Week 4 – Independence

It’s not hard to imagine that after several generations following the mythical point of origin of Latin America, 1492, that residents of the Americas would begin to feel the itch for independence. I found it interesting to consider how the different social classes approached the idea of breaking free of European rule, and the concept that some stood to lose mainly power and wealth, whereas others stood to lose very basic rights. Those who were most oppressed had a healthy fear of independence because there were some (if limited) protections for them while the crown was in place. But what if the landed elites wrested the power from the Iberian Peninsula? How would the new, independent, state treat those in the lowest positions? The prospect would be frightening. But elites also feared independence because of the uncertainly of their continued power and governance once severed from Europe. Despite these fears, the desire for independence was nearly universal across the Americas.

I enjoyed reading about the various regions approach to independence, and how varied the experiences were. In Haiti, for example, slaves succeeded in overthrowing the colonial presence, and this led to the eventual emancipation in 1793. Compare that to Brazil, where the Portuguese Emperor actually settled after fleeing Napoleon. The emperor’s son then declared Brazil independent and slavery was further entrenched. Both states came to independence from Europe, but carry vastly different histories and struggles. The people who directly feel the consequences of these contrasting roads to independence would understandably form vastly different identities. We can see why a simple description of Latin America is elusive, and reductive.

The accounts of Bolivar, the Great Liberator, were fascinating. He had grand ideas of independence, and was eloquent and persuasive. Though his lifetime achievements certainly were not on the scale of his dreams, he grew to be a figure as important as Columbus in shaping the Americas. We also get the sense that his story is equally mythical. Could we discuss Bolivar more in class, especially the reception of his ideas following his death?

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