Category Archives: South American History

The revolt of Portugal

Sunrise over an older part of Lisbon / the guardian.com

Sunrise over an older part of Lisbon / the guardian.com

The first king of this tiny country, washed by the Atlantic, and blessed with fine seamen, navigators and harbours, was Alfonso I, in 1139, but the Portuguese Empire as such began in the fifteenth century. Portuguese ships were making voyages of discovery right round the world. Perhaps her immediate neighbour, Spain, felt that Portugal should belong to her, and by 1580 she did. This situation, most unpopular with the Portuguese, lasted from the above mentioned date until 1668. The French invaded in 1807, and the monarchy was overthrown. Most of the Empire vanished with the loss of Brazil, Goa and Macao.

That union of crowns in 1640 brought nothing but unrest in Portugal, partly because the people quickly noted that Spain was not ready (or able) to defend and protect the vast Portuguese possessions overseas. When troubles started up (again) in Cataluña, powerful Portuguese were encouraged to gather round the standard of the Duke of Braganza. They proclaimed him King Joao IV during an uprising in the capital, Lisbon in December, 1640, which ended with the murder of the Spanish Viceroy Vasconcellos. This was a serious mistake, for Vasconcellos was a personal friend and confidant of the all-powerful Conde-Duque de Olivares, the Spanish minister who managed Spain for the King. No-one, perhaps not even the King, had more power than Olivares at that stage. Continue reading

Second thoughts on General Pinochet

/ the guardian.com

/ the guardian.com

He was another military dictator who was and is still hated by almost everybody, even after his death, except a substantial portion of the Latin American population. He ran foul of the tremendously powerful Soviet propaganda machine, and paid the price. As a result of poisonous journalistic pens, he became one of the most misjudged figures of the twentieth century. Continue reading

US President Monroe & his Doctrine

/ biography.com

/ biography.com

James Monroe was born in Virginia in 1758, and became the 5th President of the United States. He did not shine as a diplomat but he did manage to orchestrate the Louisiana Purchase (q.v.), one of the most important facets of US history. He became Madison’s Secretary of State in 1811, and was active in the Anglo-American War of 1812-14.

In 1817 he became President, worried by the question of slavery, because though he was not officially an abolutionist he knew that this canker on the American soul was evil. When black people were occasionally freed he encouraged sending them to Liberia, and got that country’s capital Monrovia named after him. Continue reading

Latin American revolutionaries: Zapata & Villa

Emilio Zapata /en.wikipedia.org

Emilio Zapata /en.wikipedia.org

Emiliano Zapata was a Mexican revolutionary, son of a peasant of mixed (meztizo) blood. At around twelve he became an agricultural worker, then entered politics by arousing the local peasants against any form of government. When the Mexican Revolution began in 1910 against President Porfirio Diaz he was already an important leader. In true South American style he attacked first the great haciendas protected only by their owners and their employees, firing the houses and killing (if he could) the inhabitants.

He then announced a reform in agrarian policies, by which the great estates would be divided up among his followers, who would employ local Indians as the work force. Latin America has had to watch many such leaders of the people. Continue reading

Colonization

/ from a painting by Angus McBride - posterlounge.co.uk

/ from a painting by Angus McBride – posterlounge.co.uk

These days the word strikes a sour note, arousing images of rough settlements, starving ‘piccaninies’, whips, shackles, thoughtless government from a distance of thousdands of miles etc. If there are any ‘colonies’ left after the post-war rush to be rid of them I think it is because the ‘colonists’ prefer it that way. 90% of colonies which achieved independence have suffered under bad or atrocious rule since being ‘freed’, with the possible exception of the United States, and even there half the settlers in the Thirteen Colonies claimed they did not wish for independence from British rule, and after 1776 sold up lock, stock and barrel and moved to Canada, where they were welcomed. Continue reading

The Inquisition

Popular conception of question time in the Spanish Inquisition / newsbiscuit.com

Popular conception of question time in the Spanish Inquisition / newsbiscuit.com

This was a Catholic tribunal founded on a temporary basis in France and Germany. Its purpose was to seek out heresy, prosecute and punish it. In the thirteenth and later centuries how you decided to worship God in Europe was not optional. Heretics were severely punished, often capitally, by burning alive. The latter is probably the most painful way to die, but the Church believed that only by burning could the non-conformist devil in a person be driven out and destroyed.

   The country of Spain, and later its empire, is chiefly associated by historical novelists with the Inquisition, also known as the ‘Holy Office’ or Santo Oficio. A medieval inquisition was set up in the kingdom of Aragon, with headquarters in Tarragona, but this was superceded in the late fifteenth century by the newly invented Castilian or Spanish Inquisition, founded by a papal bull by Sixtus VI in 1478. The branch was devoted first and foremost to investigating how converted Jews and Muslims were behaving now that they were Christian. The Spanish Jews and Muslims of Castilla had been forced to embrace Christianity in the stern form of Catholic Faith in 1492 and 1502 respectively. Continue reading

The Condor Squadron

/condorsquadron.org

/condorsquadron.org

This formed part of Adolf Hitler’s contribution to the Nationalist or rebel side during the Spanish Civil War (q.v.). The pilots came mostly from the German middle and upper classes, and their groundcrew, mechanics etc. were boys from the lower classes doing their military service. For both, flying missions in a foreign country whose government (the Second Spanish Republic) had hardly any aircraft to fight them was more like a youthful adventure than real war. The truth is that the young Germans met virtually no opposition during their lethal visits to bomb and strafe Republican Spanish towns, turning the towns into ruins and killing thousands, mostly civilians. Continue reading

The Tudors

I do not refer to the hideous filmed television series of the same name, designed more as pornography for sexually deprived viewers than students of England’s history. I refer to a family of minor Welsh gentry, smallholders in the North of that sad country, one of whose male members managed to marry a French girl, the widow of a Plantagenet king.

The King, Henry V, died young after winning the crucial battle against the French at Agincourt. He had defeated and routed the Dauphin, whose father Charles VI gave the victor his daughter Catherine of Valois in marriage. When she was widowed, this Catherine fell in with one Owen Tudor – and married him. He had his head cut off in 1461 but not before siring  Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond. He in turn took as his second wife Margaret Beaufort. This is where the trouble started. Continue reading

The royal Portuguese House of Braganza

This traditional Iberian Duchy assumed royalty in 1442 but only when one of the interminable rows with neighbouring Spain impressed John IV enough to actually sit on the throne, thus founding the dynasty, was it accepted as a fact by the rest of Europe. Previously, John had been the 8th Duke of Braganza. It was 1640. Continue reading

The Barbary Coast, and Wars

It is difficult to find any time since the Byzantine Empire when the North African coast from Morocco to Libya was not infamous for piracy. The worst period was the beginning of the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth. The Berbers, who may or may not have originally populated the Canary Islands, were piratical by nature and good navigators in the treacherous Atlantic and unpredictable Mediterranean.

Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania (Libya) take their name from the infamous pirate Barbarossa. Even the English adjective barbaric has its roots in berber, bereber or Barbarossa. Continue reading