It was interesting to read about how the crisis affected the rural poor. This section in the book provided a much deeper insight on the feelings and actions that arose during this time period. I was surprised to learn about some of the tactics that were used to ensure “order” when tensions were rising in the countryside. It seems rural people were handled in a different, more aggressive manner than those rebelling in other areas.
One of the situations that shocked me the most was the level of political and government involvement in these efforts of maintaining control. The actions of political thugs were put in quotations in the text, suggesting unfair practices went into the “recruitment” of labor and the “buying” of land in rural areas, further increasing rural tension. All the while the police and the military were aware and an important part of these pushes for order. Their social roles placed them in a position to legitimize the wrongdoings placed upon rural peasants. Political parties were also highlighted and displayed in a different perspective than they were in the previous chapter. In this section, the idea that order must occur before progress, which will then lead to democracy was seen as superficial promise for equality and an excuse to enforce order upon the people. This demonstrates the major differences in ideas and practices during the time that produced aggravation for many groups of people.
The impact the progress Latin America wanted to achieve was also not in favor of the rural people. Advancements in railroad systems and forms of communication made rural areas more accessible than ever before, disturbing rural peasants’ way of life. These people were accustomed to anonymity and separation from things like national and global markets. Their systems were beneficial to their needs and were comfortable to rural populations, so when “capitalist penetration” entered the regions, rural life became more difficult. Once again, I was shocked by how the government responded to the rural peasants’ conflict with the drastic changes in their systems. It is sad elites genuinely believe they were the more superior of the two groups and viewed a decline in the rural population as an opportunity for Latin America to be more productive with more “civil” people. It makes me think of how these beliefs have been proven to exist in many places outside of Latin American and how they still circulate today.
At a time when Latin American was still in the process of developing a strong, unified government, I can understand why Latin American elites would believe that they needed order to begin to create progress. However, I do not completely agree with why they thought order was difficult to achieve. The elites believed the people were not civilized enough or held the capacity to be able to live under a democracy and be a part of the modern rule. While it is hard for me to say if that is true or not, I think the lack of order was not solely due to the people being “uncivilized”, but largely because of the significant differences between the groups of people in Latin America. Before the export boom, there were limited ways to travel to different areas, making the people geographically divided. The interests of groups also varied greatly depending on their occupation or place in society. These factors made an already difficult task of creating order and seeing progress even harder, struggling to find a system that agrees with the majority of parties.
It was interesting to read about how the export boom helped actualize Latin American progress and the debates over whether it was beneficial progress. I was specifically intrigued by the differences between Raul Prebisch and modern-day contemporary economic historians because I thought they both make valid arguments.
Prebisch argued “Latin America simply replaced on colonial master with others at independence”. While this is an extreme statement, it has a point in that Latin America put the livelihood of its economy into the hands of foreign countries, making it extremely vulnerable to a serious downfall. The statistic that astounded me the most was that foreign countries held up to fifty percent of capital in some Latin American countries. While details like that are expected to generate a negative outlook on foreign control during the economic boom, the fact remains that Latin America’s lack of capital and domestic markets put them in a situation where they needed outside support in order to see economic growth. With foreign capital, Latin American countries were finally able to build effective ways to travel, communicate, and create a society with the beginnings of a centralized government and law system.
Even though the impact of foreign interactions was not equally positive across Latin America, it is difficult to deny that, overall, it jumpstarted progress that would not have been obtained on their own.
This week’s reading in the book provided a greater insight on the development of citizenship and rights in the America’s. I liked that the progression of slavery in Latin America was continually compared to the United State’s progression. Since I know more about the United State’s history and time periods, relating significant events in time in Latin America to the states help put it in context for me.
Three topics particularly stood out for me this week: scientific racial separation, improving race and the impressive racial advancements in Brazil.
How Europe and the Americas used science to support their racists systems still astounds me. Especially since the “scientific racism” was largely based off of the ideas of theorists who had little scientific evidence to support their claims. They came up with arguments such as “the mixing of races led to the degeneration of species” and that “society was responsible for maintaining and improving the gene pool” that blatantly encouraged racial separation. Then came the claim that the cleanliness of blood biologically gives whites more advantageous characteristics suitable for any power-holding roles in society. This was a way to scientifically establish whites as the more superior race and encourage the idea that those with mixed racial origins were not biologically adequate to govern themselves.
The reaction to these scientific claims and other racial beliefs was astonishing to me. Latin American elites took it upon themselves to “improve” their society by cleaning their nations of unbefitting races. They did this through intermarriage or reclassification, hoping to make their nation more civilized and prosperous. The reclassification example with Afro-Argentines was interesting to me. Over fifty years, they were able to decrease their representation from twenty five percent to two percent by simply changing the title of these residents.
The last topic that caught my attention was the experience of people of color in Brazil. I had no knowledge of their early advances towards racial equality. Even though the system was not completely fair, they still adjusted their restrictions on people of color to give them a more free life in relation to other nations in Latin America. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, the now libertos could vote if they met certain qualifications. Non-whites were even found in government and respected as intellectuals, titles that were not given to non-whites in other areas until much later.
There is more in this chapter that I found interesting, such as the ways in which slaves relentlessly fought for their own freedom Cuba, that I look forward to discussing in class.
The topic for this week was particularly fascinating for me. I enjoyed learning about how such a large area of land dealt with an extreme transition from monarchy rule to independence. After reading about the context of their situation, it’s understandable why the people, both elites and indigenous, struggled to find the right balance of power.
I noticed each group had their own self-serving definition of what freedom meant to them. These values were amplified when the Spanish colonial age ended and the people felt they needed to protect their own interests in this unpredictable time.
This led to the rise of caudillos, who proved to be complex figures. They were contradictory, providing what many needed while prohibiting any progression of a strong, centralized union for countries in Latin America. A large majority of a caudillo’s following would consist of peasants and Indians in need of a leader to defend their autonomy. With liberal elites trying to change communal land holding laws to their advantage, villagers would heavily rely on the caudillo to protect their land and sometimes even grant more land to the rural poor for their military service. The dissimilarities in interests within countries were one of the main reasons it was so difficult to establish an overall institution that could equally serve the people. As difficult as it is for me to imagine living under a caudillo ruler, who acquires many enemies and only provides a temporary solution to problems, I can recognize why certain Latin Americans during this time period would depend on this style of leader.
The map on page 51 of the textbook also stood out to me as I was reading. It provided a shocking depiction of the negative repercussions of a weak central state. Actually seeing the receding borderlines due to lack of union emphasized the seriousness of the post-colonial crisis. Bolivia’s divided people made them extremely vulnerable to attacks, with only a series of independent caudillos to act as military figures. This up against more stable and somewhat prosperous states, such as Chile, led to the loss of almost half of their territory.
Overall it was very interesting to learn about a segment of history that I have not been taught before. It still amazes me how my secondary school provided practically nothing on history of Latin America.