Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chile on September 18

September is a month of history in Chile. Back on September 11, we saw the remembrance of the military coup that overthrew Allende and established the Pinochet dictatorship. Today, however, we go further back in history: to September 18, 1810 and the first steps in Chile's independence. From my readings, it looks like there were many notable dates throughout the process for independence, but September 18 is celebrated as the Day.

The process of Chilean independence took many years, but began a few years before 1810, when a well-liked royally-appointed governor died. At the time, Spain would appoint governors for it's provinces, but was unable to do so since Ferdinand VII, had abdicated and was then imprisoned by Napoleon. Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's older brother, was installed as King of Spain by the Emperor on May 1808. Thus began the Peninsular War, when the Spanish attempted to overthrow Joseph and replace Ferdinand on the throne. So needless to say, Spain was busy with it's own problems and Chile, along with many of the colonies, started on their quest for independence.

On September 18, 1810, Chile established a junta, a group of citizens that would rule the country. This was intended as an interim government meant to show that Chile could rule itself in the name of Ferdinand VII. Three political movements existed at the time: royalists who wanted to preserve the status quo; moderates who wanted reforms, but slowly enough to avoid problems when Ferdinand would be reinstated; and extremists who wanted faster reforms, but stopped just short of independence. This actually reminds me of Puerto Rico's current three-party system in its relationship with the United States.

The figure at left shows the evolution of Spain and its American colonies throughout the time period of the wars of independence. Red: traditional Spanish control, Blue: controlled by France, Orange: control by a Spanish Supreme Junta, which represented all the kingdoms, Yellow: local junta or insurrection, Green: declared or established independence.

Notice that by 1825 all of former Spanish colonies are independent, with the exception of Cuba and Puerto Rico which would wait until the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Jose de San Martin (left) and Bernando
O'Higgins (right) as they cross the Andes.
To make the long story short, the extremist movement slowly gained ground and started voicing ideas of full independence. Several armed conflicts ensued against forces loyal to Spain, either from inside Chile or coming from the Spanish controlled Viceroyalty of Peru. There were setbacks as the Viceroy took control of Chile, and some Chilean patriots, among them general Bernando O'Higgins for whom the military school I live close by is named, fled to Mendoza in Argentina. From there, with the help of Jose de San Martin, they crossed the Andes Mountains with an army and retook Santiago. Several more battles ensued which resulted in Chile liberating the surrounding Spanish-controlled lands west of the Andes over a period of several years.

What about Chile today? Party time!
Chile celebrates it's independence officially on September 18, but on the 19th it celebrates its Army as well. Hence, these two days (and sometimes surrounding week) constitute the Fiestas Patrias. Tons of Chileans travel out to of the city, or into the city, or out of the country, in order to be with family and friends and celebrate their heritage. Lots of traditional food, beverages, music, and entertainment are had. What exactly those are, I hope to find out later today...

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