Was Liberalism good for Latin America?
To truly identify if liberalism was good for Latin America, we must understand what liberalism means, where it came from, and how it started. What is liberalism? Liberalism is a political force that transpired during the 1600s and 1700s. For the most part, liberalism transpired in England and France. What did liberalism represent for Latin Americans during the 1850s and 1920s? Liberalism signified change but most of all progress. “Reason over faith, universal over local values, free market over government control, equal citizenship, and finally representative democracy over all other forms of government.” (Chasteen) These are the core principles that liberals were trying to integrate during the post-colonial period. Although liberals had failed to integrate these principles during the post-colonial period, they got a second chance after 1850. In this dissertation, I will provide specific changes that liberalism brought to Latin America. The countries I will focus on will be Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Liberalism in Argentina
In 1816, Argentina officially declared their independence from Spain. For several decades after, Argentina was heaved into a sequence of devastating civil conflicts, culminated under brutal tyrant Juan Manuel de Rosas, a conservative. During Rosas reign, two of the most important liberal leaders, Juan Bautista Alberdi, and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, spent many years in exile. While in exile, they made their way to Uruguay and Chile. Both men were literarily gifted. Enraged at Rosas, they took their fury and put in into literature. Their lives epitomized the liberal fascination of European culture and liberalism’s close relation with written culture; such as books, education and newspapers. “Wanting more than just progress, Argentine liberals dedicated themselves to transforming the Argentine people – culturally, through education, and physically, through massive European immigration.” (Chasteen)
Alberdi, with the use of his words, made an impact on Argentine liberalism. With Argentina still under the rule of Rosas, Alberdi fled to Montevideo. He spent his time assailing Buenos Aires with his writing. “With Rosas being overthrown in 1852, Alberdi published a treatise titled “Bases and Points of Departure for the Political Organization of the Argentine Republic” and sent copies to the delegates who were gathering to write a new constitution.” (Chasteen) As liberals returned to Argentina, Alberdi remained in Chile, later becoming an Argentine diplomat in Europe. With Alberdi’s fondness for everything European, his cure for Argentina was straightforward. Alberdi insisted on the government to push for European immigration. Why? Not only was the Argentine population small, but, apparently, European immigrants were superior people with moral virtues and marketable skills. “Gobernar es poblar, “To govern is to populate,” became the liberal slogan.” (Chasteen) He also encouraged modern education to change Argentina culturally and make way for European influences. Lastly, he believed Argentines should learn English, language of technology and commerce, rather than Latin.
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, perhaps the most significant Latin American liberal ever to live, returned to Buenos Aires after being in exile for many years. Reminiscent of Alberdi, Sarmiento welcomed the international culture through writing and education. Before becoming involved in the Chilean public school systems, Sarmiento had worked as a teacher, a clerk and newspaper editor. “Sarmiento personally created the first spelling book and the first teacher-training institute in Chile.” (Chasteen) He then traveled to the U.S. and Europe to learn new education techniques. Of all Argentina’s liberal leaders, Sarmiento was the one who truly encouraged public education. School enrollment doubled and nearly a hundred public libraries were created. Additionally, Liberal efforts to promote immigration had succeeded. “Immigrants were arriving from Europe by the hundreds of thousands. European culture and European people would transform Buenos Aires into a city more reminiscent of Milan or Paris than of Caracas or Lima.” (Chasteen) Liberalism in Brazil
There were issues with liberalism in mid-nineteenth century Brazil. For one, Brazil was still a monarchy. Secondly, Brazil was still a slave owning society. Neither was the liberal way of thinking. Brazil needed change war oddly enough provided it. Brazil along with Argentina and Uruguay, fought and eventually defeated Paraguay in the Triple Alliance War of 1865-70. “The Brazilian Empire enlisted hundreds of thousands of volunteers to fight Paraguay in the name of Civilization.” (Chasteen) All of Brazil had been called up in a liberal cause. Victory over Paraguay came slow and at such a cost that Brazil’s “superior” Civilization had come into question. At this time, the U.S. had abolished slavery. Brazil and Cuba were the remaining slave holding societies in the Americas. “Free blacks, and even some slaves in search for their freedom, joined the ranks of Brazil’s Patriotic Volunteers, who marched off, brass bands playing, to Fight Paraguay. The contradiction was too obvious.” (Chasteen)
Brazilian liberalism had found its calling during the war. Pedro II, a philosophical liberal, who supported neither the Conservatives or the Liberals, believed strongly in science, innovation, and Progress. Following Pedro II, Brazilian elites gave support to liberalism. In the 1860s, Brazil began to change. With reform being a necessity, and slavery in mind, conservative leaders united with the liberals. With overwhelming pressure from liberals, the conservative government passed a “free birth” law in 1871. Children of slaves would be born free. The “free birth” law was pledge to end slavery one way or another. Progress had gradually occurred. Coffee growers from Sao Paulo began to draw and hire Italian immigrant workers. Slowly but surely, cities were growing. “And urban Brazilians, better educated, more cosmopolitan, and not directly connected to plantation life, were more likely to be persuaded by the liberal vision of Progress.” (Chasteen)
Slavery again came to the forefront in the 1880s. Joaquim Nabuco, a leading abolitionist, became a liberal. Nabuco and other abolitionists believed that Progress was obstructed by slavery. After 1886, Brazil was the remaining society that held slaves. At last, public pressure initiated the abolishment of slavery with no compensation for previous slave owners. Pedro’s Daughter, Princess Isabel, signed the “Golden Law” of freedom in 1888. “Four centuries of American slavery were over at long last.” (Chasteen) The year after, the
Brazilian monarchy fell. Ultimately, Brazilians welcomed “the inevitable march of Progress.” Liberalism in Mexico
The colonial church had never been more luxurious or universal than in Mexico. At the time the church owned everything. The best farmland in Mexico, monasteries, convents, urban real estate and the church building themselves were owned by the church. Normally, a priest was most important, but at the same time was also a thief. ” According to traditional Spanish law, still in force, the clergy enjoyed a broad legal exemption called a fuero, and parish priests often supported themselves by charging fees for their religious services.” (Chasteen) Furthermore, Mexicans were required to pay a tenth of their salary to the church. Religion and politics were one in Mexico. Liberals during the 1830s-40s accepted the fact the church was a necessity for Mexico’s social order. As mid-century came, the church became openly anti-liberal and liberals became openly anti-church. Mexican liberals were not anti-religious, they were angry at the Catholic Church as an institution. The liberals argued that the church’s power and wealth blocked Progress. Mexican liberals were coming to the forefront. First in line, Melchor Ocampo. Ocampo demonstrated a specific brand of liberal leadership. He represented a younger, urban, mestizo form of progress. Second in line, Benito Juarez, a man of indigenous background. “To many Mexicans, the personal rise of Benito Juarez confirmed the rise of liberalism.” (Chasteen)
One of the first changes for the liberals was the Juarez Law. The law declared all citizens equal before the law and severely restricted the privileges of the Catholic Church. The Lerdo Law came next, which forced the church to sell its land. By enacting these laws, liberals believed they were protecting the indigenous people for the better. The indigenous had ideas of their own. Soon after. some indigenous villagers joined the conservatives under the banner “Religion and Fueros” and opposed liberal Reform of the 1850s. (Chasteen) Civil war erupted and liberals opted Juarez to lead their forces. While conservatives had power of most of the army, Juarez and the liberals gained popularity of the people. Juarez regained control of Mexico City. Conservatives called upon Napoleon III of France. Mexico placed Maximilian as emperor. French troops invaded Mexico in 1862 and Juarez went
north to direct the resistance. With help from the U.S., Juarez eventually overtook the French, leading to their retreat. Soon after Juarez came back to Mexico City. He would become president. Conservatives would never again rule Mexico. “Nor would Catholicism ever regain its former prominence in Mexican society.” (Chasteen)
In the end, I believe liberalism was good for Latin America as a whole. Liberalism brought necessary changes to Latin America that otherwise might not have been seen. Changes in education, society, and culture are just a few in mind. Lastly, along with these changes came, most importantly, Progress.