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Department of International Relations FHSS, Bond University, Queensland, Australia

Latin America R. James Ferguson © 2006


Week 1:


An Introduction to Latin America in the Global System:

Places, Themes, Legacies and Uneven Development


Topics: -

1. Terminology and Geography

2. Themes and Places

3. Moving Past the Colonial Legacy?

4. Independence and Nationalism

5. The Early International System

6. Crises of Social Order and Development

7. Bibliography, Further Reading and Resources


1. Terminology and Geography


'Latin America' specifically comprises Mexico, and the countries of South and Central America that have a Spanish or Portuguese cultural influence. More loosely, however, it can also include some 32 countries in South America, Mesoamerica (Central and Middle America) and the Caribbean (Moran 1987, p3). In this subject, we will be looking at the interaction of Latin American nations among each other, regionally in the 'Western hemisphere' (comprising North and South America), in new inter-regional interactions with North America, Europe, East Asia and the Pacific region, and the place of Latin America in the international system during a period of rapid globalisation. Latin America comprises one of the most important regions of the world, interacting intensely with North America and Europe, and comprising a major test case for democratisation, neo-liberal economics, and for new strategies in the developing world (for one view, see Comeau 2003). Although some of these states have emerged as major powers, e.g. Brazil, overall perhaps only 15-20% of the population can afford a 'first world' life style (Petras 1999), with a lower tier too poor to gain benefits from current globalisation trends. Latin America has demonstrated considerable evolution both in regional institutional building, as well as in grass-root strategies designed to empower ordinary individuals. At the same time, the challenges of inequality and poverty, as well as the legacies of violent political confrontation remain very strong in many of countries (see Ferranti 2004 & Schneider 2000). As a result, some of these countries have democracies which function unevenly, marked to some degree by limited rule of law, or by highly divided classes and communities, e.g. as in Venezuela through 2003-2006 (for background see Foweraker & Krzarnic 2002).


In this area, there are dangers in terminology. 'Hispanic', for example, is no longer a favoured term among some Latin Americans, since it sometimes infers that these cultures are little more than a reflection of Spanish culture, and also does not include Brazil and Portuguese influences. Likewise, people in Latin America and within the United States object that it is an umbrella word that is not precise enough to indicate either ethnicity or identity, while others specifically use the term to indicate a Spanish, rather than Amerindian or African origin (see Hamilton 2001). Thus writers 'such as Gloria Anzaldua, Sandra Cisneros and Denise Chavez are on record as being strongly and proudly "Latina" -not "Hispanic"' (Hamilton 2001). In this subject we will look at major countries which have had a strong 'Hispanic' tradition, e.g. in Mexico and Colombia, but also look at Brazil with its strong Portuguese legacy. It is important to note that these countries now have a unique tradition influenced by indigenous peoples, plus European, African and contemporary American influences. In many cases it is better to look at the specifics of national or local societies, e.g. Chilean cultures, which are different in many ways from either Mexican or Venezuelan culture. Likewise, it is important not to generalise worst case conditions or patterns to the entire region, though some partially shared historical, developmental and regional experiences will be outlined (lectures 1-2, 9-12). In other weeks we will look at particular countries and issues in detail (lectures 3-8).




Latin America, showing borders with United States (courtesy PCL Map Library)


The region is geographically dominated by the Andean mountain chain and by several highland plateaus in Mexico, the Guianan and Brazilian plateaus, as well as by river systems of the Amazon and Parana-Paraguay rivers (Moran 1987, p5). The climate of the region is very diverse: alongside jungles, deserts and snow clad mountains, there are also savannas and temperate tablelands. The resources of the region as a whole are vast, including oil, gas, minerals, rainforests, and expanding ranch-lands that have both led to a scramble for resource access as well as leaving considerable environmental management problems for most of these nations. Human, social, intellectual and cultural resources are also very diverse, as well shall see.


2. Themes and Places


There will not be enough time to look at all the countries, institutions and issues that affect Latin America in the international system. Instead, the subject lectures and seminars will sample some of the major countries and central themes, providing a backbone of ideas and approaches. In later lectures we will look at Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, and Brazil in some detail, and at Chile from the point of view of democratisation processes. Major themes will include current economic development, democratic and political systems, regional cooperation, environmental impact, Andean cultures, relations with the United States and Europe, new institutional structures and diplomatic initiatives, current strategic issues, and the future prospects of Latin America. These lecture themes can be seen in the subject outline: -


1) An Introduction to Latin America in the Global System: Places and Themes


2) Latin America: From Colonisation to Nationalism to Globalisation


3) Mexico in Progress and Crisis: From Cortés to NAFTA


4) Cuba: Revolution, Resistance, and Globalisation


5) Colombia and the Paradox of Intervention


6) Brazil: An Emerging, Revisionist ‘Great Power’?


7) The Struggle for Democracy: Chile and Argentina


8) The Shifting Pattern of US-Latin American Relations (Guest Lecturer)


9) Regional Organisations and Political Regionalism: The Hemispheric Dream


10) From Mercosur to Free Trade Areas


11) The Latin American Search for Foreign Policy and Security in the 21st Century


12) The Quest for Stability: From Dependence to Interdependence


3. Moving Past the Colonial Legacy?


Latin America today is still largely shaped by its unique history and economic development. To understand contemporary political, economic, social and strategic trends, some background information is needed. It was during the 19th century that the nations of Latin America were formed, but carried forward social legacies from the past. We will not try to cover this in detail, but a timeline and a few key themes will act as an introduction to contemporary Latin America. We will look a little more closely at the history of Mexico, Cuba, Colombia and Brazil later in the subject. The Amerindian and indigenous culture, with its rich history, will also be touched on briefly in later lectures, especially in connection to current political and developmental challenges.


Timeline (Post European contact, 1415-1889, adapted from Slatta 2000)


Exploration and Conquest, 1492-1550:

1415-60 Prince Henry the Navigator opens the great Portuguese "Age of Exploration"

1492 Columbus makes landfall in the Bahamas on October 12

1494 Treaty of Tordesillas divides the New World between Spain & Portugal

1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral claims the Brazilian "hump" for Portugal

1507 A German cartographer publishes a map of the New World, using the name America in honour of Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512)

1519-22 Cortez enters, lays siege to, and conquers Aztec capital Tenochtitlan

1532 Pizarro captures Atahualpa, ending the Inca Empire

1535 Maya defeat and force out all Spaniards from the Yucatan

1540 Pedro de Valdivia begins the conquest of Chile


Colonial Era, 1550-1800:

1524 Council of the Indies established to help administer the new colonies

1536 Pedro de Mendoza founds Buenos Aires

1540 Francisco Vasquez de Coronado explores north from Mexico to the Great Plains

1609 Spanish establish Santa Fe, New Mexico

1680-92 Massive Pueblo revolt drives Spaniards out of northern frontier

1697 Last of the Maya defeated by Spaniards

1767 Society of Jesus (Jesuits) expelled from Spanish America

1780-81 Indian revolt led by Tupac Amaru in Upper Peru

1781 Comuero Revolt in Colombia

1791-1804 Slave revolt on French island of Saint-Dominigue (Haiti) leads to independence

1793-1815 Napoleonic Wars disrupt political rule in Europe


Beginning of Independence:

1807 King John and his court flees to Brazil to escape Napoleon's invading armies in Portugal

1808 Napoleon Bonaparte installs his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne

1810 Creoles establish ruling juntas in Carcas, Venezuela, Santiago, Chile, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hidalgo's "Grito de Dolores" in Mexico

1811 Venezuela and Paraguay declare independence from Spain; Hidalgo killed and replaced by Morelos; José Gervasio Artigas leads battle for Uruguayan independence

1815 Bolívar forced to retreat to the island of Jamaica

1816 Argentina declares independence

1818 Chile declares independence

1821 Iturbide declares Mexico independent with his Plan of Iguala

1822 San Martín and Bolívar meet a Guayaquil, Ecuador; the former departs for France and self-imposed exile; King Pedro declares Brazil independent from Portugal

1823 US issues the Monroe Doctrine warning against recolonization of the newly independent Spanish American republics

1824 Last patriot victories against the Spaniards: Bolívar at Junín in August and Sucre at Ayacucho in December; Pedro writes a new Brazilian constitution

1825 Bolivia declares independence


Aftermath of Independence, 1826-1860s:

1828 British force a settlement of the war between Argentina and Brazil over the "Banda Oriental." This long-contested land becomes newly independent Uruguay.

1829 Venezuela leaves "Gran Colombia"

1830 Ecuador leaves "Gran Colombia"; Bolívar dies preparing to go into exile

1830s Rise of caudillos, self-interested military dictators backed by private armies 1831-1844 Pedro I forced to abdicate. Brazil ruled by committee--the Regency--a time of political fragmentation

1844-89 King Pedro II rules Brazil


Several unusual impulses need to be considered in the European view of the 'New World'. As we all know, Christopher Columbus (= Cristoforo Colombo = Cristóbal Colón) had headed westwards in the hope of finding a new route to India, the East Indies, China and Japan. Instead, from 1492 he helped open up a new continent to European expansion. Although at first viewed as less lucrative than the goal of India and the East Indies trade, Portuguese and Spanish conquests in the Americas were driven by several factors: -


* Access to removable wealth including gold, silver and slaves. In time, the wealth of agricultural land also became central, with the creation of vast plantations and ranches. Thus 'the mines of Mexico and Peru produced only one quarter of the wealth produced by agriculture and cattle ranching', even at their height (Fuentes 1992, p156). Yet this value could only be realised with the use of cheap labour, and at first this was done through encomienda and then the repartimientos grants, whereby Indian inhabitants were tied to land as labourers (Williamson 1992, pp14-15; Fuentes 1992, p131). Eventually these grants became private property, leading to the hacienda system, with workers often being tied to these large estates through debt peonage (Fuentes 1992, p135; discussed further in lecture 3).


* The geopolitical contest of powers, including rivalry among Spanish, Portuguese, British, French and Dutch interests. European powers competed to enrich themselves and therefore gain more dominance back in Europe, as well as for strategic ports and colonies. From the 19th century onwards emerging American powers, including the United States, Brazil and Mexico, would seek to limit and moderate European political influence achieving their at times tenuous independence (see below).


* The interests of the Catholic Church in the conversion and 'education' of native Americans. Christianity, for good and bad, was one of the main shapers of colonial experience in Latin America. A major debate soon emerged among different Christian orders: some argued that the Indians were innocent humans with rational souls ready for conversion (as thought by Father Bartolomé de Las Casas), others denied that they had true souls and following a line of thought that goes back to Aristotle suggesting that they were fit only for conquest and enslavement (Hanke 1959; Fuentes 1992, p125, p130). Catholicism also became one of the contested patterns of identity in many Latin American communities, to be challenged in diverse settings by revolutionary rationalism, modernism, nationalism and Protestantism (for resurgent indigenous voices I the 21st century, see Cleary 2005).


* An important early trend was also utopian idealism, hoping that this new continent would offer a paradise of plenty and harmonious social relations (Fuentes 1992, p8). This utopian trend also included images of the 'noble savage', as well as experiments in utopian social villages in Mexico, e.g. the efforts of a Fransiscan bishop to create communal Christian villages among the Tarascan Indians (Fuentes 1992, p134). In Brazil, Jesuits missions protected natives under the idea that Europeanisation need not precede Christian education, and their missions protected these people from enslavement from the 16th century down till the early 17th century, but these towns were raided extensively during the 'just war' of the late 16th century, and was intensified after the Jesuit expulsion from Portuguese (1759) and Spanish (1763) lands (Hudson 1997). This 'invention' of a better place (Fuentes 1992, p125) would form part of the founding myths of the United States, but also influenced images of Brazil and Latin America as a whole. The contrast between North and South American culture would in part be due to different visions of political and social order that would shape their societies and economies in divergent ways (see Véliz 1994).


* The was a pressing need for land and resources for an expanding population, a burgeoning middle and trade class, and land for people within Europe who saw emigration as an escape from poverty. This would in part explain (but not justify) the oppressive treatment of indigenous people, and the appropriation of their land at every opportunity. Political elites also needed wealth to maintain their power and enhance status, while the Spanish and Portuguese crowns sought to enhance their national power through rich colonies. Spain already had the model of conquest and appropriation from their conflict with the Moors (see Fuentes 1992).


* Massive migrations of people into the Americas, the first from Asia (probably over land bridges connecting Siberia and Alaska) probably between 15-12,000 B.C., though some controversial archaeological data has suggested possible earlier dates. The second wave of migration began from 1492, first from Europe, and then forcibly from Africa. Certain aspects of these migrations would have long term effects, shaping the culture of Latin America today: -


a) The arrival of the Amerindians into the Americas remains only partially charted. It has been suggested that about 14,500 thousand years ago their ancestors crossed over from northeast Asia, then travelled south, gradually exploring and settling as they went. The oldest, date-confirmed finds are about 11,500 years old, but some scientists suggest that the arrival date might have to be pushed back as far as 20,000 years, with migrants using boats rather than crossing on land bridges (see Wright 1999). Numerous different cultures would evolve, some largely based on advanced hunter-gatherer structures, others on more sedentary agricultural systems (as in the Aztec, Maya and Inca). This was not static: change, conquest, and migration occurred within these indigenous cultures, e.g. the arrival of the Mexica (Aztec) into the valley of Mexico and the spread of the Chibchas, Arawaks and Caribs (Hanratty & Meditz 1988) into parts of Colombia.


b) Migration of Europeans was largely shaped by the political control of the territories by the imperial powers. This led to a largely 'Hispanic culture' in much of Latin America, but with Portuguese culture shaping Brazil, while British and French culture influencing North America and parts of the Caribbean. This division between an Anglo-American north and a Hispanic/Luso-Brazilian south is an important cultural divide (Véliz 1994) that remains even today as a factor in foreign affairs and identity politics.


c) From 1518 African slaves were brought into the Americas as labourers, mostly for plantations. Over the next three centuries, they would form the mainstay of many colonial economies (e.g. in Cuba and Brazil), with some 3.5 million coming in during this period (Fuentes 1992, p197). Afro-Americans soon became much more than a source of forced labour. As noted by Carlos Fuentes:


There was hardly an aspect of labour and life in the New World that was not marked by the black culture. In Brazil, which began importing slaves from 1538, blacks helped explore and conquer the interior. Black regiments under black leaders fought the Dutch and defended Rio de Janeiro against the French. They were essential to the conquest, settlement, and development of Brazil. They also rebelled. (Fuentes 1992, p198)


Thus slaves were not merely passive victims. Numerous rebellions were attempted, slave ships were on occasion taken control of by their prisoners, in Brazil they created their own independent town (Palmares) in the late 17th century away from Portuguese settlement (eventually crushed), and in Haiti their rebellion led in 1804 to the creation of 'the second independent state in the Western Hemisphere and the first free black republic in the world.' (Haggerty 1989) Soon a growing free Afro-American and mixed population would develop in countries such as Cuba and Brazil, becoming professionals, poets, musicians, nationalists and sometimes revolutionaries. These trends would have numerous implications for the identity, culture and current social forces within Latin America as a whole (discussed further in the Cuba and Brazil lectures).

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