Failing to construct the Colombian nation: Race and class in the Andean-Caribbean conflict, 1717--1816

Date of Completion

January 1995


History, Black|History, Latin American




This dissertation examines the regional foundations of the struggle for Independence in the Viceroyalty of New Granada. It focuses upon key political and socio-economic conflicts that took place in the territory of present-day Colombia during the transition period from Colony to Republic (1780-1821) between the Andean province of Santa Fe and the Caribbean province of Cartagena. By highlighting the role of these regional conflicts, an effort is made to test traditional assumptions which hold that rebellions taking place in New Granada between 1780 and 1821 were driven primarily by national democratic ideals.^ The dissertation seeks to demonstrate that these political upheavals were not part of a national struggle for independence from Spain, but were on the contrary caused by domestic circumstances, by conflicts among and within the regional elites, and by tensions between the separate regions and Spain. I also show that the Republic of Colombia's Andean strength may actually be traced to the decline of the Caribbean provinces after 1815.^ The neglected but key role of blacks and mulattoes in promoting independence in Colombia's Caribbean area also receives attention. Independence was not only the political space in which the old regional conflict between New Granada's Caribbean and Andean centers of power was resolved, but also an episode of the greatest importance for the social history of Spanish America. In the Colombian Caribbean societies, Indians, mestizos, blacks, mulattoes and zambos attempted to eradicate three centuries of prejudice and racial discrimination. Little has been said, however, about the participation of the subordinate groups of New Granada in the struggle for independence. The traditional studies generally conclude that the masses were led to liberty and formal equality by the creole leaders.^ The history of Cartagena's struggle for independence shows a more complex reality. Cartagena's blacks and mulattoes made their own decisions, forged their alliances, and defended their interests based upon their own ways of thinking. ^