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Anticolonialism in Latin America


By the 1820s, most of Latin America had gained political independence from its colonial masters. With Iberian mercantile restrictions gone, northern European (and particularly British) capital flooded the region. As critics have noted, a legacy of colonization was a blocking of moves toward industrialization, which would have represented little gain for colonial powers. This trend continued with the British (and later the United States) extracting raw materials from and importing finished goods into the region. The infrastructure, such as the railroad systems, was designed to transport products from mines and plantations to seaports rather than to integrate a country. The economic benefits of this trade accrued to foreign powers, with wages and living standards remaining depressed as resources were drained away from the domestic economy. Neocolonialism also led to cultural shifts. For example, predominantly Catholic Latin American countries implemented freedom of religion in order to encourage foreign investment from Protestant powers. Despite formal independence, external economic forces determined many of the domestic policies in Latin America. This irony has come to be known as neocolonialism.

Nineteenth-century examples of neocolonialism include the export of Peruvian guano and Chilean nitrates, which fueled an agricultural boom in Europe. Neocolonialism, and Latin America's subsequent falling behind relative to economic growth in northern industrial economies, was not inevitable nor was it the only possible option. In The Poverty of Progress, E. Bradford Burns points to Paraguay as a viable example of autonomous economic development. The country's leaders eliminated large estates and emphasized domestic food production, and they restricted foreign penetration of the economy. Rapid economic development without outside foreign development alarmed the elitist governments in the neighboring countries of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, who feared the model Paraguay offered to the poor in their own countries. Their opposition led to the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870), which devastated Paraguay and destroyed this alternative model to neocolonialism.

The concept of formally independent countries that remained economically dependent on outside powers first was articulated in Marxist circles in the 1920s, though the term neocolonialism was not introduced until the 1960s. It has always been closely associated with anti-imperialism, as was demonstrated at the 1966 Tricontinental Conference in Havana, Cuba, which linked anticolonial struggles in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Although U.S. neocolonial control is largely a twentieth-century phenomenon, it is rooted in the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, which declared Latin America to be part of the U.S. imperial sphere of influence.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ambiguity - Ambiguity to Anticolonialism in Middle East - Ottoman Empire And The Mandate SystemAnticolonialism in Latin America - Independence, Neocolonialism, Anti-imperialism, Non-spanish Caribbean, Bibliography