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Index |  History |  Highlights |  WhatWhenWhere
The two regions
Inca gold
Independence movements
Bolívar & San Martín
Peru, Bolivia, Mexico
     Bolívar and Peru
     Sucre and Bolivia
     The unusual case of Mexico
     Cry of Dolores
     Agustín de Iturbide
     New republics

20th century

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Bolívar and Peru: 1823-1824

Although unwilling to collaborate with San Martín, Bolívar has many reservations about advancing into Peru. There is much unrest and rivalry in his first liberated republic, Gran Colombia, and he considers for a while making terms with the Spanish in Peru so that he can concentrate his energies further north. But the congress of the new Peruvian republic, endangered by Spanish forces, begs for his assistance.

In September 1823 Bolívar arrives in Lima, to a tremendous civic welcome. It has been agreed in advance that he is to have not only command of the army but 'dictatorial political authority' throughout the republic. He pledges himself to deliver a 'free and sovereign Peru'.


The Spanish forces are based in what are considered almost impregnable regions in the mountains east of Lima, but Bolívar and his talented chief of staff, Antonio José de Sucre, successfully confront them there. Together they win a victory at Junin on 6 August 1824. Bolívar leaves the rest of the campaign to Sucre, who goes on to win the decisive engagement at Ayacucho on December 9.

After Ayacucho the Spanish army surrenders, along with the viceroy himself who was commanding in the field. This success completes the liberation of almost the entire Spanish empire in south America. The exception is Upper Peru, beyond Lake Titicaca. Again Bolívar entrusts this final task to Sucre.


Sucre and Bolivia: 1825-1827

The republican victory at Ayacucho leaves only one Spanish army at large, in the high Andean territory of Upper Peru. Sucre moves into this region early in 1825 and defeats the Spanish in April at Tumusla.

Upper Peru has been administered from Lima in the early centuries of Spanish rule, although geographically - lying mainly east of the Andes - it has more obvious links with Buenos Aires. The republican governments in both cities are eager to incorporate this region, with its famous mines at Potosí, but locally a spirit of independence prevails. When Sucre convenes a congress in July 1825 to consider the region's future, the vote is for a separate state.


In honour of their liberators the delegates propose to name the new republic after Bolivár and to rename as Sucre the historic city (Chuquisaca) in which they are meeting.

The nation is duly proclaimed on 6 August 1825 as República Bolívar, soon to be better known to the world as Bolivia. Bolívar himself drafts a constitution. When it is adopted, in 1826, Sucre is elected president for life. Prudently he accepts a term of only two years, but the violence of political life in this new and remote republic means that he does not complete even this modest term. Already in 1827 there are several uprisings, in one of which Sucre is wounded. He resigns as president and returns to his home in Ecuador.


By this time Bolívar has also departed from Peru, called to the north by his own brainchild - the Congress of Panama - and by the threatened disintegration of his first republic, Gran Colombia.

Delegates from only four regions (Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Central America) attend the congress in Panama in June 1826, falling far short of the pan-American gathering which Bolívar had in mind. And they achieve little of practical value. But the event comes at a most significant moment in the history of the continent. Two important items on the agenda are Cuba and Puerto Rico - by now the only parts of Latin America still in Spanish hands, because recent years have also brought independence to central America and Mexico.


The unusual case of Mexico: 1810-1820

While the various Spanish provinces in south America have been finding their own liberal way to independence, Mexico - the centre of Spanish power in the northern part of the continent - has been undergoing a very different transformation.

In south America educated men of the officer class, such as Bolívar and San Martín, have led the fight against Spain. In Mexico the first rebels are poor Catholic priests leading armies of mestizos and Indians. Here the Creoles and the peninsulares support the Spanish authorities in putting down an uprising (in 1810) which looks to them more like a social revolution than an independence movement. It begins at Dolores.


The cry of Dolores: 1810-1815

Napoleon's seizure of the Spanish throne in 1808 provokes many secret societies in Mexico - devoted either to the cause of the deposed Ferdinand VII or to full independence from Spain. One such society, in San Miguel near Dolores, is betrayed to the police. Some members are arrested, others flee. But one, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, has a different response.

Hidalgo is a parish priest in Dolores. On 16 September 1810 (celebrated now as Mexico's independence day) he rings the bell of his church to summon the parishioners. He then makes an inflammatory speech, proclaiming an end to Spanish rule, equality for Mexico's various races, and redistribution of land.


This passionate manifesto, which becomes known as the grito de Dolores (cry of Dolores), has immense appeal to the poor and underprivileged, whether they be mestizos or Indians. Hidalgo selects as his banner Mexico's most famous image, powerfully effective in this context. It is the Virgin of Guadalupe, an icon of the Virgin Mary with Indian features.

Vast excited crowds rally to this banner. They sweep through the towns between Dolores and Mexico City, arriving eventually at the gates of the capital itself. Here, mysteriously, Hidalgo pauses. The impetus is lost. His followers begin to drift away.


Hidalgo's remaining forces are defeated at the bridge of Calderón, near Guadalajara, in January 1811. Fleeing north, hoping to reach safety in the United States, the priest is captured, defrocked and tried. He is put before a firing squad in Chihuahua in July. But his cause survives for several more years under the leadership of his colleague José María Morelos y Pavón, also a priest.

Morelos is a more practical leader than Hidalgo. Victories at Oaxaca in 1812 and Acapulco in 1813 give him control of most of southern Mexico. In 1813 he summons a congress at Chilpancingo. In November the congress declares Mexican independence.


In the following year, 1814, the Spanish position is strengthened when Ferdinand VII is restored to his throne and reinforcements can be sent out to Spanish America. Morelos is captured in October 1815. Like Hidalgo, he is defrocked and is shot as a rebel.

For the next five years the independence movement is checked in Mexico. When it revives, in 1820, Mexico is once again out of step with the rest of Spanish America. Elsewhere liberal sentiments have encouraged rebellion against Spain. In Mexico the precise opposite happens. Fear of liberalism provides the impulse which finally brings Mexican independence.


Agustín de Iturbide: 1820-1824

In 1820 a coup in Spain against the reactionary Ferdinand VII forces him to bring in a liberal government (see Liberal and conservative). It is this development, profoundly unwelcome to Catholic and conservative circles in Mexico, which results in the sudden break with Spain.

The agent of change is a Creole officer in the Spanish army, Agustín de Iturbide, who has won his reputation by his severity and violence against the independence movements of Hidalgo and Morelos. He now abruptly changes sides, finding a formula which unites nearly all Mexicans behind him. His policy, published at Iguala in February 1821, has three distinct strands.


In his Plan of Iguala, Iturbide proclaims immediate independence from Spain, promises equality for Creoles and peninsulares in the new Mexico, and declares a ban on all religions or sects other than Roman Catholicism. With this programme Iturbide is able to lead a force, known as the Army of the Three Guarantees, which rapidly wins control over the whole of Mexico.

A newly arrived viceroy, sent out by the liberal government in Spain, signs on 24 August 1821 the treaty of Cordóba recognizing the independence of Mexico (a concession subsequently but ineffectually denied by the Spanish crown).


With this much so rapidly achieved, the recent alliance between the many factions of Mexico soon crumbles. Iturbide makes use of the prevailing chaos to declare himself emperor of the new nation, as Agustín I, in May 1822.

The empire proves to be short-lived (losing the support of the army, the emperor is forced to abdicate in 1823). But during his two years in power, Iturbide nominally rules over an area larger than Mexico itself. His winning of independence for Mexico in 1821 enables the neighbouring captaincy general of Guatemala to take the same step without bloodshed.


New republics: 1821-1838

With the independence in 1821 of Mexico and Guatemala, along with similar proclamations in Peru in this same year and in Gran Colombia two years earlier, the whole of the Spanish empire in continental Latin America has declared for liberty. Brazil follows suit in 1822, ending the Portugese empire in the American continent.

There will be adjustments during the next two decades, as smaller nations free themselves from larger groupings. Thus Uruguay goes its own way from 1828. Gran Colombia splits in 1830 into the three republics known today. And the Central American Federation is divided by 1838 into five independent states.


By this time only two coastal enclaves in Latin America remain under European colonial control. They are regions where the northern Atlantic maritime nations have been able to establish a tentative foothold on Spain's imperial soil. To the east of Guatemala, in the area now known as Belize, British privateers maintain a presence in an inhospitable terrain. In Guiana, a tropical region well suited to sugar plantations, there are British, Dutch and French settlements.

Otherwise continental Latin America is now entirely free - and free to develop its own characteristic brand of politics.


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