Breaking Down Latin American History

Breaking Down Latin American History May 15, 2016

I once took a course about Latin American political history. In it I heard one of the best and most concise breakdowns of the history of Latin America that I’ve heard to date, to use as a way to “kick-start” a conversation revolving around Latin American history. My professor (Fabrice Lehoucq, the author of The Politics of Modern Central America: Civil War, Democratization, and Underdevelopment) broke down Latin American history into 6 eras since the beginning of the colonization of Central and South America, and the Caribbean (not my area of specialty, I focus on places like Honduras, Colombia, and Puerto Rico).

Here's a map of where we'll be talking about! The source is ThingLing.
Here’s a map of where we’ll be talking about! The source is ThingLink.


1: The Colonial Period. From about 1525 until around 1820. This period begins shortly after the direct conquest of the region, and lasts until right around independence, in some cases after it (Venezuela for instance didn’t become “independent” until some would argue the end of the Battle of Carabobo in 1821) and in some cases before it (Argentina is considered to be independent since 1819, following the war for independence and the Assembly of San Miguel de Tucuman), and of course in some cases 1820 was the year independence was actually achieved (such as in Colombia, which wasn’t “Colombia” at the time but part of what was known as “Gran Colombia” the sort of super-state which included what would become Panama). Of course independence was achieved differently from nation to nation, and the original map of Central and South America following independence looked vastly different, with nations that currently don’t exist (Gran Colombia, and the Federal Republic of Central America being two of them) making up significant chunks of the map.

2: The Long Wait. This is substantially shorter, lasting from 1820-1870. This period was also perhaps the most chaotic. In this period democracies are still in the process of being “born”. Some of the events that take place during this period include: William Walker taking over Nicaragua (and subsequently his downfall), the war between France and Mexico, the Gran Colombia-Peru war, and other events which contributed to general insecurity.

3: Liberal Period. 1870s-1930 This is when things begin to edge towards what might be considered “normalcy”. In this period, “liberals” are beginning to appear and gain substantial significance. In Latin America liberalism had a presence throughout the revolutionary period, and while the revolutions took both conservatives and liberals working together, following the revolutions conservatives and liberals had to have serious conversations about what came next. Conservatives wanted to make use of what the Spanish had left behind, in terms of class stratification, and the Catholic Church. Liberals, especially in the beginning were more opposed to the influence of the Church, and wanted to work to equalize society. Some of the events in this period include: the notorious Cristero War, the beginning of the Mexican Revolution, the beginning of Honduras as the “Banana Republic” (not the only, but the origin of the name is Honduras, and a U.S. writer named O’Henry, who wrote about a fictional nation, while inspired from his experiences in Honduras, specifically in Trujillo), and the seizure of power in El Salvador by Tomas Regalado, who ruled as president until 1903. Another president, Dr. Manuel Araujo was murdered during his presidency in 1913. This period also contains the infamous trial of Sacco and Vanzetti which led to bombings of US Embassies in Argentina and in Uruguay.

4: Growth Period. 1930s-1960. This period was the period of growth in Latin America, partially due to the improvement of the economy thanks to the second world war, and an increase in U.S. participation in Latin America speeding up the process by which technology in the region increased. The increased participation was also undoubtedly partially due to some Latin American leaders admiring the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini, and other leaders of Latin America admiring Soviet leadership.

5: U.S. control, 1960-1980. This period was the period in which more U.S. control began to appear in Latin America, symbolized by how the U.S. reacted to what are now considered dictatorial regimes. They stopped pressuring them. An example of this could be in a 1964 coup in Brazil which saw President Joao Goulart be replaced by Pascoal Mazzilli. President Johnson and Operation Brother Sam supported the coup as a method to remove the the president of Brazil. For more on this read here and here.

6: “Neo-liberalism” and the present day. This era is up to now! From 1980 and beyond. It’s marked as a time when “neo-liberalism” is the current trend with an example being a Honduran ZEDE. If you are unfamiliar with “neo-liberalism”, it is economic liberalism edging close to one political extreme (which is not at all government involvement in the economic, instead of extreme takeover), which at its core means limiting government intervention as much as possible. Here is it explained by Investopedia. Some of the events that have occurred in Latin America in the most modern “era” are: the removal of Noriega from power in Panama, the creation of the present Honduran constitution (and the Honduran coup), civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, the election of the new Pope, beginning of legalization of marijuana in Uruguay, a slow beginning of the advancement of civil rights for the LGTBQ community in countries like Mexico, Uruguay, and Argentina (and more), the conflict over the Falkland Islands, anti corruption protests in nations like Honduras, Brazil, El Salvador, and Guatemala (and even the removal of a Guatemalan president due to corruption), and far more that we’ll likely discuss as we talk about president day events in Latin America!

This post is meant to begin to get people thinking about the history of Latin America, by breaking it down into separate phases. I’ll make posts about Latin American history in the future, and they’ll be more organized than this, but I hope you enjoyed this! If you enjoyed this, and or want to learn more about specific incidents I mentioned, comment down below! Latin American history is what I am studying, and I really enjoy it so I am happy to write about it.

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