week 4

Week 4 – Independence Narratives, Past and Present

The struggle for independence in America is packed with complexity, but the most common narrative is that of the liberation of the people living on the continent, even though that might not be the case. The video and the interview were very illuminating in the way they described and discussed the process of independence in the colonies, and which groups most benefitted from them.

It’s interesting how Bolivarianism and the complexities of Latin American independence are linked to events that have unfolded in modernity. Dr. Cameron discusses how Hugo Chávez, former president of Venezuela, tried to capitalize on the Venezuelans feeling left out by framing the struggle for independence as an unfinished revolution, and by echoing what he understood as an anti-imperialist message in Bolívar’s writings. However, both the video lecture and the interview point out how Bolívar wasn’t representing the indigenous population of the continent – he was simply representing the Creole class, European descendants who were born in America and who were in opposition to the Peninsulares, the Spanish government back in the Old World that prevented the Creoles from having autonomy in the colonies. By drawing on Bolivarianism as a way to fight exploitation by the most powerful countries in the world, Chávez neglects Bolívar’s disregard and indifference for the Native Americans and their own history (illustrated when he says Latin America has “no history”, completely ignoring the indigenous peoples and their own traditions). Dr. Cameron even points out how independence might not have been what the Native American wanted at the time, given it empowered the Creoles and their “predatory” actions, as he put it.

The interview also contextualizes indigenous peoples’ struggle for inclusion in relation to the Latin American independence process. It discusses how independence was never a starting point for the inclusion of the indigenous peoples, especially in the political arena, and that that carries over until the present day. Latin American countries where that segment of the population does have more political power are also described as having a stronger democracy (like Uruguay and Costa Rica). These countries weren’t at the center of the colonization efforts and weren’t as rich in natural resources, contrary to places like Venezuela, in which the indigenous population was used as a labour force. Dr. Cameron frames that exclusion from hundreds of years ago as an issue that still affects the population, hence the tendency to elect leaders such as Chávez which demand inclusion in the world economy. An interesting discussion question to consider is if the presidents elected under the banner of inclusion, such as Chávez and Evo Morales, did indeed have a tangible effect on how that particular country is situated in the international community, or if that promise of inclusion remains simply a promise.

Ultimately, the connections made between the struggle for independence and inclusion and modern day politics were very valuable in helping to understand the current political situation in many Latin American countries.