Why Spanish America was divided into many countries while Brazil remained in one


Spanish America was divided into 19 states while the Portuguese only into one, Brazil.

When Christopher Columbus made landfall after crossing the Atlantic in 1492, he still did not imagine that he would change the course of history forever.

Nor would he think that a few years from now it would unleash a struggle between the two greatest economic and military powers of the time, Spain and Portugal, to seize the riches of that territory still unknown to Europeans.

Two years later, the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Fernando, and that of Portugal, Juan II, reached a compromise and signed in Tordesillas (then the Kingdom of Castile) a pact to divide up the lands “discovered and undiscovered” outside Europe.

Caption, The Treaty of Tordesillas established in 1494 the division of the areas of navigation and conquest of the Atlantic Ocean and the New World between the Spanish and Portuguese crowns.

More than 500 years later, the Latin American map continues to display the cultural heritage of that struggle: from the canyons of the Rio Grande to the cold slopes of Tierra del Fuego, the most widely spoken languages ​​are Spanish and Portuguese.

But, while Spanish is spoken in 19 different states, Portuguese remains the official language of only one, Brazil.

Why was Spanish America fractured into so many countries while Portuguese America remained substantially the same as in the time of colonization?

There are several reasons for this event and historians do not always agree.

Caption, The Treaty of Tordesillas was the result of a yearlong process full of uncertainty.

Difference in administration of colonies

One of the causes has to do with the geographical distance between the cities of the former colonies and the way in which they were administered by their respective metropolises.

According to the Mexican historian Alfredo Ávila Rueda of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), although Portuguese America – present-day Brazil – had continental dimensions, most of the population was concentrated in coastal cities and the distance between them was smaller than those in Spanish America.

This was formed by four great viceroyalties: New Spain, Peru, Río de la Plata, and Nueva Granada. Each of them responded to the Hispanic Monarchy, was administered locally, and had few links with the others.

In addition, several captaincies were created, such as those of Venezuela, Guatemala, Chile, and Quito, which had governments independent of the viceroyalties.

“The Spanish administration was established around two main centers: Mexico and Lima. That did not happen in Brazil, where the administration was much more centralized,” explains the Mexican historian.

Caption, Liberal soldier and Venezuelan political leader, Simón Bolívar was one of the first to fight for the decolonization of Spanish America.

Spaniards born in Spain vs. Spaniards born in the colonies

Another difference, according to the Brazilian historian José Murilo de Carvalho, is related to the formation of the elites in the two colonial empires.

“In Brazil, the elite was much more ideologically homogeneous than the Spanish,” explains Carvalho, and this was due to the fact that the Portuguese country never allowed the creation of universities in its colony. Even colleges of higher education were created only after the arrival of the court in Brazil, in 1808.

Therefore, Brazilians who wanted to have a university education had to travel to Portugal.

“Faced with the request to create a School of Medicine in Minas Gerais, in the 18th century, the response of the Court was: ‘now they are asking for a School of Medicine, in a short time they will ask for a School of Law and then they will want the independence ‘”, exemplifies the Brazilian historian.

Caption,The distribution of power in the elites in the empires was quite different.

Once trained – 1,242 Brazilian students passed through the Portuguese University of Coimbra between 1772 and 1872 – these former students returned to Brazil and held important positions in the administration of the colony, which, in Carvalho’s opinion, favored a feeling of unity in the colony, guaranteed obedience to the royal court and generated confidence in the virtues of centralized power.

On the contrary, during the same period, 150 thousand students were trained in the academies of Spanish America. In the colonies, there were at least 23 universities, three of them only in Mexico.

For this reason, argues the historian, the independence movements in Spanish America began to gain strength in the nineteenth century, especially in places where there were universities and practically all places where there was a university ended up giving rise to a different country. .

The historian Ávila Rueda, however, rejects this last hypothesis. “These universities were mostly reactionary, allied with the Spanish Crown,” he asserts.

“The University of Mexico, for example, was reactionary to the point that, in 1830 – after independence – the Mexican government decided to close it because it believed that it would not be possible to reform it,” he adds.

Caption,The Argentine José de San Martín is also known as The Liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru.

The Mexican professor assures that the circulation of newspapers, books, and pamphlets in Spanish America – which, on the other hand, was not allowed in Portuguese America (the ban was lifted only in 1808, with the arrival of the Portuguese court in Brazil) – it had a much more relevant role in the construction of regional identities than the universities.

At the same time, in Spanish America, the local elites born in the colonies, the so-called ” criollos ” (large landowners, tenants of mines, merchants, and ranchers) were despised by the Spanish born, the Peninsulares.

However, until 1700, when Spain was ruled by the Habsburg dynasty, the colonies had considerable autonomy. But everything changed with the Bourbon reforms carried out by King Carlos III.

At that time Spain needed to increase the extraction of wealth from its colonies to finance its wars and maintain its empire.

To achieve this, the Crown decided to expand the privileges of the Peninsulares, who came to occupy the administrative positions previously assigned to the Creoles.

At the same time, the reforms carried out by the Catholic Church reduced the roles and privileges of the lower clergy, who were also made up mostly of Creoles.

Napoleon invades Portugal and the Portuguese royal family flee to Brazil

Caption, The Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil after the invasion of Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops.

According to historians, perhaps the most important reason for the maintenance of Brazil’s unity was the flight of the Portuguese royal family.

In 1808, after Napoleon Bonaparte’s army invaded Portugal, Prince Regent João fled to Rio de Janeiro and brought the entire court and government apparatus with him: archives, royal libraries, the treasury, and up to 15,000 people.

Rio de Janeiro then became the political-administrative headquarters of the Portuguese empire and the presence of the king in Brazilian territory served as a source of legitimacy for the colony to remain united.

“If João had not fled to Brazil, the country would have been divided into five or six different states and the more economically prosperous areas, such as Pernambuco and Rio de Janeiro, would have achieved their independence,” says Carvalho.

Power vacuum in Spain

Caption, The uprising of May 2, 1808, in Madrid, harshly repressed by Napoleonic troops, kicked off the Spanish war of independence.

In Spain, the invasion of the French general forced King Carlos IV and his son, Fernando VII, to abdicate in favor of Napoleon’s brother, José, who would later become José I of Spain.

This created a power vacuum.

Several administrative boards of the colonies refused to take orders from Napoleon and were faithful to their autonomy and to Fernando VII.

However, when the Spanish monarch regained his throne, he tried to use force to restore the submission of the colonies.

But the greater experience of self-government matured by the Creoles, the discriminatory policy towards them by the Spanish Crown, and the Illuminist ideals popularized by the American and French revolutions fueled the rebellions and, between 1809 and 1826, they were fought throughout the continent. the bloody wars of independence.

Caption,The change of monarch on the Spanish throne fostered independence movements in the colonies.

On the other hand, when Napoleon was defeated, João VI created the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarve and kept the capital in Rio de Janeiro until the court demanded his return to Lisbon, in 1820, and the acceptance of a liberal constitution.

João VI left the administration of Brazil in the hands of his son Pedro. He declared the independence of the country in 1822 and established a constitutional monarchy with him as monarch.

Fear of a slave revolt?

Economic and social concerns also strongly contributed to ensuring the unity of Brazil.

According to the American historian Richard Graham, professor emeritus at the University of Texas and considered one of the foremost experts in Latin American history in the United States, landlords and richest men in the cities came to accept the central authority for two reasons: the threat of social disorder and the legitimacy of monarchical power.

Although Brazil achieved its independence without resorting to military force, the region’s leaders sought greater freedom from the capital, Rio de Janeiro, says Graham.

But, over time, they perceived that regional self-government or independence could weaken their authority over both slaves and the lower classes in general. That is, they feared social disorder.

According to data from The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database – an international project to catalog data on the slave trade in which Harvard University participates, among others – between 1500 and 1875, Spanish America received 1.3 million slaves. brought from Africa.

In the same period, almost 5 million landed in Brazil alone. No other place in the world received so many slaves.

Caption, Possible slave revolts was one of the reasons for maintaining the territorial unity of Brazil.

“The ruling class feared that the slaves could take advantage of their internal divisions to rebel” as had already happened in Haiti, he adds.

In Spanish America, on the other hand, “the elites learned that they could govern very well with a restless population,” explains the American historian.

“All Spanish-American countries took measures that sought to end slavery. Many mestizos (and in some cases, such as Venezuela, mulattoes) had command of the military forces and were often rewarded with possession of land taken from loyalists. to the crown, “says Graham.

The end of the viceroyalties and the rise of countries

But why were the borders of the newly independent countries in Spanish America not kept the same as those of the four viceroyalties?

I mean, why was there so much fragmentation?

” In colonial times, the concept of the border was different from that of modern states,” explains historian Ávila Rueda. “At that time there was a system of jurisdictions that sometimes overlapped each other.”

To understand it better, Ávila Rueda cites the case of the viceroyalty of New Spain, a territory that included part of the United States, Mexico and Central America.

Caption,The first country in Latin America to achieve independence was Colombia, while the last was Cuba.

“We believe that the viceroyalty of New Spain remained a united country, corresponding to current Mexico. But we forget that after independence the Mexican empire emerged, which included present-day Central America. Later, with the dissolution of the Mexican empire, the Mexican federation and the Central American federation were established, which would later disintegrate in other countries, “says Ávila Rueda.

In the same way, “there was a process of fragmentation throughout Spanish America,” he adds. “Some of these provinces formed confederations to have greater military force and defend themselves from other enemies, and others were united by force, as Simón Bolívar did.”

Graham agrees with Ávila Rueda’s thesis. “If you become independent from Spain, why would you want to be subjected to the controls and excesses of, for example, Buenos Aires? The current borders of the Latin American countries took time to consolidate and were in many cases the result of internal disputes that occurred after independence, “he explains.

Caption, Pedro I declared the Independence of Brazil on the banks of the Ipiranga River.

The Bolivarian Dream

But it is important to remember that also in Spanish America there were unification plans that did not prosper.

In 1822 Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín, two of the most important figures of decolonization, met in the city of Guayaquil, in Ecuador, to discuss the future of Spanish America.

Bolívar was a supporter of the unity of the former colonies (he was the one who forced the unification of Colombia and Venezuela) and the formation of a federation of republics.

San Martín, on the other hand, defended the restoration of the monarchy in the form of governments led by European princes.

Bolívar’s idea was discussed again in the Congress of Panama, in 1826, but ended up rejected.

What if Spain had transferred the court to the Americas as Portugal did?

The American historian William Spence Robertson quotes in one of his articles the phrase pronounced in 1821 by a Spanish observer: “Mexico would not accept the laws enacted in Lima, nor would Lima accept the laws enacted in Mexico.”

“The main question is where the monarch would have chosen to settle. I do not think that Mexico would have remained loyal to a king established in Lima and not in Madrid,” says Graham.

“But it is true that if Ferdinand VII had moved the court to the Americas, there would be fewer divisions today than actually occurred,” he adds.

Because, according to Graham, kings guarantee the legitimacy of power.

Caption, Agustín de Iturbide was declared Emperor of Mexico with the name of Agustín I, after independence from Spain.

Rebellions in Brazil

But the process of territorial unification in Brazil was not totally peaceful either.

There were independence movements in Minas Gerais (1789), in Bahia (1798), and in Pernambuco (1817), although these revolts were fostered more by a feeling of autonomy than by the desire for a break between the colony and the metropolis.

According to Ávila Rueda, “considering that in Portuguese America there was not a war of independence, but a continuity with the transfer of the court, the government of Rio de Janeiro had more force to suppress these rebellions.”

“On the other hand, the government of Mexico did not have enough force to prevent the dismemberment of Central America, as well as the government of Buenos Aires in relation to Uruguay or Paraguay,” he concludes.

Source: bbc.com/mundo

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