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Latin America after Independence: 1821-30

South America | Nation Building in Mexico, 1820-25 | Changes for California, 1822-34 | Nuevo (New) Mexico: 1821-26 | Chaos in Mexico, 1829-31

South America

Wars against Spain's authority in South America disrupted the economy there. People had been uprooted. Mines had been flooded and abandoned, roads had been neglected and harbor facilities had fallen into decay. All this could be repaired, but establishing the equality, freedom and democracy that liberals tended to believe in was questionable.

While fighting for independence some had thought about justice for Indians, but after the wars most of them ignored the Indians, and societies continued to be highly stratified according to race. The Crióllos were now free from paying taxes to Spain, and they could now aspire to offices that had been held by Spaniards, but many non-whites remained in debt slavery or tied to the lands of the wealthy Crióllos. And some wealthy landholders who had led bands of rebels against the Spanish had acquired a taste for military action for political ends and personal glory.

Bolivar had seen as far back as 1815 that the kind of independence that had been created by Britain's colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America could not be created in South America. He disliked what he saw as a tendency toward anarchy and political immaturity. Bolivar believed in institutions, the rule of law, a strong central government, social justice and all employment freely and fairly contracted. Spain, he complained, had not allowed people in the New World to experience and develop self-government within a framework of institutions.

After his wife's death in 1823, Bolivar's ally San Martin left Argentina for Europe. Chile's political leader, O'Higgins, was energetic and honest. He established courts, colleges, libraries and hospitals, but he angered the Church with his reforms and antagonized men of commerce. He was driven from power, and Chile fragmented into warring factions. Uruguay's founding father, José Gervasio Artigas, was in exile in Paraguay, never to return to Uruguay. In April 1826, Bolivar returned to Caracas from Peru and tried to persuade competing factions there to resume a rule of law. In July, he convened the Congress of Panama to promote democracy and cooperation between Latin America's independent states, but Argentina, Chile and Brazil refused to attend the conference, and the conference was a failure.

In 1827 Bolivar accepted an invitation from the Congress in Bogotá and became President of the Republic of Columbia. But factional disputes interfered with governance, and Bolivar acquired dictatorial authority and then was forced to flee. His health was fading, and he would live only until December 27, 1830.

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