Because Spain was virtually cut off from its colonies during the Peninsular War of 1808–1814, Latin America was, in these years, ruled by independent juntas. These provisional governments claimed allegiance to the Bourbon king in exile, Ferdinand VII, but in practice operated independently.
Creole elites in Venezuela had good reason to fear such a possibility, for one such revolution had recently exploded in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue. Beginning in 1791, a massive slave revolt sparked a general insurrection against the plantation system and French colonial power. By the first years of the 19th century, the rebels had shattered what had been a model colony and forged the independent nation of Haiti. Partly inspired by those Caribbean events, slaves in Venezuela carried out their own uprisings in the 1790s. Just as it served as a beacon of hope for the enslaved, Haiti was a warning of everything that might go wrong for elites in the cacao-growing areas of Venezuela and throughout slave societies in the Americas.
Creole anxieties also contributed to the persistence of a strong loyalist faction in the Viceroyalty of New Granada, but they did not prevent the rise of an independence struggle there. Creoles organized revolutionary governments that proclaimed social and economic reforms in 1810 and openly declared a break with Spain the following year.
Venezuela declared its independence from Spain on July 5, 1811, beginning its wars against that country. In 1812 Spanish forces led by General Juan Domingo Monteverde defeated the Venezuelan revolutionary army, led by Francisco de Miranda, which surrendered at La Victoria in July 12, 1812, effectively ending the first phase of the revolutionary war.
After his defeat in 1812, Simón Bolívar fled to New Granada. He later returned with a new army, while the war had entered a tremendously violent phase. After much of the local aristocracy had abandoned the cause of independence, blacks and mulattos carried on the struggle. Elites reacted with open distrust and opposition to the efforts of these common people. Bolívar's forces invaded Venezuela from New Granada in 1813, waging a campaign with a ferocity captured perfectly by their motto, "guerra a muerte" ("war to the death"). Bolívar's forces defeated Juan Monteverde's Spanish army in a series of battles, taking Caracas on August 6, 1813 and besieging Monteverde at Puerto Cabello in September 1813.
With loyalists displaying the same passion and violence, the rebels achieved only short-lived victories. In 1814, heavily reinforced Spanish forces in Venezuela lost a series of battles to Bolívar's forces but then decisively defeated Bolivar at La Puerta on June 15, took Caracas on July 16, and again defeated his army at Aragua on August 18, at a cost of 2,000 Spanish casualties out of 10,000 soldiers as well as most of the 3,000 in the rebel army. Bolívar and other leaders then returned to New Granada.
The army led by the loyalist José Tomás Boves demonstrated the key military role that the llaneros came to play in the region's struggle. Turning the tide against independence, these highly mobile, ferocious fighters made up a formidable military force that pushed Bolívar out of his home country once more. Bolívar returned to Venezuela in December 1816, again leading a largely unsuccessful insurrection against Spain from 1816 to 1818.
Bolívar again returned to Venezuela in April 1821, leading an army of 7,000 from New Granada. At Carabobo on June 24, his forces decisively defeated Spanish and colonial forces, winning Venezuelan independence, although hostilities continued.
By 1815, the independence movements in Venezuela and almost all across Spanish South America seemed moribund. A large military expedition sent by Ferdinand VII in that year reconquered Venezuela and most of New Granada. Yet another invasion led by Bolívar in 1816 failed miserably.
Then in June and July 1819 Bolívar's forces crossed the Andes into New Granada. At the Battle of Boyacá on August 7, his army of 3,000 defeated a Spanish and colonial force of 2,500. In the spring of 1820, Bolívar's republican forces took Bogotá; he then became the first president of the Gran Colombia.
Bolivia proclaimed independence from Spain in 1809, but 16 years of struggle followed before the establishment of the republic.
The fight for independence culminated in the Battle of Ayacucho, on December 91824, as part of Bolívar's War, when de Sucre's republican army of 7,000 defeated José de La Serna's Spanish army of 10,000. The republicans suffered more than 1,000 casualties, compared to more than 2,000 Spanish casualties and more than 2,000 captured, among them La Serna. The Spanish surrender came the next day.
Most of the southern South American colonies of Spain, including Argentina, Chile, and Perú, fought their wars of independence under José de San Martín (also known as "the Liberator (el libertador)", especially in Argentina), another influential military leader and politician. San Martín also served as "Protector" of Perú until its parliament was assembled. He met with Bolívar at Guayaquil, and on July 261822, they had confidential talks to plan the future of Latin America. Some have speculated that during this meeting Bolívar would have refused to share command of the combined forces, and this may have contributed to San Martín's withdrawal from Perú and subsequent settlement as a farmer in Mendoza, Argentina.
The United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, including Provincia Oriental, fought Brazil during a 500-day war. Neither side gained the upper hand, and in 1828 the Treaty of Montevideo, fostered by the United Kingdom, gave birth to Uruguay as an independent state.
The Royalists (in Spanish: Realistas) were the American and European supporters of King Ferdinand. Hispanic Americans and Spaniards formed the Royalist Army, with Hispanic Americans composing 90% in all fronts. There were two types of units:
After Rafael del Riego's revolution, in 1820, no more Spanish soldiers were sent to the war in the Americas. In 1820 there were only 9,954 Spanish soldiers in the Americas, and Spaniards formed only 10% of the whole Royalist Army, and only half of the soldiers of the expeditionary units were European. At the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824, less than 1% of the soldiers were European.
After several independence wars in Cuba, the Spanish-American War finally took away the islands from Spain.