Latin America from 1200-present

Aztec Empire: 1428 - 1521

Key Features:

  • Capital at Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City)

  • Triple Alliance of Mexica, Texcoco, and Tlacopan Kingdoms

  • Relied on tribute from neighboring kingdoms

    • Each kingdom had its own list of tributes based on the goods available in the region

  • Tenochtitlan had huge markets

  • Warriors and priests had high social status

    • Women who died in ​childbirth were just like soldiers who died on the battlefield

    • Priests led rituals which were believed to keep society running

    • Priests acted as advisors to the ruler, sometimes even becoming the next ruler

  • Commoners worked on family farms called calpulli

  • Artisans also had high status in society

  • Bloodletting was common

    • Believed it allows blood to flow, which brings more rain down for the crops

    • Many made human sacrifices, especially war captives

  • Huitzilopochtli was the patron of the gods


Inca Empire: 1438 - 1533

Key Features:

  • Capital at Cuzco (located in Peru)

  • Founded by Pachacuti, used military to conquer coastal Chimu kingdom and create large empire

  • Cultivated maize, ​tomatoes, peppers, chiles, etc. and domesticated llamas and alpacas

  • Quipus (string necklaces) would store information

  • Had military leaders collect taxes & agricultural surpluses

  • Large road network (25,000 miles), runners would travel the kingdom to spread information (didn't use horses)

  • Government controlled all trade and independent merchants weren't allowed

  • Religion was really important

    • Sun (Inti) was main god, Viracocha was creator god

    • Believed rulers descend from sun and become intermediaries with god once they die

      • Would mummify rulers & give them offerings of food on special holidays​

    • Priests & temples had high position in society

    • Believed in afterlife

  • Peasants cultivated on family-owned land plots called ayllu (similar to calpulli of Aztecs)


Conquest of Aztecs

In 1519, Hernan Cortes led Spanish army into Mexico

Cortes allied with local tribe leaders that resented Aztec rule

Smallpox aided Cortes as the native Aztecs weren't immune to it, so many Aztecs died, allowing Cortes to easily take over. 

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Cortes led an army into Tenochtitlan & killed Aztec leader Montezuma (1520)

Cortes plundered Tenochtitlan, starved the city to death. Fully took over in 1521. 

Conquest of Incas

In 1532, Francisco Pizarro led Spanish army into Peru

Called all Inca rulers under pretext of a conference. Seized & killed them all except for Inca ruler, Atahualpa

Allied with local tribal leaders that resented Inca rule. Also used loss of authority from the existing civil war between ruling brothers Atahualpa & Huascar to seize power

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Seized all of Atahualpa's gold, then killed him. Later seized all of Cusco's gold

Consolidated control by 1540. Conquered last corner of Inca empire by 1572

Spanish & Portuguese Rule in Americas

Spanish Rule in American Colonies

  • Spain had direct royal rule in colonies
    • Had two regions, New Spain (present-day Mexico) and New Castile (present-day Peru)

    • Each region had a viceroy, who is the local administrator that represents the Spanish crown

    • Below the viceroys are the audiencia, a group of people advising the viceroy & checking his power, reporting any issues to the Spanish crown

    • Spain imposed Spanish as the governmental language & Catholicism as the official religion, building churches in colonial cities

  • Spain is the first to create the casta system

    • A hierarchy of ​people in the Americas

    • The top were peninsulares (people born in Spain or Portugal), and below them were criollos (creoles, European people born in Americas

    • Below the Europeans were the mestizos

      • Because the majority of colonists were male, Europeans often married indigenous women, forming mestizo (mixed) families

    • Below them were indigenous people, then slaves

Spanish Labor Systems

  • Spain employed many different labor systems in its colonies
  • First labor system used was encomienda
    • Spanish colonists (encomenderos) would supervise indigenous people & make them perform labor in exchange for small wages
  • Later, Spanish used the hacienda system
    • Laborers would live on a plantation​ & perform labor in exchange for small wages to pay off debts (debt peonage)
    • Most laborers would work forever as the wages were too small to pay off debts
    • Different from encomienda system as laborers live & work in a single place 
  • Spain later used mita system
    • This was an existing labor system used by Incas​
    • Each village was forced to send 1/7 of its men to labor in the silver mines for a few months
  • Spain also used slavery & indentured servitude
    • Both were cruel labor systems, most slaves died of overwork

    • Slaves were treated as property

    • They used slavery because most indigenous Americans died of European diseases, and Africans didn't know the land so they couldn't run away easily

    • Indentured laborers got small wages & a free passage from homeland & had a work contract for a few years before returning home

    • Often convicted criminals would do this as they could seek a new life in the Americas after finishing a 5-year work contract

  • Slaves often cultivated sugarcane, tobacco, rice, indigo, cotton
    • Invention of sugarcane engine (engenho) made harvesting sugarcane easier

Manila Galleons & Silver Trade

  • Spain dominated silver mines of Zacatecas & Potosi
    • Would employ natives to do labor here
    • The Spanish king would get 1/5 (the quinto) of the silver produced
  • Spain would ship the silver from Acapulco (Mexico) to Manila (Philippines) & trade it with China for luxury Chinese products
    • These ships were known as Manila galleons
  • Ultimately, the silver supply was running short, causing inflation in Spain

Portuguese Colonization of Brazil

  • Spain & Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494)
    • Meant to control colonization to prevent Spain-Portugal conflict
    • An imaginary line was drawn in the Atlantic Ocean. Spain would get ​all lands west, Portugal would get all lands east
  • Brazil was east of the line, so Pedro Alvares de Cabral landed in Brazil in 1500 & claimed it for Portugal
    • Portuguese government dispatched a governor there & encouraged Portuguese nobles to settle there by giving him land grants

Haitian Revolution

Causes of the Haitian Revolution

  • Haiti had 3 social groups: White people, gens de couleur (free people of color), and slaves
    • Haiti was French colony of Saint-Domingue
    • Many whites & gens de couleur were sent to fight in American revolution → Got inspired by revolutionary ideals
    • Many also heard about revolutionary ideals from French Revolution
    • Whites wanted freedom from France & equal rights for them but not for colored people
    • Gens de couleur wanted freedom for themselves but not for slaves
    • Gens de couleur & whites fought over who gets freedom (1791)

Events of the Haitian Revolution

Many Haitian whites & gens de couleur fought in American revolution. Many heard about French Revolution. Both ways, people heard about revolutionary ideals & wanted independence from France. 

Whites & gens de couleur (free blacks) fought over equal rights. Whites wanted freedom for themselves, restricting the gens de couleur

Boukman, a Vodou priest, led slave revolt of 100,000 slaves. This along with rivalry between whites & gens de couleur led to turmoil (1791)

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French troops came to Haiti. Sent Louverture to France in 1802 where he died. French troops couldn't fight Haitians as they died of yellow fever

Toussaint Louverture took over after Boukman's death (1791). Led army of slaves, used astute military tactics. Drafted constitution, didn't declare independence

France arrived to restore order in 1792. British & Spanish also came to help Haitians & benefit from France's difficulties, causing turmoil

Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared independence in 1804. Named the land Haiti, "land of mountains"

Spanish South American Revolutions

Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808, put his brother Joseph Bonaparte in charge of Spain

Chaos in Spain & Latin America: People didn't know whether to be loyal to Joseph or Spanish crown

Venezuelans rejected Joseph Bonaparte. They put Simón Bolívar in charge of Venezuela, who declared independence in 1811

In 1831, Gran Colombia split into Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela due to regional differences

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Bolívar won, created Gran Colombia in 1819, a confederation of states similar to the US. Jose de San Martín of Argentina & Bernardo O' Higgins of Chile helped Bolívar win independence

Royalists (supporters of Spanish rule) in Venezuela opposed independence, leading to civil war with Bolívar's army

Brazilian Revolution

Napoleon invaded Portugal in 1807, Portuguese King John VI fled to Brazil & set up his government there

Napoleon was defeated (1815), King John VI returned to Portugal, left his son, Pedro, to rule Brazil

Pedro felt like Brazil was his home. Agreed to demands of other colonists & declared independence from Portugal in 1822

Mexican Independence Movement

Spanish government was weakened after Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808. Miguel Hidalgo led peasant rebellion in Mexico in 1810.

Conservative Mexican creoles & Spanish army put down rebellion & executed him in 1811

Jose Morelos led revolutionaries in victories against loyalists (Mexicans loyal to Spain), Wanted land redistribution to poor, so landowning class executed him in 1815. 

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In 1825, southern region seceded, became Central American Federation. In 1838, it broke apart into its individual nations

In 1823, two creoles deposed Emperor Iturbide, established Mexican republic. 

In 1821, Agustín de Iturbide signed Treaty of Cordoba (1821) with Spain, declared Mexican independence. Became first emperor of Mexico

Monroe Doctrine & US Neocolonialism

Monroe Doctrine

  • Doctrine created by James Monroe in 1823 that justifies US expansion in Western Hemisphere
    • Established protectorate over Hawaii in 1875 & annexed it in 1898
    • Purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867
  • Wanted Free Trade in North America

Panama Canal Involvement

Engineers decided that Panama was best place to build canal from Atlantic to Pacific Oceans

Colombia refused to cede Panama to US, so US helped Panamanians gain independence in 1903 in exchange for rights to build the canal

US built canal in 1914. Theodore Roosevelt added Roosevelt Corollary to Monroe Doctrine: US can intervene in domestic affairs to protect US investments

Spanish-Cuban-American War (1898)

US conducted business in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central America. US ship Maine exploded in 1898 in Havana, so US declared war on Spain

US defeated Spanish navy, acquired Puerto Rico, Cuba, & Philippines as protectorates

US intervened in many Central American & Caribbean countries to restore order (Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras)

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Emilio Aguinaldo led a Filipino revolt against the US for independence

US paid Spain $20 million for Philippines, but decided to keep it instead of giving independence

US agreed to give independence to Philippines in exchange for alliance against Spain

Latin American Society

Migration to Latin America

  • Many Europeans & Asians migrated to Latin America
    • Many worked on plantations
    • Some provided support services for other migrants, like restaurants, shops, etc.
    • Most were segregated into immigrant communities
    • Some brought their culture with them
    • Buenos Aires, Argentina,  was known as "Paris of the Americas"

Gauchos  (Cowboys)

  • Cowboys who herded cattle & sheep in Argentine pampas region
    • Mostly mestizo, some where white & black people
    • Started to decline in numbers after many assimilated to Euro-American lifestyle"

Male Domination of Society

  • Society was largely male-dominated
    • Women couldn't vote or hold office, sometimes needed husband's permission to hold land
    • Machismo is a general term to define husbands
      • Often beat their wives​
  • In late 1800s, some women got an education & got jobs in public schools

Problems with State Building

Military Rule Throughout Latin America

  • Caudillos were military leaders that allied with creole elites
    •  Juan Manuel de Rosas ruled Argentina
      • Used brutal military tactics & force to consolidate power
      • Gained a following through Argentine patriotism
    • Rise of caudillos led to rise of liberal (anti-caudillo) movements
    • Caudillo Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna attempted to rule Mexico during Mexican-American war until Benito Juarez established a republic

Unstable Constitutions

  • Because Spanish rule in its colonies was directly from the Spanish crown as opposed to British rule which came from local assemblies, people in Spanish colonies had little experience with government
    • Only creoles (5% of men) participated in politics
    • Kept shifting from one constitution from another, leading to political instability
    • Differences in religious beliefs led to rebellions

Mexican Conflicts & Cinco de Mayo

Benito Juarez became 1st Mexican president in 1858. Led La Reforma, a reform program giving civil liberties, land distribution, reducing privileges of priests & military elite

Conservative Mexican elites deposed him until 1861 because they didn't want land redistribution

Retook office in 1861, sought to suspend foreign loan payments to lessen financial burden

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In 1867, Mexicans killed Maximilien I, whom Napoleon III appointed to be emperor of Mexico

On May 5, 1862, Mexicans defeated the French at Puebla (Cinco de Mayo)

Napoleon III of France hated this & sent his army to Mexico to establish monarchical rule

Mexican Revolution (1910-1920)

Mexican peasants wanted more land & representation in government

They sought to remove dictator Porfirio Diaz, who had been dictator since 1884

Emiliano Zapata & Francisco Villa led the peasants. Resorted to guerilla warfare

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New liberal constitution ratified in 1917, guaranteed more peasants' rights (education, land, wage control)

Mexican government crushed the peasant armies, but Porfirio Diaz was forced out of office & rights were given to peasants

Economic Development & Foreign Investment

British Investment

  • Britain invested a little in Latin America, encouraged Argentina to ranch cattle & sheep
    • Argentina became Britain's largest meat supplier after invention of refrigerated ships
    • Argentina's population & economy boomed
    • Many people migrated to Argentina & dominated urban labor

Attempted Industrialization

  • Under Porfirio Diaz, Mexico built lots of telegraph lines, railroads, and industrial machinery
    • Workers revolted due to harsh working conditions
    • While economies were booming, standard of living was declining as most of the money was going to the government & foreign investors

Latin America During the Interwar Period:

University Protests in Latin America

  • Many university students gained new ideas about governance & Marxist thought
    • Great Depression inspired peasants to fight for more rights
    • Wanted more power for peasants & indigenous people
    • Wanted peasants to cooperate with middle class
    • Peru had lots of communist & Marxist movements
  • Diego Rivera depicted political scenario of Latin America in his paintings 
    • Commissioned to paint about history of Mexico in Mexican public buildings
    • Painted a depiction of US Neocolonialism in Latin America at Rockefeller Center (NY)

US Economic Policy Toward Latin America

  • US invested a lot in Latin American enterprises, known as "dollar diplomacy"
    • Allowed US to diplomatically control many Latin American firms
    • Latin Americans hated this
    • Due to strong US involvement, Latin American economy fell during Great Depression
    • Brazilian President, Getulio Dornelles Vargas, reformed Brazilian economy by promoting industrialization & implementing social welfare
    • US invested in the Chiquita banana, and made it part of United Fruit Company
    • US hired Carmen Miranda (Latin American origin) to sing & help advertise Chiquita banana
  • US later initiated the "Good Neighbor" policy
    • Would train local police forces in Latin America to protect US investments

US Involvement in Nicaragua in Interwar Period

Civil War broke out in Nicaragua regarding involvement of US Marines, which were intended to protect US investments in Nicaragua

Augusto Cesar Sandino led the opposition movement to US marines

US Marines agreed to leave & created the National Guard (Guardia Nacional) in Nicaragua to protect US investments

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Anastasio Somoza then succeeded Juan Sacasa as next Nicaraguan president

Augusto Sandino wanted to end the civil war, but Guardia Nacional murdered him

US put Juan Sacasa as Nicaraguan President & Anastasio Somoza as leader of Guardia Nacional. Both supported US intervention

Lazaro Cardenas's Mexican Nationalization

  • US Secretary of State renounced Monroe Doctrine, believed no state can interfere in internal affairs of another
  • Lazaro Cardenas, president of Mexico, nationalized the oil industry, removing foreign intervention
    • Known as Petroleo Mexicano (PEMEX)
    • Gave US & Britain little compensation for their previous investments
  • He created Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
    • Made policies supporting some foreign intervention, which peasants hated
    • His son, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, started the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), which opposed the PRI & won in elections

Post-Independence Struggles in Latin America:

Argentina's Reforms

  • Expansive agricultural & pastoral economy
  • Resisted US & European economic influence due to far-south location
  • Transitioned into free elections
  • Military had a major role in politics, leading to a brutal form of government
  • Juan Perón became a military leader & president
    • Promoted industrialization
    • Appealed to peasants as he supported the lower classes
    • Protected Argentina from foreign influence
    • His wife, Eva Perón (Evita), was really influential & helped the poor a lot

US Involvement in Nicaragua & Guatemala

Guatelaman president Jacobo Arbenz Guzman confistcated property of US-owned United Fruit Company, distributed the land to peasants

Dwight Eisenhower (US) thought he was communist & supplied arms to Guatemala's neighbors (Honduras, Nicaragua) against Guatemalan communists

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Nicaraguan Revolutionaries (who opposed US intervention) founded Sandinista front for National Liberation

Armas was assassinated in 1957, leading to Nicaraguan civil war until 1990s

US put Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas in charge of Guatemala, who overthrew the government

Anastasio Somoza Garcia (Nicaraguan President) outlawed communism, supplied arms against Guatelaman communists, supported US intervention

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Ronald Raegan created Contras, a revolutiontary force to attack Sandinistas

Costa Rican president Oscar Arias Sanchez negotiated for UN peacekeeping force. Ended civil war in 1989