The early decades of the 1800s were a tumultuous time for anyone living in Latin America. In less than 20 years, virtually all the European colonies in Central and South America declared their independence, leading to bloody conflict between those who rejected colonial rule and those who remained loyal to distant European leaders. However, some countries maintained their colonial links well into the 20th century; Suriname remained a Dutch possession until 1975, while Belize did not declare its independence from Britain until 1981. French Guiana remains part of the French state well into the 21st century.
Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata
The southern territory administered by Spain as the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata declared its independence in 1810. Initially the territory was governed in the name of exiled Spanish King Ferdinand VII, but internal conflict soon fractured the fragile territory: Paraguay became independent in 1811, Argentina in 1816, Bolivia in 1825 and Uruguay in 1828. Chile, separate from the viceroyalty, sought independence as early as 1810 but did not secure it until 1818.
Viceroyalties of New Granada and Peru
The equivalent Spanish territories in the northwest of South America, known as the viceroyalties of New Granada and Peru, suffered a similar fate. Many Spanish officials were thrown out in 1810, and while the territories initially stayed loyal to the Spanish monarchy, one by one they declared their independence, although some areas were temporarily reconquered by Spanish troops between 1814 and 1816. The three territories of New Granada -- Venezuela, New Granada (Colombia) and Quito (Ecuador) -- declared independence between 1819 and 1822, while Peru did the same in 1821.
Viceroyalty of New Spain
The Spanish Viceroyalty of New Spain included Central America and Mexico. Priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla took the first step towards Mexican independence from Spain as early as 1810, when he urged Mexicans to rise up against their colonial rulers, but the war of independence would not conclude until the signing of the Treaty of Cordoba in 1821. The Spanish possessions in Central America largely declared independence at the same time in 1821, and two years later, after a brief union with Mexico, became the United Provinces of Central America. This confederation took in present-day Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, but only lasted until 1838 when it disintegrated into its constituent parts.
Although part of Latin America, Brazil can be considered separately from the formerly Spanish territories because it spent more than 300 years under Portuguese control. After Napoleon invaded Portugal in 1807, the Portuguese royal heir Dom Joao moved his court to Brazil and formed the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves. However, after Joao’s return to Portugal in 1820, his son, Dom Pedro, remained as regent and declared Brazil an independent state in 1822.
- Encyclopedia Britannica: History of Latin America, The Wars of Independence 1808-26
- CIA World Factbook: Suriname
- CIA World Factbook: Belize
- CIA World Factbook: France
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Congress of Tucuman
- “The Independence of Latin America”; Leslie Bethell (Ed.)
- CIA World Factbook: Paraguay
- CIA World Factbook: Argentina
- CIA World Factbook: Bolivia
- CIA World Factbook: Uruguay
- CIA World Factbook: Chile
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Viceroyalty of New Granada
- CIA World Factbook: Ecuador
- CIA World Factbook: Peru
- History: The Struggle for Mexican Independence
- Encyclopedia Britannica: United Provinces of Central America
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Brazil Independence
- CIA World Factbook: Brazil
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images