The political independence of the Latin American republics was attained definitively in 1824 with a decisive military defeat of the Spanish army in Ayacucho. However, after 1824 the newly independent republics were not able to unify, integrate or federate, nor were they able to carry out the profound social transformation that revolutionary leaders had envisioned. The agreements attained at the Panama Congress of 1826 (see “The Dream of La Patria Grande” 3/4/2014) were never ratified by the respective governments.
The failure of union and integration was a consequence of the pursuit of particular interests by powerful actors. Throughout the region, revolutionary leaders encountered opposition from the local estate bourgeoisie, owners of large tracts of land who utilized systems of forced and super-exploited labor to export raw materials to the core nations. The local estate bourgeoisie not only was able to prevent federation and unity; it was able to facilitate disintegration and fragmentation of the colonial provinces, leaving a greater number of smaller and therefore weaker states. Political fragmentation was in the interest of local elites, inasmuch as it facilitated greater local control. Local elites were supported in this by the United States, since smaller and weaker states were more beneficial for U.S. designs to economically penetrated the region, the possibilities for which were greatly enhanced with the collapse of Spanish colonialism (López 2009:52, 55-59, 83-84; Guerra 2006:149-59).
For the Cuban scholar Roberto Regalado, there was not an adequate economic basis for the implementation of the revolutionary ideal of integration and union (2007:108). The principal economic activity was raw materials exportation to the core, with land concentrated in the hands of a small but powerful estate bourgeoisie, which had an interest in the preservation of the core-peripheral relation (see “The modern world-economy” 8/2/2013). Urban manufacturing was limited, and the domestic market was weak. There was limited commerce within the region, and a limited transportation infrastructure to facilitate this commerce. Therefore, the economic conditions to sustain the ideal of integration were not present. Neither did the political conditions for union exist: once the war against Spain was won, the landed estate bourgeoisie was no longer constrained by the need to enlist popular support for the independence struggle, and it could act decisively to protect its interests in opposition to the interests of the popular classes and sectors.
Although deferred, the dream did not die. The concept of Latin American union and integration as a strategy for social transformation and true independence was taken up by a number of Latin American political leaders and intellectuals during the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, most notably the Cuban revolutionary José Martí (López 2009:81-116). But the economic and political conditions that would make possible the implementation of such a vision were not present.
Pan-Americanism emerged in the 1880s, and it represented a contrasting concept of American union under U.S. direction. A Pan-American system was first proposed by James Blaine, Secretary of State during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison (1889-93). “It was the start of a long-term strategy to convert the Latin American governments and peoples into co-participants in the domination exercised over them” (Regalado 2007:123). Twelve Inter-American conferences were convened from 1889 to 1942, but there was considerable resistance by Latin American governments to the Pan-American project. However, following World War II, with the attainment of hegemonic maturity, the United States was able obtain the cooperation of Latin American governments in forming in 1948 the Organization of American States (OAS). On the basis of a 1954 anti-communist declaration of the OAS, socialist Cuba was expelled from the organization in 1961 (Regalado 2007:123-27; see “Pan-Americanism and OAS” 10/2/2013).
For the most part, however, OAS was not highly effective as an instrument of neocolonial domination, which was imposed unilaterally by the United States on the region, country by country. On the other hand, the Organization of American States never functioned as a forum for a challenge by the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean to U.S. imperialism and neocolonial domination. And it served a legitimating function in relation to U.S. unilateral imposition of neocolonial rule.
Following 1980, under the impact of the emerging dynamics of the relative decline of the United States and the structural crisis of the world-system, the United States began to act aggressively in pursuit of its short-term interests, imposing the neoliberal project on Latin America. This would deepen the poverty of the popular sectors and would undermine the position of the national bourgeoisie, giving rise to a retaking of the idea of Latin American unity and integration, as we will discuss in subsequent posts.
Guerra Vilaboy, Sergio. 2006. “Antecedentes históricos de la Alternativa Bolivariana para la América” in Contexto Latinoamericano: Revista de Análisis Político, No. 1 (Sept.-Dec.), Pp. 149-62.
López, Horacio A. 2009. Anfictionía en América: La lucha por la Patria Grande en el siglo XIX. Habana: Ediciones CEA.
Regalado, Roberto. 2007. Latin America at the Crossroads: Domination, Crisis, Popular Movements, and Political Alternatives. New York: Ocean Press.
Suárez Salazar, Luis. 2008. “La integración independiente y multidimensional de Nuestra América” in Contexto Latinoamericano: Revista de Análisis Político, No. 7, Pp. 103-9.
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, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Organization of American States, OAS, Pan-Americanism