Independence: Problem Solver or Causer?
Independence is the one glorious idea that every person and nation strives for in their existence. No one person or entity wishes to be subservient to another if for any reason that entity seems unfair or controlling. The infant nations of Latin America were able to gain independence through their people because of two reasons: the want of the people to have more control over their daily lives was strong enough to turn into revolt and then war for independence and the conditions and events in Europe happened at the right time. Once independence was achieved, instability surged through the nation. The main reason for this instability in the 19th century was the lack of a political system to keep everything together.
Stable political regimes do not appear out of thin air. The United States of America, for example, had no way of knowing if their government of a democratic republic would work or not. For the first few years in its infancy, the government was extremely rocky. This was even worse in Latin America. There were no Founding Fathers to write up a new constitution and government. The people of Latin America had to do it while trying to find their identity based on their region. People developed their identities through the creation of flags, national symbols, and region-based papers that kept people up-to-date with what was happening across the lands. The most important characteristic of their new identities was the name of the country. Many countries renamed themselves to what we see on a map today. The problem with new countries being born is that no one truly knows where the geopolitical boundaries lie just yet. Someone who believed themselves to be a Peruvian could be living in Bolivia and vice versa. There were no borders yet established by a government to outline these new countries. This set the stage for the fight between federalism and centralism to continue.
The Catholic church was another part of life that was heavily affected by the absence of a government. The church had been very important during the colonial period as religion was a large part of colonial life. It held power as both social and political institutions as it greatly influenced the government. Many government officials fled the region once independence took hold. This included many, if not most, of the Peninsular bishops. They abandoned their dioceses and left them without any replacements. These abandoned posts were not filled for decades until new church officials could be created and relations between the new nations and the Vatican calmed. Liberals, however, started to attack the church and keep its power small as they did not want it becoming a strong force as nations developed.
The period of unstable political regimes was marked by rapid expansion of government systems. Nations were trying to create or adopt a political system but were also failing quite spectacularly. For several nations, war and government controlled by the military occurred because there were no well-defined political or even national institutions to take control. The armies and officers that were created during the wars for independence wanted their rewards once the wars were over, even if they had to play dirty to get them. Many of these armies did not fully disband once the wars were over. However, these armies were one of the stabler institutions to survive the wars for independence which is why they came into power.
The primary fighting on the political battlefield was between liberalism and conservatism. Conservatives fought hard to maintain the ways of the old government that was ran by the Catholic church underneath their Spanish rulers so that a modicum of stability would remain. Liberals counterattacked by trying to create a more open and progressive government by ending the class and race distinctions of the old regime. The change proposed by the Liberals did not sit well with the Natives who were well acquainted with the old system of laws. Conservatives were worried that by giving the Natives power it would lead to an even larger revolt and the purging of the upper class. However, Natives would often switch sides depending on who promised not to intrude in their lives.
Some may argue that the largest cause of instability in Latin America was the lack of an economy. However, economies are always flowing and changing. They have to be to stay relevant to the times. An economy cannot stay in one state as the nation or the world changes or else it will crumble cutting down the country it resides with it. The economy suffered large losses as the Spanish retreated from the region. Now the infant nations had no one to trade with for a period of time until Great Britain, France, and the United States saw opportunity in them. The main point against the economy being the reason for instability within Latin America is that the Natives had gone without Spanish goods and assistance for centuries before they had even been discovered. They had grown dependent on their goods but could transition into a new economy that involved trading with one another or countries to the north.
War was a constant issue during this time, meaning there was always a need for goods in certain nations which means there was always a market, however small. The reason the economies did not recover as quickly and wars continued to dot the continent is that there were no solid governments to take charge and step in. Without a government or solid political system, the economy would forever stay in flux or crash entirely. A system of government is needed for an economy to thrive and become part of world trade. Until Latin America nations created or adopted a government, their economies would forever be crippled. Once the government recovered, not only in Latin America but also in France and the United States, the economy started to recover. War is something too that continues on when there is no government to make treaties and deals to stop it. Without a stable government, there was no way that the regional wars in Latin America would ever stop until one group ruled the rest.
The lack of a stable political regime or government caused the most instability within the region of Latin America within the 19th century. Without a stable government, economic strife, and even sometimes collapse, ran rampant throughout the region. War, too, ran rampant throughout the continent as different groups vied for control of regions so they could establish their own identities and nations. Stable governments would have prevented or lessened the amounts of economic and hostilities within the region had they been thought of or practiced by the revolts before the wars for independence had occurred.
Cheryl E. Martin and Mark Wasserman, “Regionalism, War, and Reconstruction: Politics and Economics” in Latin America and Its People Vol. 2, p. 244-45
Cheryl E. Martin and Mark Wasserman, “Regionalism, War, and Reconstruction: Politics and Economics” in Latin America and Its People Vol. 2, p. 257
Cheryl E. Martin and Mark Wasserman, “Regionalism, War, and Reconstruction: Politics and Economics” in Latin America and Its People Vol. 2, p. 245
Cheryl E. Martin and Mark Wasserman, “Regionalism, War, and Reconstruction: Politics and Economics” in Latin America and Its People Vol. 2, p. 267
Cheryl E. Martin and Mark Wasserman, “Regionalism, War, and Reconstruction: Politics and Economics” in Latin America and Its People Vol. 2, p. 266-67