V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > I. Latin America, 1806–1914 > 3. Latin America, 1820–1914
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
3. Latin America, 1820–1914
a. Overview
Spanish colonies emerged from the independence wars divided into republics that briefly cooperated to form broader political units. In Brazil the monarchy held the country together despite strong autonomist and prorepublican movements. By 1850, the countries of Spanish-speaking America had 22.5 million inhabitants, and Brazil had 7.2 million. Most of the population lived in the countryside. As a result of immigration and economic expansion, population grew rapidly in the final decades of the century. In 1900, 44 million people lived in Spanish America, and 18 million in Brazil. This period also witnessed a gradual increase in the size of urban centers, but most of the population still lived in the countryside.  1
Great Britain asserted dominance over the new nations through its commercial agents and a powerful navy, which proved useful in obtaining better trade conditions for British merchants. Export economies developed in the new countries in response to the international market. The resultant expansion of the commercial economy was particularly intense after 1870. The export sector contributed to labor exploitation by encouraging regulations binding laborers to their masters, the expansion of debt peonage, and the use of Chinese indentured servants. Slavery was in decay in most countries by the mid-19th century, but it remained the bedrock of a vigorous export economy in Brazil and Cuba until the 1880s. In the last decades of the 19th century, commercial growth and the first phase of industrialization led to the expansion of cities and the formation of a working class, in some cases from immigrant backgrounds. An incipient labor movement soon confronted repressive measures against its attempts to improve the lot of workers.  2
Following independence, elites split into liberal and conservative factions, which clashed over issues such as federalism, free trade, and the status of the church. Liberal measures expropriating church and communal Indian lands encouraged land concentration and, hence, the consolidation of a large landholding class. Territories seized from nomadic Indian tribes also favored latifundia. In some Spanish-American countries, the caudillos (civil or military leaders) emerged as the main power brokers. Popular sectors, systematically excluded from political participation, found in the caudillos a channel to pressure the elites. In other countries, less disruptive forms of political bossism developed to keep the masses under control. With the consolidation of national states and the emergence of the cities and urban classes, the caudillos' role diminished somewhat, giving way to the formation of political parties.  3
Literature in the 19th century, especially novels and essays, frequently served as a vehicle to promote cohesive national identities. Leading writers such as Domingo F. Sarmiento (Argentina), Andrés Bello (Chile), and José de Alencar (Brazil) were prominent political figures who self-consciously used their writings to outline a particular vision of the national “destiny.” Novels such as Alencar's Iracema (1865) and Amalia (1851) by Argentine writer José Mármol used the romantic genre to allow their characters to form amorous alliances across class, ethnic, and regional lines. Influenced by the romantic canon, intellectuals in the postindependence decades sometimes idealized the indigenous population as the repository of the national essence.  4
Social Darwinism, however, soon emerged as a major intellectual trend. Cultural elites began to portray Indians and other nonwhite groups as unfit for citizenship in civilized political entities, thus “justifying” the ongoing exclusion of the majority from the formal political system. Among elites the dominant tendency was to imitate European styles, including urban architecture, and to foster exclusive institutions that mimicked European high culture. Artists and intellectuals began to seek an alternative to Europeanization in rural popular culture, which some considered a more authentic source of national identity. Meanwhile, waves of immigration from Spain, Italy, and Portugal expanded the ranks of urban popular movements. New forms of association (unions, leagues, mutual-aid societies) and open cultural institutions offered alternatives to political exclusion. Labor activism introduced new ideologies such as anarchism and socialism. (See Cultural Developments)  5
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.