Latin America Stands Alone

South American Revolutions – 1800 > 1900            


            When looking at the major movements across history, we often try to see patterns or blueprints that essentially show us that life moves forward in some sort of a predictable manner.  Karl Marx believed, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” meaning if you think it was pretty pathetic having to watch humans destroy themselves the first time around, it’s pretty darn ridiculous when they don’t learn from their mistakes and go through the same motions again and again.  In the 20th century, philosopher George Santayana penned a similar thought with “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  These philosophies, coupled with our human partiality to making over-simplified comparisons, have led a generation of wannabe historians (present company included) and media pundits down the path of hyper-generalization. 

            It’s gotten to such an extreme that in the weeks following the 2011 Middle Eastrevolutions, when teachers unions in the American Midwest went to the streets to protest their salary cutbacks, commentators took to the airwaves crying, “America has become the new Tunisiaall over again.”   No.  It really wasn’t.  But it doesn’t just stop there.  In recent years, it has become almost a competition between political pundits to see who can out-analogize their enemy.  Take the portrayal of Barack Obama  One minute, he’s Martin Luther King Jr. and the next, he’s Lyndon B. Johnson.  A couple months later he’s being compared to Josef Stalin  But is Barack Obama“just like” any of these men?

            The truth is – no.  As unentertaining as this might sound - nobody is just like anybody else, and history doesn’t repeat itself. 

            But there are patterns.

            So when we take a look at Latin America and their political revolutions of the 19th century that freed two continents from the grasp of European empires, we must be careful not to draw too many parallels to those experiments in the United Statesand France  It would be easy to merely assume the dominos of popular sovereignty merely fell down across the United States and France and then hopped back across the pond to South America.  But be careful.  The Latin America of 1800 had little in common with the United States of 1776 or the France of 1789, so although we might be able to find some parallels, it was their differences that pushed them down far rockier roads to independence, leaving the nations a jumbled mess and subservient to the Western world through to the 20th century.

            In 1800, the Latin American colonies were ruled almost exclusively by Spain and Portugal.  In the year following Columbus’ discovery of the Americas, the Pope facilitated an agreement (the Treaty of Tordesillas) wherein the New World, Portugal could claim all lands east of Columbus’ discovery (Brazil), leaving Spain all lands to the west (pretty much everything else).  This meant that by 1800, Spain ruled an empire that stretched from northern California, down through...