Independence

Revolution was a leading force of change in Latin America during the nineteenth century. Marked by independence from colonial rule, this period would experience the emergence of modernity in the Western Hemisphere, witnessing the universal abolition of slavery throughout the region. However, while Latin America did begin to establish independent governments and societies, the increasing marginalization of indigenous populations reflected the conflict engulfing the development of national identities. Ultimately, the narratives of Haiti, Guatemala, and Cuba demonstrate the impact that liberation brought to Latin America as well as the oppressive conflicts that would continue to arise in the twentieth century.


"Decreto N. 14. El Congreso Constituyente de Guatemala"
1824-10-29

In 1824 the Federal Congress of Guatemala decreed the printing and circulation of this document declaring Spanish as the only national language and ordering municipalities and parishes to extinguish the indigenous languages. This decree demonstrates how the construction of language can reflect the existing political and social conditions of a place. Although Independence supposedly implies change and transformation, many common racist beliefs of indigenous inferiority persisted from the colonial period. Therefore, the Spanish-descendant ruling elites wanted to form a new national identity that promoted Spanish acculturation while attempting to repress the culture of the numerous indigenous communities. While Independence meant opportunities for representation and legitimacy for some people, for others, it meant marginalization and restrictions.

"Toussaint Louverture"
1805

This sketch of General Toussaint L'Ouverture is the first published image of the Haitian leader. Due to his strong resolve and military expertise, L'Ouverture was able to lead the late seventeenth-century slave revolt of Haiti into a full-fledged revolution for independence. Although he would not live to see his nation's liberation, his efforts would lay the foundation for Haitian Independence in 1804. A year after independence, British author Marcus Rainsford would craft this book, a collection of Haitian history and politics, to reveal to the international community the nature of the Revolution. Additionally, Rainsford argues only reverence towards the Revolution, admiring the exceptional leadership of L'Ouverture.

Illustrations of Cuban landmarks in "Souvenir Habana"
circa 1899

This print shows Cuba's Indian Fountain, Statue of Columbus, Governor General’s Palace (occupied by the American provisional government at that time), as well as the Spanish crown. Together they reveal the island's indigenous origins, Spanish colonial past, and achievement of its independence with the help of American forces. As Spain's first and last colony in the "New World," M. Carranza included these images of Cuba, among others, in his Souvenir Habana in 1899. Carranza aimed his publication at the citizens of the United States, to show landmarks displaying a new Cuban national identity that built on the old, enticing visitors to come see Habana.

"Mujeres y Niños [de Livingston]"
circa 1883-1904

This photograph taken between 1883 and 1904 shows women and children of the Garifuna community in the West Coast of Guatemala. The Spanish government allowed the Garifuna – mixed-race descendants of West and Central African, Island Carib, and Arawak people – to settle in Guatemala in the early 1800s, and after the abolishment of slavery, many former slaves joined the group. The community’s unique history, ethnicity, and culture has always separated them from mainstreamGuatemalan identity. Although the Garifuna people have participated in important political struggles and events, such as Independence, they continue to receive minimal recognition. In effect, history has placed the Garifuna people on the margins, both geographically and conceptually.

"A Particular Account of the Commencement and Progress of the Insurrection of the Negroes in St. Domingo," title page
1792

Translated and transcribed in 1792, this title page begins a copy of a speech delivered by deputies from the General Assembly of St. Domingo to the National Assembly of France in 1791. The speech discusses the “commencement and [early] progress” of the slave revolt in Haiti that would later develop into the full-fledged revolution for independence of the early nineteenth century. Consequently, this speech highlights a critical moment in Haiti’s history, as it is the first official statement that Haiti makes to France on the emerging conflict of colonial slavery and abolition.