While Europeans basked in the glory of their so-called century of peace between the end of the Napoleonic wars (1815) and the onset of World War I (1914), Latin Americans knew no such luxury. Conflict became a way of life for Latin Americans attempting to construct nation-states. Liberals and Conservatives dueled with one another for political power, while caudillos (military strongmen) added their unique twisted logic to the political process. Historians have spilled considerable ink detailing these internal conflicts that complicated Latin America’s struggle for effective state formation in the early national period but have paid much less attention to the external wars over disputed boundaries that involved every South American nation during the 19th century. As historian Robert Burr described it: boundary conflicts were the “congenital international disease of Spain’s former colonies.”
Peter V. N. Henderson
Bridget María Chesterton
In the period 1870–1936, Paraguay began to redevelop economically after its devastating loss in the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870). Turning to a liberal economic model popular in the region at the time, government officials began selling off large tracts of land to foreign investors, in particular Argentine investors. The liberal era in Paraguay was notoriously turbulent as political rivals often relied on Civil War to gain power. Nonetheless, this period was pivotal in helping to shape ideas about the nation. The era ends at the Febrerista Revolution (1936) when returning Chaco War (1932–1935) veterans made their mark on Paraguayan politics and identity.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the Mexican populace demonstrated a fascination with the nation’s railroads. Newspapers, literature, poetry, music, and art focused their attention on the symbolic power of the locomotive, revealing its capacity to reshape people’s social and cultural worlds. As the most potent symbol of progress and civilization, the arrival of the iron horse offered both powerholders and ordinary individuals the opportunity to imagine new possibilities for their nation and themselves, musings that could be highly optimistic or dreadfully distrustful. The locomotive emerged as a ubiquitous symbol throughout the restored republic (1867–1876), the Porfiriato (1876–1911), and the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) that inspired individuals to reflect on the meaning of an array of issues: modernization, cosmopolitanism, citizenship, sovereignty, and national identity. During the restored republic and Porfiriato, government officials and the press celebrated the railway as the dawning of new age of peace and prosperity, discourses that often sought to legitimize and justify sitting presidents and their policymaking. At the same time, popular and opposition groups used the symbolic power of the railway to question the decision-making of the elite that had resulted in extreme social inequality and foreign economic domination. These divisions were a portent of the conflicts that would spark the 1910 Revolution, a popular struggle where railroads and railway workers played principal protagonists. As such, the railroad emerged in a new context as a symbol to represent the heroism, violence, and disorder of those years.
Zachary R. Morgan
On November 22, 1910, Rio de Janeiro was convulsed by the four-day Revolta da Chibata (Revolt of the Lash). Approximately half of the predominantly Afro-Brazilian sailors stationed in the nation’s capital—likely fifteen hundred to two thousand men—seized four modern battleships, removed their officers, and besieged the city. They complained of mistreatment, forced recruitment, low pay, and meager food, but their only demand in their first communication to the president was the cessation of corporal punishment in the Brazilian navy. Three of the four ships seized had been recently obtained by the Brazilian government from British shipyards; two were the first all-big-gun dreadnought-class battleships ever sold by the British to any foreign navy. Their 12-inch guns could near-simultaneously launch twelve 850-pound explosive shells at targets miles away, meaning that should they fire almost every part of the Brazilian capital city was under threat. Their second communique to the president demanded an end to the “slavery as practiced in the Brazilian navy.” The institution’s nearly century-long traditions of forced conscription, systematic and ritualized lashing, long-term forced labor, and the conspicuous malnourishment of Afro-Brazilian men tempts comparison to the exploitation of the enslaved in preabolition Brazil, but other than a brief policy of purchase and subsequent freeing of enslaved men to serve in the armed forces during the Paraguayan War (1864–1870), naval service did not draw on the exploitation of the enslaved. Instead, it conscripted Brazil’s free Afro-descendant population; citizens who represented a 47 percent plurality of Brazil’s population, larger than either the free white or enslaved Black populations at the time of Brazil’s first national census in 1872. The Brazilian navy was just one part in a series of institutions and legislative controls created and used to control Brazil’s free Afro-Brazilian population both before and after abolition in 1888. The freedom and citizenship of free Black men, women, and children was often ephemeral and regulated. Although Brazil lacked institutionalized racial segregation such as apartheid or Jim Crow, controls such as restriction on land ownership, police policies, military conscription, the manipulation of orphans, forced apprenticeship, and incarceration were implemented in such racialized ways that the overall outcome for Afro-Brazilians was similar. The navy’s acquisition of cutting-edge weapons of war created an opportunity for powerless Afro-descendant men to challenge the generally unacknowledged state systems of racial oppression and hierarchy.