From the revolution fought by slaves to free Haiti, to the lengthy wars of independence across Spanish holdings in the Americas, to the bloodless emancipation of Brazil, a whole range of events took place 200 years ago. While there were major individual differences between them, all of these occurrences took place in a wider context. The history of Latin America was interconnected with developments in the Atlantic and with the American Revolution and the French Revolution – and even more pronouncedly so than during the colonial period.
The founding of the nations we consider part of Latin America today, which continued into the mid-19th century, shared one feature: anti-colonial resistance. But with the disenfranchisement and dispossession of large social and ethnic groups, the rise of caudillismo, and the development of guerrilla warfare, these events were also marked by the emergence of problems still found in some parts of Latin America to this day. In light of the rise of new indigenous movements such as the one in Bolivia and the rediscovery of Bolivarianism in Venezuela under Hugo Chávez, this dramatic era is taking on new importance and gaining political currency.
Topics of the Present and Future: Democracy and Social Justice
When in 1830 Simón Bolívar looked back on the war for independence, he cited the establishment of stability and legitimization of the political order in multicultural societies as central problems facing Latin America. Today, as various countries celebrate the bicentennial of their independence, issues surrounding the form taken by democracy in Latin America are once again the focus of public attention. In many countries, the bicentennial is considered a reference point for the realignment of the nation’s projects for the future, and for achieving social justice. Even in countries where the official celebrations will not start until later, discussions centering on these topics have long been under way. Under the shadow of their colonial heritage and hampered by problematic beginnings in the early 19th century, the countries of Latin America have fought long and hard, for about 200 years, to discover how to live up to the promise of the revolution.