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3610 - What do we mean when we talk of Bicentenary? Autonomy, revolution and independence in Chile, 1808-1810

2010 was a commemorative year in Chile. Both public institutions and private companies spent much of their time and resources to organize a wide range of events to celebrate two hundred years of ‘independent life’ in Chile. For ‘independence’ it was understood the installation in September 1810 of an ‘autonomous’ Junta in Santiago, which, similarly as it happened in other major cities of Spanish America, was meant to govern the kingdom of Chile on behalf of Ferdinand VII, imprisoned as he was as a consequence of the Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula two years before. But did Chile really become ‘independent’ from Spain in September 1810, as the current government and companies believed and reported? This paper will argue that Chileans did not become independent in 1810, although the option for creating an administrative Junta in the capital was in itself ‘revolutionary’. In fact, the decision to oust governor Francisco Antonio García Carrasco from office and replace him with a Junta formed by respected vecinos from Santiago and Concepción was an unexpected and original political move, as also was the promise by the juntistas to summon a Congress. In a sense, and because neither the Junta nor the following governments that succeeded it proclaimed their total independence vis-à-vis Spain, it could be said that, though ‘revolutionaries’, Chile’s authorities did not automatically transform themselves into outright separatists. In other words, it could be claimed that, at least in the Chilean context, the word ‘revolution’ is not to be necessarily comprehended as synonymous of ‘independence’; however, the fact that the juntistas had not aimed at bringing about the collapse of the empire does not make them less ‘revolutionaries’. This is an important clarification, since, on the one hand, it challenges the traditional view that has studied the creation of the Junta in 1810 as the first step towards the almost inevitable consolidation of Chilean ‘independence’, but, on the other, it contradicts the assumption that such a Junta was an insignificant event led by elite sectors whose objective was to reinforce the already privileged political, economic and military position in Chile. Thus, I will conclude by stressing that in 2010 Chileans should have celebrated the beginning of an important revolution occurred two centuries ago, but whose results nobody was in the position to foresee.

Keywords: Chile, autonomía, revolución, independencia, Junta

Author: Ossa, Juan Luis (St Antony's College, University of Oxford, United Kingdom/Ver Königr)

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