Saturday, May 9, 2015

3 Revolutionaries in Latin America

Besides the most famous revolutionaries, like Bolivar, de San Martin, de Miranda, and Hidalgo, many more joined them in the pantheon of liberators whose aim was to liberated their countries from oppressive and unequal societies of Spain.

1. Bernardo O’Higgins

In 1817, Bernardo O’Higgins marched across the cold peaks of the treacherous Andes Mountains with an army of 5,000 to liberate Chile from the clutches of the elitist and conservative Spanish colonial rule. Bernardo O’Higgins was a Chilean patriot that fought for the independence of Chile and other Spanish colonies in South America. He fought alongside the famous Argentine Patriot Jose de San Martin. Eventually, he liberated Chile and became its leader from 1817 to 1823.

Born on August 20, 1778, Bernardo O’Higgins was an illegitimate son of the Irish-decent Spanish colonial government official Ambrosio O’Higgins. Throughout his childhood, he grew under the care of his mother. Because of his illegitimate status, he used his mother’s last name, Riquelme, as his until his father’s demise. Although distant, his father supported them financially. In particular, when ambrosia became the Viceroy of Peru, he sent Bernardo to Europe to finish his studies in 1798. From Spain Bernardo crossed the Channel to England and to London. There, he met Latin America’s revolutionary Francisco Miranda. From Miranda, O-Higgins became aware of the differences between the creoles or Spanish born in the colonies and the Peninsulares of Spanish that came from Spain. O’Higgins also began to believe in the call of liberalism and nationalism. In 1799, he went to Spain and gathered support for the independence or at least autonomy for the Spanish colonies in the Americas.

O’Higgins activities in Europe, however, fell short. In 1801, his father, Ambrosio, the Viceroy of Peru, passed away. His father then left him a huge estate to take care. And so, he had to return to South America to manage his father’s lands. Year later, his interest in politics came alive again when he won a position in the town council of Chillan.

Two years after he took a seat in the town council, political change came to the Spanish colonies. In 1808, Spain fell to the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte who installed his brother Joseph as the new Spanish King. After hearing the news, colonies started to form juntas or cabildos to decide on the fate of their respective colonies. In Chile, however, the governor general vainly attempted to stop any attempts to form a junta. On September 18, 1810, the Chileans managed to oust the incumbent Governor General and established a Junta to rule Chile for the meantime. In 1811, a Congress had been called to rule the colony. Bernardo O’Higgins became a member of this Congress. The 1811 Congress abolished slavery and the Inquisition, promoting liberal ideas to the colonies. In 1813, they drafted a constitution in order to pave the way towards independence. Suddenly, however, Spanish royalist forces from Peru descended upon Chile in order to re-assert Spanish control over the colony. In 1814, O’Higgins joined the fight against the royalist and scored victories, leading to a quick promotion from colonel to general and later on Governor of Conception. But his victories proved to be short-lived, with the political struggle between two factions in the capital, O’Higgins could not concentrate his mind in fighting the Royalist. In October of 1814 – he terribly suffered a disastrous defeat in the Battle of Rancagua. This led to his fall and removal from his post. Following the defeat in the Battle of Rancagua, Spanish forces marched towards Santiago and the Chilean patriots, like O’Higgins, fled across the Andes to Mendoza, in Rio de La Plata or Argentina.

In Mendoza, O’Higgins planned their return to Chile and liberate it once and for all from Spanish Royalist. While in exile, he became close to the Governor of the province, the Argentine Patriot, Jose de San Martin. Together, they formed and trained the Ejercito de Andes or the Army of the Andes with the goal of liberating Chile and Peru. For three years they prepared for their conquest across the mountains.

Finally, in January of 1817, O’Higgins and San Martin began their arduous journey across the cold high mountains of the Andes to Chile. They marched with a well-trained army of over 5,000 men with cavalry and artillery. They trekked the mountains for a month. When they emerged in Chile on February, they caught the Royalist forces unprepared and their element of surprise won them the Battle of Chacabuco. Days later, they triumphantly marched without strong opposition to Santiago. The Chileans then proclaimed Bernardo O’Higgins as their Supreme Director of Chile. On February 12, 1818, O’Higgins presided over the declaration of independence of Chile from Spain.

Although finally, independent, O’Higgins continued to support the war against Royalist. He showed this by establishing Chile’s first navy with the flagship O’Higgins, in order to provide naval support and transport for San Martin’s army to cross to Peru.

Meanwhile, O’Higgins began to enact reforms in his country. In addition to the navy, he also established a military academy. He ordered the creation of Chile’s current flag. As a supporter of the principles of the Age of Enlightenment, O’Higgins promoted education. He ordered the creation of numerous primary schools and libraries in the country.

His promotion of liberal and secular laws, however, created a riff between him and the conservative elements of the country, which included the church, landowners, and the bourgeoisie. Church had problems with O’Higgins for his secular views and his association with the masons. They hated him when he established general cemeteries, which allowed burial to dissenters of the Catholic Church. Landowners loathed O’Higgins when he attempted to abolish their titles and confiscate their lands for redistribution and for government income. The business class began to voice resentment against O’Higgins when he raised taxes. O’Higgins orders for the execution of his enemies, like Jose Miguel Carrerra, and his two brothers, Luis and Juan Carrerra, and Manuel Rodriguez smeared O’Higgins image. The final blow for his reign came on October 1822, when he drafted a constitution making him as the dictator of Chile with a term lasting for a decade. From that point, rebellion erupted, calling for O’Higgins’ resignation. From public pressure and to avoid civil war, he resigned in 1823 and went to exile in Peru. He passed away on October 23, 1842, leaving huge sums of money for construction projects in Chile. His body eventually returned to his beloved country in 1869, and the country honored him greatly.

2. Antonio de Sucre

The victor of the battle of Aycachucho, Antonio de Sucre, was Simon Bolivar’s right hand man. A creole by birth, he and his father fought for the independence of Venezuela. He followed Bolivar in exile and in his several return to their country to dislodge what they deemed as discriminative and oppressive Spanish colonial regime. He fought in many battles and score many victories for their cause. But his victory and genius in battle failed him in his career as a leader of a nation in recovery. His political views and ideals earned enemies, which made him one of the most tragic figures of the Latin American revolutionaries.

Antonio Sucre came from a family of creole. Born on February 3, 1795, he was the son of a colonel in the Spanish colonial army in the province of New Andalusia or Cumana in Venezuela. Because of his father’s role in the army, his family was prominent in the province.  This allowed him to study engineering in Caracas.

Sucre was about 13 years old when the political situation shifted towards independence. Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain, deposed King Ferdinand VII, and placed his brother Joseph as the new King. Colonies in South America formed juntas with the task of defining their colony’s destiny. In Venezuela, the Caracas Junta, filled with liberals like Simon Bolivar decided to make Venezuela independent and established the First Republic of Venezuela. However, in 1810, Royalist forces who wanted to maintain Spanish colonial in Venezuela rose up and the country descended into a state of civil war. The young Antonio de Sucre joined a hussar company led by his father in April 1810. Both Sucres fought against royalist forces. But in 1812, the First Republic fell to the Royalist and Antonio Sucre had to flee to Trinidad along with other patriots like Simon Bolivar. While fleeing the country, Royalist troops captured his father.

Sucre joined Bolivar to plan for the liberation of Venezuela and the rest of Spanish colonies in South America. Sucre and Bolivar attempted to liberate Venezuela in 1813. They landed on August 2 in Cumana and declared the establishment of the Second Venezuelan Republic. Sucre then headed an engineering unit in Barcelona. In the following year, Sucre fought under General Santiago Mariño in Boca Chica and scored a victory on March 31, 1814. Political infighting within the Second Republic led to the disintegration of the Republic finally falling by the end of the year. Once again, Sucre needed to flee Venezuela with Bolivar to Haiti. Sucre moved to Trinidad because of his relatives in the island. Although islands apart, Sucre continued to plan with Bolivar for the liberation of Venezuela.

After a year of preparation, in 1816, Bolivar and Sucre once again landed in Venezuela. They captured Yaguarapao. With his military brilliance and gentle manner, Bolivar rewarded Sucre with the appointment as Governor of Cumana. In addition, in 1817, Bolivar appointed Sucre as commander of the Baja Orinoco Batallion and Major General of Lower Orinoco. In 1820, after fighting for Bolivar for years and scoring many victories, Sucre became chief of General Staff and assistant war minister of Bolivar’s Third Republic of Venezuela. Next year, Bolivar and Sucre began the liberation of Ecuador. On August of 1821, he scored a victory in the Battle of Yaguachi and on the following year he won one of his hallmark battle, the Battle of Pinchincha, which secured the liberation of Ecuador and Colombia. This two countries eventually joined Venezuela to form Bolivar’s Republic of Gran Colombia. The two generals then continued the liberation campaign and brought the battle to Peru, the last bastion of Spanish royalist forces. Here, Sucre continued to secure victories. He won the Battle of Junin on August 1824. He also led an army in December that won the Battle of Ayacucho, the last battle of the independence war and secured the independence of Spanish colonies in South America. His victory in Ayacucho gave Sucre the title Grand Marshall of Aycaucho. After the battle, Bolivar ordered him to finish small remaining Royalist forces in Upper Peru, which he accomplish.

In 1825, Bolivar gave the position of President of Upper Peru, which became the nation of Bolivia, named after the great Liberator, to Antonio Sucre. As soon as becoming President, he called for a Congress to convene in February. The Congress convened in July and on August 6, 1825, with Antonio Sucre as the President, the Republic of Bolivia declared its independence.

As the President of Bolivia, Sucre began radical reforms. He made the citizens of Bolivia equal. Supported education and established numerous secondary schools. He also secularized the government, which separated the church and state. However, this act alienated the church and many conservative elements in Bolivia. Sucre also began to lose support from the lower class when he reinstated tribute collection system. Sucre had to do this in order to gain more money in addition to confiscating church lands to finance the economic recovery of Bolivia. With all of this, Sucre became highly unpopular to the Bolivians. Bolivians then invoke their nationalism and calling Sucre as a foreigner meddling in Bolivian affairs.

His fall in Bolivia came quickly. He experience assassination attempts from the elite of Bolivia. In the international affairs, Peru wanted to annex Bolivia and began an invasion of the country. With mounting internal and external pressure, Sucre resigned as President in April of 1828 and went to Quito, then part of the Republic of Gran Colombia for exile.

However, Gran Colombia needed his skills. In 1829, Peru also attacked Gran Colombia and Sucre led an army that repelled the invasion. In the following year, Gran Colombia’s existence laid in his hands when he became the President of the Constitutional Convention which would decide the faith of the unity of Bolivar’s project, the Republic of Gran Colombia. Because of his position and his stand to the continuation of the union, Sucre earned enemies. On June 4, 1830, while riding back to Quito, Antonio Sucre, the right-hand man and close adviser of the Libertador passed away in an ambush. His body laid in mud for hours before being recovered and buried. Many speculated that his rival, Jose Maria Obando orchestrated the ambush but it was never proven in court.

Antonio de Sucre was just like many of the revolutionaries. He had a great military skills, yet their approach in governance was too radical and too fast for a centuries old colonial society to adopt and change. Because of is stand to his ideals, he passed away in way not fit to his contribution to the freedom of many South American nations.

3. Jose Maria Morelos

When the Hidalgo Revolt began in in September of 1810, among the supporters who rose up against the Spanish colonial authorities was Jose Maria Morelos. Like Hidalgo, he served as a priest who his parishioners respected well.  But unlike Hidalgo, he understood the importance of a proper training and discipline in leading an army. And so, he outlived his leader, Hidalgo, and became a scourge in the part of the Spanish colonial army. Nevertheless, he still met the same problems of division like Hidalgo and ultimately suffered the same faith in the end.

Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon came from a humbler background than any other revolutionaries. Born on September 30, 1765 in Valladolid, Michoacan, although his birth certificate classified his ethnicity as Spanish, mestizo was his real class strata. His a descendant of an Indian or an African and a Spaniard. Society of the New Viceroyalty of Spain saw the results of mingling between a Spaniard and a native or African as lower class. In order to avoid such prejudice, Morelos had been identified with the Spaniards more. His family suffered poverty. From 1779 to 1790, he worked numerous jobs, from a clerk in an estate to a mule driver in Michoacan and Mexico region. From his work, he saw the situation of many natives, African slaves, and creoles of Mexico. While working, Morelos saved enough money to go to school, which he did in 1790 when he entered the Colegio de San Nicolas Opispo in Valladolid. At that the time, the future revolutionary, Miguel Hidalgo served as the Rector of the institution. With Hidalgo as his Recto, Morelos had the chance to read books and pamphlets about political ideas of the Age of Enlightenment and liberalism. After five years in Colegio, he decided to become a priest and entered the Tridentine Seminary. In 1797, Morelos was ordained and sent to various impoverish towns as a substitute priest. His experience in these towns opened his eyes more to flight of many people under the Spanish Colonial regime.

Although a priest, he did not follow many of the vows that entailed his position. He violated his vow of celibacy and fathered three children.

In 1810, Morelos heard about the cry for revolution of Fr. Miguel Hidalgo in Dolores. On October 20, he joined Hidalgo’s march towards the capital Mexico City. Hidalgo however, knowing the capabilities of Morelos, sent him instead to the South to begin a new theater for the revolution. Morelos received orders from Hidalgo to recruit men in the South and capture the vital Mexican port of Acapulco. He then proceed to Caracuaro and enlisted 25 men, from which it grew to 6,000.

In leading an army, Morelos had a different approach towards. Hidalgo relied on the emotions and the morale of his rag tag army. Morelos on the other hand saw the importance of equipment, discipline, and most importantly, training. He gave strict conduct to his soldiers and ordered them to respect properties in territories under their control. He trained them well and disciplined them well and turned them into a professional army that wore a badge of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the symbol of Hidalgo’s revolt, with pride. Morelos’ army wreaked havoc in the south of Mexico and capture many towns. As towns under his control increase, so as the support in men and weapons increased as well. However, his campaign in the south cut short in capturing his main objective – Acapulco.

Nevertheless, he started to consolidate his gains. After his fail attempt to capture Acapulco he began to layout the administration of his region. He set up a provincial government and enacted several laws. For example, he abolish slavery and imposed equality to all.

In May of 1811, even as Hidalgo’s Revolt collapsed in the north, he on the other hand continued succeed in many battles. He captured Chilpancingo. From there he sent a representatives to the United States to request for assistance in vain. Many more joined Morelos, among them was Vicente Guerrero who later become a prominent figure in the fight for the independence of Mexico.

In middle of 1811, Morelos thought that his gains was enough in order to call on a junta to set up a government that represented an independent Mexico. He asked Ignacio Lopez Rayon to handle the matter. In August of 1811, the Suprema Junta Nacional Americana met in Zitacuaro with Rayon as President and Jose Sixto Verduzco to represent Morelos. But the junta disappointed Morelos when it stated that will ruled on behalf of King Fernando VII. Nevertheless, Morelos saw it as a starting point.

After the Junta had been set up, he returned to his military campaign. His new campaign aimed in closing in to Mexico City. In 1812, he took Chiautla de la Sal and Izucar. After these gains, Mariano Matamoros, another great Mexican revolutionary, joined Morelos’ cause. He continued to capture towns northwards until in February 1813 when Royalist forces besieged him in Cuautla. His steadfast stand and his brilliant military skills in the siege, the Royalist gave him the title “the Second Mohammad” implying Morelos as a new enemy in a level of a crusade. In May 2, however, lacking the support of his junta and with no contact with nearby guerilla units, not to mention short in supplies and disease ravaging, the town surrendered. However, Morelos managed to evade capture.

In June 1812, Morelos restarted his military campaign. He had a new mandate when the junta made him the commander-in-chief, in effect, he assumed the leadership of the revolt that Hidalgo who died a year ago left. By October, Morelos forces took over the tobacco center and a major source of revenue for the Viceroyalty, the town of Orizaba. But his capture of the town was followed by a defeat in Cumbres de Acultzingo. Nevertheless, he secured another victory next month by capturing the province of Oaxaca. At that point, he gained control of the whole south except what Hidalgo asked him to capture – Acapulco.

In April 1813, he turned his attention to his primary target at the start of the revolution. He marched his troops to Acapulco and started a long siege of the city. It took him about four months into subduing the city. He lose a lot of time while the Royalist mustered strength in the north to begin pushing the rebels back.

Another reason for the long arduous siege was the fact that Morelos had his attention divided. One concentrated in Acapulco and the other focus on the Congress. Morelos thought that the Junta started to fail his revolution instead of supporting it. And so, in May he called a new election for the junta. But even this did not satisfy him. And so, he called an election in every region he controlled for their representatives in an upcoming Congress. On September 14, the Congress met in Chilpancingo. Morelos made sure that the Congress would not block the revolution and so Morelos imposed the rules or Reglamento and the Sense of Nationhood. The Congress became different to the junta, first they no longer rule on behalf of Spanish King Fernando VII. But to avoid any antagonizing the conservatives and some moderate creoles, they maintained Catholicism as official religion. Morelos used the Congress as the future government of the future independent Mexico. He began the practice of separation of power between three branches of the government, the Congress of Chilpancingo as the legislature, Morelos as the executive, and judiciary. With these elements in place, on November, Morelos declared independence.

The Congress, however, marked the beginning of the end of Morelos. On December 23, 1813, Morelos suffered a defeat in the hands of Ciriaco de Llano and Agustin Iturbide in Ciriaco. Series of defeat followed. In one battle, his close adviser, Mariano Matamoros, fell to the enemy and faced execution. Congress then started to reduce Morelos power in the following months. Defeats continued to plague Morelos. In Acapulco, he faced relentless attacks and showed unusual cruelty in the course of battle. With the fall of Chilpancingo, the Congress moved from one place to another. Although facing defeat, the Congress and Moreles gave time for political matters and on October 22nd, they proclaimed the Constitutional Decree for the Freedom of Mexican America. This served as his government’s constitution. But the constitution failed to maintain political cohesion. Some members in the Congress began to resent Morelos for some of his views and policies. Creoles felt dumbfounded when Morelos showed more historical attachment to the Aztecs than the Spain. They also felt threatened by the Morelos proposed confiscation of lands for redistribution to the poor. Political division translated to military disasters. And on November 1815, Royalist captured Morelos in Temalaca. They then transferred Morelos to Mexico City and tried for treason. The Inquisition revoked his priesthood allowing his execution to proceed. And on December 22, 1815, Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon passed away. His body decapitated while his head joined with Hidalgo’s in Guanajuato.

Although, Morelos fell, the fight for independence continued. His lieutenants continued the guerilla war against the royalist. Ironically, Mexico became independent thanks to one of the architects of his military failure – Agustin Iturbide. Morelos’ contribution to the Mexican independence even to this day. His names is shouted in the annual cry in the National Palace in Mexico City on September 16 along with other revolutionaries of Mexico.
See also:

Bernardo O’Higgins:
Corfield, Justin.”O’Higgins, Bernardo.” In Encyclopedia of World History: Age of Revolution and Empire, 1750 to 1900. Edited by Marsha Ackerman et. al. New York, New York: Facts On File, 2008.

Bannon, John Francis et. al. Latin America: A Historical Survey. Milwaukee, Winsconsin: Bruce Publishing Company, 1958.

Antonio de Sucre:
Neumann, Caryn. “Sucre, Antonio Jose de.” In Encyclopedia of World History: Age of Revolution and Empire, 1750 to 1900. Edited by Marsha Ackerman et. al. New York, New York: Facts On File, 2008.

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Antonio Jose de Sucre", accessed May 08, 2015,

Castro, Ivan. 100 Hispanics You Should Know. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2007.

Morales, Waltraud. A Brief History of Bolivia. New York, New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010.

Jose Maria Morelos:
Geudea, Virginia. "Morelos, Jose Maria." in Concise Encyclopedia of Mexico. Edited by Michael Werner. Chicago, Illinois: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2001.

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

Kirkwood, J. Burton. The History of Mexico. Santa Barbara, Califronia: ABC-CLIO,LLC, 2010.

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