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A History of Latin America and the Caribbean

Chapter 4: Post-Colonial Blues, Part III

1830 to 1889

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

Part I

The Struggle to Build New States
Enter the Caudillo
Central America: Out of One, Many
Mexico: Santa Anna’s Misadventures
Argentina: The Rise and Fall of Rosas
Chile: The Conservative Era
Peru and Bolivia: Disorder on the Borders
Paraguay: El Excelentísimo
Uruguay: Caught in the Crossfire
Mexico: The Incredible Shrinking Country

Part II

New Granada
The Reform War
Nicaragua: The Filibuster
Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador in the Nineteenth Century
Venezuela: The Barracks
Ecuador: The First Generation
The Franco-Mexican War
Argentina Pulls Itself Together
Chile: The Liberal Era
The War of the Triple Alliance
Cuba and Puerto Rico: The Last Spanish Colonies

Part III

Haiti and the Dominican Republic: Experiments in Bad Government
Ecuador: The Monastery
A Golden Age Begins for Argentina and Uruguay
Guatemala Takes a Step Back
The British Honduras
Mexico: The Porfiriato
The War of the Pacific
Colombia: The University
Império Brasileiro (The Brazilian Empire)
New Arrivals in the Guianas
Breaking the Rubber Monopoly
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Haiti and the Dominican Republic: Experiments in Bad Government

Since 1822, the whole island of Hispaniola had been ruled by Haiti. The city of Santo Domingo had done well in the early sixteenth century, when Spain made it the capital of the whole Caribbean, but since Spanish attention shifted to richer places like Mexico and Peru, it had sunk to the status of a backwater port. Now it and its inhabitants suffered badly under the Haitians, who hated everything Spanish(53) and everything white. Whites lost their property, because the Haitian constitution did not allow them to own land, and most of them emigrated to Cuba, Puerto Rico, or Gran Colombia; ever since then, the people of the Dominican Republic have been mostly mulatto. Santo Domingo’s university, the oldest in the western hemisphere, had to close because it did not have students, teachers or supplies. Because Haiti could not always afford to pay and feed its army, the soldiers occupying Santo Domingo often survived by taking what they needed at gunpoint.(54)

Meanwhile in Haiti, the long-lived but ineffective rule of Jean-Pierre Boyer faced growing opposition, and it found a leader in Hérard Dumesle, a mulatto poet and liberal political philosopher. Dumesle deplored the sorry state of Haiti’s economy and blamed it on Boyer’s corruption, arbitrary rule, and suppression of free expression. The government responded by expelling Dumesle and his followers from the legislature, but did nothing about the problems they pointed out. This triggered an uprising among the soldiers in southern Haiti, and they marched on Port-au-Prince. When Boyer learned that most of the army was against him, he simply sailed to Jamaica, so the “Revolution of 1843” was bloodless. The rebel commander, a cousin of Dumesle named Charles Rivière-Hérard, became the next president.

During the revolution, the rebels were supported by La Trinitaria, a secret society that had been founded in Santo Domingo in 1838. However, the main goal of the Trinitarians was independence for the eastern half of the island, so instead of rewarding them, Rivière-Hérard exiled or imprisoned their leaders.(55) The Trinitarians rallied around Pedro Santana y Familias, a wealthy cattle rancher, and declared independence from Haiti on February 27, 1844. Haitian troops in the east were undisciplined and unprepared to handle a revolt, so they switched sides and the Dominican Republic was free.

For Haiti, the presidency of Charles Rivière-Hérard was the beginning of seventy-two years of incompetent leadership, which only ended when the US occupied Haiti in 1915. The historian James Graham Leyburn summarizes this period as follows: "Of the twenty-two heads of state between 1843 and 1915, only one served out his prescribed term of office, three died while serving, one was blown up with his palace, one presumably poisoned, one hacked to pieces by a mob, one resigned. The other fourteen were deposed by revolution after incumbencies ranging in length from three months to twelve years." Rivière-Hérard was ousted in May 1844 by an army revolt, after an attempt to reconquer the Dominican Republic failed. The troops were tired of mulatto rule and wanted an elected black president, so the top spot now went to Philippe Guerrier, an old black officer who had been one of King Christophe's nobles.(56)

As the Dominican Republic’s first president, Pedro Santana wrote the country’s first constitution in 1844. Unfortunately it had one serious flaw – it gave the president dictatorial powers until the war for independence was over – so as long as Haiti tried to take back the eastern half of the island, Santana could claim the war was still going on, and rule as he pleased. The people went along with this, because Haiti had a larger population, so the threat of a Haitian reconquest was quite real. It was real enough that during the 1840s and 1850s, the Dominican Republic negotiated with the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Spain, seeking a major power that would establish a protectorate over their country, or even annex it outright.

Santana offended the farmers during his first term. He made obscene profits by printing millions of unsecured pesos, used them to buy the crops of the farmers, and then exported the crops for good foreign cash. The pumping of all that funny money into the economy caused inflation, which ruined the farmers. Consequently he lost the election of 1848 to his Minister of War and Marine Affairs, Manuel José Jimenes González. But Jimenes was unable to halt the 1849 Haitian invasion, and had to call on Santana, who still controlled the military, for help. No doubt saying “I told you so,” Santana threw back the Haitians, overthrew Jimenes, and then got Congress to elect a friend, Buenaventura Báez Méndez, as the next president.

Báez, however, refused to serve as Santana’s puppet, so Santana ran for president again in 1853, won, and drove Báez into exile. Three years later he negotiated a treaty that leased part of the Samaná Peninsula to a U.S. company; this was so unpopular that he was forced to abdicate, and Báez returned and seized power. But because Báez also enriched himself by printing worthless money to buy crops, the farmers revolted, and recalled Santana from exile to lead their rebellion. After a year of civil war, Santana seized Santo Domingo and installed himself president for the third time (1858).

Because the Haitian heads of state were so transitional, we’re not going to discuss most of them in this work. Three, though, though, deserve a few words: Faustin Soulouque (1847-59), Guillaume Fabre Nicholas Geffrard (1859-67), and Louis Étienne Félicité Lysius Salomon (1879-88). Soulouque, a sixty-five-year-old ex-slave who had fought the French in 1791, was a black general picked by the legislature to settle a dispute between rival factions. He was expected to be just another caretaker president, and most considered him dull and ignorant, but once his position was secure, he fired his backers, organized a militia called the Zinglins that was only loyal to him, and made himself the absolute ruler of Haiti. In 1849 he proclaimed himself Haiti’s second emperor, Faustin I.

As emperor, Faustin acted like a nineteenth-century version of Idi Amin. He violently crushed opposition, and reportedly practiced cannibalism and drank the blood of his opponents. And like Christophe, he created a new nobility. One of those nobles was his successor Geffrard, styled the Duke of Tabara. However, his foreign policy was a miserable failure that led to his undoing. Four invasions of the Dominican Republic (1849, 1850, 1855 and 1856) were all defeated, and he almost started a war with the United States over Navassa Island, an offshore islet which the United States had seized for its guano deposits.(57) After this the military was sick and tired of him, and when they revolted, Faustin abdicated and went into exile (January 15, 1859).

By now the Dominican Republic was bankrupt, and it looked like the Haitians would succeed if they tried another invasion. At this point the foreign negotiations paid off; Spain agreed to take over, and did so on March 18, 1861. This was the only time in history that a New World colony kicked out the mother country, only to later invite the mother country back when it could not govern itself.(58) Such a move violated the Monroe Doctrine, of course, but with the US Civil War beginning, the United States could not do anything about it.

Most of the common people did not want to be under Spanish rule again. Restrictions on trade, discrimination against the mulatto majority, plans to bring back slavery, an unpopular campaign by the new Spanish archbishop against marriages not performed by the Catholic Church, and a law which allowed the army to take work animals without compensation to the owners, all increased anti-Spanish resentment. In addition, an 1862 royal order announcing that Spain intended to reconquer Haiti only served to add Haiti to the list of Spain’s opponents. On August 16, 1863, a revolt broke out in Santiago, where the rebels established a provisional government.(59) Spanish troops reoccupied the town, but the rebels fled to the mountains along the Haitian border. After that the Spanish army was confined to the towns, unable to defeat the guerrillas if it ventured into the countryside, while suffering heavy losses to yellow fever if it stayed put. On March 3, 1865, Spain’s Queen Isabella II signed a decree annulling the annexation and withdrew her soldiers from the island.

Haiti’s Guillaume Fabre Nicholas Geffrard, a mulatto general, proved to be quite a different ruler from Soulouque. To make sure his reign would be calmer, he cut the size of the army in half, from 30,000 to 15,000 men. Whereas most of his predecessors preferred Voodoo, Geffrard was a Catholic, so he ordered the destruction of Voodoo drums and altars, restored the country’s relationship with the Catholic Church, and allowed the establishment of parochial schools.

While Britain and Spain used their Caribbean colonies during the US Civil War to support Confederate activities like blockade running, Haiti and the Danish-ruled Virgin Islands were the only places in the Caribbean that were friendly to the Union navy. Geffrard held a state funeral in 1859 for John Brown, the radical Abolitionist, sold cotton to the Northern states when Southern cotton was unavailable, and invited black Americans to move to Haiti. The US rewarded these favors by granting diplomatic recognition to Haiti.

Despite his enlightened activities, Geffrard faced discontent from the elite and the military throughout his reign. When Spain regained control over the Dominican Republic (see below), Haiti sent troops to support anti-Spanish rebels, until Spain warned Haiti to end its involvement. Geffrard withdrew, and many Haitians were angry at him, remarking that Soulouque would have never backed down to a European nation. Several plots were launched against Geffrard until 1867, when he and his family disguised themselves and fled to Jamaica.

The fall of Geffrard did not end the rebellions, intrigue and conspiracies that continued to afflict Haiti. They even persisted under Lysius Salomon, the longest-lived Haitian leader of the late nineteenth century. Unlike most black leaders, Salomon came from a wealthy family and was well-educated; he had served as minister of finance under Soulouque. A lot was accomplished during Salomon’s administration: he established Haiti’s first postal system, founded a national bank, worked on improving agricultural productivity, gave cable companies permission to lay telegraph cables to Jamaica and Cuba, and reorganized schools and the armed forces. Unfortunately he drained the treasury by his insistence on making payments on Haiti’s debt to France, and he did not enact political reforms to match the economic and social ones. When his seven-year term in office ended in 1886, he gave himself a second term, because he had also been rewriting the constitution. This was seen as the beginning of a new tyranny; government officials stopped supporting him, Port-au-Prince and Le Cap revolted, and Salomon stepped down and sailed to Paris, where he died later in the same year (1888).

Though they had won the war, the Dominican Republic’s restorers could not govern any better than Spain had. At the war’s end, most of the towns lay in ruins and the country was divided between several dozen caudillos. Between 1865 and 1879, there were twenty-one changes of government and at least fifty military uprisings; the small and corrupt national army was weaker than the local militias used by caudillos to set themselves up as provincial governors. This period also saw the rise of two political parties, and each caudillo aligned himself with one or the other. The Partido Rojo ("Red Party") was run by former president Báez, who was still looking for a way to solve the Dominican Republic’s problems through annexation by a foreign power(60), while the Partido Azul ("Blue Party") was more liberal and nationalist, and led by Gregorio Luperón, the recent war’s biggest hero.

We won’t go through the list of disreputable caudillos that rose and fell after Spain left for the last time. Because independence came later for the Dominican Republic than it had for most Spanish colonies, government by caudillo lasted much longer here. In fact, the worst of them, Rafael Trujillo, would rule in the mid-twentieth century, long after caudillismo started to go out of fashion elsewhere.

In the 1880s the economic situation began to improve, thanks in part to the Ten Years War in Cuba. Cuban sugar planters immigrated to the Dominican Republic to escape the war, and the plantation and sugar mills they set up caused the country’s sugar production to increase until it surpassed tobacco as the most important crop. To meet the sugar industry’s transportation needs, more than 300 miles of track were laid for private railroads.

When Gregorio Luperón got to be president in 1879, he increased stability by introducing a new constitution that set a two-year limit on presidential terms. After that, the most competent of his successors was Ulises Heureaux Lebert, better known by the nickname of Lilis, who was president three times between 1882 and 1899. By incorporating both Rojos and Azules into the government, developing a network of spies, and employing puppet presidents between his terms in office, he maintained a solid grip on the country. Unlike most Dominican heads of state, Heureaux was black (the only other black leader was Luperón); his father was from Haiti and his mother was from St. Thomas. His administration launched several infrastructure projects, including the introduction of electricity, telephone and telegraph service to Santo Domingo, and a bridge over the Ozama River. However, to pay for all this, he borrowed more money than the government could repay; by 1899 the national debt exceeded $35 million, fifteen times the annual budget. When Lilis printed unsecured paper money to make the payments, it ruined the merchants and banks who received it; a revolt broke out among the tobacco farmers and merchants, and he was assassinated (1899). Following his death, the government declared bankruptcy, the economy crumbled and the US armed forces intervened, but that’s a topic for the next chapter.

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Ecuador: The Monastery

The dictator who ruled Ecuador from 1860 to 1875 had a complicated personality. Gabriel García Moreno originally thought his calling was to become a priest, so he received minor orders and a tonsure, before his friends persuaded him to become a lawyer and a journalist. When he entered politics in the 1850s he was a monarchist, hoping that a Spanish prince would become Ecuador’s head of state, but eventually realized that the people would never accept anyone who was more than just a president. Though deeply conservative, he supported universal literacy and education, and allowed advances in science and agriculture. Most important of all, he was a devout Catholic, attending mass every day, and had no tolerance for corruption; he even gave his own salary to charity.

Gabriel Garcia Moreno.

Gabriel García Moreno. From Wikimedia Commons.

García Moreno’s position as president was confirmed with an election to a four-year term in 1861. When his term ended in 1865, he was succeeded by Jerónimo Carrión, a former vice president and rebel leader. Then in 1869 he was re-elected, and again in 1875. As president his main policy was to promote and strengthen the Catholic Church. A new concordat (treaty) with the Vatican took away the state’s power over the appointment of bishops, and the constitution he introduced in 1869 not only declared Catholicism the state religion, but also required that voters and candidates for public office be Catholic. He was the only head of state who protested, when the unification of Italy took away the Papal State from Pope Pius IX in the 1860s, and in 1873 he had the legislature consecrate Ecuador to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (a Catholic liturgy). In addition, he allowed some displaced Jesuits to come to Ecuador after they had been kicked out of other countries, and supported legislation to ban secret societies. All these actions added foreign Freemasons to his list of enemies; they may have been behind his assassination later.

By getting rid of corruption and eliminating many government positions, García Moreno was able to make the government live within its means. The army was reformed, with its officers sent to Prussia to study modern strategy and tactics. Brothels were closed, local bandits were suppressed, and new hospitals were opened. The economy got a boost from the building of railroads, highways and telegraph lines, much of it done through an 1854 law that required everyone to either perform four days of unpaid work for the state each year, or pay a tax to finance public works projects. For Indians who could not afford the tax, this was very much like the forced labor imposed on them by their Inca and Spanish rulers in the past.

Liberals and Freemasons hated García Moreno so much that when he was elected to a third term in 1875, some saw it as his death warrant. Sure enough, a few days before the third term began, García Moreno was mortally wounded by a Colombian with a machete, while three others fired on him with revolvers. The dictator’s last words were “Dios no muerte!” (“God does not die!”), reflecting his sentiment that the will of God would be carried out, whether God’s agents lived or not. García Moreno’s foremost critic, a liberal journalist named Juan Montalvo, had been exiled for writing an article called “The Perpetual Dictatorship”; when he heard of the assassination, he took credit for it, exclaiming, "My pen killed him!"(61)

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Ecuador’s economy steadily improved. Exports grew from just above $1 million in 1852 to almost $10 million in 1890. This growth was mainly fueled by cacao production, which nearly tripled during the same period. Most of the country’s agriculture took place on the coast near Guayaquil, so the liberals saw their power grow as well. Still, liberals were not powerful enough to put the government into their hands and keep it until twenty years after García Moreno’s death.

The first president during this time, Antonio Borrero, was an elected liberal who favored universal suffrage, freedom of the press, and guarantees of individual rights. But the conservatives did not want anything to do with him, while other liberals, who wanted to throw out the 1869 constitution, thought he wasn’t going far enough. One year later he was overthrown by General Ignacio de Veintemilla.

Rejecting both conservative and liberal ideologies, Veintemilla ruled as a populist military dictator from 1876 to 1883. For the masses he offered large-scale festivals and public works programs to provide jobs, but alienated those in positions of power. He offended the Church with a program to undo all the gains it had made under García Moreno, first by secularizing education, then by making it a crime for any priest or bishop to get involved in politics. The clergy protested, and in 1877 their leader, Archbishop José Ignacio Checa y Barba, was poisoned by drinking a chalice of wine mixed with strychnine during the Good Friday mass. No one was convicted of the murder afterwards, so the Church excommunicated Veintemilla, believing he was behind it. Meanwhile there was a conservative revolt, while liberals, disillusioned by widespread corruption, formed an army of their own, now that they realized Veintemilla was just another tyrant. The liberal revolt, called the War of the Restoration, took Quito in January 1883 and Guayaquil in July, forcing Veintemilla into exile. A mixture of conservatives and liberals wrote a new constitution (the tenth in Ecuador so far), allowing civilian rule to return in October.

José María Plácido Caamaño, a conservative, served as the next president until 1888, and then became ambassador to the United States. He was succeeded by two presidents who were officially conservative, but moderate in practice: Antonio Flores Jijón (the son of Juan José Flores, 1888-92) and Luis Cordero Crespo (1892-95).

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A Golden Age Begins for Argentina and Uruguay

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811-88) was the first Argentine statesman who did not have a military background. The son of a poor but politically active family from the western town of San Juan, he was a teacher and a prolific writer on many subjects; his writings, where he freely expressed his Unitarian views, made him unpopular among the caudillos, so more than once he was forced to flee into exile. Usually he just went across the border to Chile, but in the mid-1840s he also traveled in Europe and North America, where he marveled at the achievements of the people in those places. What he liked the most was how Europeans and North Americans valued democracy, social services, and intelligent thought; by contrast, the Indians, gauchos and caudillos of his homeland were simply barbarians. After that, despite his provincial background, Sarmiento always dressed in European fashions; “clothes make the man” was how he saw it, and if someone wanted to look civilized, a poncho wouldn’t do. During the 1852 revolution against Rosas, he was the chief propagandist for the anti-Rosas factions; he followed the army with a printing press in a cart, from which he produced a stream of pamphlets and handbills denouncing the tyrant.

After a term as governor of San Juan, Sarmiento ran for president against Mitre in 1864 and lost. Still, Mitre found him useful enough to appoint him minister to the United States; he arrived soon after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and was impressed enough by the late president to write a book about him (Vida de Lincoln). In 1868 he ran for president again, and this time he won.

Domingo Sarmiento.

Domingo Sarmiento, from an 1873 photograph.

As president, Sarmiento sponsored agricultural and political reforms, launched a school system modeled after the one Horace Mann founded in the United States, built railroads(62) across the Pampas, and encouraged immigration from Europe; in this way he spread Western civilization beyond Buenos Aires. His success told the world that the years of unrest were finally over, and the immigrants poured in. Immigration caused the population of Argentina to swell; the 1895 census reported 3,955,000 people, of which one million were foreigners. Many of the new residents worked in the port, lived in the crowded tenement buildings of Buenos Aires and invented the dance Argentina is famous for – the tango – in the city’s brothels and smoky nightclubs. Eighty percent of the newcomers were Italians and Spaniards; when large-scale farming of grains began on the Pampas, the gauchos refused to try it, finding it beneath their dignity to do anything besides cattle ranching, so the immigrants took on those jobs. Likewise, Basque and Irish refugees became the first shepherds, after sheep were introduced in the 1850s. On top of all that, some Englishmen and Scots moved in; they were valued because of their engineering and business skills.

The dark side of Sarmiento’s presidency was that he waged a war of extermination against the Indians and oppressed the gauchos with vagrancy laws and press gangs, seeing these groups as obstacles to the advance of civilization. Worse, like Juarez in Mexico, he came to resemble the caudillos he detested. To defeat caudillo revolts and carry out his reforms, he was as likely to rule by decree as he was to rule by law. Sir Richard Francis Burton, the celebrated nineteenth-century English traveler, visited Buenos Aires and expressed admiration for Sarmiento's honesty and progressive policies, but still noted that his subjects called him “Don Yo,” or “Mr. I”.(63) When the next presidential election was held in 1874, former president Mitre ran, lost, and launched a revolt in Buenos Aires. Sarmiento put it down, and the election’s winner, Nicolás Remigio Aurelio Avellaneda Silva, became the next president.

The Sarmiento presidency was the beginning of a golden age for Argentina, lasting roughly from 1870 to 1930. During this sixty-year span, Argentina enjoyed uninterrupted economic growth, and was Latin America’s most impressive nation. Avellaneda inherited an economic depression, caused by the Panic of 1873 in the United States, but Argentina bounced back more quickly than North America and Europe did, thanks to expanding agriculture, and the trade, investment and innovations brought by the immigrants mentioned above.

In addition, Argentina was revolutionized by two major changes during the Avellaneda presidency. One was that Buenos Aires finished taming the southern frontier. Between 1878 and 1883 the Minister of War, General Julio Argentino Roca, carried out a ruthless campaign against the Indians which came to be known as the Conquista del Desierto (Conquest of the Desert). When Roca was finished, Argentina had doubled its size, there was no longer any possibility that Chile would expand east of the Andes(64), and Patagonia was open to settlement and sheep. However, like the North Americans after they conquered the Old West, today’s Argentines wonder if they did the right thing, and debate whether the real purpose of the campaign was to spread civilization or genocide. In 2000 the town of Junín de los Andes began building a war memorial called the Vía Cristi, a road decorated with statues that represent both the life of Jesus and the suffering of the Mapuche since the Spaniards came to South America.

The other major change in Argentina came not from a conquest, but from an invention. Up to this point, the meat produced by the cattle industry could not be kept fresh for any length of time. This meant that not much meat was exported, and what did leave the Pampas had to be salted and dried first. That changed with the invention of the refrigerator. In 1876-77 France sent a small refrigerator ship, Le Frigorifique, on test voyages across the Atlantic; these showed that if you kept meat cold enough, you could preserve it indefinitely. The Argentines responded by building frigoríficos (meat-chilling plants), named after the French ship, and soon they were exporting their surplus grain and meat to Europe.

The last attempt to split Argentina came at the end of Avellaneda’s presidency. In 1880 a trade dispute caused so much unrest in Buenos Aries that the local governor, Carlos Tejedor, declared he was seceding from the republic. Avellaneda wanted nothing to do with this, and sent in General Roca with the army to reconquer the province and the capital. This was accomplished quickly, and because Roca was so popular after the military campaigns he had led, he had no trouble getting elected president in the same year. In addition, Roca’s political party, the National Autonomist Party (PAN), would control the government until 1916.

Julio Roca.

Julio Roca.

By creating a net of political alliances, and introducing several measures that strengthened his rule, Roca enjoyed nearly absolute control over the Argentine government; his skill at politics earned him the nickname of “The Fox.” But he ran out of tricks in 1886; to stay in office past that point would have been a violation of the constitution. Therefore he stepped down, and Miguel Juárez Celman became the next president. However, he retained considerable political power, and when Celman attempted to cut back that power, Roca led the opposition against him, even launching a coup in 1890, with the help of former president Mitre.

By the end of the 1880s, Argentina appeared to have solved its political problems, and the economy was growing so fast that it looked like it would soon catch up with the economies of several European nations. But there were several warning signs for anyone who cared to look, meaning that the golden age could not last. In Buenos Aires there was a vast wave of building in the 1880s, in which most of the Spanish colonial architecture was replaced by more modern French-style structures. That, along with many new banks and companies, was done without capital to back it up; the investors were confident that future profits would pay off the debts they were incurring now. Even more serious was the fact that the new wealth went to only a small percentage of the citizens. The opening up of the Pampas and Patagonia did not create a middle class of medium-sized farmers, the way it did in the United States; instead the rich estancieros bought most of the available acreage while the price was dirt cheap. For most farmers, the standard of living remained the same, while the gauchos found themselves aliens on the plains where they used to roam free. Finally, because foreigners (especially Britain) had paid for the country’s modernization, Argentina was in debt to them. Many observers have called this neo-colonialism, because it replaced the old-fashioned colonialism of previous eras, but left large parts of the economy under foreign domination. Despite all this, the system did not come crashing down until the Great Depression; we will see in later chapters how Juan Perón and other leaders dealt with the unrest that followed.

Meanwhile in Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina stopped interfering with that country’s affairs, because both were exhausted by the War of the Triple Alliance. That meant peace would finally come, if Uruguay’s two political parties agreed to it. The next Uruguayan president, General Lorenzo Batlle y Grau (1868-72), fought a Blanco rebellion for two years, called the Revolution of the Lances because soldiers on both sides made improvised pole weapons by tying knives to stalks of sugar cane. It ended with an agreement in 1872 to share power; henceforth, the Blancos would have control over four of the country’s fourteen departments (provinces). The arrangement lasted for twenty-five years; in 1897 Blanco control was increased to six departments, because five more had been created in the meantime. The next president, José Ellauri (1872-75), had an administration that contained more university men than military men. But the caudillo mentality could not disappear overnight. An economic crisis coupled with a weak government response forced Ellauri to resign, leading to another decade of military rule because there wasn’t effective civilian leadership.

The next period can be covered quickly, because as in the rest of South America, the worst of Uruguay’s days of violence were behind it. All of the presidents were Colorados; opposition was limited as long as the 1872 agreement was kept. Pedro José Varela Olivera (1875-76) had to put down armed rebellion; he curtailed liberties, and arrested opposition leaders and deported some of them to Cuba; then instead of pushing his luck, he resigned. The job was next offered to the minister of war, Colonel Lorenzo Latorre (1876-80). Latorre’s biggest success was the carrying out of an educational reform plan that Varela had started. This established free compulsory primary education, and because of it, the literacy rate increased from 20% in 1870, to 60% in 1910. Although this and other reforms made him popular, Latorre was only used to leading a military chain of command, and frequently clashed with other members of the government who were now technically his equals. He was appointed to a second term in 1879, but one year later he resigned. In his resignation speech he declared that Uruguayans were "ungovernable" (remember when Bolívar talked like that?), and spent the rest of his life in Argentina.

Latorre was succeeded by Francisco Antonino Vidal (1880-82), and he was forced to resign by Colonel General Máximo Santos (1882-86). Santos restored relations with Paraguay, but was criticized for failing to root out corruption. After an attempt against his life, he followed the example of his predecessors and also resigned, this time moving to Europe. The next president, General Máximo Tajes (1886-90), did not get along well with Santos and removed the officers who had supported him; consequently civilian political activity resumed, marking the beginning of the transition from military to civilian rule.

Uruguayan politics may have still been messy, but otherwise things got better from mid-century onward. The country’s first bank opened in 1857; 1860 saw the first canals, the first telegraph line, and the first railroads. A telephone system was introduced in 1878, just two years after the telephone was invented (see footnote #73), followed by a public lighting system in 1886. Now that the wars were over, livestock ranching(65) and the use of Montevideo as a port increased dramatically.

Immigration increased, too. Most of the newcomers were from Europe, plus some Brazilians who came looking for better opportunities than they could get in their homeland. By 1872 one fourth of the population was foreign-born; by 1900 it was one third. In the first decade of the twentieth century Uruguay’s population passed the one million mark, of which 30 percent lived in Montevideo. Altogether late-nineteenth-century Uruguay looked like it was repeating Argentina’s success on a smaller scale.

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Guatemala Takes a Step Back

While other Central American nations at least tried to become more democratic, Rafael Carrera preferred the Spanish model of strong one-man rule, and for Guatemala he turned the clock back in efforts to achieve it. He was elected Guatemala’s first president in 1844, and oversaw the writing of the country’s first constitution in 1850, but otherwise he kept himself busy by undoing the reforms of his two predecessors, Gálvez and Morazán. In 1854 Carrera got rid of elections altogether by having Congress declare him president for life. Then he restored the authority of the Church, returned confiscated Church and communal Indian properties to their original owners, and even changed the title of local officials from jefe politico to corregidor, the title they had used in colonial times.

Probably the biggest mistake Carrera made was the treaty he negotiated with Britain in 1859, establishing the border between Guatemala and Belize. Carrera did not want to sign at first, because that would have meant he recognized the British claim to Belize, but he was persuaded to sign by Article 7, which was inserted into the treaty at the last minute, and called for Britain to build a road from Belize City to Guatemala City. The road was never built, nor did Britain respond when Guatemala demanded compensation, causing the border dispute that has existed between Guatemala and Belize ever since.

Carrera’s reign ended with a three-year war involving all of five Central American states (1863-65). It started because the adventures of William Walker taught Central Americans that they could keep foreign imperialists away by working as a team. In the aftermath of this affair, the president of El Salvador, Gerardo Barrios, used pro-unity sentiments to call for bringing back a united Central America; naturally Carrera opposed such a move. Rivalry became open war in 1863, and Carrera invaded El Salvador, only to suffer a severe defeat in the battle of Coatepeque. A brief truce followed, during which Honduras joined El Salvador, while Nicaragua and Costa Rica joined Guatemala. When fighting resumed, Carrera gained the upper hand; he besieged and captured San Salvador, drove Barrios into exile, and got Honduras to switch sides by installing a friendly government there. In 1865 Barrios tried to make a comeback; instead he was captured in Nicaragua, extradited to El Salvador, and executed. Carrera had died earlier in the same year, and that was what really ended the fighting between Central American states, for Carrera was the last of the caudillos who had broken up Central America in the first place.

Carrera’s hand-picked successor, a general named Vicente Cerna Sandoval, ruled from 1865 to 1871. He was in turn ousted by a “liberal revolution,” which began with a revolt in western Guatemala (the former Los Altos, see footnote #4), and put the liberals back in charge for the first time in more than thirty years. The first liberal leader, Miguel Garcia Granados, stepped down in 1873, after only two years in office, so most of the liberal program was carried out by his successor, Justo Rufino Barrios.

Barrios never called himself anything more than president, though in practice he ruled as a dictator until 1879, when a new constitution was written.(66) The reforms he introduced included new roads, railroads, schools and a modern banking system. Most important of all was a great expansion in coffee production, no surprise since Barrios was a coffee plantation owner before he became a military leader and a politician. In the name of growing more coffee, the lands in good coffee-growing areas (anything below 4,600 feet on the Pacific side of the mountains) were seized to create new plantations, while the peasants (mostly Maya) who lived at higher elevations were forced to work on the plantations, turning them into migrant laborers.(67)

Like the Barrios of El Salvador, this Barrios had ambitions of putting Central America back together again. However, he did no better; in 1885 he attacked El Salvador, and was killed in the battle of Chalchuapa. Since then, few have talked seriously about creating a united Central America. Under his successors a small group of families -- land and business owners -- came to control the economy, foreign companies were given generous concessions, and political opponents were censored, imprisoned or exiled by the extensive police force. The next four Guatemalan presidents were all liberals; we will come back to the most important of them, Manuel José Estrada Cabrera (1898-1920), in the next chapter.

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The British Honduras

We mentioned that Guatemala claimed Belize, the British logging camp on its eastern border, so let's say a few words about what was happening there and in the nearest British colony, Jamaica. At the beginning of this period, Jamaica saw the worst revolt in the history of the British West Indies. Today it is often called the Baptist War because the leader, Samuel Sharpe, was both a slave and a Baptist pastor; alternate names include the Christmas Rebellion and the Great Jamaican Slave Revolt. At first the slaves, encouraged by the Abolitionist movement in the mother country, staged a peaceful protest; on Christmas Day of 1831, 60,000 of Jamaica's 300,000 slaves went on strike, promising they would not return to work until they were given freedom and a working wage of "half the going wage rate." It did not stay peaceful for long, though. Rumors that the British would break the strike with armed men prompted the slaves to burn and loot their plantations, and because the strike had turned into a rebellion, soldiers were called in to restore order, meaning the rumors had come true. On January 4, 1832, ten days after the uprising had started, it was over. An estimated 207 slaves and 14 whites were killed, while property damage was estimated at more than £1.1 million (probably £54 million today, or $82 million). The aftermath was even bloodier, as more than 300 slaves, including Sharpe, were hanged. Some of the executions were for trivial crimes; we have reports that one execution was the penalty for stealing a pig, another for stealing a cow. Though the revolt was a failure, it is now credited with speeding up the emancipation process, by convincing the British that they could not keep their slaves in chains forever. One year later, slavery was formally abolished in Great Britain, and the process of freeing the slaves in the colonies soon followed.

Back on the mainland, Belize wasn't an exciting place at this time. In the 1830s there were only a few thousand Maya living in the inland part of the territory, about four thousand African slaves around Belize City (working on coastal plantations when they weren't cutting down trees in the jungle), and a hundred Europeans running everything. The Garifuna, a Caribbean people of mixed ancestry (part Carib Indian and part African) were relocated there from the Lesser Antilles in the early nineteenth century.

The slaves were freed by 1838, and after that more Maya moved in; they were fleeing either the fighting in Yucatan (see footnote #27) or forced labor in Guatemala. Where the Maya settled they introduced the Spanish language as well as their own, plus corn tortillas and Catholic churches, so the Belize colony started to look like Mexico. The first Maya attack on loggers was reported in 1788, but it wasn't until the 1830s that the loggers wandered deep enough into the jungle to encounter Maya settlements regularly. Britain sent troops and weapons to protect the settlers, and in 1872 they won a battle important enough for them to prevail over the Maya for good.

Government came to Belize slowly; it wasn't needed as long as the largest settlements were just villages. Settlers started setting up a common law system for themselves as early as 1738, a superintendent was chosen in 1784, and an informal legislature began meeting irregularly after 1800. At this point Britain treated Belize as an outpost of Jamaica. Then in 1854 the British introduced a constitution, and an eighteen-member elected legislature; in 1862 they declared their outpost the crown colony of British Honduras. However, the white settlers remained in charge, through property requirements; voters had to earn an income of at least £100 a year, or own property yielding an income of £7 a year; members of the legislature had to own £400 worth of property. This prevented the participation of blacks, Garifuna, Maya and the recent Spanish-speaking immigrants from surrounding countries. Those groups had no representation in the local government before the twentieth century.

The English-speaking blacks came to call themselves Creoles, to distinguish themselves from the growing community of non-English speakers. They were not allowed to own land, so after emancipation they ended up working for their former masters as "apprentices," often earning only a subsistence wage. After 1900 they began agitating for the right to vote and to run for elective office.

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Mexico: The Porfiriato

Benito Juarez was succeeded by a liberal lawyer, Sebastían Lerdo de Tejada. He supported the same goals as Juarez, but was less willing to compromise. Under him, Church and communal Indian lands were confiscated, to give to farmers who did not own any land of their own; he also authorized the building of Mexico’s first railroad, between Mexico City and Veracruz. However, like Juarez, he faced a constant threat from regional caudillos. One of them was José de la Cruz Porfirio Diaz Mori, a Mestizo war hero from Oaxaca who had fought Santa Anna, Miramon and Maximilian. In the elections of 1867 and 1871 he ran against Juarez and lost. After the second defeat, Porfirio Diaz launched a revolt, declaring that presidents should not be re-elected.

The general was defeated on the battlefield as well as the ballot box, but he waited for another opportunity, and it came when Lerdo de Tejada was re-elected in 1873. The head of the Supreme Court, José Maria Iglesias, declared the election fraudulent; therefore Iglesias would become the acting president until fair elections were held. Lerdo de Tejada refused to step down, though, and Iglesias fled to Guanajuato; that state and four others in north-central Mexico recognized him, so Mexico now had two presidents. When another revolt broke out against Lerdo de Tejada in January 1876, Porfirio Diaz joined it, under the slogan of “Elective suffrage, no re-election.” Lerdo de Tejada was re-elected again in July, amid more charges of fraud, but in November, Porfirio Diaz defeated him in battle, and then Diaz defeated Iglesias in January 1877. Both of Diaz’s rivals went into exile in New York.

Being a military man, the first thing Porfirio Diaz did after becoming president was to restore order. His well-paid mounted police force, the rurales, defeated the Apaches and suppressed banditry in the countryside; because some of them were ex-bandits, they definitely knew how to do their job. Opponents were assassinated, the most common explanation being “the prisoner, trying to escape, was shot”; the rest learned to keep quiet, so they would not go to prison. The regional caudillos were too strong to beat through force alone, so Diaz won them over with gifts of honors and money. Though Diaz had campaigned as a liberal, the landowners benefitted the most from his rule; they appreciated the return of peace, land reform gave them a chance to buy more land for their already huge estates, and the construction of railroads increased property values. Generals were paid handsomely, and were constantly moved so that they did not stay in one place long enough to acquire followers or plot revolts. The Church was flattered and given some of its privileges back, but not its land. Wherever possible, Diaz packed the government with men of his choice, including candidates for Congress. In short, he successfully used a carrot-and-stick approach, which he called pan o palo, “bread or the club.”

Diaz had promised to be a one-term president, so when his term ended in 1880, he picked his secretary of defense, Manuel González, to succeed him. But the González administration was both incompetent and corrupt, and it looks like Diaz wanted it that way. He offered to run when the 1884 election arrived, and the people welcomed him enthusiastically. It also helped a lot that by this time, most had forgotten his promise not to run again. After his second term was finished, he no longer nominated a front man. Instead, he amended the constitution twice, first to allow the president two terms, and later he abolished term limits altogether. However, he paid lip service to democracy by holding an election every six years, which of course he won each time. Thus, the man who had campaigned for one term got to be president for thirty-one years in a thirty-five-year period (1876-1911), a reign which came to be called the Porfiriato.

The secret to Diaz’s success was that unlike the caudillos before him, he did not limit himself to traditional bases of support (the landowning class and the Church if you were conservative, the general population if you were liberal, and the military if you were either). He learned that big business can be a powerful ally as well. This was not possible in the past, when most of Latin America was so poor that a merchant class did not exist. Now, however, with the land finally at peace, for the first time since independence, Mexico enjoyed a decent rate of economic growth. And calling it “decent” is an understatement; under Diaz’s long presidency, the economy grew by a very impressive 8 percent a year.(68) Railroads and new mining technology increased silver production by 150 percent, and made it worthwhile to mine copper, zinc and lead; new technology increased the yields of farms as well.

Nearly all of this development was paid for by foreign investors. Diaz encouraged them to spend money in Mexico by giving them whatever concessions they wanted, and by making sure the country always made at least the minimum payments on its foreign debts (which improved Mexico’s credit rating). By welcoming investment from several countries (most of it from the United States, Britain, France and Germany), he kept one nation from gaining too much control over Mexico, but he could not do the same with the economy; those industries that accepted money from abroad fell under the control of foreign companies. It wasn’t until after the twentieth century began that Diaz realized foreign investment is only good to a point. There is a quote commonly attributed to him that he supposedly said near the end of his career: “Pobre Mejico, tan lejos de Dios, y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!” (“Poor Mexico, so far from God and so near the United States!”). He had made Mexico a better place, but the new prosperity was still limited to a fraction of the population, and it depended on the well-being of one man. Because Diaz did not prepare the country to be run by anyone else, in the next chapter we will see the trouble that occurred when that one man was no longer in charge.

Porfirio Diaz.

Porfirio Diaz. From Wikimedia Commons.

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The War of the Pacific

Among the handful of wars that have been fought in South America since independence, the War of the Pacific (1879-84, also called the Saltpeter War), fought by Chile, Peru and Bolivia, had the most far-reaching consequences. When independence came, Bolivia got part of the Pacific coast, from Latitude 21° 30’ to 25° S. Although this was the desolate Atacama Desert, it gave Bolivia direct access to the sea, and it does have a valuable resource – nitrates. They are plentiful in the Atacama precisely because there is no rain to wash them out of the soil. Nitrate is an ingredient of gunpowder, so during the colonial era there was a small nitrate mining industry here. More nitrates were available in the form of guano (see Chapter 1, footnote #8). In 1840, a Frenchman discovered guano’s value as fertilizer, and the world started taking an interest in this resource, which was needed for both economic and military expansion. Thinking that more guano lay waiting to be discovered in the desert, Chile announced in 1842 that its northern border was at the 23rd parallel, not the 25th; Bolivia responded with a counter-claim that the border between their countries should be at the 26th parallel. Yes, silly as it may sound, the War of the Pacific was started by an argument over bird poop.

Other nations took an interest in the guano/nitrate deposits, and they had to be shooed away before Chile and Bolivia could settle their dispute. In 1856 the United States passed a law allowing US citizens to take possession of islands containing guano, but all the Yankees did with this was claim Navassa Island in the Caribbean, and some uninhabited atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Spain used the guano as an excuse to take back one of her former colonies. In the on-and-off Chincha Islands War of 1864-66, Spanish ironclad ships captured some offshore islands that were Peru’s main source of guano, and bombarded the ports of Valparaiso and Callao, only to withdraw after Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador formed an anti-Spanish alliance. Then it looked like all disputes had been resolved when Bolivia and Chile signed a treaty in 1866, which put the border at the 24th parallel, with an agreement to share the exploitation of mining resources between the 23rd and 25th. However, Peru added a complication when it began to run out of guano in the 1870s, and it gave nitrate mining licenses in its part of the Atacama to foreigners; soon Bolivia issued licenses, too. In 1873 Peru and Bolivia secretly agreed to a defensive alliance, to back each other in the event that Chile tried to expand in their direction.

Bolivia and Chile agreed to a second treaty in 1874, which superseded the one of 1866. This one declared how much Bolivia could tax the companies on its side of the border. The tax rate on the Chilean companies was fixed for twenty-five years, but British expertise made the Chilean companies more efficient, so they generated larger profits. Feeling the rates set in the treaty were unfair, Bolivia raised taxes on Chilean companies in 1878, to match the taxation of Bolivian companies, and made the increase retroactive to 1874. The Chilean government cried foul; one company (the Antofagasta Nitrate & Railway company) refused to pay; Chile sent a warship to the area; the Bolivian government confiscated the company’s property and announced an auction to sell the assets. Chile then sent two hundred soldiers to occupy Antofagasta, Bolivia’s only port, on the day of the auction (February 14, 1879), and Bolivia declared war. Peru honored the alliance by taking Bolivia’s side in the dispute, so Chile declared war on both of its rivals.

Chile had a smaller army than the combined armies of Bolivia and Peru, and as we noted before, Chile was recovering from an economic depression in the late 1870s. However, the Chilean armed forces, especially the navy, were up to date and better supplied. This meant the war would be a walkover for Chile. While the Chilean army overran the rest of Litoral, Bolivia’s coastal province(69), Chilean and Peruvian ships battled for control of the sea. It took most of 1879 for the Chilean navy to prevail, and because the theater of war was a coastal desert, it was far easier to travel by sea than by land, so the ground campaign was delayed until the naval campaign was finished. Then on November 2, 1879, Chilean troops made an amphibious landing at the Peruvian port of Pisagua. The Peruvians won a victory at the end of the month (the battle of Tarapacá), but that did not stop the Chilean conquest of Tarapacá, Peru’s richest province at the time. December saw both the governments of Peru and Bolivia toppled by coups, and neither country was able to resist the Chilean advance after that. The arrival of reinforcements in early 1880 allowed Chile to capture Peru’s other two Atacama provinces, Arica and Tacna.

An attempt was made to negotiate an end to the war on a US ship, the USS Lackawanna, in October 1880, but the meetings broke up after five days without the parties agreeing to any terms. Chile then landed troops on the coast of northern Peru; in January 1881 they even occupied and sacked Lima and Callao.(70) The Peruvians weren’t ready to give up, though, so two and a half years of fighting followed in the Peruvian highlands, until Chile won a decisive victory at Huamachuco. This allowed Chile to dictate the peace terms when the Treaty of Ancón was signed with Peru on October 20, 1883. Another treaty, signed with Bolivia in March 1884, brought the war to an end.

The main effect of the war was that Bolivia lost its entire coastline, with its valuable mineral deposits, to Chile; Bolivia thus joined Paraguay as the only other landlocked nation in the New World.(71) From Peru, Chile gained the coastal provinces of Tarapacá, Arica and Tacna. Control over Arica and Tacna was only supposed to be temporary, lasting for ten years with a plebiscite to decide their final fate. However, the plebiscite was never held, so Chile kept the two provinces until 1929, when the United States arranged the signing of a new treaty that assigned Arica to Chile, and Tacna to Peru. Finally, the war confirmed Chile’s status as the dominant power on South America’s Pacific coast.

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Colombia: The University

Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera’s second term as president ended when the new constitution was passed in 1863, but it was decided to let him serve a two-year term after that. The main event of his third term was the brief Ecuadorian-Colombian War (1863). Because Mosquera was a liberal and Ecuador’s leader, Gabriel García Moreno, was a conservative, Mosquera backed an attempt by rebellious Ecuadorans to topple García Moreno. García Moreno’s response was to send 6,000 soldiers across the border, led by his aged father-in-law, former president Flores. At the battle of Cuaspad they met 4,000 Colombians, personally led by Mosquera, and the Colombians utterly defeated the invaders, killing or wounding 1,500 and capturing 2,000 more. Mosquera then crossed the border, reaching the town of Ibarra, before the two sides agreed to negotiate; the resulting treaty restored the status quo, with no territory changing hands.

When his third term ended in 1864, Mosquera became an ambassador to France, then returned in 1866 and won another election. His fourth term was the least successful; there were tensions with the Catholic Church and in 1867 he closed Congress, though there was no emergency. His enemies toppled him with a coup in the same year, and exiled him for three years. After returning he served first as a governor, than as a senator, but lost when he ran for president one more time.

The rest of the 1860s and 1870s saw eleven presidents who came and went without making waves, so we won’t bother discussing them. During this period, railroads and telegraph lines were built, as in other parts of Latin America, and because the liberals were in charge, new schools were opened; the most important of these was the National University of Colombia. The schools were strongly opposed by conservatives, who wanted only Church-run schools; this led to a civil war (1876-77 sometimes called the War of the Schools) in which the conservatives tried but failed to seize power.(72)

That was the situation when Rafael Wenceslao Núñez Moledo was elected president in 1880. A former judge, lawyer and journalist, Núñez saw that the worst abuses of the past twenty years needed to be curbed in order to bring stability, and that conservatives and liberals would need to work together to reform the constitution. To heal wounds caused by past wars, he allowed exiled Catholic bishops to return, and established diplomatic relationships with Spain, which had not existed since the war of independence. When his first term ended in 1882, he waited until 1884 to run again, and this time he won by forming a coalition that included both conservatives and dissatisfied liberals, called the National Party. His program for Colombia was known as La Regeneración, or the Regeneration Movement.

The liberal faction that had been dominant before Núñez took charge, the Golgotas, refused to support any constitutional change, because they feared it would benefit the other factions at their expense. They launched an armed uprising in 1884, which spread across the country and took until August 1885 to suppress. Consequently, Núñez declared the 1863 constitution had expired, and the new one adopted in 1886 was more conservative, creating a centralized state; hence the change in the country’s name to the Republic of Colombia. Núñez served as either the acting or elected president until 1894; his ten-year presidency is the longest in Colombian history.

Because Panama was Colombian territory in the nineteenth century, we will finish this section by covering the first attempt to dig the Panama Canal. We noted in Chapter 2 that for colonial-era Spaniards, the route between Spain and Peru included an overland trek across Panama, and earlier in this chapter, railroads were built across Nicaragua and Panama (see footnote #32), so that travelers between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans would not have to make the eight-thousand-mile trip around South America. Although railroads helped a lot, a canal would be even better, because it would let a ship sail in both oceans without the need to unload cargo and passengers before reaching its destination. As far back as 1524, when the Spanish king Charles V ordered a survey of Panama, people had dreamed of digging a canal through the Central American isthmus at some point, but the idea was always dismissed as too expensive--until 1869, when the French finished digging the Suez Canal through Egypt. In 1879 France decided to dig a canal like that through Panama, and put 74-year-old Ferdinand de Lesseps, the creator of the Suez Canal, in charge of the project. The Panama Canal Company was founded, de Lesseps went to the United States and Great Britain to raise funds for it, and he came to Panama in 1880, to see the sea-level pathway picked for the canal. He estimated that it would take eight years to do the job, conducted some surveys, and then work began in 1881.

Alas, the French realized too late that Panama is not like Egypt. The Suez Canal was dug through a flat desert, where the biggest challenge de Lesseps faced was replacing the native workers (fellahin) who died on the job. In Panama he was digging through the jungle, and at some point he would have to cut through the ridge making up Central America's backbone, which was still 360 feet above sea level at its lowest point. Because he tried to make the whole canal run at sea level, there were frequent landslides into the excavations from the high, water-soaked hills on each side. Disease epidemics were even worse; 22,000 people died from malaria and yellow fever. It was said afterwards that the French company dug more graves than canal. Unable to do anything about the epidemics, de Lesseps had to abandon the project when the money ran out. He left behind several buildings and hundreds of freight trains, derricks and dredges, to be engulfed by the jungle. The Panama Canal Company declared itself bankrupt in 1888 and was liquidated in 1889.

French expenses on the project totaled $287 million, in US dollars. After the turn of the century, in 1904, the United States bought out the assets of the Panama Canal Company and resumed work under a revised plan. The Americans ended up spending almost $375 million ($8.6 billion in today's dollars), but this time the money would not be wasted, for they would complete the canal.

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Império Brasileiro

(The Brazilian Empire)

We covered the reign of Brazil’s first emperor, Pedro I, in Chapter 3. It ended with his abdication in 1831, after he had alienated the whole country. He bequeathed the imperial crown to his five-year-old son, also called Dom Pedro. His old associate, José Bonifácio de Andrada, had returned from exile a few months earlier, so Pedro I appointed him guardian over the new emperor and the other children he was leaving behind. Then he took the title of Duke of Braganza, sailed to Portugal, and launched a war to regain the Portuguese throne for his daughter Maria. This was the latest round in a conflict known as the Liberal Wars, which pitted Pedro and the liberals against his brother Miguel and those who favored absolute monarchy. With some help from the British navy, Pedro won, Miguel was pensioned off and exiled, and Maria was restored to the throne. But that was the last important thing Pedro did; exactly four months after the war ended, he died (September 24, 1834).

With all the turmoil that shook Latin America in the first generation after independence, it is remarkable that Brazil’s dynasty survived the long regency of the younger Dom Pedro. To start with, Pedro needed more than one guardian (Bonifácio died in 1838). Because his father was unpopular, there was considerable unrest; as late as the 1840s, the governors of the states farthest away (Pará and Pernambuco in the north, Rio Grande do Sul in the south) tried to win autonomy for their regions. To put a limit on the unrest, Congress decreed in 1840 that fourteen-year-old Dom Pedro had come of age, so in 1841 he was crowned Pedro II, though he continued to rule with the help of others until 1847.

For forty-two years (1847-89), Pedro II ruled autocratically, but he was much better behaved than most people who have supreme power. He always governed within the boundaries set by the constitution, and by not insisting on a centralized government, he avoided nation-splitting conflicts. A centralized government would not have worked in a state where both the people and the economy are widely dispersed. To start with, Brazil’s sugar and cotton were grown in the northeast, while coffee was grown in the southeast, and Rio Grande do Sul, like nearby Argentina and Uruguay, took up cattle ranching.

Pedro also allowed Congress to meet regularly. The lower house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, held elections to choose its members, but only the handful of citizens who could read were allowed to vote. The Senate, on the other hand, sent lists of proposed new senators to the emperor, who chose which candidates would actually serve, and the emperor also appointed important national and provincial officials. Finally, the emperor lived modestly, and respected freedom of speech, even when the political topic was the curtailment of his own powers. By giving Brazil only as much democracy as it could handle, he was able to run the country efficiently, and prepared it for the day when the upper class would have enough political experience to do more.(73)

Pedro II.

Pedro II.

At first the Brazilian economy, like much of the economy in ex-Spanish America, was dominated by large plantations, called fazendas in Portuguese. The owners of those plantations, the fazendeiros, favored free trade, and encouraged economic development, such as the building of roads, railroads, steamships, telegraph lines, and banks. They did this because infrastructure improvements increased their income, but otherwise their outlook was conservative; they did not want to share their power with anyone else.

It probably won’t surprise the reader that Brazil kept to itself while Pedro II was a minor. After 1850, however, he was grown up and stability had returned to the country, so Brazil was able to embark on a more assertive foreign policy. When the Argentine army threw out the dictator Rosas in 1852, 3,000 Brazilian soldiers crossed the border to join them. This was followed by more meddling in Uruguay, and as we saw earlier, Brazil made the largest contribution of any of the allies in the War of the Triple Alliance. That war, though, was so expensive in both money and lives, that it may have been the main reason why, since 1870, Brazil has chosen to get along with everybody. It never became a southern rival to the United States, for instance, though it has the land, population and resources to do so.

In the nineteenth century, Great Britain was Brazil’s best friend on the world scene. The British recognized Brazil as an independent nation in 1826, after Brazil agreed to these two conditions:

  1. Britain would continue to have the same trading privileges it enjoyed when Brazil was a Portuguese colony.
  2. Brazil would stop importing African slaves by 1830.
The second concession was harder to keep than the first. By now the Abolitionists had gotten rid of slavery in Britain, after a sixty-year campaign to convince the British people that slavery was not a necessary evil -- it was just evil. Next, British politicians made it their goal to get rid of the practice everywhere else. Thus, whenever British diplomats negotiated with foreign governments, they were sure to demand that the other party do its part to stamp out slavery.

All the former Spanish colonies in the Americas had freed their slaves by the 1850s, but because slavery was so ingrained into the Brazilian way of life, quite a few Brazilians, especially the fazendeiros, did not think it was so bad.(74) Whereas slaves were seen as property in countries like the United States, in Brazil they were seen as part of the extended family on the fazendas; they just happened to have a lower status than free workers. Moreover, the Church did not campaign against slavery in Brazil the way the Church had in Britain (an English clergyman, William Wilberforce, had founded the Abolitionist movement). Finally, there was the transportation factor; when coffee became Brazil's most profitable crop, many landowners who moved from the north to the south found it difficult to bring their slaves with them, in a large country where transportation and communication between the cities was practically nonexistent.(75) For them it was easier to sell their slaves before they moved, and buy new ones when they reached their destination. Still, they could not make the slavery issue go away, because Brazil’s population (4 million in the 1820s) was more than 50 percent black and mulatto.

The emperor agreed with the Abolitionists from the start, but the first efforts to stamp out the slave trade were only half-hearted. In fact, the number of slaves brought across the Atlantic increased, when the slavers realized that their business was about to become illegal. After the slave trade was banned, their favorite smuggling tricks were to use all-black crews on the ships, because they were less likely to be suspected of carrying slaves, and by concealing slaves under cages containing chickens. Here are figures for the slave traffic at Rio de Janeiro:

Date Slaves landed in Rio each year
1824-1827 25,000
1828 47,450
1829 57,100
1830 32,200
1845 20,000

By 1845 the British had grown tired of waiting for Brazil to keep its promise to stop the slave trade, so Britain passed the Aberdeen Act, which declared that the Royal Navy would seize all Brazilian slave ships they encountered, and treat their crews as pirates. During the next five years the British took several ships loaded with slaves, and refused to pay any claims for damages. British warships even entered Brazilian harbors and captured or scuttled the slave ships they found there. No sovereign nation could stand such meddling in its internal affairs, so Congress passed a drastic law banning the slave trade in 1850, not because of sentiments for the plight of the slaves, but to stop British intervention. By 1853 both the slave trade--and further British breaches of Brazil's national sovereignty--came to an end.

The halting of human trafficking across the Atlantic was only one step of the process; the next step was to free the slaves. More laws were passed, but as with the slave trade, they were not strong enough to permit full emancipation. One such law, passed in 1871, freed all slaves owned by the government and also promised that all children born to slaves would be freed at the age of twenty-one. Of course this didn't solve the problem because most of the slaves belonged to plantation owners, not the government, and the masters still got a full generation of work from the younger slaves before they had to let them go. Another law, passed in 1885, freed all slaves that were more than sixty-five years old. However, the average life expectancy for a slave at this time was forty-five, so obviously the law didn't do much good. Consequently, more than 700,000 blacks were left in chains. Finally, on May 13, 1888 -- twenty-three years after the United States freed its slaves and more than half a century after the British had freed theirs -- Congress passed a law banning all slavery in Brazil.

Although they now had their freedom, the lives of the slaves otherwise did not improve much, because most of them were illiterate and did not have useful skills. Whereas the slave owners used to look after the slaves, they were now cast onto the streets without anyone or anybody supporting them. Many did not survive; those who did moved to the slums in Brazil's cities. Even today black Brazilians are one of the poorest and worst-educated groups in the country.

The end of slavery was quickly followed by the end of the Brazilian Empire. Pedro II was traveling in Europe, and recovering from a serious illness, when the law abolishing slavery was passed, so he had no part in it, but because he approved of the law, most of the people gave him credit for it anyway. Thus, when he came home, he was more popular than ever. The fazendeiros thought he was behind the law, too, and resented how the slaves had been freed without compensation to their owners. And they were not the only group that was upset at the emperor; the Church, which was normally inclined to support a monarch, felt that the emperor was not conservative enough. On the other side of the political aisle, a younger generation of politicians that had been born after independence did not appreciate living in the only New World country with a monarch. Finally, the army officers resented how Pedro gave them no opportunities for their political ambitions, and felt they would do better under a republic. On November 15, 1889, the fazendeiros and the army got together to launch a coup. It was over so quickly that the few people who saw it did not realize what was happening; the historian Lídia Besouchet commented that “rarely has a revolution been so minor." Afterwards the army had to put down several riots from opponents of the coup, which included those troops who preferred a monarchy over a republic.(76)

The emperor did not fight for his throne, because he was tired of wearing the crown. He also probably felt that the dynasty was doomed; his two sons were dead already, leaving only a daughter named Isabel, and though the constitution allowed women to inherit the throne, Pedro felt the country would not accept an empress. Like his father, he abdicated, quietly went into exile in Europe, and died not long afterwards (1891). Also in the Latin American tradition, his body was brought home for reburial in his homeland many years later, when he was no longer the subject of controversy.

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New Arrivals in the Guianas

The revolutions that shook most of Latin America in the early nineteenth century skipped northeastern South America, because the three Guiana colonies had not been occupied long enough to develop a nationalist movement. When slavery was abolished a few years later, many blacks, instead of assimilating into European society, fled into the interior and established tribal communities like the ones they remembered in Africa. Those blacks who "went native" are often called Maroons, and they became a buffer between the Europeans living on the coast, and the hostile native tribes that still existed deeper in the jungle; some of these neo-African communities still exist today. To replace the slaves that used to work the plantations, the British brought in Indians, the Dutch brought Indonesians--and the French brought more convicts.

We mentioned in Chapter 3, footnotes #18 and #19, that France exiled prisoners to French Guiana near the end of the eighteenth century, but most of them did not survive, which was not what the leaders of France had in mind. They tried sending exiles again in the 1850s, first setting up leper colonies in the territory, then penal colonies; perhaps Napoleon III wanted to imitate what the British did with Australia. The most notorious prison was on an offshore island, Devil's Island. As a prison, Devil's Island was open from 1852 to 1953; the most famous prisoner sent there was Captain Alfred Dreyfus, in the 1890s. Most prisoners sent to the penal colonies quickly died from disease and/or malnutrition; those who completed their sentences were required to live in French Guiana for a period of time equal to the length of their sentences, before they could return to France. This was supposed to increase the colony's population, but in practice most ex-prisoners could not find a decent way to make a living, and if they could not raise the money needed for a passage to France, they became criminals or beggars in the colony.

The other two Guianas saw the first stirrings of nationalism after 1870, but it wasn't until the 1950s that the British and Dutch allowed some self-government. We will come back to that in future chapters of this work.

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Breaking the Rubber Monopoly

One invention can change the world in unexpected ways. With Argentina, the invention was refrigeration; with Brazil, it was the steamship. As soon as Europeans discovered rubber, they thought it was a nifty thing to have, but until the late nineteenth century, all rubber came from the New World. The problem was that the seeds of the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) lost their fertility so quickly that they could not be planted far from the Amazon jungle (Mesoamerican rubber came from other latex-bearing plants, like guayule). In 1860 Clements Markham successfully transported another South American plant, the cinchona tree (the source of the anti-malarial drug quinine), across the Atlantic, but even the fastest clipper ships could not deliver rubber seeds in time. Thus, Brazil enjoyed a monopoly on rubber when the process of vulcanization was developed, which greatly increased world demand for rubber, now that it could be put to many new uses, like tires.

This was the situation when a British adventurer named Henry Wickham entered the picture. Wickham found life in England boring, so he spent his life traveling around the world seeking his fortune. He tried to do it by raising various crops (sugar, manioc, tobacco, sponges, coconuts and pearls) in the places he visited, but failed at all of them. Only once did a scheme of his work, and what a success that was! It happened in 1876, when Wickham came to Brazil to gather rubber seeds, having been offered £10 for every thousand seeds he could bring back alive. He managed to collect 70,000 seeds, before he found a way to deliver them. Then a British steamship captain came to the Amazon city of Manaus with a full cargo, only to find that he had lost his cargo for the return trip. When Wickham heard about the empty steamship, he chartered it, loaded it with the seeds, and sent it to England, knowing it would cross the ocean faster than any sailing ship. There was a tricky moment when he had to get the seeds past Brazilian customs agents, and he told them that the ship was full of delicate plants “for delivery to Her Britannic Majesty’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.” Not realizing that the Kew Gardens are the plant nursery and botanical research center of the British Empire, the agents let the ship go without inspecting it; they must have thought Wickham was taking orchids to Queen Victoria.

Fortunately for Wickham, he was paid for the number of seeds delivered, not the number that survived the trip. At Kew Gardens 2,397 seeds, 3.42% of the total, germinated. Six months later, rubber seedlings were shipped to India, Sri Lanka and Singapore. The Singaporean seedlings went to neighboring Malaya, where they revolutionized the local economy. By 1914, the United Kingdom had replaced Brazil as the world's largest rubber producer, and because British rubber came from trees grown on plantations, instead of coming from wild trees in the jungle, it was of better quality, too. This meant another “bust” in Brazil’s cycle of booms-and-busts, as had been the case with sugar, gold, cotton and coffee.

This is the end of Chapter 4.


53. The Haitians persecuted the Catholic Church, because they saw it as belonging to their former masters, and sought to eradicate Spanish customs like cockfighting. On the bright side, they did away with slavery.

54. Luckily for people in the countryside, the Haitian administration was usually too inefficient to enforce its own laws.

55. The founders of La Trinitaria were Juan Pablo Duarte, Ramón Matías Mella, and Francisco del Rosario Sanchez. Although none of them got to be president, today's Dominicans consider them the real founding fathers of the Dominican Republic.

56. Christophe’s palace, Sans Souci (see Chapter 3), was severely damaged by an 1842 earthquake that killed 10,000 people in northern Haiti. It was never rebuilt.

57. Faustin sent warships to Navassa, but withdrew them after the US promised to share the revenue earned from mining the guano. Go to the section on the War of the Pacific to find out why guano mattered.

58. Santana went from being president to governor-general of the new Spanish province, but he soon discovered that the Spanish authorities would not let him have much power, so he resigned in 1862. Condemned to death by the provisional government, Santana died under mysterious circumstances in 1864; many believe he committed suicide.

59. Today the Dominican Republic calls the 1863-65 conflict the War of Restoration. Because of it, Restauración is a common street name throughout the country, and there are plenty of monuments to the war, including a prominent one in Santiago.

60. When Báez got to be president again, he negotiated a treaty of annexation with the United States (1869). At this time, the post-Civil War South was a dangerous, violent place, and the new US president, Ulysses Grant, thought this meant former slaves and former slaveowners would never get along, so he proposed buying the Dominican Republic for $1.6 million and relocating more than four million black Americans there. This was supported by US Secretary of State William Seward, who had recently bought Alaska from Russia and hoped to establish a Navy base at Samaná. Báez also liked the plan because $100,000 of the purchase money would go into his pocket as an "honorarium." But when the treaty got to Congress, a powerful senator, Charles Sumner, led the campaign to defeat it. Sumner felt it was unfair to blacks, because in every case of white-black violence, blacks were the victims; he may have also thought deporting the blacks to the Caribbean looked too much like the "Trail of Tears," the government's removal of American Indians from the eastern US in the 1830s. If the treaty had gone through, the Dominican Republic might have become another US commonwealth, like present-day Puerto Rico, or even a state like Hawaii.

61. Like Christopher Columbus (see Chapter 2, footnote #10), Gabriel García Moreno went on a strange journey after his death. At the funeral, his body wore a dress uniform and was propped up in a chair, instead of laid out in a coffin. He was buried in the Quito Cathedral, but in 1883 his family, fearing that liberals would desecrate his remains, stole them from the cathedral and reburied them in a new coffin. Only a few friends and priests were trusted with the secret of the new grave’s location, and they did not tell, so the location was forgotten when they died off. Ninety years later the Conservative Party decided to look for the grave of its most important leader, and it was found under a convent in 1975, just in time to return the remains to the Quito Cathedral on the 100th anniversary of García Moreno’s death. Click here for the detective story on how that discovery was made.

62. Argentina’s first railroad, built in 1857, was only six miles long. As in the rest of Latin America, serious railroad construction did not begin until the 1870s; that required lots of money from foreign (especially British) investors, and they did not pay until that part of the world was both stable and friendly to them. By 1890 Argentina had 5,848 miles of railroad tracks.

63. Burton, Richard, Letters from the Battle-fields of Paraguay, London, 1870, pg. 164.

64. Patagonia became disputed territory when Chile founded the port of Punta Arenas, on Tierra del Fuego, in 1845. Consequently the Chileans gave arms, ammunition and horses to the Indians, and there were two clashes between Argentine and Chilean soldiers at the end of the campaign. It took two treaties (1881 and 1902) and arbitration by the US minister to Argentina (1899) to settle the dispute.

65. As herds of livestock increased, the techniques for raising them were brought up to date, which including fencing in the plains where they roamed. Barbed wire was so important at this stage that an 1875 law made barbed wire imports exempt from customs duties.

66. The first Guatemalan constitution was considered invalid, because the country’s presidents had ruled by decree for the past twenty-five years.

67. Carrera claimed to be on the side of the Indians, but they were no better off under him than they were under anyone else, because they were now in debt to the landowners. What Carrera mainly did for them was halt the destruction of their culture, while liberals wanted to modernize the Indians because they saw it as “progress.”

68. Demographic growth was impressive, too. While Diaz was president, Mexico’s population grew by 50 percent, to 15 million. What’s more, most of it was through Mexicans having babies; Mexico did not attract as many immigrants as South America.

69. The war’s foremost Bolivian hero was Colonel Eduardo Abaroa Hidalgo, who was killed at Topáter, the first battle. The South American equivalent of Horatius, Abaroa fought to the death, while the rest of the outnumbered Bolivian force escaped across the bridge they were defending. When Chilean soldiers surrounded him and asked him to surrender, the wounded Abaroa replied, “Surrender? Your grandmother should surrender, you bastard!” For this last-minute act of defiance, Abaroa’s name was given to a Bolivian province and a nature reserve, and the day of his death, March 23, became a national holiday. On the 73rd anniversary of his death, in 1952, Abaroa’s remains were transferred from Chile to Bolivia, for re-burial at Plaza Abaroa (Abaroa Square) in La Paz. At the same time, the Bolivian government issued the stamp shown below, which quotes most of his last words, except for “you bastard.”

Bolivian stamp of Abaroa.

70. The loot taken back to Chile included the entire contents of the National Library of Peru. Chile returned nearly 4,000 of those books in 2007, in a move to improve Chilean-Peruvian relations.

71. Bolivians call their landlocked status enclaustromiento, and the government still uses the issue to rally the people behind a common cause.

72. Free trade under the liberal administrations of the 1860s and 1870s led to a great increase in exports of three cash crops: tobacco, quinine, and coffee. Unfortunately, the demand for those crops was unstable, and could quickly rise or fall without warning. After 1880, only coffee produced a reliable profit (see footnote #30).

73. The emperor visited the United States on the centennial of its birth, in 1876. He attended the world's fair in Philadelphia where, among other things, he saw a new invention on display there -- the telephone of Alexander Graham Bell. The telephone did not attract much attention until the emperor tried it and exclaimed, “My God, it talks!”

74. “Every dimension of our social existence is contaminated.”-- Joaquim Nabuco, a Brazilian Abolitionist, speaking out in 1880.
The army Brazil recruited for the War of the Triple Alliance was mostly black, thanks to a promise from the emperor to free slaves who enlisted and fought. Because there weren't any blacks on the other side, they responded with pure bigotry. Paraguayan propaganda called Pedro the "chief of the monkey tribe." Even today, Paraguayans assert that Brazilian soldiers raped their women, and there are legends suggesting the black babies they had were killed.

75. In terms of land area, Brazil is the fifth largest nation in the world today; only Russia, Canada, China and the United States (if you include Alaska) are larger.

76. In 1886 a handful of French adventurers crossed the border from French Guiana and founded their own state, the Independent Republic of Guyana, in the Brazilian state of Amapá. This was the same place that had once been called Portuguese Guiana (see Chapter 3, footnote #43). I don't think anyone took the new nation seriously; not even France recognized it, and its president-for-life, a journalist named Jules Gros, "administered" it from Paris. Because Brazil was preoccupied with the events surrounding the end of its monarchy, it did not respond until 1891, when it moved in to annex the territory; Swiss arbitration ruled in favor of Brazil in 1895. In 1904 another French adventurer, Adolphe Brezet, proclaimed the "Free State of Counani" in the same area. The name came from its capital, Counani in French and Cunani in Portuguese. This time the state had its own constitution, flag and stamps, but the only country I know of that recognized it was South Africa, because Brezet had fought in the Boer War, on the side of the South Africans. The second state had the same fate as the first; Brazil annexed it in 1912.

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