Monday, April 3, 2017


The Emergence of South America's Nations in the Continent's North

by A. Joseph Lynch

The northern regions of South America were brought under Spanish rule through a series of six military expeditions led largely by the conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada between 1537-1543. Named the "New Kingdom of Grenada," the vast area was placed under the jurisdiction of the Viceroyalty of Peru (located at Lima to the southwest). Communication between Lima and Bogota - the region's political center - along with the region's large size necessitated an administrative division. In 1717, it was declared a viceroyalty in its own right: the Viceroyalty of New Grenada.

New Grenada's first Viceroy, Jorge de Villalonga, arrived to find limited roads and infrastructure, along with a struggling economy. Due to his strong recommendation to return New Grenada back to Lima's control, the Viceroyalty of New Grenada was abolished in 1724. After 15 years of development, however, Spain reestablished the viceroyalty in 1740 and added Panama to its territory.

The Viceroyalty of New Grenada was not a politically homogeneous region. While it grew economically during the period, culture and geography helped bring about national sentiments that would one day lead to the creation of many nations in the region. In 1777, two areas gained limited autonomy within the Viceroyalty of New Grenada. One area was the Captaincy General in Caracas, which would later become the capital of an independent Venezuela. The other was the Audiencia of Quito, later to emerge as the nation of Ecuador (see map at top).

Battle of Boyacá - August 7, 1819
With the American and French Revolutions and Napoleon's political machinations in Spain, independence movements began to rise in South America. The great military commander, Simon Bolivar, who witnessed Napoleon firsthand, played a central role in the region's independence. In June 1813, Bolivar received the title "El Libertador" (the Liberator) after the successful conclusion of a campaign to drive the Spanish out of Venezuela. On August 7, 1819, the Spanish were definitively defeated by Bolivar's forces at the Battle of Boyacá (in modern day Columbia).

From this great victory came the newly independent Gran Colombia. Simon Bolivar would be its first president. Gran Colombia, however, remained politically divided along emerging national lines. Gran Colombia was in reality three nations held together by the leadership of Bolivar. Despite his successful military career, Bolivar was ultimately unsuccessful in keeping Gran Colombia united. His death in self-imposed exile in 1830 quickly led to the emergence of an independent Columbia, Venezuela, and Ecuador in 1831. Panama remained part of Columbia until in 1903, when, under pressure from the United States for the creation of the Panama Canal, Panama formally became an independent nation. Guyana, the only South American country with English as its official language was settled as a Dutch and then English colony. Her border with Venezuela and the region is disputed.

Flags of Gran Colombia's successor states: Columbia, Ecuador, and Venezuela

For more Maps on Monday related to South America, see:

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