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Latin American Independence: Generalizations

©    2005 Donald J. Mabry

Government in general

    Independence leaders had to promise things to people to get things done, to fight the wars and gain support. Independence leaders promised free press, the removal of economic restrictions, the emancipation of the slaves, changes in the status of Indians, and a free assembly. Leaders began making them. in 1810. They had to do some of these things because they could not just make promises for twenty years.

    In the constitutions they created there clearly was foreign influence such as the constitution of the United States but influences came from many sources.

    Government finance and economic policy in the Independence Period are subjects that needs more study. The policies varied from place to place, not surprisingly, but there was not much policy aimed at economic development.

    In finance, there was the shift from the very complex colonial system to dependence upon taxes from foreign commerce. Most commonly there were customs duties or tariffs on imports. The upper class has avoided taxes which would hurt its position. The effects of such a policy has been the inability of a government to count on the amount of income it would have because trade activity fluctuates according to many different factors. Governments resorted to special levies, which were always unpopular. They borrowed monies from abroad, making loans on very poor terms which got poorer as country after country defaulted. Sometimes they did not understand the loan obligations. Many wasted much of the money when they got it into their countries.

International Relations

    These countries faced the problem of diplomatic recognition. Without it, it was difficult to get commercial treaties. Recognition also helped discourage Spain from reconquest attempts. Some recognized each other. Outside of Latin America, the United States led off in 1822, followed by the United Kingdom..

    Bolivar's Pan-American conference in 1826 was an important diplomatic event because it created an interest in mutual affairs.

    Boundaries were handled quite well because the new nations accepted Usi Possidetis (right to keep because of use), for the most part. The boundaries were roughed out in general and tended to pass through uninhabited territory.


    Improvement in economic conditions had occurred in many places but prosperity was smashed by the wars of independence. The ill effects were worse where the fighting took place. Venezuela, for example, suffered a fifty percent decline in cattle between 1810-1830. The wars caused some interruptions in trade patterns, trade routes, and communications. There was a serious problem with inflation.

    Nevertheless, there was some expansion of markets. There was some penetration by European entrepreneurs. Independence saw the beginning of the great influence of Great Britain in Latin American economic life.

Social Change

    Reforms from 1810 to 1830 included the following, the:

1.  end of the Inquisition,

2. end of Indian tribute,

3. abolition or serious undermining of slavery,

4. restriction of the judicial system to justice,

5. extinction or reduction of guild rights and, quite often, guilds,

6. withdrawal of legal support for social stratification in some places,

7. opening of the area to international trade

8. encouragement of immigration

9. abandonment of many administrative practices such as spying and overlapping jurisdictions.

10. change in the role of cabildo

11. beginning of anti-clericalism

12. new armies emerged with enlarged powers

Effects of Independence on the Indians

  • debt peonage and store was not abolished
  • the imperial protective system destroyed and the Indians delivered into the hands of their exploiters.
  • destruction of Indian missions

    The rift between the city and the country worsened. Usually, it was the capital city versus everything place else. The new leaders concentrated power into the hands of urbanites. City dwellers were the ones who had contact with foreigners and displayed lots of European habits.

    All the promises to the lower classes caused trouble later because the new elites had no desire to fulfill them.

The Colonial Legacy


  • 1. Aristocratic dispensation, that is, the belief that the elites could do anything they desired.

  • Social immobility. One almost always stayed in the class to which one was born.
  • Apathy and indifference among almost all people because they were excluded from making decision-making.
  • Tax and educational systems which favor the elites. This is less true now than it was thirty years ago.
  • Conservative objections to innovation. Latin America is one of the most conservative regions of the world.
  • The use of violence in public affairs.
  • Continuous miscegenation
  • The great estate system.
  • Economic underdevelopment
  • Graft and inefficiency in bureaucracies
  • Stronghold of family ties. It is a region of true "family values."
  • The continued dominance of the roman Catholic church.
  • The hold of European culture on the area was strengthened and consolidated.

Events in the 19th and 20th centuries changed some of these effects, naturally, but much of the colonial past remains.