Wednesday, April 22, 2015

4 Revolutionaries in Latin America

The first decade of the 19th century thundered with the sounds of revolution in Latin America. Men who had Spanish ancestry but born in the colonies learned of the ideas of the Enlightenment or became aware of their distinct identity from those in Spain. And here are four who became distinguish during the period:

1. Miguel Hidalgo

Mexico’s fight for independence began in 1810 with the rebellion of the creoles priest Miguel Hidalgo. From a family of hacienderos, he became a priest with a different view from the standards of the institution. He became involved in new ideas, which led him eventually in leading a rebellion. Miguel Hidalgo inspired the rebellion that later ended up with Spain leaving Mexico.

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, born in May 8, 1753, came from a wealthy creoles family. His family’s ancestors came from Spain but settled in Mexico, which made them part of the creoles sector of the society. Because of his family’s wealth, he received good education, first from the Jesuits, but after their expulsion, he studied in the College de San Nicolas Obispo. He studied to become a priest in 1776 and ordained in 1778.

As a priest, he broke many standards of a priest in the Catholic Church. His reading of books of the age of Enlightenment resulted to his unorthodox manner as a priest. He questioned the authority of the Pope and many of the dogmas of the Church. He also broke the vow of celibacy openly by having a mistress and fathering illegitimate children. It earned him the nickname El Zorro or The Fox. In response to Hidalgo’s uncanny attitude, charges of mishandling funds and violation of church policies came out. Although the Inquisition or the church’s tribunal found him not guilty, the church authorities nevertheless sent him to the small town of Dolores in Western Mexico.

The town of Dolores at the time of Hidalgo’s arrival seemed insignificant. However, the town proved to be a hotbed of the ideas of Mexican independents and the ideas of enlightenment. Hidalgo fitted in and became involved in the movement. On the other, Hidalgo became active in liberating the people of Dolores from economic backwardness. At the expense of the Spanish monopoly on many articles, Hidalgo showed active participation in promoting the locals to make their own wine, cultivate their own silk worms for silk, and engaging in apiculture for honey. His small economic revolution improved the agrarian life of the people of Dolores.

In 1808, a change in Europe marked a change in the whole Spanish American colonies, including Mexico. Ferdinand VII fled Madrid when the French marched to the Spanish capital and installing Joseph Bonaparte as the new King. The situation in the Peninsula signaled many revolutionaries in the Americas as a good opportunity to assert their ideas of independence. In Mexico, however, the authorities discovered this threats to Spanish rule in Dolores and a cracked down began. Hidalgo and other supporters of independence escaped. And on September 16, 1810, at the parish of Dolores, he had the bells of the church rang and gathered the locals and sympathetic local soldiers, gave a speech, calling for freedom, and shouted  “Long Live the Lady of Guadalupe!” to which the crowd responded by shouting “Death to the Bad Government, Death to the Peninsulares!” Hidalgo then waved a flag with a familiar Mexican symbol, the Lady of Guadalupe. The ecstatic crowd then formed into a rag-tag rebel army under Miguel Hidalgo. Hidalgo and his unruly force managed to capture the cities of San Miguel, Celaya, and then Guanajato.

With his growing rebellion, he initiated social reforms. He abolished tribute as well as slavery. He had in mind making Mexico truly independent by sending an ambassador to the United States to secure diplomatic ties (but this failed when the Spanish authorities killed Hidalgo’s envoy).

Hidalgo’s rebellion, however, became infamous to many conservatives, intellectuals, and sympathetic priest. Hidalgo’s army proved to be an army of hooligans that brought rape hind, looting, and murder, to every city they captured. The looting and murder led aroused a sentiment of fear to those in the capital Mexico City. Out of fear, Mexico raised an army to match that of Hidalgo. When Hidalgo captured Cuajimalpa that overlooked Mexico City, a royalist army under Torquato Trujillo faced them. Hidalgo knew, however, that his forces did not stand a chance against the discipline and better equipped royalist army. He decided not to attack and lay a siege on the capital city. But the decision led to indecisiveness on how to proceed. The division in opinion in the rebel side became an opportunity for the royalist to launch a counter attack, which saw success. By November 25, 1810, Hidalgo’s forces fell back to Valladolid after the major city of Guanajuato fell. On January 17, 1811, his forces fell in the Battle of Calderon. And on March 21, 1811, while attempting to flee to the United States, Hidalgo, along with his lieutenants were captured by the Spanish authorities.

Obviously, after their capture, Hidalgo stood trial and executed in July 30. His death marked the end of his rebellion, but not the revolution and the idea of independence that inspired many, leading to the independence of Mexico.

2. Francisco Miranda

Many considered Francisco de Miranda as the progenitor of the independence revolution in South America. He came from a family of Spanish origin and witnessed the most important political milestone in the both sides of the Atlantic. From what he saw, he developed the idea of an independent South America and fought for it. However, in the end, he failed to see his dream to be realized.

Born on March 28, 1750 in Caracas, Venezuela, Francisco de Miranda came from a family from a wealthy successful family. His family came originally from the far flung Canary Islands. They moved to Venezuela seeking better opportunities. Eventually, his father became a successful businessman and the young Francisco de Miranda enjoyed the privileges. He managed to attend to school, after which he sailed to Spain, bought an office in the military, and served in the army. He saw action in North Africa and in 1780, in the West Indies. But his career fell short.

In 1783, under allegation for misuse of funds, he fled to the United States and became introduced with the ideas of the Enlightenment and independence. While in the United States, he had the opportunity to meet George Washington. His interest in the idea of enlightenment and independence strengthen and he made it his dream to create an independent South America. And so, he travelled to Europe in search of funding and new ideas from the age of Enlightenment. He visited the court of the enlightened autocrat of Russia, Empress Catherine the Great. In 1787, while in France, he witnessed and later on joined the French Revolution. He developed a thought of liberty, equality, and fraternity from the French Revolution. However, when he sided against the enemy of the leader of the Revolution, Maximillian Robespierre, he escaped to Britain in 1798. In Britain he solicited for assistance in his planned struggle for independence, but it failed.

In 1805, he returned to the United States and created a small army to attack Venezuela and begin its path towards independence. In 180, they arrived in Haiti and to set a stage for his invasion of Venezuela. There, he made a tricolor flag of yellow, blue, and red, the basis of the flags of Venezuela and Colombia today. In the April of 1806, he mounted an attack against Puerto Cabello. But his forces saw defeat in the hands prepared Spanish forces. Nevertheless, Miranda attempted another invasion in August 1806 and managed to capture Coro. But the Spanish rumors that Miranda arrived as a British agent led to locals to avoid supporting Miranda. Spanish forces eventually pushed back Miranda back to the sea and he fled back to London, waiting for a better opportunity to attempt once more his dream of an independent Latin America.

The opportunity came in 1808. Spain fell to France and independent revolutionaries rose up. When a junta had been set up in Caracas to discuss the faith of Venezuela after the fall of the central government in Madrid, men liked Simon Bolivar dominated the decisions. During late 1810’s Bolivar went to London to pick up Francisco de Miranda. And on December 5, 1810, Francisco Miranda, considered as an inspiration by many supporter of independence, returned to Venezuela. He took part in the formation of the First Republic of Venezuela when it declared independence on July 5, 1811. Miranda, along with other revolutionaries who formed the Sociedad Patriotica, changed the social, economic, and political landscape of the country. The hated feudal system had been abolished. Slavery too found itself abolished. And Miranda and company imposed a government ruled by a Triumvirate and under a constitution.

But the First Republic faced a problem when a strong earthquake crippled much of the territories of pro-independence supporters. The royalist and supporters of Spanish rule launched a counter attack against the pro-independence forces. Miranda led the army of those who supported independence. However, he failed to score victories and began to negotiate for peace with the royalist forces under Juan Domingo Monteverde. Miranda and Monteverde agreed for a truce on July 1812. But Miranda’s companions, like Simon Bolivar saw the armistice as an act of treason and felt frustrated and disappointed by Miranda’s decision. While Miranda was on his way to the port in order to sail out of Venezuela, Bolivar ordered the arrest of Miranda and gave him to the Spanish, who then arrested Miranda and threw him to prison in Cadiz. 

The progenitor of the revolution, Francisco Miranda died as a prisoner in a Spanish prison on July 14, 1816. Although seen as a traitor by Bolivar, he inspired many revolutionaries that fought against the Spanish colonial rule and won their independence in the 1820’s.

3. Jose de San Martin

If Bolivar became known as the liberator of many countries in Northern South America, Jose Martin became known as the liberator of Southern South America. Born in Argentina, then known as the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata, he left his homeland in order to study abroad. After learning the prejudices and his creoles roots, he returned to Argentina and became known as a hero. He liberated the surrounding countries from Spanish domain. But his different views from his Venezuelan counter-part, Simon Bolivar, and with his disillusioned from politics and unity led him to leave and passed away in obscurity.

Born on February 25, 1778, Jose de San Martin came from a family of good status. His father worked as a soldier and an administrator in the Viceroyalty. In 1784, the young Jose de San Martin left South America for Spain to complete his studies. After his study in the early 1800’s, he became a cadet. However, in 1808, when Napoleon invaded Spain, he joined the resistance to fight the French invaders. He fought with the resistance until 1811. After all this, he discovered the biases that creoles (Spaniard born in the colonies) such as himself received from the Peninsulares or Spaniards born and lived in the Iberian Peninsula. From this point, he became aware of his roots and decided to return to his homeland that experienced change since 1808.

When San Martin arrived in Buenos Aires in 1812, he saw a revolutionary fervor calling for independence from Spain. San Martin’s experience with the Spanish Army in Europe earned him admiration and popularity. He became well-known among the supporter of independence for the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata. In 1813, he got a commission to form a cavalry unit, which he did and fought with in the Battle of San Lorenzo on February 3, 1813 against Spanish royalist who continued to support tutelage under Spain. He scored a victory and his name became widely known among the politicians in Buenos Aires, by the end of 1813, he received orders to replace General Manuel Belgrano, who faced series of defeat in his campaign to wipe out the Spanish royalist forces in Upper Peru or modern-day Bolivia. When San Martin took over from Belgrano, he saw it fit not to attack Upper Peru first and attack Chile and Peru first instead. And so he managed to receive the position of Governor of Cuyo, a region that bordered with Chile. In 1814, Chilean independence fighter fell and fled to Argentina, most of which to Cuyo. Chilean revolutionaries like Bernardo O’Higgins’ worked with San Martin in order to prepare the Ejercito de Andes or the Army of Andes, which had the aim of crossing the Andes mountains and defeat royalist forces in Chile before heading to Peru and Upper Peru.

After years of training and preparations, on January 18, 1817, San Martin and his Army of the Andes made up of 4,000 along with Chilean units led by Bernardo O’Higgins, set out to liberate Chile and crossed the treacherous Andes Mountains. For almost a month, they hardly trekked the mountainous and cold terrain and emerged in the other side on February 8. He got the Spanish Royalist off guard and on February 12, 1817, he won the Battle of Casas de Chacabuco. After the Battle, he easily captured the Chilean capital of Santiago and installed his friend, Bernardo O’Higgins as its protector. He continued to liberate Chile and on April 5, 1818, he finally defeated the last vestige of Spanish royalist forces in Chile in the Battle of Maipu.

San Martin then prepared to attack his next objective – Peru. For two years, he built a navy in Chile and placed the British Thomas Cochrane in command. In September of 1820, he sailed with his army from Valparasio to Callao, Peru. Then he waited until local support for Royalist dwindled before attacking Lima, the capital of Peru. He succeeded in liberating Peru on July 28, 1821, declared its independence and became the Protector of Peru.

As administrator, he abolished many of the hated policies of the Spanish colonial authorities. He abolished slavery and freed mulattoes and black slaves. He also abolished force labor and the tribute system.

On July 26, 1822, San Martin met with his counterpart in the north, Simon Bolivar, in a conference in Guayaquil. The meeting was shrouded in mystery and secrecy. Even today, no one knew what truly happened in Guayaquil. However, many speculated that Bolivar and San Martin discussed the direction of former Spanish colonies in South America after the fall of Spanish Royalist. San Martin argued that a monarchy should be established because he viewed it as the only way to unite the people of the newly independent countries. With this suggestion, San Martin became criticized. Even before, San Martin had the idea of a monarchy headed by either a member of the former Inca Royal Family or a Spanish prince. But Bolivar disagreed and urged for a Republic system. Although no progress had been made in the form of government, San Martin decided to let Bolivar lead the final push against the last Royalist stronghold in Upper Peru.

San Martin left. On September 20, 1822, he resigned his post as the Protector of Peru. He also began to lose his interest in politics when he arrived in Chile before heading to Argentina and saw his friend, Bernardo O’Higgins facing a political crisis and on the verge of being deposed. When he returned to Argentina, almost none recognized him. In disappointment, he left for France in 1824. He returned in 1828 in order to help in the political consolidation of the independent Argentina but failed and he returned to France. 

Jose de San Martin passed away on August 17, 1850 in France, his remains only returned to his beloved Argentina decades after his demise. 

4. Simon Bolivar

When it comes to personalities in Latin America, none could surpass the popularity of the Liberator – Simon Bolivar. With his family’s wealth he managed to travel to Europe and discover the ideas of nationalism and Enlightenment. Ideas he translated to arm struggle against the Spanish colonial authorities. He dreamed high for whole Spanish South America. However, this dream fell in his very own eyes.

Born on July 24, 1783 in Caracas, Venezuela, Simon Bolivar came from an aristocratic family. This gave him the opportunity to finish his education in Spain. While in Spain, he got acquainted to the ideas of liberty, fraternity, and equality. In 1803, he returned to Venezuela to settle down with his wife. However, tragedy cut his stay in Venezuela short. His wife passed away and Bolivar returned to Spain and stayed there for four years. When he returned to Venezuela, a momentous event happened. Spain fell to Napoleon in 1808. The colonies in South America formed juntas to know the colonies faith. Caracas had its own junta and Bolivar arrived just in time to take part in it. Eventually, two years later, Simon Bolivar went to London to get Francisco de Miranda to join the cause. Bolivar along with Miranda, strengthened the position of independence supporters in the junta. And so, the junta declared the independence of Venezuela in 1810.

But First Republic of Venezuela fell just a year after its foundation. Miranda became the commander of the army of the Republic but failed to defeat the army of royalist and Spanish colonial authorities. Miranda signed an armistice with the royalist in order to escape total annihilation. Bolivar, however, deemed the action of Miranda as treason and had him arrested and given to Spanish authorities to be a prisoner. Afterwards, the supporters of independence and Bolivar failed to stop the re- imposition of the Spanish colonial rule. He escaped to Cartagena in Columbia and wrote a manifesto calling for the unity of the Spanish colonies in South America and drive out the Spanish rule from the continent.

In 1813, Bolivar went on the offensive and launched the Admirable Campaign to liberate Venezuela. He succeeded in capturing Caracas and established the Second Republic of Venezuela. But once again the Republic stood shorty. In 1814, it fell because of political infighting and division. Bolivar escaped to Jamaica and planned his return. While in Jamaica, he wrote a letter stating his desire to form a confederation of former Spanish colonies, similar to that of the United States. After much preparations, in 1816, Bolivar landed back to Venezuela and restarted his quest of liberating all Spanish colonies in South America. By 1821, he succeeded in liberating the areas of modern day, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama. His liberation of those places culminated with the establishing of the Republic of Gran Colombia with Simon Bolivar as its President. The liberation of South America continued and in 1822, he met with his Argentine counterpart Jose de San Martin. Both men discussed the liberation of Peru and Bolivia. Martin gave Bolivar the honor of finishing of the last bastion of Spanish colonial rule and by 1824, Peru declared its independence. A year after Peru declared its independence, the Republic of Bolivia was created in honor of the Liberator Simon Bolivar. Bolivar succeeded in ending more than two centuries of Spanish rule.

But Bolivar’s success in liberating the Spanish colonies in South America did not translate to his success in achieving his goal of a confederation of former Spanish colonies. In 1826, he invited former Spanish colonies of South America to meet for a Congress in Panama to discuss the creation of a Confederation of South American states aimed in providing and unified government structure and mutual defense. However, the Congress failed because Bolivar failed to see the difference between the interests of most of the former colonies. Many did not want to give up their power for a confederation. His disillusionment to the idea of a unified South America continued to disintegrate in 1828, when the Republic of Gran Columbia began to face political turmoil. Bolivar placed upon himself great dictatorial powers in order to save the Republic in vain. In 1830, the republic of Gran Columbia ceased to exist and the Republics of Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela were created. After Bolivars resignation as President on April 27, 1830, he passed away on December 17, 1830 because of tuberculosis.

Although a broken man by the time of his death, Simon Bolivar’s legacy of liberating the South American colonies from political, economic, and social repression of Spanish colonial rule continued. The freedom and independence that many South American countries enjoyed today was because of Simon Bolivar.

Miguel Hidalgo:
Corfield, Justin. "Hidalgo y Costilla, Miguel (1753-1811)" in Encyclopedia of the Age of Political Revolutions and New Ideologies, 1760 - 1815. Edited by Gregory Fremont-Barnes. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2007.

Foster, Lynn. A Brief History of Mexico. Mew York: Facts On File, 2010.

Vazquez-Gomez, Juana. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in Dictionary of Mexican Rulers, 1325 - 1997. West Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1997.

Francisco de Miranda:
Carletta, David. "Miranda, Francisco de (1750-1816)" in Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800 - 1914. Edited by Carl Cavanag Hodge. Westport, connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2008.

Tarver, Michael and Julia Frederick. The History of Venezuela. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Jose de San Martin:
Denis, Michael. "San Martin, Jose" in Historical Dictionary of European Imperialism. edited by James Olson. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Keen, Benjamin & Haynes, Keith. A History of Latin America. Boston, Massachusettes: Wadsworth, 2013.

Simon Bolivar:
Atkins, G. Pope. Encyclopedia of the Inter-American System. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1997.

Tres, Georgia. "Simon Bolivar" in Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800 - 1914. Edited by Carl Cavanagh Hodge. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2008.

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