Week Four: Independence Narratives, Past and Present

Another course I am currently undertaking relates to the concept of nationalism (in the context of modern Asia), and suggests that nationalism is only a recent trend born from decolonisation movements. Previously, I had only really associated decolonisation with that of South-East Asia and Africa in the mid-20th Century, which makes the context of Bolívar’s piece particularly interesting. What struck me most in his letter was his reference to Montesquieu writings that “it is harder… to release a nation from servitude than to enslave a free nation.” Retrospectively,  it is easy to say he was erroneous in this claim (given the history of decolonisation), however, in the context of 1815 Latin America, precedent was not in favour of liberation or independence.

After having completed the relevant readings for this week, I was particularly intrigued by the construction of identity in various independence narratives, especially with regard to the ‘us vs. them’ mentality. Of course, independence movements require mobilisation, which in turn itself requires a process of increasing consciousness and catalysing action. In nationalism, the way in which this  tends to be done is by strengthening the collective understanding of ‘us’ as well as ‘them’. In Bolívar’s letter, it is clear that ‘us’ refers to the aggrieved people of Latin America, having shared history and trauma. However, our perceptions of ourselves are also strengthened by our understandings of who we are not – the ‘other’ (in this case, “that unnatural stepmother – Spain”.

Again, in Martí’s ‘Our America‘, he draws the distinction between ‘us’; the inhabitants of the New World, and ‘them’; the inhabitants of the Old World (including the often-forgotten Indians that Bolívar himself made no allusion to) by alienating the Europeans, with their “puny arms, with bracelets and painted nails, the arms of Madrid or of Paris,” as well as the Americans who have enjoyed “four centuries of free practice”. His piece is very much a call to arms, and whilst at times frustrating to read, his voice is at others very beautiful, emotive, and provokes action. He makes an argument for a sort of ‘Latinisation’ of the elites and ruling officials in Latin America, and mythologises the shared history of Latin America (“A priest, a few lieutenants, and a woman built a republic in Mexico upon the shoulders of the Indians.”)

Following the sweep of decolonisation and after having thrown off their imperial chains, Latin America and the Global South have faced the new ‘threat’ of neoliberalism (at least according to Chávez). Neoliberalism of course refers to the international order wherein the cooperation and interdependence of states is desirable for net gain in an anarchic world system, and champions Capitalism and free-trade agreements in order for development to be realised. Whilst having its benefits, a significant downfall of neoliberalism is its western-centric nature as it suggests that the only viable system of state economics going forward is Capitalism, especially after Fukuyama’s suggestion that the “end of History” was heralded by the ‘triumph’ of Capitalism over Communism. By inciting the images of shared Latin American heroes such as Bolívar, as well as other leaders representing unity in the Global South such as Tito and Nasser, Chávez rejects this idea and instead urges other developing states of the G-15 to similarly turn from neoliberalism and Capitalism due to their shared history of exploitation (“The history of our countries tell us…”).

5 Comments

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5 Responses to Week Four: Independence Narratives, Past and Present

  1. Jon

    Regarding your opening paragraph (when did nationalism begin?) you might want to check out one of the most famous books on the topic, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. He argues precisely that nationalism arises first in Latin America, during or just prior to the wars of independence, and only later spreads to Europe and around the world.

  2. Olga Kochkareva

    Hi Jessica,
    Thank you for your global perspective and inputs regarding the different contexts. I really enjoy how every week you manage to bring something from your other courses into the discussion, e.g the context of modern Asia.
    However, do you believe that Chavez’s goal was to promote a capitalistic ideal, or was it in fact a different political motivation that pushed him to be the way he was.

  3. Sera Jorgensen

    Hey Jessica! I love it when we can make connections between our other courses – it seems to give us greater perspective on the underlying themes and on different perspectives on the events. It interests me that you associate decolonization primarily with Asia/Africa, as the Americas would have been this first to come to my mind.

  4. isabel cortez

    I thought your description of independence being spearheaded by an us vs. them mentality was interesting. I think the tendency to think in such polarizing terms remains common in world politics, but perhaps it is especially traditional in the Latin American fight for freedom. I often have felt that part of Latin American (or at least Chilean) identity is a fierce feeling of individuality and national pride. I wonder if part of that could be the drive to set ourselves apart from those who were our oppressors.

  5. laura velez

    Hi Jessica! I found your approach to the idea of independence linked to identity really interesting, regarding the of of “us vs. them”.

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