American Public University
Essay # 1
Independence of Latin America
When I learned about the independence of my country, Mexico, I remember questioning why all of the sudden all the countries in Latin America (including Brazil) decided to fight for independence at the same time. The communications system were not as sophisticated as nowadays. In this essay I will show that in the case of Spanish Latin American countries there are three outside elements that influenced their independence. The Brazilian independence shares two of those elements but they also have a third outside element. This essay is not about the internal causes of the Mexican Independence.
Please allow me to use a visual aid to try to get my point across. I will compare the independence movements with trees whose seeds are the enlightenment ideas (liberty, equality, democracy, freedom), and whose fruits are the benefits that the people receive from the tree. As any other tree it needs outside care in order to grow strong and produce good fruit. To have a great tree we need a great seed, great soil, good fertilizer, remove bad weeds etc.
The comparison might be exaggerated but it was useful for me to have a mental map, and visualize better the outside elements of the Independence movements of Latin America. I apologize if I cause more confusion but if you are like me, a visual learner I think it will be helpful.
Outside Element # 1: The seeds of Freedom from the Enlightenment thinkers.
The enlightenment ideas of freedom, democracy, equality and liberty were born in the minds of great thinkers. Great minds such us: Isaac Newton, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu, designed revolutionary ideas, that challenged the status quo of the society of their times. They wrote their new ideas trying to “reform society using reason (rather than tradition, faith and revelation) and advance knowledge through science. [they] promoted science and intellectual interchange and opposed superstition, intolerance, and abuses from the Church and state.”
The ideas of liberty, equality, freedom and democracy can easily be embraced by most people, except if your status is challenged by them. The monarchies in Europe had been enjoying great privileges and were oppressing their people for their benefit. The gap between the monarchies and the rest of the people was huge. Besides that the monarchies had new possessions, the American and African colonies. With the new colonies they had acquired in America and Africa their benefits were even bigger and their power was almost total, they could dispose even of the lives of the slaves in the colonies.
If you compare the enlightenment ideas with seeds, even if the seeds are of great quality they must find great soil to make a good combination. You could have the best seed but it won’t grow in the Sahara Desert, not because the seed is not good but because the soil is not good.
In the colonies the soil was ready; the people felt oppressed, even the creoles (children of Peninsular Spanish) felt that they were not given equal opportunities. The seeds were planted first in the minds of the educated creoles, and they were in charge of plant those seeds in the minds of the natives, not by giving them books (they were illiterate) but by forming rebels groups, and stir them up against the Spanish. For example in Mexico Padre Hidalgo was an avid reader of Montesquieu, he embraced the ideas because he felt (as other creoles) that they deserve to be given the opportunity to occupy the highest ranks of the army, the government, and the Church. Padre Hidalgo really cared for the natives, always tried to educate them and taught them (planted the seeds of freedom) and finally organized them against the Spanish government. It is agreed that probably Padre Hidalgo did not want the independence but for sure he wanted equality for the creoles .
Outside Element # 2: Pulling out the weeds
Any growing tree that is small and weak can be threatened by weeds around them. The weeks can even kill the trees. A very important factor that helped the independence movements to grow is the invasion of Napoleon to Spain and Portugal. When Portugal did not comply with some treaties with Napoleon, in 1807 Napoleon invaded its territory. Under the excuse of a reinforcement of the Franco-Spanish army occupying Portugal, Napoleon invaded Spain as well, replaced Charles IV with his brother Joseph and placed his brother-in-law Joachim Murat in Joseph's stead at Naples. The Spanish people of course decided to fight the Napoleon invasion and both army and civilians united fought together in the Dos de Mayo Uprising 
So, Portugal and Spain had to spend in their efforts to contain the French invasion. They used both money and men in their attempts to resist the invasion. This event, of course is easy to understand how the rebels in the colonies would have receive courage and new motivation to fight for their independence. They could easily conclude that since the Spanish government is using their resources to fight Napoleon, then they were weakened and there would be a chance to defeat them.
Outside Element # 3: The Cadiz Constitution; the best fertilizer.
A fertilizer is something external that gives nutrition to the internal parts of the tree.
In 1812 one Cortes (assembly) issued the Constitution of 1812, or the Constitution of Cadiz. This constitution was very liberal and reduced the power of the Catholic Church drastically. We have to understand that the Catholic Church was extremely powerful. If we remember the inquisition time, we would understand that the Catholic Church was owner not only of the education (or lacked of it) but also of their consciences, they own more than half of the real estate of Mexico, they had “banks” that controlled the sale of indulgencies. In 1814 the Cadiz constitution was abolished but again in 1820 was restored. According to Luis Villoro, a Mexican Historian, in 1820, when the constitution of Cadiz was reinstated was when the independence of Mexico was decided. The Mexican Catholic Church did not want to suffer what the Spanish Catholic Church suffered in Spain. So, Matias Monteagudo (a Catholic Priest) conspired (with other who were against the Cadiz Constitution) and persuade Iturbide to change sides, and help the rebels to achieve the independence of Mexico. The Padre Matias Monteagudo, promised Iturbide to be the first emperor of Mexico. So, the idea of Matias Monteagudo were far from the enlightenment ideals, but to kept the power of the Catholic church in Mexico. We can say that he succeeded: Mexico became independent (hence Mexico did not have to abide to the Cadiz Constitution), hence The Catholic Church remained as one of the greatest powers in Mexico, and Iturbide became the Emperor of Mexico.
Fortunately the DNA of the seeds was there and pushed out any other ideals. Iturbide was overthrown and a democratic government was installed.
I did not cover the independence of Brazil, because in general they had the same pattern: “Educated Brazilian Students of this era returned to Brazil carrying Exciting new ideas and recent publications that circulated in a wider circle” So, the Brazilians craved to have liberty, equality etc. The difference is that the son of the King of Portugal was the one who wanted the independence. He had been raised in Brazil.
The fertile soils of the Americas were ready to receive the seeds of the ideas of liberty, freedom and democracy. Napoleon weakened Spain and Portugal, giving space to breathe to the fledging plant. The Constitution of Cadiz gave the strength to actually conclude the independence. The fruits that were produced are fruits of opportunities. In the minds of the Spanish the native were inferior, but the natives were now given the chance to have access to education, and to climb the social ladder. In 1847, only 36 years after the independence of Mexico, Benito Juarez, and native Zapotec became the Governor of Oaxaca. And ten years later he became the First Indigenous President of Mexico. Benito Juarez is a great example of the fruits of the tree of independence. When the independence movement started, he was 4 years old and did not even speak Spanish. He spoke Zapotec. He did not learn Spanish until he was twelve years old. Only one month after the independence of Mexico (October 1821), he enrolled in a Catholic Seminary. He considered to be a Catholic priest but decided to study Law. The rest is History. Of course the Latin American countries have other challenges now, but they are better off than before the independence movements.
|Carta de Independencia de Mexico 1821|
.Ellen Wilson and Peter Reill, Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (2004) p 577
 Burkholder, Mark A., and Lyman L. Johnson. Colonial Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Page 374
 Gates, David (2001). The Spanish Ulcer: A History of the Peninsular War. Da Capo Press
 Villatoro, Luis, Historia general de México, versión 2000 capítulo "La revolución de independencia", México, ed.El Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Históricos. 2009.
 Johnson, Lyman L. and Burkholder, Mark A. Colonial Latin America, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010. Page 320