Post-Bolivarian Blues in Latin America

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 409-410:

No one knew more than Bolívar how imperfect the work had been. Independence had been achieved—enlightened forms of government considered—and yet the victors had emerged with no singleness of purpose, no spirit of collegiality. Warlords still wanted to rule their little fiefdoms, their undersized dreams a match for undersized abilities. It was as true in Bolivia as it was in Venezuela: Notions of a larger union seemed pompous, foreign, vaguely threatening. The colonies were dead, but the colonial mentality was very much alive. The new republics were as insular and xenophobic as Spain had encouraged its American satellites to be. Venezuelans saw Peruvians as arrogant royalists. Coastal dwellers saw mountain dwellers as benighted Indians. Southerners saw northerners as outlandish Negroes. “Goodbye, sambo!” someone yelled as General Sucre pulled out of La Paz. No one seemed to want the dream of an amalgamated America.

The cost of liberty, as Bolívar well knew, had been staggering—far more so than in the United States. Vast, populated regions of Latin America had been devastated. A revolution begun by polite society on the assumption that its wins would be painless had become mired in two decades of catastrophic losses, rivaling in carnage the twentieth century’s more heavily armed conflicts. Populations had been cut in half. Regional economies had come to a rumbling halt. Indeed, the republics Bolívar had liberated were far worse off economically than they had been under the Spaniards; whole provinces had been laid waste. Silver mines had been abandoned; farmlands burned to ash, textile production stopped cold. The chance for a new America to create a robust, interregional market had been lost to squabbling border struggles. Although indigenous and black generals appeared in the army for the first time—a phenomenon that would transform the face of South America—the great masses of Indians and blacks were no better off after the revolution. For a long while, they would be far worse off than they had been under Spain’s oppressive laws. Slavery, which Bolívar had worked hard to eradicate, had been supplanted by other forms of subjugation; Creoles had appropriated the Spanish rule. The Americas that were emerging under Bolívar’s horrified eyes were feudalistic, divisive, militaristic, racist, ruled by warlords who strove to keep the ignorant masses blinkered and under bigoted control. Eventually this would change. There is a vast difference, after all, between slavery and freedom; between opportunity and a shut door; between a ballot and totalitarian rule. But those fundamental transformations would take a century and a half to work through the continent. Latin America lay in financial and social ruin, its cities on the verge of anarchy. It was hardly the enlightened world the Liberator had envisioned.

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Filed under democracy, economics, Latin America, migration, military, nationalism, Spain, war

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