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Latin America Team Dispatch

One By One, The Liberation of Latin America

Independence in Haiti

In the area now known as Haiti, the French settlers established the colony of "San Dominigue." For thirteen years, between 1791-1803, three groups struggled for control over the country. The white planters wanted independence from France so they could fully profit from their crops. They were already trading illegally with the United States, a known ally. The free blacks sided with mother France for the promise of citizenship through the decree of April 4, 1792. The slaves and maroons (runaway slaves with African beliefs that lived in the mountains) fought for themselves and their freedom against both sides.

In 1793, the French General, Leger Felicite Sonthonx, fighting with free blacks and troops from France, decided he had no choice but to emancipate all black slaves in San Dominigue in order to persuade them to fight against Spanish and British invaders. Toussaint Louverture, the black slave general, sided with Sonthonx and defeated Spanish and British armies for France.

Toussaint, who was then popular in San Dominigue for his heroics, basically governed the colony for France after the war. As the years progressed, other countries started recognizing him as San Dominigue's leader, which made the French nervous that he might reject their rule. So the French leader, Napoleon, sent one of his own generals to deport Toussaint. In 1803, Toussaint was brought to France and jailed, where he died a few months later.

The people of San Dominigue were enraged at this and rose up against the French. France sent Jean-Jacques Dessalines, but when Dessalines figured out that the rebels were stronger than he was, he switched to their side and led the rebellion. Finally a war overseas between the British and French allowed the rebels to win outright. On January 1, 1804, the French were totally removed and Haiti was declared independent.

When Columbus discovered America, he found a rich land already inhabited by indigenous people. When people in Europe heard about this New World, they began to immigrate, establishing colonies much like those that they had inhabited in Europe. They cultivated the land's natural resources and established new communities all under the parentage of their homeland. However, inevitably, these colonists began to feel like they could make it on their own. Under heavy taxation and rule from the mother country England, they began to desire their independence.

Haiti, which had been colonized by the French, was the first country in Latin America to win its independence. Freed slaves, descendents of Africa, led this movement which benefited from a war between France and England and finally triumphed in 1804.

Mexico soon followed suit, and was the first country in Latin America to gain its independence from the Spanish after 300 years of Spanish rule. (The US hasn't even been around 250 years! So you can imagine how it must have seemed to people like the Spanish would be around forever.)

Inspired by these movements, as well as the earlier independence of the US from Great Britain, the rest of Latin America followed suit, one by one defeating the Spanish and forcing them back to their homeland. Two great leaders, Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín, are largely responsible for the successes in South America.

Liberators by Alfredo Zalce
Simón Bolívar is one of Latin America's greatest generals. Nicknamed "El Liberator," he was considered the "George Washington" of Latin America. He was born in Venezuela, but lived in Europe as a young man. He first liberated the capital of Venezuela, Caracas, from Spanish rule in 1810 and then went back to Europe to try to get the assistance of Great Britain (they refused to help, but said they also wouldn't help Spain). Upon his return, he re-took Caracas from Spain and with his inspired army, proceeded to challenge Spanish control in other countries in the area. In 1819, he defeated the Spanish in New Granada, liberating what is now Colombia and became their first president in December of that same year. Later, he took Ecuador, adding it to his new Colombian republic.

Independence in Mexico

Spain conquered the indigenous people of the Americas throughout the 1500's and the colonies they set up in "New Spain" remained Spanish for three hundred years before an uprising took place in Mexico. The gap between the rich and the poor was very great, with ninety-five percent of the people landless.

In 1810, Padre Hidalgo y Castillo roused these Mexican Indian peasants to regain their land. The fighting started in September, 1810 in Dolores, Guanajuato. Hidalgo and his peasant army were victorious until they were pushed towards the North and captured. Hidalgo and several other key leaders were executed. Their heads mounted on posts surrounding a major building in Guanajuato as a threat to people for a decade. Padre Hidalgo is considered the "George Washington" of Mexican History.

Rebel activities continued on through the years, more in the form of guerrilla tactics than full-fledged war until 1820. Then, the independence movement was reborn on a grand scale. They found the support they needed in Agustín de Iturbide, a retired service officer who had led successful raids against Hidalgo. Iturbide was appointed by Spain to stop a rebel group headed by Vicente Guerrero. However, instead of fighting, he joined Guerrero's cause. After great successes, the Treaty of Cordoba was signed and Mexico becomes independent of September 27, 1821.

José de San Martín was born in a region that is now part of Argentina. He studied in Spain and served in their army fighting against Napoleon in 1808. The liberation of Latin America was on his mind, however, and after learning military tactics from the best, he returned to Argentina.

He began recruiting a cavalry modeled after the French style of battle. He also started a military school and made his companions officers. San Martín was successful against the Spanish from the start. In January 1817, San Martín and his army, known as the "Army of the Andes," crossed the Andes and after many back and forth battles, by the end of 1818 they had liberated Chile.

All that was left for liberation was Peru. Bolívar and San Martín decided that Bolívar would lead the attack with assistance from Antonio José de Sucre. On December 8, they were victorious at the Battle of Ayacucho - where Kavitha just visited - and Peru was free of Spanish rule.

Although all of Latin America is now liberated from European rule, as Kavitha points out in her article, "The Beasty Battle", not everyone won their freedom. Indigenous people today still fight to be free of aristocratic rule in Latin America. Much change must still occur in order for us to say that everyone in Latin America enjoys the same privileges as those who came out on top over a hundred years ago.

The Team

Shawn - Stroll the Walkway of Life: the Canopy, the Music, and the Magic of the Amazon
Shawn - Amazon-Aid: Open 24/7 (or until cut down) for Your Medicinal Needs
Kavitha - The Beasty Battle: You've gotta fight! For your right! To be Poor?!?
Abeja - You Can Take 'Em Outta the Jungle, but You Can't Take the Jungle Outta Them: Freezing, Learning, and Living in Cuzco
Kevin - Sesame Street Revisited: Me and My Llama
Making A Difference - Save the Redwood Forests (and the Coho Salmon, and the Spotted Owl, and All of Us)!!!
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