Posts tagged south america.

April 5, 1818: The Army of the Andes and Chilean rebels defeat the Spanish at the Battle of Maipú.

At this major battle of the Chilean War of Independence, forces led by Bernardo O’Higgins, José de San Martín, and Miguel Estanislao Soler met and defeated Spanish royalist armies near Santiago. Although the Chilean War of Independence (which had begun in 1810) would last by some accounts until 1826, when the last of the royalist troops surrendered, the Battle of Maipú is often considered the point in the war at which independence was all but secured, as the Spanish were never again powerful enough in that region to mount an attack on Santiago.

Three years earlier, the “Disaster of Rancagua”, a decisive royalist victory over the patriots, marked the beginning of the Reconquista period during the Spanish American wars of independence, during which Spain, with its newly restored king Ferdinand VII and an end to the threat posed by Napoleon, began to take the upper hand in the wars. In 1817, after the Crossing of the Andes, Santiago was recaptured from the royalists once more, and Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme was appointed Chile’s second Supreme Director. As Chile’s former royal governor Mariano Osorio prepared for a rematch over Santiago, it seemed as though the capital might fall into royalist hands again - that would be decided at Maipú, where two evenly-matched armies (numbers-wise) faced off against each other. The royalist force lost twice as many men as the patriot army (around 2,000), and their loss left them with no hope for a second Reconquista. 

December 2, 1823: James Monroe issues the Monroe Doctrine.

Since its introduction during the so-called “Era of Good Feelings”, the Monroe Doctrine has remained an essentially unchanging part of the United States’ foreign policy. It was conceived by a United States that feared the restored and allied monarchies of post-Napoleon Europe would attempt to establish colonies or spheres of influence in the New World. As a result, James Monroe established his namesake doctrine at his seventh State of the Union Address, which stated that

…the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.

In short, the doctrine declared that any attempts by European powers to take over New World territories would be seen by the United States as an act of hostility (although existing colonies would be tolerated). The United States, not yet a world power, had not the military power nor the global influence to issue such a bold statement to the European powers, but it was mostly enforced by the British navy, which laid the foundation for the two nations’ “Special Relationship”. 

The Monroe Doctrine was significantly applied several times throughout U.S. history. At face value it seemed to be a decrial of colonialism, and the United States did raise objections to some European actions on the grounds of the doctrine’s principles - in 1862, France’s invasion of Mexico was deemed to be a violation of the doctrine, for example. Criticism for the doctrine comes mostly for its later use as a tool for establishing American hegemony in the Western Hemisphere; rather than defending the Americas from European domination, it would simply replace a European oppressor with an American one. In 1845, it was used as justification for the United States’ acquisition of Texas in pursuit of “Manifest Destiny”. In 1904 Theodore Roosevelt added the Roosevelt Corollary; by this time the United States was an emerging world power, so it now had the strength to support this new corollary. It declared that the country had the right to intervene in Latin America to stave off European influence, leading some to criticize the United States’ subsequent role as “hemispheric policeman.” The Monroe Doctrine was also invoked several times during the Cold War, this time against the spread of communism. 

Die with a degree of dignity. Lay down your life with dignity; don’t lay down with tears and agony.

November 18, 1978: 909 Peoples Temple members die at Jonestown.

Jim Jones's notorious religious organization was founded in 1955 and, at its peak, had a purported membership of around 20,000 people. Jones was a fervent supporter of racial integration; in fact, one the Peoples Temple's early objectives was the formation of a safe, interracial religious congregation. In 1961, Jones claimed to have had a vision of a coming nuclear holocaust, which would destroy Indianapolis and destroy capitalism (“the Antichrist system”), leaving only a “socialist Eden” behind. As the Peoples Temple worked to pursue Jones' “apostolic Socialism”, it subjected its members to a kind of mind control and psychological manipulation that taught members to shun those Jones deemed “enemies” and “traitors”. At the same time, the charismatic Jones made himself out to be a figure to be worshipped; he attacked mainstream religion, which he referred to as an “opiate” (and the Bible as a “paper idol”).

In the mid-1970s, Jonestown (officially called the “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project”) was established in Guyana as a communist utopia for Jones’ most fervent followers. Jones addressed his congregation through radio broadcasts in which he praised Joseph Stalin and Robert Mugabe while attacking the United States’ imperialist policy. Discontent still stirred among Temple members, however. When California Congressman Leo Ryan flew out to Guyana to visit Jonestown on November 17, 1978, several members requested the congressman’s aid returning to the United States. When Ryan and the defectors reached the airstrip to depart, one of the accompanying Temple members drew a gun and killed a cameraman, photographer, NBC reporter, and Congressman Ryan, who had planned to describe the community “in basically good terms” in the report he planned to issue once returning to the United States. 

Shortly after, Jones delivered to his hundreds of remaining Temple members an address in which he encouraged them to commit “revolutionary suicide”, while his aides prepared a metal vat full of Flavor Aid (a drink similar to Kool-Aid) laced with various drugs, along with cyanide. Many drank the concoction; others were pressured to do so, while children under a certain age were injected with the poison by their parents. Nearly three hundred children died at Jonestown; thirty-three members survived. Jim Jones himself was found dead by a gunshot wound to the head, most likely self-inflicted. During the suicides, Jones had reportedly encouraged his followers with these words:

 I don’t care how many screams you hear, I don’t care how many anguished cries…death is a million times preferable to ten more days of this life. If you knew what was ahead of you – if you knew what was ahead of you, you’d be glad to be stepping over tonight.

July 26, 1533: Atahualpa, last emperor of the Inca Empire, is executed.

In 1532, in town of Cajamarca, a Spanish ambush under Francisco Pizarro resulted in the successful capture of Atahualpa, the young and newly-victorious emperor of the Inca Empire. While held captive, Atahualpa offered large amounts of gold and silver to the Spaniards for his freedom - or perhaps merely his life. In the meantime, an Inca general named Rumiñahui began amassing forces to lead against the invaders, the captured emperor became a liability, and Pizarro ordered him executed.

Atahualpa was charged with and found guilty of committing and treason and practicing idolatry among other crimes after a mock trial, and he was sentenced to death by burning. However, the friar who accompanied Pizarro’s group offered to commute Atahualpa’s sentence if he were to convert to Catholicism - which he did. By his own request, the last Sapa Inca was instead strangled to death with a garrote (according to some accounts, on August 29, the feast day of the beheading of John the Baptist). His successors, including two of his brothers, were nothing more than puppets of the Spanish conquistadors, although unrest and rebellion continued through the empire to the end of the century. 

July 24, 1911: Machu Picchu is (re)-discovered.

In the fifteenth century, Machu Picchu was built by the flourishing Inca Empire for purposes that are still uncertain. Some scholars theorize that it was used as a sort of convent for the “Accla Cluna”, or “Virgins of the Sun”, while many believe it was used as a royal retreat for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. The orientation of the site, positioned so that the sun aligned with nearby mountains during solstices and equionxes, suggests that Machu Picchu was sacred to at least some degree. Machu Picchu may have even been an agricultural testing ground of sorts, used to experiment with terraced farming techniques. Whatever the city was, it was not used for very long - by 1600, it had been abandoned, its residents either dead from disease or forced out by the conquistadors. For centuries, Machu Picchu remained hidden and unknown, an archaeological treasure hidden by jungle and the surrounding mountains. 

In 1911, an American named Hiram Bingham III (a possible real-life inspiration of Indiana Jones) became one of the first outsiders to visit the ruins in probably hundreds of years. Really, Bingham did not “discover” Machu Picchu; locals knew of the site, and others claimed to have visited the site before Bingham, but he was the first to excavate and publicize it. In 1983, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.”

September 25, 1513: Conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa reaches the Pacific Ocean.

Before embarking on his expedition across the Isthmus of Panama, Balboa was the governor of Santa Maria de la Antigua, a colony he helped found in 1510. In September 1513, he led a large group of Spaniards and Indians to cross the dense and dangerous rainforests of Panama in order to reach the Pacific.

On September 25, Balboa and his party became the first Europeans to look upon this ocean, which he named Mar del Sur (“South Sea”), later to be renamed Mar Pacifico by Magellan. Upon sighting it, Balboa immediately claimed the ocean (and all lands touching it) to be the property of the Spanish empire.