Racial Inequality and the Latin American Wars of Independence

The Creoles had no interest in creating a new society based on the ideas of liberty and equality, even though that was the message they were preaching. In 1811, Juan Egaña (a well-educated Creole) presented a treatise on education to the Chilean Congress. His goal in writing this treatise was to convince Congress “not so much to reform abuses and to correct a People inveterate in its habits, as to create, give existence, politics, and opinions to a Nation which has never had them before”.

The main goal of the Creoles fighting the Peninsulars was to reassert themselves as the ultimate power in the Americas. However, they knew that they would have to devise a way to make their cause appealing to Indigenous peasants and Afro Latin American slaves if they were going to gain their support. Patriot leaders found that the most successful strategy to gain support was that of nativism. This approach tied Indigenous people, Afro Latin Americans, people of mixed race, and Creoles together as Americanos – “the sons of the same mother”.

Creole patriots went on even further to “[use] the word “slavery” to describe their situation, accusing Spain of having “enslaved” the colonies”. The use of this specific language spurred many members of the lower castes into action and led them to join the revolutionary forces under the impression that they would in turn gain their own freedom once the Creoles gained victory over the Peninsulars. Naturally, this was not the case.

Once the Spanish had been overthrown, all the power that had previously been held by the Peninsulars fell into the laps of the Creoles.

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Needless to say, the privileged group was not eager to uphold their end of the bargain after they got what they wanted. The colonial legacy of racial inequality and the enslavement of “inferior” peoples seemed like it would be abolished once the Spanish were driven out of Latin America and their Creole descendants took power. However, as Peter Winn states, “colonial society was preserved. There would be political independence but no social revolution. Independence would be the last legacy of empire”. After these new nations were established from the ashes of the Spanish imperial state, some of the former slaves that had fought in the wars were indeed given their freedom. On the other hand, most of the Afro Latin Americans that had joined the patriot army were being forced back into the chains of slavery that had confined them before the wars of independence had broken out. However, the former slaves that had risked life and limb to overthrow the Spanish in pursuit of their freedom were not going to go back to enslavement quietly.

The Creoles knew that they needed to do something to discredit the claims that these former slaves had to freedom and justify the re-enslavement of former black soldiers. Suddenly, Afro Latin Americans “found their owners trying to reclaim them on the grounds that they had not served in the army or had not served for a sufficient length of time”. A Venezuelan slave named José Ambrosio Surarregui, upon finding out that his master was trying to reclaim him, argued that “a man who defends this holy right [of freedom] with his blood and with his life cannot be a slave”. Whatever loopholes the Creoles could find, they exploited. The frustration of the slaves was palpable, and it was causing chaos in these newly formed nations. Blanchard notes that all over Latin America, “slaves were attracting notice for their aggressiveness,” because they were “running away, refusing to work, stealing, selling stolen produce, and attacking people”. Chile was the only country to reject the institution of slavery, but it continued on in other parts of Latin America for several years after the conclusion of the wars of independence. Just like that, the shared Americano identity was shattered, and the colonial legacy of racial inequality was upheld.

Afro Latin American slaves, indigenous people, individuals of mixed blood, and white Creoles did not have very much in common prior to the wars of independence besides being born in the Americas. During the wars, these groups came together under a mutual identity of Americanos, people that had been enslaved for centuries by the tyranny of the Spanish. Creole leaders preached the value of freedom and promised that anyone, no matter their racial background, would be free after the colonial system was destroyed and the Spanish were driven from the Americas. In practice, however, the Creoles never fulfilled their promises and worked hard to maintain the colonial legacies established by their ancestors.

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Racial Inequality and the Latin American Wars of Independence. (2022, May 13). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/racial-inequality-and-the-latin-american-wars-of-independence/

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