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  • Revolutionen in Lateinamerika. Wege in die Unabhängigkeit 1760-1830
  • Christoph Rosenmüller
Revolutionen in Lateinamerika. Wege in die Unabhängigkeit 1760-1830. By Stefan Rinke. Munich: C.H. Beck/Wissen, 2011. Pp. 368.

Stefan Rinke has written a noteworthy synthetic history of Latin American paths to independence. This is no small feat given the recent outpouring of research generated during the bicentennial period, or rather, what many celebrated as such. Rinke draws on an impressive array of scholarship in five languages. By tapping into this vein he provides a solid narrative geared toward the German-reading student and general audience. Scholars of independence have largely moved away from seeing narrow violent upheavals as the foundries of nations. Rather, the temporal scope has been widened to open the perspective onto the origins and the consequences of independence, stressing continuities and arguably placing the ordeal within the Age of Revolutions that shook the Atlantic World. Meanwhile, some historians of popular movements maintain that especially men of more humble and casta origin enjoyed a cautious democratic spring as a result of independence. In this way they are reapproaching the original paradigm of significant change within a short period but from a very different angle.

Where does Rinke stand in this debate? He provides a broad framework, beginning with the colonial legacy and the regime of Charles III in Spain and the Marquis of Pombal in Portugal and breaks off in the 1830s with the disintegration of the supra-regional projects and the full establishment of caudillismo. Rinke thus traces the exacerbating political crisis of the Spanish Empire back to the Bourbon reforms that burdened the elites. When the royalist military campaigning in the Americas alienated elite and popular classes alike, many originally loyal locals began embracing independence for divergent motives. Indigenous people, castas, and blacks sought their own advantages by allying with royalists or insurgents, showing the multifaceted directions within the rebellion. Rinke explains much by placing the process firmly within the Atlantic, and in particular the European, context, although the Age of Revolution is not his topic proper. Meanwhile, he does not share the recent interpretations of a cautious democratization. Rinke sees the aftermath rather largely as the attempt of the elites to maintain the status quo, cloaked in the new language of people's sovereignty and liberalism. According to Rinke, the lower classes benefited little from severing the political ties to Spain or Portugal. His aim is not to provide a new view of a particular movement or region; rather, his synthesis brings to light the interconnections of the process. In doing so, he introduces arguments novel for those less familiar with the German historical scene. For example, the central government of Mexico after independence held little sway in Sonora, and for that reason the local elites called on help from abroad to maintain their safety. Rinke also argues that Toussaint L'Ouverture in St. Domingue built a power base in the Gonaïves region by drawing on common ethnic ties with the Arada people who had a strong presence there. Meanwhile, the leader could not command the same bonds in his northern home region. Rinke's occasional inclination to outline historiographical tenets in limpid prose is exemplary, given that he is writing for a broader audience. The author explores the social and economic structures, traces the political events, and sketches short biographies of leaders such as Miguel Hidalgo and Emperor Pedro of Brazil to make his case. [End Page 297]

Rinke frequently asserts the underlying conflict of Creoles against Spaniards in the colonial period. The arrival of peninsulares in the Americas who occupied important jobs in the bureaucracy, the military, and the clergy clearly rankled the rooted locals. At the same time, the newcomers were often quickly co-opted into local society. For that reason, the alliances on both sides of the fence during the independence war included both Americans and the European-born. Perhaps one should therefore downplay the creole versus Spaniard dichotomy. Rinke excels nonetheless in depicting the variegated conflict lines all over Latin America. His book is therefore a very welcome introduction to the history of Latin American independence and its burgeoning scholarship.



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pp. 397-398
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