Colonization, Decolonization and Neocolonialism



Workshop 30-31 March 2023


from the perspective of Justice and the Common Good

The colonization of territories was historically very significant in the 16th century. The European powers advanced on new lands, subdued them – militarily and politically – and began a progressive, uninterrupted process of spoliation. Then, in the 19th and 20th centuries, colonization reached new heights with different characteristics and new protagonists, but with the constant objective of extracting wealth.

The peoples subjected in the processes of colonial domination endured cultural, social, political and economic mutations, mostly as a consequence of acts of violence and genocide. Forced labor, slavery, territorial displacement and the appropriation of natural resources were commonplace.

Colonization also meant the replacement of the original social models by exogenous ones, which legitimized domination under various guises and created new axiological paradigms in accordance with their own needs. Supposed racial superiority, civilization and religion were some of the arguments used to consolidate the advance of colonial practices.

Native institutions were annihilated and along with them all those ancestral ways of thinking and traditions that preserved a particular balance between human settlements and their natural surroundings.

The ideas of justice and the common good that existed in those territories prior to the conquest were suppressed and replaced by the “enlightened” ideas of the central powers. To this end, each and every one of the socialization channels was co-opted. Establishment culture and education disparaged pre-existing forms of thought and, under the guise of their barbarism, banished them from the new prevailing thought.

The decolonization processes that began with the independence movements of the 19th century and culminated with the last emancipatory events of the mid-20th century, did not lead to a reversal of domination. Although the format changed and the former colonies acquired a new nominal status, in reality spoliation, political subjugation and cultural colonization are still very much alive today.

Neocolonialism, which is now twinned with neoliberalism, is thorough and implacable when it comes to consolidating results for global centrality. Today, formerly colonized peripheral countries have the international political status of free regions, but in most cases they are subjected to new economic and cultural paradigms. The wealth of the colonizers is a necessary cause and consequence of the poverty of the colonized.

Justice and the common good were and are traversed by these processes of colonization, decolonization and neocolonialism. Viewing the institutions of Africa and America through that historical prism and understanding the current dynamics of domination and subjugation, allows us to shed some light on the contemporary tragedies of hunger, war, displacement and marginalization referenced by Pope Francis in his famous encyclical Laudato Si’.

Recently, the Holy Father confirmed his specific concern on the subject, stating that “Many countries of the American continent and an important group of countries of the African continent share a common historical past of spoliation, domination, and control and they have also been brutally subjected to the dictates of the global economy. Both continents have high rates of poverty and unemployment: access to land, shelter and work are pending issues for most of the populations of those nations. It is very important that these hardships find you united in the need for a shared characterization of the current state and judicial role, and in the analysis of external influences in the – not always correct – choice of political and social models".*

Judge Roberto Andrés Gallardo


*Words of the Holy Father Francis on the occasion of the Summit of African Judges in the Vatican (13 December 2019)


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