Carving a new, shiny polity out of an existing one is a lovely thought. It is the thing of science fiction fantasies and nerdy “alternative history” thought experiments. But for all the indulgences in secessionist LARPing, it is worth noting that states tend to change forms of government much more often than they break up into new nations.
We live in the shadow the fall of the USSR cast upon the West—one big, ugly empire disintegrating into smaller, more logical polities. Just a few decades earlier, and rehearsed to us endlessly by the Cathedral, dozens upon dozens of colonies in the global south broke from their imperial mothers and created a plethora of new nations. All of this colors our vision of the future immensely, but is mere presentism.
Instead of focusing on the last century of European history, consider looking at Latin America. While a generally ignored chunk of the planet, it is quickly becoming deserving of everyone’s study as it steadily absorbs the United States. And what’s especially noteworthy is that in all its history, its borders have barely moved.
Only in the first two decades of Latin America’s post-colonial history do we see seismic border changes. In northern South America, there was the large state of Gran Colombia, but after barely over a decade in existence, it disintegrated into Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. In Central America, there was the Federal Republic of Central America, which fared little better, lasting fifteen years before disintegrating into Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. After the dust settled on independence growing pains, few more developments came about.
There were wars of expansion fought in the nineteenth century, but in comparison to the same century in Europe, it is a pittance. Chile took all of Bolivia’s coast and plenty of Peru’s during the War of the Pacific in the 1880s, and Paraguay shrunk some after losing a war against Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay (yes, at once) a decade before that. And after some internal strife at the close of the century, Panama separated from Colombia in 1903. Thereafter, only two relatively small changes transpire: the largely forgotten Chaco War transferred some land from Bolivia to Paraguay in the 1930s, and Peru’s perpetual micro-annexations from Ecuador.
Congratulations. You’re five-hundred words in and you have a solid grasp on the evolving borders of Latin America in the last two-hundred years. Did I skip over some details? Sure, I could have included the largely pointless Platine War and the War of Confederation. But the point remains irrefutable: the national borders of Latin American have remained largely unchanged in the last century and a half—and are almost indistinguishable from what they were a hundred years ago. Can you name another continent that can say the same?
In a parallel universe, I could be outlining all of this to make a leftist case that the coming Hispanicization of the United States will bring about an epoch of peace and harmony. But my point is hardly so specious. Latin America is a shockingly violent and politically unstable place; it’s just that the borders never seem to change. The violence is in a way existential: there is no exit, and that is bad news for those of us looking to step away from it all.
Mexico is an excellent example of this, and a particularly pertinent one, given that the vast majority of Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. list it as their country of origin. Even a cursory glance at the history of Mexico since it gained independence in 1821 shows enough civil war, revolving-door executive leadership, and implacable chaos to make your head spin. The most heroic general of the war, Agustín de Iturbide, made like George Washington and became president. In less than one year, he declared himself emperor. Less than a year after that he was deposed in a coup.
The same year as that coup, 1824, a republic was established (interestingly, with Catholicism as the official religion), but the next coup came in 1830 by way of Anastasio Bustamante. Then came what is known as “The Age of Santa Ana,” named for Antonio López de Santa Anna (remember of the evil general from The Alamo?—that’s him) who would be the executive head of state eleven non-consecutive times in twenty-two years. Sometimes he came to power democratically, sometimes not.
During this period, Mexico not only lost its northern territories to the United States, but also suffered immensely from ongoing wars with the Comanche Indians, who killed thousands and wreaked constant economic havoc. Unlike the men of Texas, however, the Comanche never fought for and preserved a land for themselves—they merely spread chaos and bloodshed.
In 1855, a rising liberal class (i.e. anti-Catholic, anti-Military) ousted Santa Ana for the last time in the Revolution of Ayutla, in an attempt to bring about a more modern and republican government. Two years later, the struggle for power between the older conservative elites and the rising liberal ones brought about a civil war known as the “Reform War,” which lasted from 1857 until 1861.
The next several years were spent confronting French intervention, but then came a period of relative stability. After some instability, a new strong man came to rule them all: Porfirio Díaz. Barring a few brief interruptions, Díaz ruled from 1876 until 1910, and brought Mexico out of its perpetual power vacuums, avoided foreign entanglements, generally modernized the country, and made it an economic force on par with many European nations.
But all good things must end. As he aged, the power vacuum opened up once again and from 1910 until 1920, Mexico descended into what is alternatively called a “revolution” or a “civil war.” The war is fascinating in its complexity. Local strongmen emerged across the nation, agrarian peasants inspired by Marxism rose up, military men dreaming of their own imperial presidency came out of the woodwork, and the notorious Pancho Villa came out to play. A whole decade of war fought by multiple sides.
After the war ended, there was some more revolving-door executives, until the autocratic quasi-Marxists who after many name changes settled on the “Institutional Revolutionary Party” came to power in the mid 1920s—and held power until 2000. Throughout, low-tier wars were fought with Catholics, Indians in the south, and radical students in the cities.
Today, a generic democracy reigns, and while the Catholics are doing a lot better, the Zapatistas of the south still aren’t being given autonomy, and more importantly, we have entered the era of the drug cartels. In light of this whirlwind history of Mexican madness, I hope the phenomena of organized crime in the here and now makes a bit more sense. Sure, they are somewhat fueled by America’s stupid drug war, but in the end, they are just another group of people seeking power for power’s sake in the context of a weak state, and by a historically tried and true method—violence.
Different tribes have been battling with one another in Mexico for total power in perpetuity, the violence only abates when one group manages to gain complete and effective control for a time. Even when ideology is in play, the stakes are such that only one ideology can win. Communism split plenty of nations in two: China, Germany, Vietnam, Korea, Yemen. But for all the Cold War battles fought in Latin America, no country ever broke up. One side always won. In Chile, after a Marxist narrowly won a presidential election, a right-wing coup seized control of the nation a few years later. El Salvador fought a twelve-year civil war between Left and Right. Nicaragua’s version of the same lasted thirty years. Guatemala’s Left vs. Right civil war lasted thirty-six years. Honduras, while it managed to evade full blown war, had three coups in the 1970s, and one in each preceding decade.
Meanwhile, in Europe and large parts of Asia, sworn ideological enemies for the most part drew lines down their lands and glowered at one another across them.
Even preceding the Cold War, Latin American civil wars and revolutions were never about, and never resulted in separation. Wars came about from tensions between conflicting elites, centralization vs. decentralization, urban vs. rural, and religious vs. secular, but not one people declaring autonomy from another. In the Hispanic mind, that narrative ended when independence from Spain was achieved, and the epilogue written with the peaceful dissolution of the bloated states like Gran Colombia that independence left them with. More than anything, the dissolutions of Gran Colombia and the Federal Republic of Central America were caused by practical, administrative concerns—not incompatible religious, ethnic, or ideological groups parting ways.
There is no Latin American analog to Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan separating after colonial rule ended.
The European experience in the Cold War, and the flowering of small nations that came with its close is not the only historical memory that tantalizes the Western mind with dreams of separation. The Civil War in the United States and the Irish War of Independence do just as much, if not more, to incline us to view secession (strangely) as both romantic and practicable.
But secessionist-inspired wars of the kind Europeans are accustomed simply do not exist in the history of Latin America, or in the Hispanic political imagination. The only exception is the handful of Indian tribes that have remained pure, and agitate for greater autonomy from the central state they live under. However, no one believes any will get what they want, and their situation certainly does not apply to the fate of whites in the Hispanic U.S. of tomorrow.
Getting into the “why” behind this is a whole new can of worms. The go-to replies would be the culturally Catholic emphasis on hierarchy and tradition, and/or the Latin American view of themselves as the “cosmic race” in light of their mixed genes that inspires a certain sense of solidarity among all of them. Others are welcome to address these theories, but this essay is not the place for fleshing them out.
My point is that as America becomes more Hispanicized, secession will become more difficult, not less. A new Hispanic elite, and a new Hispanic underclass, will not be able to grasp the concept of secession easily and will feel naturally hostile to it. The separatist Boers in South Africa have an advantage to us in this regard, as even those who hate them most understand that in Africa, nations come and go and wax and wane. This Hispanic hostility towards secession will not lessen as the country starts to fall apart, either. Even when Latin American nations have soaked themselves in blood for decades in civil wars, or find themselves in a vortex of power grabs from all sides, the solution of secession never seems to ever even be on the table.
There is one interesting exception, though. In the middle of the 19th century, a group of whites in a Hispanic nation picked up weapons, and declared the land to be theirs. They were called Texians, and their will to power in the face of a Hispanic, chaotic, unstable, overburdened central state is something worth considering.