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Latin America

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Hisotry of Latin America

History of the region from the pre-Columbian period and including colonization by the Spanish and Portuguese beginning in the 15th century, the 19th-century wars of independence, and developments to the end of World War II.Latin America is generally understood to consist of the entire continent of South America in addition to Mexico, Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean whose inhabitants speak a Romance language. The peoples of this large area shared the experience of conquest and colonization by the Spaniards and Portuguese from the late 15th through the 18th centuries as well as movements of independence from Spain and Portugal in the early 19th century. Even since independence, many of the various nations have experienced similar trends, and they have some awareness of a common heritage. However, there are also enormous differences between them. Not only do the people live in a large number of independent units, but the geography and climate of their countries vary immensely, and their social and cultural characteristics differ according to the different constitution of the inhabitants before the Iberian conquest and the different timing and nature of European occupation.

Since the Spanish and Portuguese element looms so large in the history region, it is sometimes proposed that Iberoamerica would be a better term than of the Latin America. Latin seems to suggest an equal importance of the French and Italian contributions, which is far from being the case. Nevertheless, usage has fastened on Latin America, and it is retained here.

The independence of Latin America

After three centuries of colonial rule, independence came rather suddenly to most of Spanish and Portuguese America. Between 1808 and 1826 all of Latin America except the Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico slipped out of the hands of the Iberian powers who had ruled the region since the conquest. The rapidity and timing of that dramatic change were the result of a combination of long-building tensions in colonial rule and a series of external events.

The reforms imposed by the Spanish Bourbons in the 18th century provoked great instability in the relations between the rulers and their colonial subjects in the Americas. Many Creoles (those of Spanish parentage but who were born in America) felt Bourbon policy to be an unfair attack on their wealth, political power, and social status. Others did not suffer during the second half of the 18th century; indeed, the gradual loosening of trade restrictions actually benefited some Creoles in Venezuela and certain areas that had moved from the periphery to the centre during the late colonial era. However, those profits merely whetted those Creoles' appetites for greater free trade than the Bourbons were willing to grant. More generally, Creoles reacted angrily against the crown's preference for peninsulars in administrative positions and its declining support of the caste system. After hundreds of years of proven service to Spain, the American-born elites felt that the Bourbons were now treating them like a recently conquered nation.

In cities throughout the region, Creole frustrations increasingly found expression in ideas derived from the Enlightenment. Imperial prohibitions proved unable to stop the flow of potentially subversive English, French, and North American works into the colonies of Latin America. Creole participants in conspiracies against Portugal and Spain at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries showed familiarity with such European Enlightenment thinkers as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Montesquieu, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The Enlightenment clearly informed the aims of dissident Creoles and inspired some of the later, great leaders of the independence movements across Latin America.

Still, these ideas were not, strictly speaking, causes of independence. Creoles selectively adapted rather than simply embraced the thought that had informed revolutions in North America and France. Leaders in Latin America tended to shy away from the more socially radical European doctrines. Moreover, the influence of those ideologies was sharply restricted; with few exceptions only small circles of educated, urban elites had access to Enlightenment thought. At most, foreign ideas helped foster a more questioning attitude toward traditional institutions and authority.

European diplomatic and military events provided the final catalyst that turned Creole discontent into full-fledged movements for Latin-American independence. When the Spanish crown entered into an alliance withFrance in1795, it set off a series of developments that opened up economic and political distance between the Iberian countries and their American colonies. By siding with France, Spain pitted itself against England, the dominant sea power of the period, which used its naval forces to reduce and eventually cut communications between Spain and the Americas. Unable to preserve any sort of monopoly on trade, the Spanish crown was forced to loosen the restrictions on its colonies' commerce. Spanish Americans now found themselves able to trade legally with other colonies, as well as with any neutral countries such as the United States. Spain's wartime liberalization of colonial trade sharpened Creoles' desires for greater economic self-determination.

Occurrences in Europe in the early 19th century created a deep political divide between Spain and its American colonies. In 1807 the Spanish king, Charles IV, granted passage through Spanish territory to Napoleon, who was on his way to invade Portugal. The immediate effect of that concession was to send the Portuguese ruler, Prince Regent John, fleeing in British ships to Brazil. Arriving in Rio de Janeiro with some 15,000 officials, nobles, and other members of his court, John transformed the Brazilian colony into the administrative centre of his empire. When Napoleon turned on his Spanish allies in 1808, events took a disastrous turn for Spain and its dominion in the Americas. Shortly after Charles had abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand, Napoleon had them both imprisoned. With these figures of legitimate authority in his power, the French ruler tried to shatter Spanish independence. In the process he set off a political crisis that swept across both Spain and its possessions. The Spanish political tradition centred on the figure of the monarch, yet, with Charles and Ferdinand removed from the scene, the hub of all political authority was missing.

In 1810 a Cortes (Parliament) emerged in Cбdiz to represent both Spain and Spanish America. Two years later it produced a new, liberal constitution that proclaimed Spain's American possessions to be full members of the kingdom and not mere colonies. Yet the Creoles who participated

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