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A History of Latin America and the Caribbean

Chapter 3: A New World No More, Part II

1650 to 1830

This chapter is divided into three parts, which cover the following topics:

Part I

A Hollow Empire
The Jesuit Experiment
Caribbean Contention, Part 1
The Golden Age of Piracy
Famous Pirates
The Darien Scheme and the South Sea Bubble
Caribbean Contention, Part 2
The Settlement of Mexico's Northern Frontier
The Seven Years War and the American Revolution In Latin America

Part II

Growing Trouble between Spain And Her Colonies
Brazil: Movement Inland, and to the South
The Haitian Revolution
The Liberation of Latin America Begins
Bolívar and San Martin
The Haitian Monarchy
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Part III

Bolívar's Campaigns
Early Paraguay: Marxism Before Marx
Over the Andes
Gran Colombia
The First Mexican Empire
Brazil: Independent By Accident
All Roads End At Ayacucho
The Falklands Dispute Begins
The Shattered Dream

Growing Trouble Between Spain And Her Colonies

From the very beginning, Spain viewed her New World empire primarily as a source of revenue and raw materials. At first this was mainly precious metals, as we saw in Chapter 2. By 1800, the silver mines of Mexico and Bolivia were still productive, but agriculture had expanded to the point that its products made up the bulk of the goods shipped from Latin America to Spain. Huge plantations, or haciendas, grew tobacco and cacao in Colombia, and sugar on Caribbean islands, while wild cattle from the vast grasslands of Argentina and Venezuela provided plenty of leather to export. Indeed, because Spain had little industry, and no financial center like Amsterdam, it depended on what it got from the colonies to maintain its position as an important European power.

The activities of Spain's rivals in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries showed that some reorganization was necessary, not only to compete successfully, but also to accommodate the growing population of the colonies (the epidemics that hit the Indians in the sixteenth century were finally finished), and to carry out Spain's new responsibilities. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Spain got a new royal family, with the Bourbons replacing the Hapsburgs, and because Spain was bankrupt at the time, the first Bourbon king, Philip V (1701-46), understandably felt it was time to make some changes.

To start with, two centers of government in the New World were no longer enough. Previously, the Viceroyalty of New Spain governed Spanish North America, the Caribbean, Central America, and the Philippines, while the Viceroyalty of Peru governed Spanish South America. In 1719 Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Panama became a new viceroyalty, called New Granada. This was done because the vital convoys that brought the wealth of the New World to Spain departed from ports in this area, and the problems with smuggling and piracy were more serious than ever. The new political unit didn't work as well as planned, though, because the jungles and mountains of the region made transportation and communication difficult, and there weren't many roads; on top of that, the Guajiro, a tough Indian tribe in northern Colombia and northwest Venezuela, revolted constantly. Then in the 1740s, because of the nine years of war between Spain and Britain in that decade, Spain improved its connections with Peru by making making it legal for commercial traffic to sail around Cape Horn.

Reforms in the Spanish Empire picked up speed in the second half of the eighteenth century, partly because Spain wanted to avoid another embarrassing defeat like the one it suffered in the Seven Years War, and partly because Spain had another reform-minded king, Charles III (1759-78). In 1776 the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata was established in the south, over Upper Peru (Bolivia), Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. In addition to the new viceroyalties, new provinces were created. The four most important new provinces were Guatemala, Cuba, Venezuela and Chile; they were called captaincies-general. To increase efficiency, governors were appointed who were answerable to Madrid, but not to any viceroy; such a governor was called an intendant, and his province became an intendency. Finally, Charles III looked for ways to make the economy of the colonies more productive, rebuilt the army and navy, reformed state finances, and expelled the Jesuits.

The loosening of controls on commerce allowed the Spanish colonies to trade with one another, and to send ships to ports in the mother country besides Cadiz. The volume of trade skyrocketed as a result; one report, which the author has not been able to verify, claimed that between 1778 and 1788, the tonnage of goods traded between Spain and the Americas grew by 700 percent. The downside of the reforms was that they included higher taxes, and that led to revolts against the heavier burden Spain was laying on the colonies. Previously, most revolts came from slaves or Indians seeking their freedom. Except for the Mapuche in Chile and the aforementioned Guajiro, none of the early rebels had horses, weapons and organization on a scale comparable to the Spaniards, so Spain usually had no trouble knocking them back in their place. But when politics entered the picture, whites and those of mixed race could also see themselves exploited by the system, meaning they might join the rebellions, too.

One of the earliest new rebellions broke out in 1765, when Quito protested against new taxes. More serious, however, were the revolts that shook New Granada and Peru in 1780-81. The New Granada revolt began when the locals tore down edicts about tax increases and new laws that made it more difficult to earn a profit. History calls this movement the Revolt of the Comuneros, because when the colonists got tired of defacing posters, they met and elected a central committee to lead them, known as El Común. The committee then raised an army (estimates of its size range between 10,000 and 20,000), and sent it marching on Bogota. It defeated the Spanish soldiers sent against it, so the government agreed to negotiate; in the talks that followed, Spanish officials signed an agreement to listen to and address the grievances of the rebels. Thinking that they had won, the Comuneros dispersed, and then the government struck back. Those same officials that signed the agreement signed a new one which voided the first, by declaring that it had been forced upon them. When fresh troops arrived as reinforcements, the government restored its authority by sending them to rebellious cities, and to enforce the new tax collection policies. Those who continued to rebel at this point were defeated easily, and either executed or sentenced to life in prison.

The revolt in Peru looked more like the old-fashioned kind of revolt, in that it pitted Indian against Spaniard, but in terms of death and destruction it was far worse than the New Granada revolt. Here the instigator was Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui, a Mestizo from the neighborhood of Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incas. By this time Spain had ruled Peru for more than two hundred years, and the Spaniards realized that they could only govern effectively with the help of some natives, so they promoted a few to middle management positions. Condorcanqui was one of those favored, having been made a minor noble, and given the title Marquis of Oropesa. But that did not mean the natives got any relief from the burden of taxation. The straw that broke the llama's back came in 1779, when Spain raised sales taxes to pay for its involvement in the American Revolution. Condorcanqui believed a prophecy that the Incas would rule again with British support, and because Spain was now fighting the British in North America, it looked to him like the prophecy would soon be fulfilled.

Condorcanqui's responsibilities included collecting debt payments and taxes, and he showed so little enthusiasm for those hated tasks, that the governor of his home town threatened him with death. Deciding this was the time to act, Condorcanqui changed his name to Tupac Amaru, the name of the last Inca king, claimed to be a direct descent of the original Tupac Amaru, and organized the Indians to launch a revolt.(20) The first act of the revolt, in November 1780, was at a banquet, where they seized the governor mentioned above while he was drunk, and hung him. In the surrounding provinces, the Indians stopped working and started marching toward Cuzco. The first clash between Indians and government troops, at the town of Sangarara, was a major victory for Tupac; between 300 and 600 Spaniards were killed, compared with 15 dead and 30 wounded for the Indians. Meanwhile other anti-tax revolts sprang up in Upper Peru, Chile and the nearest part of Argentina; the leader of the Bolivian revolt, an Aymara Indian named Tupac Katari, was very similar to the Peruvian Tupac.

Tupac Amaru banknote.

Here is how Tupac Amaru looked, when his face appeared on Peruvian currency in the 1980s.

But that was as far as the rebels could get. The Sangarara massacre, and reports that the Indians wanted to kill every white person they could get their hands on, made sure that no sympathetic whites would join Tupac. The men he did have on his side vastly outnumbered the Spanish army, but they were untrained, and thus no match for soldiers led by experienced European officers. The lack of discipline among the rebels showed immediately after Sangarara, when they ignored an order from Tupac's wife Micaela (one of the commanders) to attack Cuzco, and fortified the captured town instead. The Spanish army, which included loyalist Indians, won every battle and skirmish after that. Finally, Tupac Amaru was betrayed by two of his officers and captured. One day in May 1781, Tupac Amaru was forced to witness the execution of his family, then tied to four horses and publicly torn into quarters.

The revolts showed that Spanish colonial society had a serious shortcoming: it was based on racial prejudice. The closer a Spanish citizen could trace his roots to Europe, the more opportunities he had. At the very top of the pecking order were the Peninsulares, those who were born in Spain. In the sixteenth century almost all whites in the New World were Peninsulares, but as some settled down in the colonies and raised families, the percentage of European-born colonists declined. By 1800 there were 17 million people in Spanish America, of which 3 million were white, and among the whites, the Peninsulares numbered 40,000--just 0.23 percent of the total population. Though the Peninsulares were obviously in short supply, all the good jobs in the government, and all the high positions in the Church, were reserved to them. And the Peninsulares had the arrogance to match their privileges. As Alexander von Humboldt, the German naturalist who visited South America in the early nineteenth century, put it, "The lowest, least educated and uncultured European believes himself superior to the white born in the New World."

Next came the Creoles (criollos in Spanish), people of European descent born in the Americas. Though they were as white as the Peninsulares, and could be just as rich, they were like the plebeians of the Roman Republic; they could not have a job with real power. Normally the only place where they could exercise political power was in the town councils, called cabildos, and even there duties were limited, and funds were scarce. For a long time they accepted this arrangement; a Creole with a complaint would denounce corruption and the king's servants, but never question the authority of the king himself. A common slogan heard among the Creoles was “Viva el rey y muera el mal gobierno!” (“Long live the king and death to bad government!”) Gradually, though, a few Creoles began to argue that Spain would never tolerate a semi-independent Latin America. They called for a clean break with the mother country; for them independence was the only solution to corruption imposed by Spain.

Many Creoles were encouraged by news of revolutions against the kings of England and France. Nationalists read and smuggled the books of the Enlightenment authors who had inspired the American and French revolutionaries: Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, and John Locke. However, some paid dearly for their independent thoughts. Antonio Narino, a brilliant young Creole from Bogota, tried to publish a Spanish translation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the creed of the French Revolution, and this act of “treason” sent him to jail for ten years. But the spirit of rebellion could not be crushed by cruel punishments; instead it spread upward through the social classes, until it reached the wealthy but resentful Creoles. Now, after seeing how revolutions shook North America and France, they realized that all the good things in life did not have to go to the European-born minority. That was when the rebel movements of South America found their leaders.

Though the Creoles might lament being second-class citizens, they were far better off than the nonwhites who made up the majority of Latin Americans. Usually all nonwhite classes were simply called pardos or coloreds. A huge gap existed between the Creoles and the most privileged among the pardos, the Mestizos. Beneath the Mestizos came the mulattoes, people of mixed European-African ancestry. Some Mestizos and mulattoes with light-colored skin tried to get the courts or the government to declare them white. They didn't do this because they thought of themselves as superior, but because if they succeeded, it would open doors of opportunity all around. The laws and customs of Spanish America favored whites, kept pardos from getting an education, and even determined where a person could sit in a church.

Under the mulattoes were free Indians, free blacks, and the zambos, those of mixed African-Indian ancestry. At the bottom of the heap were most of the Indians and black slaves. Officially the Indians were not slaves, but they might as well have been slaves. Although the encomienda system was a thing of the past, Indians were still often put on forced labor projects or encouraged to borrow money at usurious interest rates that kept them from paying back their debts. The small wages Indians earned were heavily taxed, and the Church demanded regular offerings, too. Both the working Indians and the slaves had two chances of getting ahead--slim and none.

The new freedom in trade only satisfied a few people in the colonies. Some merchants complained that the reforms did not go far enough; others were ruined when they could not compete with cheaper foreign imports. And the overall increase in trade made the colonies more dependent on commerce; consequently they suffered badly when a war interrupted trade. This happened with the American Revolution in the 1780s and the French Revolution in the 1790s; both times Spain took the side of France, so the British navy blockaded the colonies as part of its global strategy. Now the Creoles in the colonies began to resent the Spanish government, for dragging them into distant wars that hurt their businesses; add that to the resentment caused by higher taxes, social and racial tensions. The Creoles weren't mad enough to revolt yet, but Britain dropped a few hints which said that if the colonists wanted independence, Britain would help them get it, in return for new trade agreements with London.

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Brazil: Expansion Inland, and to the South

When we last looked at Brazil, Portugal and the Netherlands were competing to control as much of the Brazilian coast as possible. In the end the Portuguese won out, by taking Recife in 1654; the Dutch abandoned their last Brazilian settlements in 1661. However, the Portuguese victory did not come from their own efforts, but because the Dutch were now busy elsewhere. After they lost John Maurice, the Dutch West India Company could not find a leader as good as he was. Even more important, the Dutch were no longer fighting for independence from Spain, and when the war ended, their chief ally, England, became their chief rival. Fortunately that rivalry wasn't a permanent one. England and the Netherlands went back to being allies in 1688, when William III became the ruler of both countries, and by then France's king, Louis XIV, was threatening both of them in Europe.

Like the English and Spanish colonies in the New World, Brazil offered more opportunities to an ambitious person than the mother country did. So many Portuguese citizens crossed the Atlantic to take advantage of these opportunities that the king of Portugal became concerned about his country becoming depopulated, so in 1709 he decreed there would be no more emigration to Brazil. Nevertheless, another 400,000 settlers, one fifth of Portugal's estimated population, moved to Brazil over the course of the eighteenth century.

In Chapter 2 we saw the Portuguese settlers put the Indians to work on their sugar plantations; then they got better results when they switched to black slave laborers. Unfortunately they did not leave the Indians alone after that. African slaves were expensive, so those settlers who could not afford them pushed into the interior, looking for Indians to enslave (they called the Indians “red gold”). Previously most of the interior had been undisturbed by Europeans; now they formed raiding parties of 200-300 men, and stayed away from the coast for months or years at a time. They lived off the land by hunting and fishing, or if they stayed in one spot for a while, by planting a crop of corn or manioc. Their companies were organized to the point that each carried its own flag, so we call them bandeirantes (“followers of the banner”).

The bandeirantes were the Portuguese answer to the Spanish conquistadors; both were greedy men, primarily interested in acquiring gold, gems and laborers. The Indians found their impact devastating, because the bandeirantes roamed all the way to the eastern foothills of the Andes, south to the banks of the Parana and Rio de la Plata, or as far north as the Amazon River. Wherever they went, they protected themselves from arrows with heavily padded cotton jackets, exterminated whole villages, and drove the tribes deeper into the jungle. Those captured Indians who survived the long trek to the coast were either put to work on the farms and ranches around places like Sao Paulo, or sold to slavers headed elsewhere. Many of the bandeirantes were part Indian, due to the practice of raiders fathering children with Indian women (the Portuguese equivalent of the word Mestizo was Mameluco), but that did not make them sympathetic to their victims. Ironically, they reaped the biggest human harvest near the Paraguayan border, because of the Jesuit missions; the Indians in this area were easy to locate and capture, and slavers wanted them because they had some education and were Christians already.

Nobody will blame you if you think the behavior of the bandeirantes was disgraceful; they are the reason why in modern Brazil, you will only find Indians in the interior, and their population is a fraction of the number that once lived there. Nowadays it is estimated that the bandeirantes killed or enslaved more than half a million Indians. At the time, the bandeirantes justified the killing and enslavement of Indians because most of the ones they met practiced cannibalism and refused to embrace Christianity. Modern Brazilians see the bandeirantes as heroes of sorts, much in the way that Anglo-Americans used to view the cowboys and cavalrymen that tamed the North American West. On the flag of Sao Paulo is a Latin motto that comes from the bandeirantes; It says “Non ducor, duco,” meaning "I am not led, I lead."(21) In the process of taming South America's interior, they also took it away from Spain. Because the 1494 treaty line crossed jungles and swamps, it was not only an indefensible line, but people couldn't be sure where the line actually ran, so it was asking too much for all parties to honor the treaty to the letter. The result was that, led by the bandeirantes, the Portuguese crossed over to the Spanish side of the line while Spain was preoccupied with exploiting the riches of the Andes. When Spain realized that it had lost most of the Amazon basin by default, four years of negotiations followed, to produce a new treaty that was more realistic than the old one. This agreement, the 1750 Treaty of Madrid, gave Portugal most of the land that Brazil holds today. Brazil's westernmost point is only 375 miles from the Pacific.

The bandeirantes were not the only people who moved inland; so did escaped slaves. Life on the sugar plantations was so brutal that some slaves starved themselves to death, or killed their babies so they would not grow up to become slaves. There are also reports from the colonial era of sabotage, theft, work slowdowns, strikes and revolts. If they managed to escape, there was safety in numbers, so they formed communities of ex-slaves, called quilombos. Like Yanga, the community for ex-slaves in Mexico (see Chapter 2, footnote #52), most of the quilombos were located in the mountains of the interior, because they would have been too easy to defeat if they had been on the coast. Some were hidden too well; they were completely isolated from white Brazilians until the second half of the twentieth century.

In the modern-day state of Alagoas, the quilombos even got together to form a state, the Republic of Palmares, which lasted from 1605 to 1694. Estimates of the population of Palmares at its peak range from 11,000 to 20,000; it was a home not only for blacks seeking freedom, but also Indians, people of mixed ancestry, and poor whites--basically anyone who wanted to get away from the orderly society on the coast. The local government and culture had many sources, but it most resembled that of Angola, because most of Brazil's slaves came from Angola (the kingdom of Kongo, to be exact). Under the two most important rulers of Palmares, Ganga Zumba and his son-in-law Zumbi, their citizens developed the techniques of guerrilla warfare. This allowed the Palmaristas to go on raids to capture female citizens for the quilombos, for like other Latin American communities in the colonial era, they often suffered from a shortage of women. They also had the strength to defeat six Portuguese expeditions sent to conquer them. Finally, Palmares fell when Pedro Almeida, the governor of Pernambuco, organized another army against it, and put it under the command of two bandeirantes, Domingos Jorge Velho and Bernardo Vieira de Melo.

This wasn't the end of the quilombos, though. Slaves continued to escape to them, right up until slavery was abolished in 1888. Today there are more than 700 villages in Brazil that got started as quilombos.

Those slaves who could not escape physically, did it mentally and spiritually. We noted in the previous chapter that the slaves preserved African religion and culture, usually by hiding their traditional gods behind the Catholic saints and rituals imposed on them by their master. Also, they invented Brazil's martial art, capoeira, to defend themselves without weapons.

Meanwhile in the south, gold was discovered in 1693. It happened in the hills of Minas Gerais, the nearest inland territory to Rio de Janeiro, and the bandeirantes were the ones who found it, when they weren't busy chasing and killing Indians. It wasn't a small find; for much of the eighteenth century Brazil was the world's biggest gold producer; even diamonds were found in the same area a few years later. Previously Brazil did not have any mineral wealth worth exploiting, so the king of Portugal was delighted to know that Brazil would give him the same kind of income that Mexico, Upper Peru and Colombia were generating for Spain.

The gold led to the first gold rush in the western hemisphere's history. Minas Gerais went from having no white residents, to a population of 30,000 in 1710, to 500,000 by 1800. Boomtowns, decorated with beautiful baroque style art, sprang up to accommodate the new arrivals. We estimate that one third of the two million slaves brought to Brazil in the eighteenth century were sent to dig and pan for gold; for many of them, this was tougher than working on the sugar plantations. It also led to a more diverse economy. Before 1700, Brazil's biggest money-earner was sugar; now some sugar farmers switched to cotton, because it was easy to grow, and the demand for cotton to supply textile factories was driving up the price, especially after the Industrial Revolution got underway in the late eighteenth century.

Coffee was originally grown in Ethiopia, but nowadays if you ask somebody where coffee comes from, chances are he will say Brazil or Colombia. Brazilians will tell you that coffee was introduced to their country by an army officer named Francisco de Mello Palheta, who visited French Guiana in the eighteenth century and brought back a handful of coffee beans, a gift from his girlfriend. Whether or not this story is true, some farmers planted coffee beans in the neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, and like cotton, coffee turned out to be a great cash crop. This would lead to a “coffee cycle” in Brazilian history, after the sugar, gold and cotton cycles.

Gold production peaked before 1750, and in the slump that followed, the settlers of Minas Gerais began returning to the coast. Many of them ended up in Rio de Janeiro, the nearest port. Because Rio had grown so fast and had taken over much of Brazil's economy, the capital of the colony was moved from Bahia to Rio in 1763.

From 1751 to 1777 the real leader of Portugal was its forward-thinking prime minister, the Marquis of Pombal, and Rio de Janeiro benefited from his reforms; Pombal made the Brazilian government more efficient, promoted native-born Brazilians to public office, and encouraged the expansion of agriculture and those industries which did not compete with Portuguese industries. In 1755 Pombal decreed that the Indians could not be enslaved, because they were Portuguese citizens, too.

Before the gold ran out, Minas Gerais also produced Brazil's first independence movement. The leader was a merchant named Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, but he is better known by the nickname of Tiradentes (Tooth-Puller), because he was also a part-time dentist. A true child of the Enlightenment, Tiradentes read the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau; he also was a great admirer of British industry and the American Revolution, and passed out copies of the US Constitution when they became available. As a second lieutenant in the Minas Gerais militia, he saw first hand how the province was squeezed to give Portugal as much wealth as possible. Gold production in the region was declining, but Portugal insisted that the local residents pay as much in taxes as they did before, so the tax collectors became more brutal. This convinced Tiradentes that the people would be better off without a distant monarch collecting his share from them. He gathered like-minded folks around him, formed a group called the Inconfidência Mineira (Minas Gerais Conspiracy), and called for the emancipation of slaves and the establishment of an independent republic, with its capital at his birthplace, São João del Rei.

Tiradentes scheduled the revolution to begin on a tax collection day in February 1789, when the people were most likely to be upset, but that was as far as he got. A member of the movement reported them to the authorities, in return for them waiving the taxes he owed; the government canceled tax collections on the due date, and arrested all the rebels. The trial of the rebels lasted almost three years, and here Tiradentes eloquently spoke in favor of freedom and republicanism. Ten of the rebels were sentenced to death, but the queen issued a royal pardon that exiled nine of them to Angola and Mozambique instead. There was no pardon for Tiradentes, though, because he claimed full responsibility for the failed revolution. He was publicly hanged in 1792, and his body was cut into pieces and sent to different parts of the province, as a stark warning for others not to follow in his footsteps. And that wasn't all; his house was destroyed and salt scattered on the where it stood so that nothing would grow on the land, and one description of the execution claims that soldiers recorded the event by using Tiradentes' blood as ink on a manuscript.

Tiradentes is a hero in modern Brazil, but his vindication did not come right away. That would happen a century after his arrest, when the last Brazilian emperor was overthrown (1889); understandably Tiradentes wasn't popular with the ruling class, as long as monarchs were in charge. Today the date of his martyrdom is a national holiday, one of the towns in Minas Gerais has been renamed Tiradentes, and the old town hall of Ouro Prêto has a museum in his honor.

The next plot took place in Bahia, the province of Brazil that lost the most from all the changes that happened in the eighteenth century. This one is called the “Conspiracy of the Tailors,” because several of the participants were tailors, though the largest group among them were soldiers who were paid wages so low that they needed a second job to make ends meet. Unlike the Inconfidência Mineira, which involved white Brazilians, most of these conspirators were black or mulatto (only ten of the thirty-four put on trial were white), so sometimes we also call them the Black Jacobins. What they had in common was that all came from the lower classes of society. In 1798 they placed seditious posters in the heavy-traffic areas of Salvador, calling for an independent Republic of Bahia, the abolition of slavery, and equality. Three arrests were made, and the rest of the conspirators tried to hold a rally in a field, but it was a disaster; only fourteen of the two hundred invited showed up. Then police investigations led to thirty-four more arrests, nipping this revolt in the bud, though we know that the total number of people in the movement, both free men and slaves, was much larger. The trials of those captured took most of 1799; four were hanged, drawn and quartered like Tiradentes, while most of the rest were exiled. After that, political life returned to normal. The Conspiracy of the Tailors never captured the imagination of future Brazilian generations, the way the Inconfidência Mineira did, perhaps because this conspiracy involved ordinary people, most of whom were not well educated, so they did not make great speeches or write exciting books.

South of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, there was military expansion. The land east of the Rio de la Plata, called Banda Oriental del Uruguay by Spain (“eastern strip of the Uruguay River”), had been ignored by Spain and Portugal in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. According to both the 1494 and 1750 treaties, it was on the Spanish side of the line, but the Portuguese thought they could claim the land by settling it first, as they had done with the Amazon basin. In 1680 the Portuguese moved in and founded a colony, Colonia do Sacramento, across the bay from Buenos Aires, and it quickly became a point of contention between Spain and Portugal. Spain captured the colony later in the same year, but it was returned to Portugal in 1681. Then Spain conquered it again in 1705, during the war of the War of the Spanish Succession, and gave it back a second time with the Treaty of Utrecht. After that, Spain unsuccessfully attacked Colonia in the mid-1730s, took it in 1762, returned it when the Seven Years War ended a year later, took it once more in 1777, and held it until revolutions brought down the Spanish Empire. Meanwhile east of Colonia, a Spanish expedition from Buenos Aires founded the future capital of Uruguay, Montevideo (1726).

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The Haitian Revolution

As the American Revolution passed into history, the world turned its attention to France, where the upheavals called the French Revolution began in 1789. The French Revolution and its aftermath, the Napoleonic Wars, would keep Europe busy for the next quarter century. Although French revolutionaries claimed they were inspired by the American Revolution, the European wars they started, the Reign of Terror, and the relative stability of the United States all told the world that the French Revolution was a very different animal from the American one.

At first (until the radical Jacobins took over the French government in 1792), it looked like the French Revolutionaries would imitate their American teachers. For example, they had several meetings to discuss what kind of society they were creating. One of those attending such meetings was Vincent Ogé (1755?-91), a wealthy mulatto from St. Domingue who happened to be on a business trip in Paris when the revolution broke out. He started by joining a local anti-slavery group, the Society of the Friends of the Blacks, and then the leaders of that group started attending the meetings of the National Assembly. There, during a debate over citizenship, Ogé spoke out, arguing that men of mixed-race ancestry were the most loyal French citizens in the colonies, so they should be treated the same as whites. He did not call for abolishing slavery, because back home he owned slaves himself; instead, like the pardos in the Spanish colonies, he wanted to his class to have equal status with the whites, claiming this would make the existing system stronger.

The National Assembly considered Ogé a nuisance and refused to let him be seated as a delegate from St. Domingue, though later, in March 1790, it passed an amendment that promised full citizenship and equality to all free men who owned property. This was just the kind of declaration that Ogé wanted, so he returned to St. Domingue and put pressure on the colonial government to grant voting rights to all wealthy free men of color.(22) Unfortunately the governor was no more interested in Ogé's ideas than the National Assembly was, so Ogé gathered between 250 and 300 free nonwhite men like himself, and launched a revolt against the colonial government. It got nowhere, because the colonial militia was larger and better-trained. The rebels were driven across the border into the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo, where Ogé and twenty-three of his followers were captured. They surrendered because the Spaniards promised to keep them safe, but instead they were handed over to their enemies in St. Domingue. Ogé was executed by being broken on the wheel, and many of his men also received punishments more appropriate to medieval times than the so-called “Age of Reason.” As you might expect, this only made the all-white government look like a brutal tyranny to the nonwhite subjects who made up the vast majority of the colony's population.(23)

Ogé was right; the only people on St. Domingue who cared for France's revolutionary government were free citizens of color. The whites, seeing how the American Revolution turned out, thought they would be better off in an independent state, while the slaves, if they cared for anything beyond their freedom, tended to favor the old monarchy or the British. That left the free men of color(24) in the middle, and they saw the government in Paris as their protector against the other social classes. Up until now, the slaves had played no part in colonial politics, because neither the whites nor Ogé wanted them in their armies--both groups saw the slaves as nothing but property.

However, that was about to change. Now that the colony's free men were divided, the slaves decided to try their luck. At a voodoo ceremony on August 14, 1791, the call for revolt was made, and the rebellion's first leaders were chosen. The next week saw slaves spreading the word to other slaves, and then on August 21, there were uprisings all over the colony. Most of the Northern Province was overrun in ten days, except for a handful of fortified camps where the whites held out. The slaves sought revenge on their masters, the children of the masters, and even the pets of the masters, subjecting them to pillage, rape, torture, mutilation and death. In addition they stole weapons and uniforms from armories, so they could start forming military units of their own, and burned down hundreds of plantations. The initial response of Paris was to send 18,000 soldiers to restore order, slavery and French control. However, the Assembly did not have that much power, and in the end it could only get 6,000 soldiers to go. Even worse, many whites on St. Domingue refused to cooperate with the free men of color against the slaves, so by the time the commissioners and their troops arrived, the rebellion had turned into a three-sided civil war.

By early 1792, the situation was so bad for France that the Legislative Assembly granted full civil and political rights to all free men of color in the colonies. This was exactly what Ogé and his followers had fought and died for, just a year earlier. However, the whites in the colonies weren't likely to comply, so a three-man commission was sent to enforce the decree and strengthen the men of color, who were now the only group on the side of France in St. Domingue. One of the commissioners, Leger Felicite Sonthonax, turned out to be a diplomatic genius. In no time he won over both the men of color and the poorer whites to the cause of France, by promising them arms and the full backing of the French government. By January 1793, four months after his arrival, Sonthonax had achieved all three of his goals:

  1. He had contained the slave rebellion. Although he had not crushed it completely, he was negotiating with the slave leaders over how many of them would be pardoned when the fighting stopped, with the rest of the slaves returning to the plantations.
  2. He had defeated the rebellion of les grand blancs, the rich whites.
  3. He kept the colony in French hands.
At this point Sonthonax could have gone home a hero, but events back in France undid his work completely. First the Reign of Terror began, with the execution of King Louis XVI; this alienated many of the folks in the colonies, especially the whites. Then the French summoned the whirlwind of chaos, by declaring war on Britain, to rally support behind the regime at home. Britain blockaded St. Domingue with its navy, and began making plans to invade the colony from nearby Jamaica.(25) Most of St. Domingue's whites fled to Jamaica or the United States during the next few months; meanwhile the slaves went over to Spain, and Spain started sending them arms and supplies from their side of the island. The only effective weapon the French had was revolutionary ideology. In June Sonthonax got an army to 15,000 slaves to join him against the toughest white rebel by promising them freedom, and as soon as that rebel was defeated he felt compelled to free the wives and children of those soldiers as well. This offended the non-slaves (until now Sonthonax had said he didn't come to abolish slavery), but the slaves were the largest social group in the colony, and once he started freeing slaves, in order to keep their support, he couldn't stop until he had freed them all, so on August 29, 1793, he proclaimed that all slaves in the colony were now free.(26)

But such a strategy cuts both ways; when a slave revolt broke out on Guadeloupe, that island's upper class asked the British to take over, because France was now on the side of the slaves. The British were happy to do so; in 1793-94 they occupied all of the French islands in the Lesser Antilles, and effectively suppressed all black uprisings in that island chain.(27) In September 1793 the British also began their invasion of St. Domingue; by January 1794 the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the whole southern half of the colony was in British hands. The ex-slaves were wary about switching from Spain to France; they wanted proof that the French really meant what they said. The first leader of an ex-slave army to come over was François Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture (1743-1803)(28), and he waited until May 1794, nine months after Sonthonax made his proclamation, to change sides. He also did it because he and the Spaniards no longer trusted each other, and he wasn't getting along well with the other militia commanders.

Toussaint's defection was the break that the French needed. Against Spain and his black rivals he made lightning guerrilla strikes, moving faster than anyone expected and keeping his movements hidden until he was ready to attack. Now a brigadier general in the French army, he beat the rival ex-slave militias so badly that one militia commander went into exile in Spain, and another went to Florida. Having been defeated, both on St. Domingue and in Europe, Spain signed a peace treaty in June 1795 that ceded the eastern half of the island to France. Consequently all of Hispaniola would be called St. Domingue for the next few years. Toussaint didn't do as well against the British army, but in the long run it did not matter. A virulent outbreak of yellow fever made the British expeditionary force so miserable that it was withdrawn in 1798, after negotiating an agreement in which Toussaint promised not to invade Jamaica.

Meanwhile, Toussaint turned against two mulatto generals, Andre Rigaud and Jean Baptiste Villatte; these two were plotting to capture and depose Etienne Laveaux, the current governor, now that the French government favored the blacks more than the free men of color. Villatte seized Laveaux in March 1796, but Toussaint defeated the mulattoes and rescued him two days later; Laveaux rewarded Toussaint by making him the island's lieutenant governor. Toussaint didn't feel that St. Domingue was ready to stand on its own as an independent nation, so he was happy to call himself a French citizen--as long as the French authority over him existed in name only. However, Laveaux and Sonthonax (who had just returned to lead another French commission) stood in the way of him doing whatever he wanted. He got rid of Laveaux by staging an election that made him St. Domingue's representative in France's Assembly; seeing that Toussaint was now the most powerful man on the island, the governor left quietly.(29) Toussaint tried the same treatment on Sonthonax, but mere words could not persuade him to leave, so in August 1797 an armed escort put Sonthonax on a ship and sent him back to France, never to return; a fine example of the tail wagging the dog for sure! Then a civil war between the black and mulatto armies in 1799-1800 resulted in the latter's defeat, and Rigaud left the island, too. 1801 saw Toussaint conquer the eastern half of the island, which still had a Spanish governor and Spanish troops, despite the 1795 treaty. Toussaint was now the undisputed ruler of all St. Domingue.

Back in France, Napoleon Bonaparte had seized power in 1799, launching the spectacular adventure of the First French Empire. This was mostly a European affair, but because Napoleon had both unlimited ambition and unlimited energy, he made some plans for the New World. One of his acts was to announce that France would draw up a new constitution for its colonies, which would be like the constitution for France except for some “special laws.” Many took this to mean the re-introduction of slavery, so Toussaint beat Napoleon to it, by having his own constitution written in 1801. This document claimed St. Domingue was still part of France, but exempted it from all special laws and made Toussaint governor for life with near-absolute powers.

Napoleon didn't trust Toussaint L'Ouverture, whom he considered an upstart. For example, Toussaint was only supposed to sell sugar to France, but instead he sold some to Britain and the United States, because they paid more for it. Napoleon wanted someone who would follow his orders to the letter, and while Toussaint continued to express loyalty to France, his position was so strong that he could declare St. Domingue's independence whenever he felt like it. Because neither he nor Napoleon came from old aristocratic families, they probably could have made a deal, but Napoleon preferred military solutions, and decided to bring him down. To this end he prepared an expeditionary force of 20,000 men, entrusted it to his brother-in-law, General Charles Leclerc, and gave him these three instructions:

  1. Get the black leaders to surrender quickly, by promising that under Napoleon, they would remain in positions of authority.
  2. Break that promise once he was in control, by arresting and deporting any black leader who might cause trouble, especially Toussaint L'Ouverture.
  3. Disarm the blacks, return the colony to slavery, and basically restore the society that existed before the French Revolution began.(30)
Leclerc reached St. Domingue on February 2, 1802, just offshore from Cap Francois. The black general defending that city, Henri Christophe, burned it down to keep Leclerc from taking it intact. Otherwise the campaign went well for the French; the only place where they met much resistance was at Crete-a-Pierrot, a former British fort and native arsenal. By the beginning of May, both Christophe and Toussaint had surrendered, and the first part of Napoleon's plan for the colony was complete. Toussaint promptly retired to his plantation, but one month later he was accused of plotting against the French, arrested, and put on a ship headed for France; he died in a French prison in April 1803.

This act of treachery, and Leclerc's subsequent efforts to disarm the blacks, caused a resumption of the anti-French rebellion. Toussaint's two most important generals, Henri Christophe and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, fought on the side of the French at first, but they saw which way the wind was blowing. In October both of them switched sides to lead the rebels again; by that time, only the cities of Port-au-Prince, Cap Francois and Le Cayes were still firmly under French control.

On November 2, 1802, the rebel leaders met at the village of Arcahaye, and elected Dessalines as their commander-in-chief. According to the story, at the meeting Dessalines took a French Tricolor flag, tore out the white part of it, and then told the cheering crowd that they would drive the whites off the island, too; thus, red and blue have been the colors of Haiti ever since. On the same day, General Leclerc died of yellow fever. He was succeeded by Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, vicomte de Rochambeau, the son of the Rochambeau that led the French army from New England to Yorktown in the American Revolution. This Rochambeau was no friend of freedom; in a letter to Napoleon, he wrote that in order to reclaim Saint-Domingue, France must “declare the negroes slaves, and destroy at least 30,000 negroes and negresses.” Then he went forth to do just that, burning, raping, torturing, hanging and drowning any black prisoners he got his hands on. Encouraged because it looked like France had gotten the upper hand in the Caribbean (he had just restored slavery on Guadeloupe), Napoleon sent another 15,000 troops to St. Domingue in early 1803. The blacks responded with atrocities of their own, so the last year of the Haitian Revolution was the bloodiest, turning a war for independence into a war of extermination between blacks and whites.

There were other signs that Napoleon's plans for the New World weren't going to succeed. In 1800 he had taken the territory on the North American mainland between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains (then called “Louisiana”) from Spain, and the United States, hoping to eventually settle this region, was definitely displeased. Worse than that, the same yellow fever epidemic that had afflicted the British had now spread to the French; by late 1803, two-third of the French soldiers succumbed to it. Finally, in May 1803 the Napoleonic Wars resumed in Europe; Britain declared war on France, instituted a new blockade on French shipping (meaning that no more French reinforcements could be sent overseas), and Britain began giving arms and naval support to Dessalines.

Napoleon cut his losses by selling Louisiana to the United States, in the famous Louisiana Purchase.(31) However, there wasn't anything he could do for his troops. After the last battle (the battle of Vertières on November 18, 1803), Dessalines gave Rochambeau ten days to get what remained of the French army out of St. Domingue. The French withdrew to the eastern side of the island, which they managed to hold for a few more years. On the first day of 1804, Dessalines declared western St. Domingue independent, and brought back the old Taino name for Hispaniola, by calling the new nation Haiti (“Land of Mountains”).(32)

The rest of the world did not know what to make of Haiti. Its people had recently been slaves, were poor and mostly uneducated, but had nevertheless won their freedom by beating the armies of Great Britain, Spain and France, and they established the second independent nation in the western hemisphere. Nations that owned slaves, like the United States, did not want their slaves to think that they could imitate the Haitians. In the Spanish colonies, nationalists didn't want independence if it was achieved with a Haitian-style revolution, because most of them were white; they were better off under the crown of Spain than at the mercy of the non-white multitudes around them. Consequently most of the world wanted nothing to do with Haiti for many years, even after Haiti gave shelter to Simón Bolívar at the lowest point of his career. Haiti was not invited to the first conference for the nations of the western hemisphere (held in Panama, in 1826), and France demanded 150 million francs to cover the loss of land, slaves, tools, etc. belonging to former colonists, before it would recognize Haitian independence. This amount was later reduced to 90 million francs, and Haiti paid it to end an embargo imposed on the country by France, Britain and the United States; France finally recognized Haiti in 1838. To make that payment the Haitian government had to borrow 70 million francs in a series of high-interest loans, which were not paid off until 1947. The United States recognized Haiti in 1862, because the American Civil War was raging at this point, and the southern states that had previously rejected such a move had seceded. Appropriately, the first US minister (ambassador) to Haiti was Frederick Douglass, the famous Abolitionist.

Haitian Revolution lynching.
Most slave rebellions are doomed to fail; chances are, the master's soldiers will be better armed and better trained. Next to the ancient Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, the Haitian Revolution is the most successful slave rebellion of all time.

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The Liberation of Latin America Begins

The Napoleonic Wars were a disaster for four European empires: the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese and the Spanish. France technically ruled all of them during this time, but because Britain had a better navy, the French could not defend what they claimed outside of Europe. The fact that France and Britain were at war again gave the British the excuse they needed to pick off French colonies wherever they liked. And because France conquered the Netherlands in 1795, the Dutch Empire became a target, too; over the next twenty years the British occupied South Africa, Dutch Guiana, Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) and Java. France's occupation of Portugal in 1807 started the chain of events that led to Portugal's most important colony, Brazil, declaring independence; that will be covered later in this chapter. As for the Spanish Empire, French occupation of it launched a series of anti-French, anti-Spanish uprisings. When the dust cleared from those, the Spanish Empire was almost completely destroyed; Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam and the Canary Islands were the only colonies left. In this section we will look at the first stage of those revolutions.

Latin America, 1804-48.

The locations and dates of the Latin American revolutions.

The rebellions of the eighteenth century, especially the one launched by Tupac Amaru, showed that Spain was still firmly in control. The Spanish colonies were far richer than the British colonies in North America had ever been; Mexico City and Lima were larger cities than Philadelphia, Boston and New York. Though Spain had grown weaker over time, anti-Spanish rebels had little chance of success as long as (a) they were trying to bring back an old society, instead of trying to create a new one, and (b) nothing bad happened to Spain itself. That would all abruptly change, soon after the nineteenth century began.

The first shock came in the south. Because Spain was again allied with France against Britain, in June 1806 a British expeditionary force sailed from South Africa, invaded the Rio de la Plata, and occupied Buenos Aires. The British probably expected this would be like the occupation of Havana and Manila in 1762--no resistance from the locals, and after the war the city would be traded for something else Britain wanted. Before the invasion, Rafael de Sobremonte, the viceroy of the Rio de la Plata, had repeatedly asked Spain for reinforcements, and Madrid sent a shipment of muskets with orders to recruit a new militia from the local population. Instead, the viceroy sent the muskets to Montevideo, expecting that the British would attack there. When the invasion came, the unprepared viceroy fled, and the rich people of Buenos Aires welcomed the British. What ruined Britain's plan was that the local general, Santiago de Liniers, recruited soldiers from the poor people in Buenos Aires, while a lieutenant named José Gervasio Artigas (1764-1850) brought in the militia from Montevideo. Together they gave the British such a beating that they surrendered, forty-six days after they had taken the city. Britain struck again in 1807, and got the same results. This time they took Montevideo; Artigas was captured in that battle, but managed to escape, and organized the local gauchos into a guerrilla force. Then when the British marched to Buenos Aires, several days of street fighting at their destination left half of them killed, wounded or captured, so they withdrew from both Buenos Aires and Montevideo.(33) Spanish authority was restored, but except for the shipload of guns, the colonists had done it without help from the mother country. This got them thinking about what else they might accomplish by themselves.(34)

Meanwhile, the Spanish Empire got another shock at the other end of South America. The Viceroyalty of New Granada had seen more revolutionary activity in recent years than any other part of the empire, but the nationalists could not agree on what sort of government they wanted. We saw in the previous section that some wanted to stay with the king of Spain, after seeing how Haiti won its independence. Others wanted to join Napoleon's empire, because Napoleon was doing so well right now. Still others sought to establish an independent US-style republic, or an independent dictatorship. Gradually they turned to the most charismatic individual among them, Sebastián Francisco de Miranda Ravelo y Rodríguez de Espinoza (1750-1816), better known simply as Francisco de Miranda.

Francisco de Miranda had excellent credentials to become the leader of a Latin American revolution. Born in Caracas, he was tall, handsome, and showed great taste in clothing. When he grew up, he became a commissioned officer in the Spanish army, and that allowed him to take part in the American Revolution; he saw action when Spain invaded Florida and the Bahamas. Later he became a general in the French Revolutionary Army, and there learned that revolutions can go too far. During the Reign of Terror, he was arrested and charged with conspiring against the Republic. The Jacobins were his chief attackers, but he defended himself so magnificently that the court acquitted him. Three months later (July 1793), he was arrested a second time; though in danger of being sent to the guillotine again, he mustered enough courage to accuse the Committee of Public Safety of tyranny, because it had disregarded his previous acquittal. This time the revolutionary government didn't know what to do with him, so they locked him up and threw away the key. When he finally got out of jail, in January 1795, the Reign of Terror was over, so the charges against him no longer mattered. Between those two revolutions he traveled all over Europe, and found a receptive audience when he called for independence from Spain(35); the friends he made in his travels included Russia's Catherine the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte.

In 1805 Miranda went to the United States and met with several key American figures, including President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison, but got no official support for his venture; that would have violated the current neutral status of the US in European conflicts. He did acquire a ship, though, and two more ships in Haiti, and had the informal backing of the British navy for what he wanted to do next--a landing in Venezuela to start an uprising against Spain. Alas, here Miranda showed he did not have the military skills to match his political skills. Before his squadron landed, it was attacked by Spanish warships, and only one of his ships escaped. After stops at Barbados and Trinidad to reorganize, Miranda's force returned in August 1806, landed on the coast of western Venezuela, took the town of Coro, and raised the flag Miranda had designed for an independent Venezuela. Unfortunately he did not receive the support he expected from his countrymen; the royalist troops simply left the town with some refugees to wait for reinforcements. Realizing that he could not hold Coro without local support, Miranda abandoned the town and spent the next year in the Caribbean, waiting for British support that never came. When he got tired of that, he fled to London, where his house became a meeting place for South American subversives.(36)

For Spain, the worst shock of all came right at home. Napoleon was tired of Spanish inefficiency, and decided to get rid of its corrupt king, Charles IV. In 1808 he sent an army into the Iberian Peninsula. At first it looked like the French soldiers were reinforcements, going to join the army that had just conquered Portugal, but instead of meeting in Lisbon, both armies marched on Madrid and overthrew the Spanish government. Realizing that he was the cause of this mess, Charles abdicated, hoping that both his subjects and the French would accept his son, Ferdinand VII. But Napoleon did not want either man; he sent the whole royal family to a prison in France, and gave the Spanish crown to his brother, Joseph Bonaparte.

Naturally the Spanish people were outraged, and rose up in revolt almost immediately. At the time of Napoleon's invasion, the British were preparing a large force to go with Francisco de Miranda, in a second attempt on Venezuela; now instead it would go to Spain, where it would enter the Peninsular War. In the New World, Napoleon's act of nepotism suddenly united the Creoles, who agreed that first the French must go; whatever else they wanted could come later. Throughout the cities of Spanish America, colonists cried out, "Long live King Ferdinand!", and French agents/diplomats were driven away.

But the Spanish Empire was now headless; who would be in charge, if the Spanish monarch was gone and the people rejected a French one? In the spring and summer of 1808, several local councils called supreme juntas were established in areas controlled by rebels, each of them claiming to rule as a caretaker government until the king of Spain returned. They did recognize, though, that they needed to act in unity, both among themselves and with the British, to drive out the French, so in September the four strongest juntas merged to form the Junta Suprema Central; then the Junta Suprema Central called for the election of a parliament, called the Cortes. Unfortunately none of this meant much as long as the French were winning. Over the course of late 1808 and 1809, the French conquered all of southern Spain, until only the port of Cadiz was left to the Junta and the Cortes. When Cadiz came under siege in early 1810, the Junta dissolved itself; in its place it set up a five-man council called the Council of Regency, to act as a government in exile. In 1812 the Cortes passed a liberal constitution, meaning that if and when the king returned, he would be a constitutional monarch, not an absolute one.

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Bolívar and San Martin

Across the Atlantic, the Creoles now distrusted all Spanish officials, seeing them as French puppets. Why should they serve the Junta Suprema Central, the Cortes or the Council of Regency; who gave them their authority? Starting with Quito in 1809, the Creole population throughout South America deposed their powerless rulers, and set up juntas of their own to match the juntas in Spain. At first they called themselves subjects of the imprisoned Ferdinand, but soon they realized that with the mother country occupied by France, they were on their own, so they opened their ports to free trade. This arrangement worked so well that many Creoles wanted to keep it that way; initial success at self-government turned them into revolutionaries before they realized it. Consequently the war against France would be quickly followed by war against Spain.

The establishment of the juntas was soon followed by a series of independence declarations, on the north and south ends of South America. In 1810 the viceroys of both New Granada and the Rio de la Plata were deposed.(37) Chile set up its own junta in 1810, which at this stage said that it was only giving Chile temporary self-rule. In the Rio de la Plata region, the Spanish government fled to Montevideo, after it was ejected from Buenos Aires. The Buenos Aires junta sent a force to besiege Montevideo in 1811, but it failed to take the capital of Banda Oriental, and was recalled later in the same year, because the military situation in Upper Peru has started to deteriorate. Paraguay, like Banda Oriental, supported the Spanish crown, and did not want to be ruled by another colony, so Paraguay's last governor, Bernardo de Velasco, declared independence from Buenos Aires in 1810. Buenos Aires responded to Paraguay's declaration by sending 1,100 troops under General Manuel Belgrano to reconquer Asuncion, but he was defeated in two battles, at Paraguarí and Tacuari. Velasco was overthrown in the same year (1811), and the Spanish government in Banda Oriental was thrown out in 1814. In the Andes, a royalist army from Peru, which remembered Tupac Amaru's bloody rebellion, marched into Upper Peru and uprooted the pro-independence juntas in that silver-rich province. Thus, by 1815 only Peru and Upper Peru still had Spanish governors.

In a place as large and diverse as South America, it was only natural that more than one revolutionary leader would emerge. Among these, by far the most important were Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) in the north, and Jose de San Martin (1778?-1850) in the south. Because we are up to the part of the narrative where they got involved, let us briefly look at their early lives before we continue.

Jose de San Martin was born in Yapeyu, Argentina. His father, Juan de San Martin, was an ambitious Spanish officer and the governor of the small province containing Yapeyu. Thinking that Spain had more opportunites for him than the New World, the elder San Martin requested a transfer to Spain, and got it in 1785. Thus, Jose de San Martin grew up in Spain, and followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a cadet when he was eleven years old. Over the next two decades he saw action against the Moors in North Africa, the French in the Pyrenees, and the Portuguese in the brief 1801 war between Spain and Portugal. During the Peninsular War, he took part in the battle of Balien, which led to the first major French defeat and the recapture of Madrid; for his actions he was awarded a gold medal and promoted to lieutenant colonel. He fought in the Peninsular War for three more years, and then suddenly resigned from the army for reasons that he never explained, though we know he belonged to the Lodge of Rational Knights by that time (see footnote #36). In 1812 he sailed to Buenos Aires on a British ship, and offered his services to the revolutionary government there.

Jose de San Martin.

Jose de San Martin.

Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, a non-violent revolution had deposed the viceroy in May 1810. However, the series of short-lived dictators that came next only proved that the Rio de la Plata region was difficult to govern and impossible to unite. Showing that he was a genius at military organization, San Martin successfully defended the future nation of Argentina from attacks by Spanish forces based in Upper Peru, and was quickly promoted to the rank of general. There was also a threat from the west, after royalist forces reconquered Chile in 1814. Because of this, San Martin saw that the Rio de la Plata's newborn independence--officially declared at Tucumán in 1816--was in danger as long as Peru and Chile remained in Spanish hands. However, he knew what to do about it. In 1800 a Scottish general, Thomas Maitland, drew up a plan for the British conquest of South America, which called for four steps: land at Buenos Aires, march west to the city of Mendoza, cross over the Andes to capture Chile, and sail north to take Peru. The British never got to try the Maitland Plan, because they couldn't hold onto Buenos Aires, but San Martin would carry it out perfectly. Accordingly he went to Mendoza in 1814, got himself appointed governor of the Argentine slopes of the Andes, and began preparing for his Andes crossing.

North of Peru, Simón Bolívar was facing the ups and downs of leading a revolution.(38) The son of a very wealthy Creole landowner from Caracas, Bolívar was orphaned before he grew up; his father died when he was two and a half years old, his mother when he was nine. His uncle raised him after that, but the most important people in his life were the series of tutors hired for him. Chief among these were Andres Bello, the most outstanding educator of that time, and Simón Rodriguez, who encouraged him to read radical philosophical and political literature. In 1799 and 1803 he was sent on tours of Europe to complete his education. There he saw up close the weaknesses of Spain, and was caught up in the excitement of revolutionary France. He also learned that he wanted fame the most; when he witnessed Napoleon's coronation, he was thrilled by the love everyone in the crowd showed to their hero, and later wrote that to receive such honor must be the "pinnacle of man's desires." However, his admiration of Napoleon would remain a critical one. Later he met Alexander von Humboldt, who dropped another hint for him by saying, "I believe that your country is ready for its independence, but I cannot see the man who is to achieve it." But the most important point on his tour was in Rome, in 1805. There with his tutor Rodriguez, he climbed Monte Sacro, the hill that was the site for the most important event in the early years of the Roman Republic: the plebeian strike of 494 B.C. Overcome by emotion, Bolívar took his tutor's hand, and vowed to free his country from the oppression of Spanish rule. The course of his life was set.

Simón Bolívar.

Simón Bolívar.

Returning to South America in 1807, Bolívar took charge of the huge estates he had inherited. These lands gave him enough income to live comfortably for the rest of his days, and he managed them well, but he was always more concerned about the political condition of his homeland. He found other young Creoles who felt the same way, and they met regularly to plot how to achieve independence--all the while masking the real purpose of their meetings by reading literature or even gambling. When the 1810 revolutions came, the mild-mannered governor of Caracas stepped down peacefully, to be replaced by a junta of prominent Creoles. Bolívar was not among them, because the junta was composed of moderates who wanted to keep some sort of relationship with King Ferdinand, while Bolívar wanted to make a complete break and establish a republic. Still, he was one of the most articulate of the rebels, so when the junta decided to send a diplomatic mission to London, and Bolívar offered to pay for his passage if they picked him, he instantly became their ambassador.

Britain had helped Francisco de Miranda, but Bolívar could not persuade the British government to help him; the fact that Britain and Spain were now allies against Napoleon meant that Britain could no longer support rebellions in Spanish colonies. Therefore Bolívar's official mission was a failure, but he got a better reception at Miranda's house. Like everyone else, Bolívar was impressed by Miranda, so he asked his predecessor to come home and lead the revolution in Venezuela. Miranda accepted, and secretly slipped out of England because the British government wanted him to stay in London.

Early in 1811 the wealthy Creoles of Venezuela elected a legislature to represent them, the National Congress of Caracas. When they voted in July for independence from both Spain and New Granada, the measure passed with only one vote against it. There was no unity outside of Caracas, though; military units were as likely to support the crown or their own commanders as they were to support the republicans. The republicans themselves were soon divided, too; tragically, Bolívar and Miranda did not stay friends for long.

Even nature was against the revolution. On March 26, 1812--Maundy Thursday according to church calendars--a great earthquake instantly turned Caracas, the third largest city in South America, into rubble. Ten thousand people, almost a third of the city's population, perished in the buildings that came down. The clergy convinced many survivors that this was God's punishment for straying away from the king of Spain, so from the ruins they cried “Mercy, King Ferdinand!” Bolívar, however, took the earthquake to mean he had one more enemy to overcome, and declared, “If Nature opposes our designs, we shall fight against her, and make her obey.”

But he would have to fight human enemies first. A royalist army had formed at Coro, and a Spanish captain, Domingo de Monteverde, led it on the 200-mile march from there to Caracas. The royalists met almost no opposition; indeed, some savage slave revolts persuaded the Creoles sitting on the fence to stick with Spain, rather than trust in the republicans. When the royalists reached Caracas, Miranda decided that the people of his home town had suffered enough, so he surrendered on July 25, 1812. He also decided that it was time to get out of the revolution business (he was sixty-two years old by now), so he prepared to escape, only staying long enough to collect the money he would need for his retirement. But on the night before he was to leave, Miranda was arrested by Bolívar and several other officers, who accused him of treason and treachery, and handed him over to the royalists. The elder revolutionary was taken to Cadiz, Spain, where he died in prison four years later. Miranda had survived the American and French Revolutions, but he could not survive the revolution of his own people. As for Bolívar, he escaped to the island of Curacao. The First Republic of Venezuela had come to an inglorious end.(39)

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The Haitian Monarchy

After independence, only three countries in the western hemisphere tried government by monarchy: Haiti, Mexico and Brazil. For those of you who are trivia experts, Emperor Norton, the self-proclaimed emperor of San Francisco, does not count! In the rest, the revolutionaries were either inspired by Enlightenment authors who wrote about “popular government,”--where the rulers got their authority from the people, not from divine right--or they saw the United States succeed with such a government, and wanted the same system for themselves. Whatever the motivation, the usual result was a republic. And even the Brazilian emperors needed a constitution to make themselves legitimate rulers in the eyes of the people, as we will see later.

In this section we will look at Haiti's experiment with monarchy. Whereas Toussaint L'Ouverture had been a house slave under a kind master, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti's first head of state after independence, had been a field slave, so he was less forgiving where white people were concerned. When his aide, Boisrond-Tonnerre, declared, "For our declaration of independence, we should have the skin of a white man for parchment, his skull for an inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for a pen!", Dessalines reportedly agreed wholeheartedly, so those whites unlucky enough to be in the country at this point were massacred (needless to say, this kept Haiti from finding friends abroad for quite a while). Nonwhites did not fare much better; the old economy had been ruined by years of revolution, so to build a new economy, Dessalines restored the plantation system. Because Dessalines' only successful experience at organizing people came from the military, he used force to keep workers in the places they had been assigned to, with harsh penalties inflicted on runaways and those who gave them shelter.

The idea of government by monarchy came from France, of all places. Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor Napoleon I in 1804, and this inspired Dessalines to crown himself emperor, too, calling himself Jacques I from this point forward. This alienated a number of Haitians, especially those mulattoes who had an education; they made fun of the emperor (and most of his aides and officers) because they were ignorant and illiterate. Dessalines tried to make the mulattoes partners with marriages between their families and the ruling families, but this was recognized as a power grab; e.g., the highest ranking mulatto, Alexandre Pétion, refused the offer of the hand of the emperor's daughter. The men of color were also alarmed by how quickly corruption spread at the emperor's court.

Dessalines' practice of relying on the military established the practice that Haiti has seen ever since, of the military getting involved in government affairs. However, two things turned them against the emperor. The first was an unsuccessful expedition to the eastern half of the island in 1805, where they failed to dislodge the small French garrison still stationed in Santo Domingo. Even worse, Jacques I and his retinue took so much from the treasury that there wasn't enough left for military salaries and provisions. One day in 1806, the emperor led some troops to Port-au-Prince to crush a mulatto-led rebellion. Suddenly, the soldiers around Dessalines shot him and hacked his body to pieces; most likely they were hired by Pétion or another mulatto officer to assassinate him.

With Dessalines gone, the two most powerful men in Haiti were generals, Henri Christophe and Alexandre Pétion. We saw Christophe earlier as one of the heroes of the Haitian Revolution; though he was black, he did not hate whites, the way Dessalines did.(40) Before 1806 was over, the army officers and wealthy mulatto landowners elected a congress to write a constitution. The constitution they came up with called for a republic with a weak black president and a strong, mulatto-run legislature. For the two top jobs, they chose Christophe as president and put Pétion in charge of the legislature.

This government did not work because Christophe refused to be a figurehead. Instead, he marched on Port-au-Prince, failed to take it (Pétion had all of the army's artillery), and then marched north to Cap Haitien to set up his own state. Thus, from 1807 to 1820, Haiti was divided in two; Christophe ruled the northern third of the country, while Pétion ruled Port-au-Prince and the south. Both states were republics until 1811, when Christophe crowned himself King Henry I.(41) Then he went farther than Dessalines did, when it came to establishing a monarchy. He built a palace that looked just like the one of Prussia's Frederick the Great, and gave it the same name, Sans Souci (Without Care). To fill the palace with people besides his family and servants, he created a nobility from his black supporters, giving them titles like the Duke and Duchess of Marmalade, and the Count and Countess of Lemonade.

Christophe did not stop building when Sans Souci was finished. Near the palace is a 3,000-foot-high mountain, and on top of it he raised a massive fortress, the Citadelle Laferrière. This castle was never finished, but it still stands today as the most impressive structure in the Caribbean, a 200-year-old symbol of Haiti's defiance to the nations that opposed it during the first years after independence.

The Citadelle.

Christophe's castle. posted this picture on December 12, 2009.

Like Dessalines, Christophe ruled with an iron hand. From the African kingdom of Dahomey (modern Benin), he imported warriors that became his elite unit, the Royal Dahomets. Because the Dahomets had no ties to the country they were in, except for their employment, they could be trusted to stay loyal and not be tempted into corruption. Although he could not read or write (everything Christophe knew was learned from the “school of hard knocks”), he realized education was important, so he created five schools and had enough teachers trained to handle 2,000 students. The school system only taught boys at first, but in in 1818 he expanded it to include girls as well, because he thought they would learn voodoo if they stayed at home. Strict rules were imposed on how everybody lived; for example, most of the population was still bound to plantations, and the rules specified their working hours for each day. More rules were established for church attendance, personal appearance and honesty, which included an expensive dress code for the nobility. The king regularly traveled around the country to make sure the rules were carried out; he used a silver-topped cane to beat anyone that he thought was lazy. Once he went to a mass and the priest was not there on time, so Christophe ordered his soldiers to arrest him and take him to jail.

Though life was harsh in the northern kingdom, conditions improved under Christophe. Money in the treasury grew. Plantation workers were allowed to keep one fourth of the crops they grew (more than what had been allowed under the French and Dessalines), were given private plots to raise things for their own use, were given Saturday and Sunday off to attend to the private plots and go to church, received medical care from the plantation owners, and the owners could not transfer a worker to another activity without the worker's permission. Though many workers fled to southern Haiti, where they could enjoy more freedom, Pétion's part of the country was poorer. The main reason for this is that Christophe treated the land he ruled like feudal domains, keeping them in the form of a few large estates in the hand of estate managers, while Pétion split southern land into smaller plots and distributed them to just about anybody. The new landowners lacked the resources and experience to use the land effectively, so the crops they grew yielded harvests too small to provide much coffee, sugar, or anything else for trade. The result was a situation where the ordinary Haitian was free but poor if he lived in the south, and unhappy but prosperous if he lived in the north.

Meanwhile to the east, in French-held Santo Domingo, slavery was re-established and some of the Spanish colonists who fled over the past few years returned. In November 1808, a force of 2,000 Dominicans and Puerto Ricans landed in the east, and defeated 600 French soldiers at the battle of Palo Hincado. A joint attack by the Spanish army and the British navy caused the city of Santo Domingo to surrender on July 9, 1809, and the eastern half of Hispaniola returned to Spanish rule.

In 1815 Europeans signed the treaty of Vienna, ending the Napoleonic Wars. This also ended the Anglo-French rivalry; since 1815 the United Kingdom and France have cooperated more than they have competed. In addition, the treaty ended the Caribbean conflicts which dominated the early part of this chapter. Henceforth, almost every island/colony in the region would be ruled by whichever European country was in charge in 1815, until the United States took it or the Colonial power granted independence. Britain got to keep St. Lucia and Tobago, which it had taken from France; Britain had also overrun Dutch Guiana in 1796, and the Netherlands Antilles in 1807; the Dutch colonies were given back, except for the western half of Dutch Guiana.(42) This area held the ex-Dutch outposts of Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice. In 1831 these were merged into one colony, known as British Guiana, with its capital at Georgetown (formerly Stabroek).(43)

Though Pétion was very popular, he seems to have been insecure about his rule. In 1816 he promoted a new constitution, which made him president for life. He died in 1818, and Christophe immediately offered to reunite Haiti, but the southern government did not want to be put under a black leader. Instead, the senate chose General Jean-Pierre Boyer, Pétion's mulatto secretary and commander of the Presidential Guard, as his successor.

Christophe came to a more dramatic end. In October 1820, while attending a mass, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. According to one account, he saw the ghost of a priest he had executed when the stroke hit him. He could still think clearly, but revolts broke out as soon as the king's subjects heard he was incapacitated. Christophe was carried back to Sans Souci, and knowing he would be tortured and torn to pieces if he was taken alive, he shot himself in the chest with a silver bullet. His family and closest followers then fled to the Citadelle Laferrière, taking Christophe's body with them. When they realized they would not have time to bury the late king before the rebels caught up with them, they shoved the body into a vat of lime, in the citadel's courtyard, which the fortress plasterers had just abandoned. Christophe had not named an heir to his kingdom, so Jean-Pierre Boyer simply took over, marching 20,000 soldiers to Cap Haitien. With that coup, Haiti was reunited.

Today's citizens of the Dominican Republic call the years after 1809 La España Boba--“The Era of Foolish Spain”--because Spain acted like it did not appreciate getting its oldest New World colony back. Power was concentrated in the hands of the colony's great ranching families, who ruled by the “law of the machete,” restored slavery, and sent raids across the border into Haiti to get more black slaves. Because Spain did not do anything about this misrule, the former lieutenant-governor, José Núñez de Cáceres, declared independence on November 30, 1821, calling the former colony Spanish Haiti. He wanted Spanish Haiti to join Gran Colombia, the state Bolívar was creating in South America, but the other Haiti saw the new state as a threat, so Jean-Pierre Boyer acted first. Nine weeks later, the Haitians invaded and conquered the country, and because they now ruled the whole island, for the next twenty-two years (1822-44) the names “Hispaniola” and “Haiti” were interchangeable.

Boyer's other major achievement was that he ruled for twenty-five years (1818-43), longer than his predecessors. Aside from that, he didn't get much done. Part of the problem was exhaustion, after a generation of turmoil and revolution; most Haitians were now content to keep to themselves on small plots of land, only growing enough crops to get by. Boyer introduced the Rural Code, to get farmers to produce a surplus for exports, but he wasn't able to enforce these laws. Another problem was the continuing racial divide, with the ruling mulattoes on one side and the black majority on the other. Boyer tried to solve this by appointing more blacks to government positions, but because so few blacks were literate, he had trouble finding qualified candidates (after Christophe's downfall, the whole country was under the inferior educational system that Pétion had introduced). Many blacks instead chose to join the army, where literacy was not required.

This is the end of Part II. Click here to go to Part III.


20. If you have read this part of Chapter 2, you can call him Tupac Amaru II. But even if you have not heard of the rebel leader before reading this page, you have probably heard his name, because his success at the beginning of the revolt inspired some people in our own day. In Uruguay, a guerrilla movement in the 1960s and 70s called itself the Tupamaros, in memory of him. Then in the 1980s and 90s, a communist guerrilla movement in Peru called itself the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA); they even had a flag that showed Tupac Amaru's head above a mace and a rifle. And Tupac Amaru Shakur, the famous rapper, was named after Tupac the rebel.

21. The Spaniards called the bandeirantes “Paulistas,” because a lot of them came from Sao Paulo.

22. He did not go straight from Paris to St. Domingue. On the way he made stops in England and the United States (Charleston, SC), where he met with abolitionist leaders and bought arms for the revolt he was planning.

23. The recorded population for St. Domingue in 1789 was 500,000 blacks, 32,000 whites, and 25,000 mulattoes.

24. “Free men of color” is a literal translation of the French phrase used for the mulattoes at this time – gens du couleur. Modern French uses the expression cafe au lait (coffee with cream) to mean the same thing.

25. In 1789 St. Domingue grew 60 percent of the world's coffee, and 40 percent of the world's sugar. This would have made it a great prize indeed, if the British had succeeded in conquering it.

26. In Paris, the Assembly approved Sonthonax's decision, and on February 4, 1794, it declared the abolition of slavery in all territories and colonies ruled by France. The ruler of the Assembly at the time was Maximilien Robespierre; today most people regard Robespierre as a tyrant, for executing thousands of people on flimsy charges, but modern-day Haitians view him as the liberator of their ancestors.

27. As part of the same campaign, Britain seized Trinidad from Spain in 1797, and held it thereafter. The French islands were returned with the signing of the 1802 Treaty of Amiens, the only truce during the Napoleonic Wars. Incidentally, one of the returned islands, Martinique, was the home of Napoleon Bonaparte's empress, Josephine de Beauharnais.

28. Toussaint L'Ouverture wasn't one of the original leaders of the slave revolt. When it broke out, he enlisted as a medical officer. He treated his patients with herbs and traditional African medicine--but unlike other black practitioners, he did not combine health care with voodoo magic. However, his superiors noted that he did an excellent job of organizing, training and leading men, so he did not stay a doctor for long; he quickly rose through the ranks until he commanded the militia he was in.

29. In 1798 France sent a new governor, Gabriel Hédouville, with orders to undermine Toussaint's authority. He drove a wedge between Toussaint and the last mulatto general, Rigaud, but Toussaint convinced the people that Hédouville was there to unseat him and bring back slavery, so the masses stayed with Toussaint, and Hédouville was forced to flee later in the same year.

30. In May 1802, Napoleon signed a law that would maintain slavery on the islands where it had not yet been abolished: Martinique, Tobago and St. Lucia.

31. Modern Haitians believe they saved the young United States from a French invasion (via Louisiana), by tying the French down in their country, and hope that some day the Americans will thank them.

32. Napoleon did not like talking about his mistakes, but one of the few mistakes he admitted was arresting Toussaint L'Ouverture, because that ruined everything he wanted to do in the New World.

33. The 1807 expedition brought ten thousand soldiers and two thousand merchants. The merchants had originally planned to go to Buenos Aires and do business there, but when the soldiers failed to capture that city, the merchants sold their merchandise in Montevideo instead. Thus, during the seven months that the British occupied Montevideo, the people of that city experienced unprecedented prosperity. This made them reluctant to submit to anyone else after the British left, so the British occupation planted the seed of revolution in the future capital of Uruguay.

34. Sobremonte never returned to Buenos Aires. Everyone, including himself, saw him as a coward for running away. Consequently General Liniers succeeded him as the next viceroy.

35. Miranda's dream was to establish an empire made up of all former Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the New World, from Cape Horn to the Mississippi River.. He proposed calling this superstate “Colombia”; its government would have a bicameral legislature, and a hereditary emperor for life called the “Inca,” drawn from the descendants of the Inca rulers.

36. Miranda's revolutionary club was a Masonic-style organization called “The Great American Reunion”; unlike the Freemasons, though, it was more interested in Enlightenment-era politics than it was in religion. Most history books also credit him with founding a very similar secret society in Cadiz, Spain, called the “Lodge of Rational Knights,” but this now appears unlikely, because Miranda was living in Paris at the time. Of course, the fact that these were secret societies means we are not likely to know all the details on how they got started.

37. It took a long time for Argentina to get its present-day name; that will happen in the next chapter of this work. The revolt against Spanish authority in the Rio de la Plata region was launched by the dock workers of Buenos Aires, so for a while the people of that city called themselves Porteńos, “Men of the Port.”

38. Like many Latin Americans, his full name was much longer: Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco.

39. The royalists also recaptured Quito in 1812. This allowed them to hold onto Ecuador until 1822.

40. Incidentally, Christophe was also a veteran of the American Revolution; twelve years old at the time, he was a drummer boy in the French unit that tried to retake Savannah from the British in 1779.

41. At his coronation, Christophe was called “Henry, by the Grace of God and the Constitutional Law of the State, King of Haiti, Sovereign of Tortuga, Gonave and other adjacent Islands, Destroyer of Tyranny, Regenerator and Benefactor of the Haitian Nation, Creator of her Moral, Political and Martial Institutions, First Crowned Monarch of the New World, Defender of the Faith, Founder of the Royal and Military Order of Saint-Henry.” Now, does anyone still have doubts about who was in charge?

42. On the other side of the world, Java was returned to the Dutch. But in order to get back anything at all, the Dutch had to give up their claim to South Africa.

43. For a few years after 1815, there were five colonies named “Guiana”; from west to east, they were Spanish, British, Dutch, French and Portuguese Guiana. Spanish Guiana was simply another name for eastern Venezuela, while Portuguese Guiana became Amapá, the northernmost state in Brazil, when Brazil declared independence. In the twentieth century British and Dutch Guiana were renamed Guyana and Suriname, respectively, when they became independent. Because French Guiana is still under French rule, it is the only Guiana left that still uses the old name.

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