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Problems in the 19th Century

At the end of the Wars of Independence the sovereign Spanish states in South America were Great Colombia, Peru, Chile, the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata (later Argentina), Paraguay, and Bolivia. Between 1830 and 1832 Great Colombia evolved into the sovereign states of Venezuela, Ecuador, and New Granada. Until 1903 New Granada, which later became Colombia, included Panama. Uruguay, after periods of Portuguese and Brazilian control, became a sovereign state in 1828.

In spite of close cooperation during the revolutionary period, the Spanish colonies did not follow Bolivar's ideal of confederating in a Spanish South American union because of regional jealousies, geographic vastness, inadequate communications, personal ambition and political inexperience of various leaders, and want of democratic traditions. The two last-named conditions also contributed greatly to political instability in the newly formed republics. Wealth and political power were still concentrated in the hands of the church and relatively few families. Conservative and liberal political groups opposed each other as bitterly as had the Creoles and Peninsulars of the colonial period. Revolutions were frequent, and some of the countries were under military dictatorships for long periods. As a consequence, social and economic development in South America was retarded during the 19th century. After 1900 advancement was more rapid, notably in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, the so-called ABC Powers.

Boundary problems often caused bitter disputes among the separate nations, sometimes leading to war. The war between Paraguay and the combined forces of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, between 1864 and 1870, was one of the fiercest ever waged in the Western Hemisphere. The War of the Pacific, another important South American war, was fought from 1879 to 1883 between Chile and the combined forces of Bolivia and Peru. The Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia from 1932 to 1935 climaxed a long-standing dispute between the two countries.

The Monroe Doctrine, promulgated by the United States in 1823, played an important role during the 19th century in preventing European intervention in northern South America.

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