Wars in Latin American History

Wars in Latin American History

Wars are unfortunately far too common in Latin and American History, and South American Wars have been particularly bloody. It seems that nearly every nation from Mexico to Chile has at some time gone to war with a neighbor or suffered a bloody internal civil war st some point. Here are some of the more notable historical conflicts of the region.

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The Inca Civil War

Atahualpa. Image from the Brooklyn Museum

The mighty Inca Empire stretched from Colombia in the north to parts of Bolivia and Chile and included most of present-day Ecuador and Peru. Not long before the Spanish invasion, a war of succession between Princes Huascar and Atahualpa tore the Empire apart, costing thousands of lives. Atahualpa had just defeated his brother when a far more dangerous enemy - Spanish conquistadors under Francisco Pizarro - approached from the west.

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The Conquest

Montezuma and Cortes
Montezuma and Cortes. Artist Unknown

It wasn't long after Columbus' monumental 1492 voyage of discovery that European settlers and soldiers followed his footsteps to the New World. In 1519 the audacious Hernan Cortes brought down the mighty Aztec Empire, gaining a vast personal fortune in the process. This encouraged thousands of others to seek in all corners of the New World for gold. The result was a large-scale genocide the likes of which the world has not seen before or since.

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Independence from Spain

Jose de San Martin
Jose de San Martin.

The Spanish Empire stretched from California to Chile and lasted for hundreds of years. Suddenly, in 1810, it all began to fall apart. In Mexico, Father Miguel Hidalgo led a peasant army to the gates of Mexico City itself. In Venezuela, Simon Bolivar turned his back on a life of wealth and privilege in order to fight for freedom. In Argentina, Jose de San Martin resigned an officer's commission in the Spanish army in order to fight for his native land. After a decade of blood, violence and suffering, the nations of Latin America were free.

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The Pastry War

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. 1853 Photo

In 1838, Mexico had a lot of debt and very little income. France was its chief creditor, and tired of asking Mexico to pay up. In early 1838, France blockaded Veracruz to try and make them pay, to no avail. By November, negotiations had broken down and France invaded. With Veracruz in French hands, the Mexicans had no choice but to relent and pay. Although the war was a minor one, it was important because it featured the return to national prominence of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, in disgrace since the loss of Texas in 1836, and it also marked the start of a pattern of French interference in Mexico that would culminate in 1864 when France put Emperor Maximilian on the throne in Mexico.

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The Texas Revolution

Sam Houston. Photographer Unknown

By the 1820's, Texas - then a remote northern province of Mexico - was filling up with American settlers looking for free land and a new home. It didn't take long for Mexican rule to chafe these independent frontiersmen and by the 1830's many were openly saying that Texas should be independent or a state in the USA. War broke out in 1835 and for a while it looked like the Mexicans would crush the rebellion, but a victory at the Battle of San Jacinto sealed independence for Texas.

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The Thousand Days' War

Rafael Uribe Uribe. Public Domain Image

Of all the nations of Latin America, perhaps the one most troubled historically by domestic strife has been Colombia. In 1898, Colombian liberals and conservatives could not agree on anything: separation (or not) of church and state, who would be able to vote and the role of the federal government were just a few of the things they fought about. When a conservative was elected president (fraudulently, some said) in 1898, the Liberals abandoned the political arena and took up arms. For the next three years, Colombia was ravaged by a civil war.