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History

Liberating Peru

The first war for independence in Spanish America barely touched Peru. As in Mexico, the Creole elites in Peru feared the specter of Indian uprisings and were reluctant to challenge Spanish authority. The liberation of Peru, the great Spanish stronghold in South America, would come from two directions: led by Simón Bolívar from the north and José de San Martín from the south. The encounter between the two greatest figures in the wars for independence in Latin America took place in Ecuador in 1822. San Martín retired from the battlefield and Bolívar led the final assault, liberating Peru and Upper Peru (Bolivia) with the assistance of his exceptional lieutenant, José Antonio de Sucre. The final defeat of the Spanish in South America came at the battle of Ayacucho in December 1824 in the Peruvian highlands.

The first war for independence in Spanish America barely touched Peru.

A. As in Mexico, the Creole elites in Peru feared the specter of Indian uprisings and were reluctant to challenge Spanish authority.

    1. The liberation of Peru, the great Spanish stronghold in South America, would come from two directions: led by Simón Bolívar from the north and José de San Martín from the south.
    2. The encounter between the two greatest figures in the wars for independence in Latin America took place in Ecuador in 1822.
    3. San Martín retired from the battlefield and Bolívar led the final assault, liberating Peru and Upper Peru (Bolivia) with the assistance of his exceptional lieutenant, José Antonio de Sucre.
    4. The final defeat of the Spanish in South America came at the battle of Ayacucho in December 1824 in the Peruvian highlands.

B. Peru was the great prize in South America, the rich heartland of the Andean world.

    1. Along with Mexico, Peru was one of the two core regions in Spanish America.
    2. With a population of more than 1 million in 1800, the descendants of the Incas probably accounted for 60–65 percent of the population.
    3. In some ways, the racial and cultural divide in Peru and Mexico was greater than that in the slave societies of Brazil and the Caribbean.
    4. The Peruvian upper class was notorious for its conservatism and loyalty to the Crown and for its fear of unleashing a race war with the Indians.
    5. Although they had been eclipsed by the Mexican silver mines in the 18th century, the mines at Potosí in Upper Peru were still rich and productive.

C. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic crisis, Viceroy José Fernando de Abascal worked energetically and effectively to blunt any moves toward independence.

    1. He built up his armed forces and used them repeatedly across the region, and he countered every move toward constitutionalism and reform.
    2. A rebellion of Indians and Creoles broke out in the southern highlands, spreading from Cuzco to La Paz and Puno, in late 1814.
    3. The return of Fernando VII to the throne in 1814 and his rejection of the Constitution of 1812 reinforced the Abascal’s authoritarian rule.

D. San Martín finally moved north from Chile in 1820 on the final stage of his strategy to liberate Spanish South America.

    1. He was assisted by one of the most colorful of all the figures of the wars for independence, the renegade British naval officer Thomas Cochrane, earl of Dundonald.
    2. In August 1820, Cochrane carried 4,500 troops to the coast of Peru, landing at Pisco, 150 miles south of Lima.
    3. San Martín followed a slow and cautious strategy that frustrated his supporters.
    4. Spanish forces eventually retreated from Lima into the mountains, and San Martín took control of the Peruvian capital. He declared Peru’s independence on July 28, 1821.
    5. He was, however, unable to subdue the interior and defeat the mobile Spanish forces.

San Martín’s failure to finish off the struggle in Peru led to one of the pivotal moments in the liberation of Spanish South America.

A. Both San Martín and Simón Bolívar coveted the strategic port of Guayaquil, Ecuador, and they each turned to claim it.

    1. This led to a historic meeting of the two principal figures of the wars—the Liberator and the Protector.
    2. Bolívar outmaneuvered his rival and entered Guayaquil two weeks ahead of San Martín.
    3. For several hours on July 26–27, 1822, the two met alone, with no witnesses to the conversations.

B. San Martín withdrew, leaving the liberation of Peru in the hands of Bolívar. He died in 1850 at the age of 72, after a quarter century in exile.

Having cleared the field of his major rival, Simón Bolívar could now move to complete the liberation of Spanish South America.

A. In the words of one major historian, “Peru in 1823 was the problem child of the American revolution, repugnant to liberators and royalists alike.”

    1. Bolívar sent his trusted lieutenant, José Antonio de Sucre, into Peru in 1823.
    2. Bolívar arrived in September 1823 but fell deathly ill, possibly his first major bout with tuberculosis.
    3. At this very moment, events in Europe took a crucial turn, as absolutism reemerged in Spain and Portugal and threatened to reenergize the loyalist cause in Latin America.

B. A series of crucial battles finally broke the back of royalist resistance in 1824.

    1. In August 1824, Bolívar defeated the royalist forces of José de Canterac at Junín after yet another epic march through the Andes.
    2. On December 9, 1824, Sucre conclusively defeated the royalist forces at Ayacucho, completing the liberation of Spanish South America.
    3. Sucre would move on to Upper Peru and liberated the new nation of Bolivia in the final battles of the Spanish American revolutions on April 1, 1825.
    4. With all of Spanish South America freed from Spanish control, the struggle now began to bring order and stability to the new nations.

C. Simón Bolívar had many mistresses and lovers in his life.

    1. The beautiful Manuela Sáenz was the second great love of his life.
    2. Born in 1797, Manuela was strong-willed, beautiful, and 22 when she met Bolívar as he was about to turn 40.
    3. In September 1828, Santander and his allies tried to kill Bolívar; he was saved at the last minute by the intrepid Manuela, who was beaten badly by the attackers.
    4. In May 1830, Bolívar decide to leave and go into exile.
    5. On December 17, 1830, he died in Santa Marta at the age of 47.

Return to The Age of Revolution in the Americas

About elpidiovaldes

Human, All Too Human.

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