19th Century Latin America

After the ideologies of liberalism and nativism (and mixed race armies) ushered in indepdence between 1810 and 1824, the post independence period saw a conservative backlash.  “By the middle of the 1850s , most Latin American countries were ruled by conservative caudillos whose sole public service was to maintain order and protect property.” (Chasteen 129)  After the 1850s Latin America experienced a liberal comeback, sometimes violently  (Mexico, Colombia) sometimes peacefully (Chile) and in Nicaragua’s case, late (not until the 1890s).

After independence Latin America was dominated by conservatives politically and economically stagnant.  Peru with its guano boom was an exception.  Though British controlled the Peruvian government profited from this industry as well and was the first and only to build railroads before 1850.  Despite the US’s Monroe Doctrine of 1823, England and France were deeply involved in Latin America, economically (and thus at time militarily—gunboat diplomacy—to protect interests) as very much culturally.  During the second half of the 19tth century, Progress with a capital P dominated ideologically along with liberalism (people wanted to participate in international trade and enjoy a developed infrastructure).  The old centers of power, long established wealthy conservative families and the Catholic Church, now came under attack.


1829 mulatto militia units from Veracruz and Acapulco coast installed liberal, populist, mixed race, president Guerrero, and upon his death transferred their allegiance to ideological and literal successor Alvarez . (Andrews 97)

(Texas allowed American squatters but many had slaves which Mex had outlawed in 1829.  Outnumbering Mexican, the Texans rebelled in 1836 declaring Texas an independent republic.  They were defeated at the Alamo but won the war and independence for almost a decade.  When Tex became a US state in 1845, fighting erupted as Mexican feared more US infringement.  In 1848 US occupied Mexico city and forced Mex to cede what was to become New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, California, and Texas and what had been half of Mexico.)

By mid-1800 the Church controlled about half of Mexico’s best farmland as well as urban real estate.  The liberal priests of the independence era (Hidalgo, Morelos) replaced by ultramontane conservatives (beyond the mountains (Alps): Rome).  Santa Anna out and Benito Juarez (first fully indigenous president) in.  Enemies called him “a monkey dressed up as Napoleon” and his occasional use of rice powder underscores hegemonic ideas about race, but Reform meant the end of fueros and communal land.  Liberalism thus threat to church (but not religion) and indigenous villages, thus bringing the two together under conservatism.  1858 civil war.  Juarez reestablished control but state bankrupt, freeze to lenders.  Spain, France, England occupied Mex.  France tried to put Hapsburg emperor in Mex as (they invented term “Latin” America) but nationalist backlash (and US fearing for Monroe Doctrine) put Juarez back.  Conservatism and Catholicism never regained the same hold in Mexican government and “liberal hegemony in Mexico lasted from the 1860s until the Revolution of 1910.” (Andrews 97)



Politically relatively stable during Latin America’s caudillismo of the 19th century (rigged elections), Chile was economically advantaged, exporting wheat, copper, and silver.  Technological Progress followed (railroad, telegraphs, waterworks, schools). 

Central America

In 1850 all Central American republics had conservative caudillos.  Guatemala’s 25 year reign of Rafael Carrera (a rural mestizo protecting traditional values, Church and indigenous land) dominating Guatemala “allowed the United Provinces of Central America to fall apart, becoming today’s cluster of minirepublics.” (Chasteen 128)  But while liberal party politics triumphed El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala, pro-slavery fundamentalist Christian Tennessean “liberal” and president of Nicaragua William Walker (who offered Progress through land grants to US citizens) undermined trust in the Liberal Party after his forced removal.


Conservative (and murderous) caudillo Rosas dominated Argentina from 1829 to 1852.  He reopened the slave trade.  He also used black soldiers to fight civil, foreign, and Indian wars. After the his reign, exiled intellectuals returned with commitments liberalism and Progess: European immigration and public education,.  Sarmiento “the most influential Latin American liberal of all” (Chasteen 169) with his book denouncing Rosas and caudillismo “had little faith in the masses of Argentine people.”  (Chasteen 170) He saw gauchos as not quite human because “liberals considered race mixture a disgrace.” (Chasteen 170)


“Black support contributed materially to liberalism’s eventual triumph throughout Spanish America; in return, liberalism brought power to almost all of the black and mulatto presidents who held office in Spanish America during the 1800s: Rivadavia in Argentina (1825-27), Guerreo in Mexico (1829), Roca in Ecuador (1845-49), Crespo in Venezuela (1884-86, 1892-97), Heureaux in the Dominican Republic (1882-99).  But when liberalism did come to power, it was in a form that few black liberals would have foreseen or approved….in the second half of the 1800s  it was not in the form of ‘popular liberalism’ but of liberalism dominated by landowner and elite interests.” (Andrews 99-100)