It is well known that Spain had a huge presence in the colonisation and discovery of the new world. The Spanish empire is one of the largest in history and held vast territory in the Americas.

Still to this day other colonial powers such as France, United Kingdom and the Netherlands maintains control over several islands in the carribean, and even territory on mainland America.

But it seems like Spain lost control of all their former colonies in the Americas, while other nations managed to keep some of theirs. Why?


3 Answers 3


Spain lost control of its main colonies in America essentially for the same reasons as England lost the US: the colonies liberated themselves. Speaking of the Philippines and small islands, which remained, they were gradually wrestled from Spain by other European countries and the US. It so happened that when the competition for the colonies was fiercest (in 19th century), Spain experienced a decline, and could not compete with the strongest European powers. Portugal, the earliest European colonial power also lost Brazil, it's largest colony.

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    Actually Portugal loss Angola and Mozambique in 1974, Goa in 1961, and Macau in 1999... but Brazil in 1822. Dec 9, 2016 at 0:15
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    @MiguelCosta: Weighting the above colonies by area and (today's) population, Portugal lost "most of its colonies" (Brazil) in 1822.
    – Tom Au
    Dec 9, 2016 at 1:46
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    @Miguel Costa: And Spain only lost the Spanish Sahara in 1975.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 9, 2016 at 5:18
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    @TomAu: I can't agree: Portugal loss its most important and larger colony, but retained its possessions in Africa, India, Timor and Macao. So it didn't lost 'most of its colonies', it lost a single colony in a single event (but certainly Brazil was by far its most important possession). Dec 9, 2016 at 23:42

As observed above, the only American colonies Spain did not lose to independence movements were Cuba and Puerto Rico, which it lost in the Spanish-American War. Worth noticing is the fact that Cuba was a particularly tempting prize for U.S. imperialists influenced by the Monroe Doctrine. The U.S. desire to control Cuba was so great that the eventual Spanish-American War leveraged local discontent to replace one empire with another. Cuba's resources and proximity to Florida made it a target for U.S. expansionism, and acquiring Puerto Rico at the same time was more than convenient.


Note that during the critical early years of Simon Bolivar's independence movement in Venezuela and New Granada Spain was being torn apart by the Peninsular War (1808-1814). Likewise the Hidalgo Movement in Mexico also occurred at this time.

Even after the Peace of Vienna it was some years before Spain was in a position to challenge these independence movements, due to domestic reconstruction being necessary after several years of war.

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