Latin American wars of independence

For the independence struggle in the Hispanic American nations, see Spanish American wars of independence.
Countries in Latin America by date of birth independence

The Latin American Wars of Independence were the revolutions that took place during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and resulted in the creation of a number of independent countries in Latin America. These revolutions followed the American and French Revolutions, which had profound effects on the Spanish, Portuguese and French colonies in the Americas. Haiti, a French slave colony, was the first to follow the United States to independence, during the Haitian Revolution, which lasted from 1791 to 1804. From this emerged Napoleon Bonaparte as French ruler, whose armies set out to conquer Europe, including Spain and Portugal in 1808. The Peninsular War, which resulted from the Napoleonic occupation of Spain, caused Spanish Creoles in Spanish America to question their allegiance to Spain, stoking independence movements that culminated in the wars of independence, which lasted almost two decades. At the same time, the Portuguese monarchy relocated to Brazil during Portugal's French occupation. After the royal court returned to Lisbon, the prince regent, Pedro, remained in Brazil and in 1822 successfully declared himself emperor of a newly independent Brazil.

Conditions prior to revolution

American Revolution

Main article: American Revolution

The rebellion by the thirteen British colonies in North America from Great Britain was shifted by several factors, including a number of imposed taxes, repressive acts, and the lack of American representation in British government. This infuriated many colonists, and eventually became the spark that ignited the American Revolutionary War. Initial fighting began in 1775 and lasted until October 1781, when the British army, under the command of General Cornwallis, surrendered in Yorktown, Virginia. The American colonists subsequently, coming after or later, founded a republican government grounded in Enlightenment thought. A wave of revolutions followed the conclusion of the American Revolution.

French Revolution

Main article: French Revolution

The French Revolution (1789–1799) started during the storming of the Bastille, and was a period of political and social upheaval in the political history of France and Europe as a whole, during which the French governmental structure, previously an absolute monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholic clergy, underwent radical change to forms based on Enlightenment principles of democracy, citizenship, and inalienable rights. These changes were accompanied by violent turmoil, including executions and repression during the Reign of Terror, and warfare involving every other major European power.

Napoleonic Wars

Main articles: Napoleonic Wars and Peninsular War

Evolving from the wars that Revolutionary France fought with the rest of Europe, the Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars fought between France (led by Napoleon Bonaparte) and alliances involving Britain, Prussia, Spain, Portugal, Russia and Austria at different times, from 1799 to 1815.

In the case of Spain and its colonies, in May 1808, Napoleon captured Carlos IV and King Fernando VII and installed his own brother, Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish Throne because he didn't want anyone outside of his own bloodline to rule Spain. This pivotal point greatly disrupted the political stability of both Spain and its colonies. Cities throughout Spain and its colonies in America each formed governing bodies primarily consisting of local elites. These ruling local elites were called juntas and their underlying principal in taking power over their communities was that "in absence of the king, Fernando VII, their sovereignty devolved temporarily back to the community." The juntas swore loyalty to the captive Fernando VII and each ruled different and diverse parts of the colony. Most of Fernando's subjects were loyal to him in 1808, but after he was restored to the Spanish crown in 1814, his policy of restoring absolute power alienated both the juntas and his subjects. He abrogated the Cadiz Constitution of 1812 and persecuted anyone who had supported it. The violence used by royalist forces and the prospect of being ruled by Fernando shifted the majority of the colonist population in favor of separation from Spain.[1]

Spanish military presence in its colonies

Graphs showing the make-up of the royalist army at the time of the revolution.

The royalists were the American and European supporters of King Ferdinand. Americans and formed the royalist army, with Americans composing 9% of the royalist forces in all fronts. There were two types of units: the expeditionary units created in Spain and militias created in the Americas. The militias included some veteran units (called the disciplined militia). Only 11% of the personnel in the militias were European or American whites.

After Rafael del Riego's revolution, in 1820, no more Spanish soldiers were sent to the wars in the Americas. In 1820 there were only 10,001 Spanish soldiers in the Americas, and Spaniards formed only 10% of all the royalist armies, and only half of the soldiers of the expeditionary units were European. By the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824, less than 1% of the soldiers were European.

Other factors

Other factors included Enlightenment thinking. The Enlightenment spurred the desire for social and economic reform to spread throughout Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. Ideas about free trade and physiocratic economics were raised by the Enlightenment.

Haiti and the French Antilles

Main article: Haitian Revolution

Portuguese America

After several failed revolts, The Portuguese colony of Brazil declared independence, forming a separate, local Empire founded by Prince Regent Dom Pedro I. The war between the Brazilians and Portuguese lasted from February 1822, with the burst of first skirmishes between militias, to November 1823, when the last Portuguese garrisons surrendered. The Brazilian Empire lasted until a revolution in 1889 overthrew the monarchy leading to its current status as a republic.


In 1821, the Provincia Oriental del Río de la Plata, present-day Uruguay, was annexed by Portugal into Brazil under the name of Província Cisplatina before declaring independence on August 25, 1825 (after numerous prior revolts) and joining a regional federation with the United Provinces of the River Plate, present-day Argentina.

The United Provinces of the River Plate, including Provincia Oriental, fought Brazil during a 500-day war. Neither side gained the upper hand, and in 1828 the Treaty of Montevideo, fostered by Britain, gave birth to Uruguay as an independent state.[2]

Spanish America

North America

Central America and the Caribbean

Retreat of European colonialism and change of political borders in South America, 1700–present

South America

Independence movements in the northern regions of Spanish South America had an inauspicious beginning in 1806. The small group of foreign volunteers that the Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda brought to his homeland failed to incite the populace to rise against Spanish rule. Creoles in the region wanted an expansion of the free trade that was benefiting their plantation economy. At the same time, however, they feared that the removal of Spanish control might bring about a revolution that would destroy their own power.

"El 19 de abril de 1810", overthrow of the Captain General

Creole elites in Venezuela had good reason to fear such a possibility, for one such revolution had recently exploded in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Dominque. Beginning in 1791, a massive slave revolt sparked a general insurrection against the plantation system and French colonial power. By the first years of the 19th century, the rebels had shattered what had been a model colony and forged the independent nation of Haiti.[3] Partly inspired by those Caribbean events, free blacks and slaves in Venezuela carried out their own uprisings in 1795 led by José Leonardo Chirino and José Caridad González. Just as it served as a beacon of hope for the enslaved, Haiti was a warning of everything that might go wrong for elites in the cacao-growing areas of Venezuela and throughout slave societies in the Americas.

Creole anxieties also contributed to the persistence of a strong loyalist faction in the Viceroyalty of New Granada, but they did not prevent the rise of an independence struggle there. Creoles organized revolutionary governments that proclaimed social and economic reforms in 1810 and openly declared a break with Spain the following year.


Simón Bolívar

Verde defeated the Venezuelan revolutionary army, led by Francisco de Miranda, which surrendered at La Victoria on July 12, 1812, ending the first phase of the revolutionary war.

After his defeat in 1812, Simón Bolívar fled to New Granada. He later returned with a new army, while the war had entered a tremendously violent phase. After much of the local aristocracy had abandoned the cause of independence, blacks and mulattoes carried on the struggle. Elites reacted with open distrust and opposition to the efforts of these common people. Bolívar's forces invaded Venezuela from New Granada in 1813, waging a campaign with a ferocity captured perfectly by their motto of "war to the death". Bolívar's forces defeated Domingo Monteverde's Spanish army in a series of battles, taking Caracas on August 6, 1813 and besieging Monteverde at Puerto Cabello in September 1813.

Battle of Carabobo

With loyalists displaying the same passion and violence, the rebels achieved only short-lived victories. The army led by the loyalist José Tomás Boves demonstrated the key military role that the Llaneros came to play in the region's struggle. Turning the tide against independence, these highly mobile, ferocious fighters made up a formidable military force that pushed Bolívar out of his home country once more. In 1814, heavily reinforced Spanish forces in Venezuela lost a series of battles to Bolívar's forces but then decisively defeated Bolivar at La Puerta on June 15, took Caracas on July 16, and again defeated his army at Aragua on August 18, at a cost of 2,000 Spanish casualties out of 10,000 soldiers as well as most of the 3,000 in the rebel army. Bolívar and other leaders then returned to New Granada. Later that year the largest expeditionary force ever sent by Spain to America arrived under the command of Pablo Morillo. This force effectively replaced the improvised llanero units, who were disbanded by Morillo.

Bolívar and other republican leaders returned to Venezuela in December 1816, leading a largely unsuccessful insurrection against Spain from 1816 to 1818 from bases in the Llanos and Ciudad Bolívar in the Orinoco River area.

In 1819 Bolívar successfully invaded New Granada, and returned to Venezuela in April 1821, leading a large army of 7,000. At Carabobo on June 24, his forces decisively defeated Spanish and colonial forces, winning Venezuelan independence, although hostilities continued.

The Battle of Boyacá sealed Colombia's independence


By the end of 1815, the independence movements in Venezuela and almost all across Spanish South America seemed moribund. The large military expedition under Pablo Morillo reconquered Venezuela and most of New Granada. Yet another invasion of Colombia led by Bolívar in 1816 failed miserably.

Years later, in June and July 1819 Bolívar's forces crossed the Andes from the Venezuelan Llanos into New Granada. At the Battle of Boyacá on August 7, his army of 3,000 defeated a Spanish and colonial force of 2,500. On August 10, 1820, Bolívar's forces took Bogotá. Upon his return to Venezuela, he became the first president of the Gran Colombia.


The first uprising against Spanish rule took place in 1809, but only in 1822 did Ecuador fully gain independence and became part of Gran Colombia, from which it withdrew in 1830.[4] "Luz de America" is the nickname given to Ecuador's capital Quito which saw the first revolt against Spanish occupation. The nickname served the urge for the call of independence that was heard around the continent, and inspired the eventual domino collapse of the crown throughout Latin America. At the Battle of Pichincha, near present-day Quito, Ecuador on May 24, 1822, General Antonio José de Sucre's forces defeated a Spanish force defending Quito. The Spanish defeat guaranteed the liberation of Ecuador.

José de San Martín

Most of the southern South American colonies of Spain, including Argentina, Chile, and Perú, fought their wars of independence under another influential military leader and politician, José de San Martín, (known as "the Liberator" in Argentina). San Martín served as "Protector" of Peru until its parliament was assembled. He met with Bolívar at Guayaquil, and on July 26, 1822, they had confidential talks to plan the future of Latin America.


The Argentine War of Independence was fought from 1810 to 1818 by Argentine forces under Manuel Belgrano and José de San Martín against royalist forces loyal to the Spanish crown. On July 9, 1816, an assembly met in San Miguel de Tucumán, declared full independence with provisions for a national constitution.


In 1811, José Gervasio Artigas, who became Uruguay's national hero, launched a successful revolt against Spain. In 1821, the Provincia Oriental del Río de la Plata, present-day Uruguay, was annexed by Portugal into Brazil under the name of Cisplatina.


Paraguay gained its independence on the night of May 14 and the morning of May 15, 1811, after a plan organized by various pro-independence nationalists including Fulgencio Yegros and José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia.


On September 18, 1810 Chile broke from the Spanish rule, declaring independence (although they were theoretically loyal to the king Ferdinand the seventh of Spain, then a captive of the French.). The declaration lead to a decade of violence and warring until the royalist strong hold collapsed in 1826. The Chilean Independence Day is on September 18.

The Chilean Independence movement was led by Chilean-born criollos, who sought political and economic independence from Spain. The movement for independence was far from gaining unanimous support among Chileans, who became divided between independentists and royalists. What started as an elitist political movement against their colonial master, finally ended as a full-fledged civil war. Traditionally, the process is divided into three stages: Patria Vieja, Reconquista, and Patria Nueva.


Spain initially had the support of the Lima oligarchs because of their opposition to the commercial interests of Buenos Aires and Chile. Therefore, the Viceroyalty of Peru became the last redoubt of the Spanish Monarchy in South America. Nevertheless, a Creole rebellion arose in 1812 in Huánuco and another in Cusco between 1814 and 1816. Both were suppressed. These rebellions were supported by the armies of Buenos Aires.

Peru finally succumbed after the decisive continental campaigns of José de San Martín (1820–1823) and Simón Bolívar (1824). While San Martin was in charge of the land campaign, a newly built Chilean Navy led by Lord Cochrane transported the fighting troops and launched a sea campaign against the Spanish fleet in the Pacific. San Martín, who had displaced the royalists of Chile after the Battle of Maipú, and who had disembarked in Paracas in 1820, proclaimed the independence of Peru in Lima on July 28, 1821. Four years later, the Spanish Monarchy was defeated definitively at the Battle of Ayacucho.

After independence, the conflicts of interests that faced different sectors of Creole Peruvian society and the particular ambitions of the caudillos, made the organization of the country excessively difficult. Only three civilians—Manuel Pardo, Nicolás de Piérola and Francisco García Calderón—acceded to the presidency in the first seventy-five years of Peru's independence. The Republic of Bolivia was created from Upper Peru. In 1837 a Peru-Bolivian Confederation was also created but was dissolved two years later due to Chilean military intervention.


Bolivia proclaimed independence from Spain in 1809, during two separate revolutions. One in Chuquisaca on May 25, 1809 and one on July 16, 1809 (the latter clearly breaking all ties with Spain). Sixteen years of struggle followed before the establishment of the republic.

The fight for independence culminated in the Battle of Ayacucho, on December 9, 1824, when a combined Colombian-Peruvian army of 7,000 under the command of Sucre defeated José de la Serna's Spanish army of 10,000. The republicans suffered more than 1,000 casualties, but the Spanish suffered more than 2,000 casualties and more than 2,000 captured, among them La Serna. The Spanish surrender came the next day.

Leaders of the Latin American revolutions

Provinces of the South American viceroyalties.
Further information: Libertadores

World reaction


During the nineteenth century, the new Latin American countries faced many challenges in developing their economies. Though they were politically independent from countries such as Spain and Portugal, many countries remained economically dependent on Europe, in particular on the United Kingdom. Latin American countries exported sugar, beef, copper and coffee to Europe in exchange for manufactured goods.

United States and Great Britain

As a result of the successful revolutions which established so many new independent nations, United States President James Monroe asked Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to draft the Monroe Doctrine. It stated that the United States would not tolerate any European interference in the Western Hemisphere. This measure ostensibly was taken in order to safeguard the newfound liberties for which revolutionaries such as Bolívar and Hidalgo fought, but it was also taken as a precautionary measure against the vast naval, political and economic might of the United States' European contemporaries. Since the United States was a newly founded nation, it lacked the capacity to prevent other European powers from interfering, for that the United States looked for Britain's help and support to execute the Monroe Doctrine into action.

Great Britain's trade with Latin America greatly expanded in the revolutionary period, so it supported the revolutionaries against Spain, which in the past, due to mercantilist ideas, had always denied Britain trade with the Spanish colonies. British diplomatic pressure was sufficient to prevent Spain from attempting to seriously reassert its control over its lost colonies during the late 1820s and early 1830s.

Later developments in Latin America

See also: Ten Years' War, Little War (Cuba), Cuban War of Independence, and History of the Dominican Republic § 1844-1929

Internal divisions also resulted in internecine wars. For example, Gran Colombia proved too fragile and the South American nation collapsed within ten years. Because many of the rulers of this period (often called caudillos) who came to power were from the military, a strong authoritarian streak marked many of the new governments. There were countless revolts, coup d'états and inter-state wars, which never allowed Latin America to become united. This was exacerbated by the fact that Latin America is a land of various and very diverse cultures that do not identify with, or have a sense of unity, with one another.

The Spanish Empire in America was reduced to three Caribbean islands: Cuba and Puerto Rico. Santo Domingo was under Spanish rule for some years before definitive independence was achieved. After three independence wars in Cuba, the Spanish–American War finally took away the islands from Spain at the end of the nineteenth century.

The Empire of Brazil was an anomaly in Latin America as a large, successful and stable monarchy until 1889, when the República Velha ("Old Republic") was founded.

Attempts at hemispheric unity

The notion of closer Spanish American cooperation and unity was first put forward by the Liberator Simón Bolívar who, at the 1826 Congress of Panama, proposed the creation a league of American republics, with a common military, a mutual defense pact, and a supranational parliamentary assembly. This meeting was attended by representatives of Gran Colombia (comprising the modern-day nations of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela), Peru, the United Provinces of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica), and Mexico. Nevertheless, the great distances and geographical barriers, not to mention the different national and regional interests, made union impossible.

Sixty-three years later the Commercial Bureau of the American Republics was established. It was renamed the International Commercial Bureau at the Second International Conference of 1901–1902. These two bodies, in existence as of 14 April 1890, represent the point of inception of today's Organization of American States.

See also


  1. Chambers, Sarah C., and John Charles Chasteen. Latin American Independence: An Anthology of Sources. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2010. Print.
  2. Nilton Freixinho, "International Relations in South America Nineteenth Century A Case Study: The Independence and Sovereignty of Uruguay," in Peacekeeping 1815 To Today (1995) pp 612-19; ISBN 0-662-62062-3 online
  3. "Timeline: Haiti". BBC News. April 29, 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-30.
  4. Fuertes Medina, Aurelia. "History of Ecuador". A Guide to Andean Countries.

Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/18/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.