Tag Archives: Bolivar

Authority in Post-Independence Latin America

I felt the description in this weeks lecture of 19th century post independence Latin America as [“Independent nations prolonging the colonial project”] to be interesting and apt. Bolivar and his contemporaries instigated a self serving independence in Latin America. It served a specific group of people. largely the ruling elite. Thus it was a very incomplete independence and the holes became obvious as the presence of colonial powers lessened.

At this point what we now know as “Latin America” entered an identity crisis. We see this in the large political masses that broke into smaller independent countries. It was up to those who remained to determine a new cultural, economic and political landscape.

There was an undeniable power vacuum left in Latin America post independence. Figureheads of the independence movement were never necessarily going to be accepted without question. Without even considering the power struggles among the political elite, the masses were finally getting a chance to assert visions and ambitions for their countries. Even those of Spanish descent who had been born into Latin America had never had freedom from colonial rule. It was only natural that the race for domination of the political landscape would intensify as colonial rule retreated.

It is typical to the nature of man that the pursuit of power is almost always accompanied by conflict and in this case bloody war. Latin America had to discern which colonial structures were to be dismantled and which parts of history were to be preserved. Political units that had been held together by the glue of imperialism naturally disintegrated and thus new countries were born. Out of these new countries came all new economic and cultural systems that to this day are distinct and unique to each area her people and her history. The hierarchical nature of colonial society remained.  As it was an elite class who pushed for independence this is a natural sequence of events. Unfortunately this resulted in an arguably even more cruel oppression of the least privileged classes. The numerous campaigns against indigenous peoples that dot Latin American history are a black mark on our heritage that cannot ever be erased.

Despite political turbulence and extreme violence within countries, across borders and even from North America. Latin America has emerged vibrant and extraordinarily varied. The first week of class I chose in our discussion to associate Latin America with resilience. I feel that though the scars of not only colonialism, but internal destruction are widely felt they do not define the character of Latin America.


1 Comment

Filed under Week 5

Bolivar and Colonial Irony

Sometimes I’m taken aback by the lack of self awareness shown by those at the top of social and political hierarchy. If any group is going to be a group of oppressors it is this demographic. However oppressors practically never understand that their direct actions subjugate people. Perhaps since the less privileged class are frequently not perceived as fully human.

The only time oppressors feel sympathy for the oppressed is when they begin to feel infringed upon themselves. This is painfully true in Bolivar’s “Letter from Jamaica”. While he demonstrates an understanding of the autonomy that many of us believe is owed to all human beings, he cannot fathom that anyone aside himself suffers. He considers himself to be deserving of rights by virtue of his humanity yet he can’t recognize the humanity of those over who he has dominion.

Entitlement rears its head again in the writing of Bolivar. He is used to being included in a political and social hierarchy. It is his natural condition to have his opinions carry weight. it also speaks to his expectation of the land he is inhabiting. He takes issue with such a vibrant, fruitful land remaining “passive”. This speaks first to his expectation of un-colonized land to be rudimentary and primitive. He sees the colonized lands as mold-able to his vision and sees it as a great injustice that he is not being given the power to change the landscape.

What Bolivar did not recognize is that he was a visitor in a land of people who possessed the same level of humanity as himself. It would have made much more logical sense to try to integrate into the existing power structures of the indigenous population. Instead he is attempting to overrule the existing dynamics and hijack the orders being given to him for his own purposes. Bolivar supposes he understands the climate and potential of his surroundings better than Spanish politicians considering he can give first hand accounts. Ironically he does not assume that the native inhabitants might have a better understanding of their home than he does.

Slavery is a condition abhorrent to the human condition. In possibly the most provocative section of his letter Bolivar describes himself and fellow colonialists-many of whom were slaveholders- as “lower than slaves”.  He is able to do this because by grace of their diminished humanity, the enslaved non-Spanish population-in Bolivars eyes-can naturally and comfortably settle into the condition of slavery. Therefore, when he understands his own lack of power to be infringing on his inherent rights, he can quickly assume the position of the gravely oppressed.


Filed under Week 4