To be genuinely independent, the new American republics of the early nineteenth century would have had to follow an autonomous road to economic and social development, one that was not shaped by the interests of the core powers. This would have required that the Latin American republics unify politically and integrate economically, in order that they would have the political and the economic capacity to resist the efforts at penetration by the world´s most advanced economies. Such unity and integration was advocated by Simón Bolívar, the leading figure of the progressive tendency in the South American independence struggle. However, it was not possible to accomplish the union and integration envisioned by Bolívar, because, as Cuban scholar Roberto Regalado has observed, “the Americas lacked a level of capitalist economic development and social structure that could serve as a basis for their integration” (Regalado 2007:108), that is, they lacked sufficient manufacturing capacity and capital as well as finance structures and a transportation infrastructure oriented toward regional integration.
The global powers of the era did not immediately penetrate Latin America, due to limitations in the availability of capital, so the new republics enjoyed a brief period of true independence from 1825 to 1850. British economic penetration began after 1850 and grew considerably after 1880. British domination of Latin American economies continued until the Great Depression of the 1930s, when British capital was displaced by that of the United States. U.S. economic penetration of Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America emerged as a policy goal after 1850, and it was effectively accomplished by the 1930s (Regalado 2007:111-18).
The Latin American republics of the nineteenth century were in some respects neocolonies of Great Britain. However, the Cuban scholar Jesus Arboleya considers them to have been semi-colonies rather than neocolonies, because not all of the characteristics of neocolonial domination were present. The capitalist world-economy had not yet arrived to the stage of finance capital, and thus British penetration was commercial rather than financial, involving an exchange of manufactured goods for raw materials without control of banking and financial institutions. In addition, competition from the United States, also seeking economic penetration of Latin America, prevented Great Britain from establishing full economic control (Arboleya 2008:8-9, 42). In the twentieth century, the United States would establish neocolonial domination in all of its aspects with respect to Latin America, forging an exemplary neocolonial system, a theme that we will explore in future posts.
The emergence of the Latin American republics as semi-colonies during the nineteenth century was a consequence of political action taken by key actors that had an interest in the preservation of the core-peripheral relation: the Latin American estate bourgeoisie, whose raw materials products were sent to the core; Latin American merchants tied to the core-peripheral trade; and the industrialized and industrializing nations of the core that utilized peripheral raw materials, especially Britain and the United States. The embryonic Latin American urban industrial bourgeoisie, which had an interest in an autonomous development that would strengthen the domestic market, lost out (Regalado 1997:109-10).
Among the losers also were the popular classes and sectors. The core-peripheral relation depended on low prices for Latin American exports based on low-waged labor. A social and economic transformation that would benefit the popular classes could not occur without a rupture with the peripheral role, consciousness of which would general anti-neocolonial popular struggles during the twentieth century.
The Latin American semi-colonial republics of the nineteenth century came to be characterized by military dictatorships or authoritarian civilian governments, supported directly or indirectly by the Latin American estate bourgeoisie. The military provided to some extent an escape valve, in that it was a mechanism for upward mobility for the impoverished rural masses. But the mechanisms of force used by the military were instrumental in maintaining control over the popular sectors, whose basic rights and needs were denied (Regalado 2007:109-10).
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo: Un análisis histórico de la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Regalado, Roberto. 2007. Latin America at the Crossroads: Domination, Crisis, Popular Movements, and Political Alternatives. New York: Ocean Press.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, capitalism, peripheralization, estate bourgeoisie, military dictatorship