazil

Río de la Plata
British diplomat’s view of plains of,

viceroyalty of, 58, 76, 78, 83, 120
wars of independence in, 106–7

Río de la Plato river, 76
Rio Grande do Sul, 231, 251
Rio Pact, 276
Rivera, Diego, 232, 241, 242, 243, 246,

256, 259
Rodó, José Enrique, 192, 223, 224
Rodríguez, Simón, 94
Romero, Oscar, 320
Rondônia, 348
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 255, 258

Cárdenas and, 256
Vargas and, 251, 253

Roosevelt, Theodore, 218–19, 221,
223, 251

Roosevelt Corollary, 221
Rosas, Juan Manuel de, 133, 134, 135,

137, 150, 152, 158, 178, 179
Rosas, Manuela (Manuelita) de, 150, 152
Rosistas, 133, 135, 147, 150
Rough Riders, 218
Rousseff, Dilma, 338–39

royal fifth, 58, 81
rubber boom, 199–200, 204
rural areas

during colonial period, 73–74
during neocolonialism, 194, 196–97
population of, 201

rurales, 209

colonial acquisitions of, 216
immigrants from, 228, 229
see also Soviet Russia

Sab (Avellaneda), 174–75, 177
Sabogal, José, 247
Sahagún, Bernardino de, 51
Saint Vitus’s Dance, 91
Salavarrieta, Policarpa, 118
Salinas, Carlos, 330, 335
Salvador (Bahia), Brazil, 32, 69, 81
samba, 253, 259
Sandinista National Liberation Front

(FSLN), 296, 317–19, 320
Sandino, Augusto César, 222, 224,

316–17, 320
San Martin, José de, 113, 115
Santa Anna, Antonio López de, 135, 136,

158, 168, 171
Santa Catarina, 231
Santería, 345
Santiago (Saint James the Apostle),

26, 201
Santo Domingo, 300
Santos, Marqueza de, 150, 152
São Francisco River, 78, 81
São Paulo

colonial society of, 78–79, 81
immigrants in, 197, 228, 230, 231
as industrial center, 250
Modern Art Week of 1922, 255–56
neocolonial government of, 210
population of, 201, 267
shantytowns in, 268
slavery in, 79
workers’ strikes in, 306

Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino, 178,
180–82, 211

Scheiner, 213
School of the Americas, US, 298, 302
“scientific racism,” 182, 211, 235
Scott, Sir Walter, 181

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 46 13/06/16 11:11 AM


I n d e x

Sebastian (prince of Portugal), 30
semisedentary peoples, 19, 22, 47, 61,

199, 199
senhores de engenho, 59, 198
September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 338
sertão, 18, 61, 199, 210, 211
sexual encounters, 65–66, 86
shantytowns, 73, 261, 268, 268
shifting cultivation, 19
Shining Path, 310, 341–42
sierra, 158
Silva, Xica da, 86
silver mining, 47, 56–58, 106

map of locations of, 60, 204
in Mexico, 56, 130, 194
in Peru, 56–57, 57, 130, 158

Sisa, Bartolina, 118
slash and burn agriculture, 19
“Slaughter of 1932” (El Salvador), 261, 319
slavery, 3–4, 16

African areas as sources of, 34–36, 38
in African societies, 35
in Brazil, 4, 34, 79, 81

abolition of, 160, 185
Bahian slave conspiracy and, 147–48
“free birth” laws and, 184
independence struggle and, 109, 111
liberal manifestos against, 185
Paraguay and, 183
Pedro II and, 184
postcolonial, 129, 139, 140, 142,

143, 144
restriction of, 109, 144
Vieira and, 74–75
women and, 125, 126

in colonial cities, 73
colonial religious practices and, 69
in Cuba, 4, 68, 126, 129, 144, 175, 183
and escaped slaves in quilombos, 79
hegemony and, 63, 67
honor and, 67
in Iberia, 35
in Nicaragua, 174
plantations and, 61, 73, 78–79
Portugal and, 34, 35–36, 38
in postcolonial period, 129
Sab and, 174–75
and travelers to Latin America, 124–25
in United States, 3–4, 159
uprisings against, 92, 95, 96

smallpox, 40
social classes

Marxism and, 282, 294
in neocolonial period, 194
in postcolonial period, 147–48, 153–54
sociology and, 294
wars of independence and, 118
see also caste system; landowners;

middle class
social inequality in Latin America, 3
Somoza, Anastasio, 261, 276, 277, 317–18
Somoza family, 317–18, 319
South Africa, 214
Southern Cone, European immigrants to,

228, 231
Soviet Russia, 297–98

atomic bomb testing by, 276
crumbling of Soviet bloc, 322
Cuba and, 287, 288
Latin American nationalists and, 282

Bourbon reforms and, 82, 84
Carlos IV’s rule over, 97–98
conquest of Aztec and Inca Empires,

crusading mentality in, 25–26, 28
Darío’s poetry respected in, 205–6
founding of, 26
France and, 98
Great Britain and, 28, 97–98, 101,

106, 214
immigrants from, 201, 228, 229, 230
invasion of Mexico (1829), 135
liberalism and, 101, 128
Napoleon’s conquest of, 99, 100
overseas exploration and, 28
patriarchy and, 65–67
postcolonial influence of, 156–57
Sandinistas and, 318
see also Iberian invaders of America

Spanish America, 138–39
birth of, 43–48
Bourbon and Pombaline reforms and,

82, 84–85
Brazil contrasted with, 61, 112
caudillos in, 133–39
cities in, 69, 71, 73
fringe areas of, 75–78, 105–7, 113
independence struggles in, 95, 98,

100, 101–7, 111, 112–15

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 47 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A4 8

I n d e x

instability in, 127–28
Jesuits expellment from, 171
map of colonial administrative

divisions of, 83
and Spain’s European wars, 98
universities in, 62
see also Latin America; specific

Spanish-American War, 218
Spanish Armada, 28
Spanish Inquisition, 28, 66–67
steel industry, 250, 253
stereotypes about Latin America, 12
stock market crash, 224–25, 232, 249
Stroessner, Alfredo, 317–18
Strong, Josiah, 220
Suárez, Inés, 46, 77
subsistence agriculture, 144
sugar production, 162, 198

in Brazil, 58–59, 59, 61, 73, 198
colonization and, 31, 32, 34, 44
postcolonial, 140

in the Caribbean, 198
in Cuba, 78, 144, 195, 198, 286,

expanded exports from, 193
map of locations of, 60, 204
Mexico and, 194
in Peru, 198
and transport across Atlantic Ocean, 56

surrealists, 242
sustainable agriculture in Inca Empire, 20

Tailor’s Rebellion, 93
Taki Onqoy movement, 91
tamales, 243
tango, 229, 234, 259–60
Tarahumara people, 342

postcolonial governments and, 131
rebellions and protests against,

84–85, 92
“royal fifth,” 58, 81

Techichpotzín, 45
technological progress, 162–65, 164

see also Progress
telephones during Cold War, 6
Tenentes, 251, 252
Tenochtitlan, 19–20, 21, 40, 41, 42, 47
Ten Years’ War, 175

tertulias, 176
teul, 40
Texas, 158–59
Three Caballeros, The, 258
Tikal, 22
Timbuktu, 38
tin mining, 195, 204, 280
Tiradentes, 93
tithe, 63, 167
Tlatelolco massacre, 310, 313, 314
Tlaxcala, 42
tobacco, 92, 161, 198, 204
Tonantzin, 69
Torres, Camilo, 293–94, 295
torture, 302

in Argentina, 307, 311
in Brazil, 306, 311
in Chile, 311
in Uruguay, 311

“Torture of Cuauhtemoc, The,” 222
trade, foreign

comparative advantage theory and, 270
Cuba and, 286, 287
dependency theory and, 14, 271
foreign control of, 130–31
Great Depression and, 249
guano and, 157–58
ISI and, 249–50, 270
landowners and, 144

“Tragic Week” in Argentina, 245
transatlantic telegraph cable, 162, 164
transculturation, 68–75, 233, 330,

postcolonial, 144–45, 149
race mixing and, 68, 85–86, 89

transnational corporations, 332

during Cold War, 5
revolution in, 162, 163, 163–64 (see

also railroads)
travel books, 122–25
Travels in the Interior of Brazil (Mawe), 124
Treaty of Windsor, 98
Triple Alliance War, 182, 184, 189, 190
tropical forests, 19, 77
Trotsky, Leon, 243
Trujillo, Rafael, 258, 261, 276, 277
Tulum, 22
Tupac Amaru II, rebellion of, 93, 104
Tupamaros, 308, 310, 325, 338

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 48 13/06/16 11:11 AM


I n d e x

Tupinambá people, 32, 33, 34
Tupi people, 19, 22, 30–31, 32, 33, 38, 47

disease and, 44
languages of, 51
slavery among, 35
Spain’s treatment of, 39

Twenty Poems of Love and One
Desperate Song (Neruda), 281

Ubico, Jorge, 260
ultramontane conservatism, 167
Umbanda, 345
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 174
unemployment, 334, 335
Unified Black Movement (MNU), 343

in Guatemala, 279
under Perón, 271–72

United Fruit Company, 200, 201
Dulles brothers’ interest in, 279
García Márquez novel and, 301
Guatemala and, 200, 260, 277, 279

United Nations, 285
United States, 157

banana companies and, 200–201
Bay of Pigs invasion and, 286–87
in Cuban Missile Crisis, 287
Cuban Revolution and, 284–87,

290, 303
economic nationalism and, 276
El Salvador and, 320–22
gunboat diplomacy of, 158
Latin American disenchantment

with, 275
Marshall Plan, 275
Mexico and

“Good Neighbor Policy,” 258
interventions, 216, 217, 242
map of borders of, before 1848, 156
Maximilian and, 170–71
war (1846-1848), 159

national debt of, 331
nationalists and, 269
national security doctrine and,

neocolonial influence of, 193, 194,

208, 216–25
neoliberalism and, 330
nonintervention pledge of, 277
post-World War II

Brazilian military coup supported
by, 303

in Cold War, 275–81
Colombian aid from, 327
counterrevolutionary violence

encouraged by, 297
Rio Pact and, 276
slavery in, 3–4, 159
southwestern, 77
trade with Latin America, 122, 123, 157

Marxism at, 301
in Spanish America, 62

University of Mexico, 62
urban areas

during colonial period, 69, 71, 73
during neocolonialism, 195, 206
see also cities

urban guerrillas, 301–2, 310
in Argentina, 306–7
in Brazil, 304
in Colombia, 325, 339–40
in Uruguay, 308, 322
see also guerrilla warfare

Uribe, Alvaro, 327, 340
Uruguay, 120

Argentine liberals exiled in, 178
climate of, 3
guerrilla movement in, 308, 322
immigration to, 4, 228, 229
ISI and, 250
literacy rate of, 203
MERCOSUR and, 332
military rule in, 306, 308–9, 311, 314
nationalism in, 243, 256
in Triple Alliance War, 182

US Cerro de Pasco Copper Corporation,

U-2 spy planes, 287
USSR, see Soviet Russia
Uxmal, 22

“vagrancy” laws, 197
Valladolid debate, 52
vaqueros, 77
Vargas, Getúlio, 251, 253, 254, 255, 256,

265, 269, 273–74, 335
Goulart and, 303
suicide of, 274
World War II and, 259

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 49 13/06/16 11:11 AM

A 5 0

I n d e x

Vargas Vila, José María, 223, 224
Vasconcelos, José, 242
Velasco Ibarra, José María, 264
Velho, Domingos Jorge, 79
Venezuela, 139

Amazonian rain forest in, 346
Chávez in, 337, 337–38, 340
coffee and, 198
as colonial fringe area, 77
independence struggles and, 97, 101,

105–6, 107, 108, 112, 113, 119
Las Casas colonization plan in, 52
nationalism in, 248
oil wells in, 198
Páez and, 135, 137
Pérez Jiménez in, 277
plantation crops from, 78
population of, 2
postcolonial fragmentation in, 139
rebellion in, 92
United Fruit Company in, 200

Veracruz, 57, 170, 242
viceroyalties, 58, 61, 71, 76, 82, 83
Vieira, Antônio, 74–75
Vila Rica de Ouro Preto, 81
Villa, Pancho, 239–40, 242
Villa-Lobos, Heitor, 255
Violenca, La, 324–25
Virgin of Guadalupe, 69, 70, 103

Walker, William, 173–74
War of the Pacific, 190–91, 191
War of the Peruvian-Bolivian

Confederation, 190
wars of independence, 95, 97, 112–15

background of
Creoles-Peninsulars conflict,

Napoleonic crisis, 98–101

beginning stages of, 102–7
Hidalgo’s rebellion, 102–4, 293
Morelos’ rebellion, 104, 293

Bolívar and, 113, 115, 119
caudillos and, 133
in Cuba, 175
economic devastation from, 130
indigenous peoples and, 95, 102–4, 119
liberals and, 97
map of campaigns of, 114
nativism as strategy in, 107, 109–12

popular sovereignty and, 98–99, 130
rebellion of Tupac Amaru II, 93, 104
social/political effects of, 115–16, 116,

women and, 116, 118

Washington Consensus, 337
West Africa, slave trade from, 36, 38
West Germany, 318
wet nurses, 125
white supremacy, 220–21, 235, 237, 238
Wide and Alien Is the World

(Alegría), 246
Wild West, 77
witches, 66–67

in convents, 54
education of, 124, 174
feminist movements and, 213–14
guerrilla warfare and, 321, 321
honor code and, 65–66, 71,

152–53, 213
patriarchy and, see patriarchy
in postcolonial period, 149–53
in poverty, 152, 267–68
Progress and, 174–78, 175
slavery and, 125, 126
Spanish men (early years of

Encounter) and, 45–46
and voting in Argentina, 272
in wars of independence, 116, 118

World Trade Center, 335
World War I

Argentine neutrality in, 245
Great Britain and, 220
import/export system interrupted

by, 249
World War II, 258–59, 261, 298

“yellow journalism,” 218
yerba mate tree, 75, 204
Yrigoyen, Hipólito, 244–45
Yucatán, 78, 92, 147, 211

Zacatecas silver mines, 56
Zapata, Emiliano, 239, 240, 341
Zapatistas, 328, 341
Zapotec, 58
Zedillo, Ernesto, 330
Zumbi, 79, 80

14_BBF_28305_indx_A27-A50.indd 50 13/06/16 11:11 AM

  • Born in Blood & Fire, 4e
    • Half Title
    • Books by John Charles Chasteen
    • Title Page
    • Copyright
    • Dedication
    • Contents
    • Maps
    • Acknowledgments
    • Time Line
  • 1. Welcome to Latin America
    • Not Your Father’s Version��������������������������������
    • Old Thinking on Latin America������������������������������������
  • 2. Encounter
    • Patterns of Indigenous Life����������������������������������
    • Origins of a Crusading Mentality���������������������������������������
    • The Brazilian Counterexample�����������������������������������
    • Africa and the Slave Trade���������������������������������
    • The Fall of the Aztec and Inca Empires���������������������������������������������
    • The Birth of Spanish America�����������������������������������
    • Countercurrents: Friar Bartolomé de las Casas����������������������������������������������������
  • 3. Colonial Crucible
    • Colonial Economics�������������������������
    • A Power Called Hegemony������������������������������
    • A Process Called Transculturation����������������������������������������
    • The Fringes of Colonization����������������������������������
    • Late Colonial Transformations������������������������������������
    • Countercurrents: Colonial Rebellions�������������������������������������������
  • 4. Independence
    • Revolution and War in Europe
    • The Spanish American Rebellions Begin, 1810–15
    • The Patriots’ Winning Strategy: Nativism�����������������������������������������������
    • Patriot Victories in Spanish America, 1815–25
    • Unfinished Revolutions�����������������������������
    • Countercurrents: The Gaze of Outsiders���������������������������������������������
  • 5. Postcolonial Blues
    • Liberal Disappointment�����������������������������
    • Patronage Politics and Caudillo Leadership�������������������������������������������������
    • Brazil’s Different Path������������������������������
    • Continuities in Daily Life���������������������������������
    • Countercurrents: The Power of Outsiders����������������������������������������������
  • 6. Progress
    • Mexico’s Liberal Reform������������������������������
    • Other Countries Join the Liberal Trend���������������������������������������������
    • The Limits of Progress for Women���������������������������������������
    • Models of Progress�������������������������
    • Countercurrents: International Wars������������������������������������������
  • A Tour of Latin America
  • 7. Neocolonialism
    • The Great Export Boom����������������������������
    • Authoritarian Rule: Oligarchies and Dictatorships��������������������������������������������������������
    • Links with the Outside World�����������������������������������
    • Countercurrents: New Immigration to Latin America��������������������������������������������������������
  • 8. Nationalism
    • Nationalists Take Power������������������������������
    • ISI and Activist Governments of the 1930s
    • Countercurrents: Populist Leaders of the Twentieth Century
  • 9. Revolution
    • Post–World War II Populism
    • Onset of the Cold War����������������������������
    • The Cuban Revolution���������������������������
    • Countercurrents: Liberation Theology�������������������������������������������
  • 10. Reaction
    • National Security Doctrine���������������������������������
    • Military Rule��������������������
    • Dictatorship Almost Everywhere�������������������������������������
    • The Last Cold War Battles: Central America�������������������������������������������������
    • Countercurrents: La Violencia, Pablo Escobar, and Colombia’s Long Torment
  • 11. Neoliberalism and Beyond
  • Glossary
  • Further Acknowledgments
  • Index
    1. 2016-08-08T14:38:17+0000
    2. Preflight Ticket Signature

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