History of Peru Special: FIESTAS PATRIAS 2010 – 200 years ago this week in London, Simón Bolivar “declares” independence for Hispanic America

By Paul Goulder – Special to the Peruvian Times –

Although in Peru 1821 is celebrated as the year of independence, the process of emancipation had begun much earlier and July 28 of that year was neither the beginning nor the end of the long march to independence.

Latin American communities around the world are celebrating 2010 as the 200th anniversary of the first declarations and the formation of independent Juntas of government – free from Napoleonic Spain but in the main loyal to the usurped Spanish monarch Ferdinand and the Bourbon court.

For South Americans in 1810, the process of independence was underway: the Junta in Caracas had dispatched a young colonel in the local Caracas militia called Simón Bolivar to seek support and recognition from the British Government in London for the fledgling “semi-autonomous” Junta or Council of Government in Venezuela.

When did the process of independence begin and end?

Bolivar had disembarked at Portsmouth, England on July 10, 1810, accompanied by Andres Bello and Luis López Méndez , and they had then met up with Francisco Miranda (recognized precursor of independence) who was living in London. In his July 1810 audience with Lord Wellesley, the British Foreign Secretary, Bolivar had overreached himself arguing for recognition of full independence – going well beyond his commission or brief.

Was this the impetuosity of a young Venezuelan or the stating of a realizable vision? Was this the first statement by Bolivar that full independence was being sought? And was this a recognizable starting point of the campaign for full independence which led fourteen years later to the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824, the final battles in Upper Peru in 1825, the Spanish withdrawal to the San Felipe fortress in 1826, and the Hispanic “reinvasion” and final acceptance of defeat by Spain in the 1860s. There is still today a healthy debate over what writers call the “second independence” and the path to true non-dependence.

What triggered independence? Why not adopt a US style republic?

If the date of independence is fuzzy, what can be said about the date for the start of the process: the so-called tipping point after which Imperial Spain was bound to withdraw? Some would go back as far as 1745 when Lima was devastated by an earthquake and Callao was literally wiped from the map by a tsunami. God, Spain and the un-repented sins of mankind were variously blamed. Others would point to 1780 and the series of insurrections against the Spanish Viceroyalty, notably that of Tupac Amaru.

This was coincident with the revolution in British America but it seems “coincidental.” If the English-speaking colonies had achieved independence in the 1780s, why the long wait for the advent of Bolivar, San Martín and Napoleon’s invasion of the Spanish madre-patria? Why the dithering over the choice between an elected Republic on the US model, a constitutional monarchy on British lines, and the “totalitarian temptation” of the caudillo strongman, the Bolivarian protector? And why, it seems, was there no “Thomas Paine” on hand to issue pamphlets and stir the minds of a dissenting populace?

Did Peru rebel against Spanish rule?

Every school student knows that July 28 is the anniversary of Peruvian independence. It celebrates San Martín’s declaration or proclamation of independence in 1821 (from a balcony in Huaura and several other sites, there being no RPP radio . . . ).

“General José de San Martín had come ashore at Pisco, to the south of Lima, on September 8, 1820. In less than a year, on July 28, 1821, San Martin had issued from Lima the Declaration or Proclamation of Independence. He led an army composed of Chilean and Argentinian troops, supported by some Peruvian civilians, who were drawn from all social classes. Among the Argentinian Guards there were many of African origin – at that time quite numerous in Buenos Aires. The Chilean contingent was particularly important in San Martín’s expeditionary force. Also, when the patriots were leaving Chile, the new government of Chile gave written instructions to San Martín that he should ‘wage war before politics.’ However, after disembarking San Martin took the initiative in successive talks with the royalists in suggesting a peaceful solution based on the installation of a Spanish or other European monarch on the throne of an independent Peru. Meanwhile San Martin designed the first Peruvian flag and organized Peruvian civil and military support for the independence movement. . . . the Viceroy Joaquín de la Pezuela was ousted by an internal military coup . . . and the country slid into a devastating civil war”  with families split and individuals caught in a tombola of uncertainty. (Quoted from the screenplay of “Peru Independiente” in the “Sucedió en el Perú” series. Transl/PG.)

Did Bolivar offer Britain a deal?

In London,Bolivar had set in train what we now see as the irreversible but incomplete process of independence. He had sought recognition but it took – in the case of Peru – a further fifteen years of devastating warfare before it was achieved. In 1814, at a low point in his campaign and in exile in Jamaica, Bolivar had suggested that Britain would be free, indeed welcome, to “acquire Nicaragua and Panama forming with these countries the centre of the world´s commerce by means of canals, which, connecting the two great seas would shorten the great distances and make England’s control over the world’s commerce permanent.”

It was, of course, France and then the US that constructed a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, but 100 years later. However, British traders and bankers were not slow in following the British and European mercenaries who were fighting with Bolivar.

Upper Peruvian first to translate the “Rights of Man” into Spanish

A debate presided over by Oliver Cromwell took place 363 years ago in a small church in Putney, South West London, which arguably pushed the outcome of the English Civil War towards a “republican solution.” Though the Republic (of the Commonwealth) was shortlived, the principles debated eventually formed the bedrock for the US constitution.

There appears to have been little influence on the Peruvian “revolutions” of the 1780s (Tupac Amaru and others) and one of the writers who had disseminated ideas of the “rights of man” to both North America and France — Thomas Paine — was not translated into Spanish until Miranda commissioned a copy and (it seems independently) the “Altoperuano” Vicente Pazos Kanki “stumbled across” Voltaire, Paine and other “enlightenment” texts in the then great library at Sucre (then Cusichaca).  (Pazos Kanki was born in Upper Peru – the area roughly to the east of Lake Titicaca, now Bolivia since 1825, except during the 1836-39 Federation.)

Puritans in Peru?

One of the principles debated was that of the key concept of the “sovereignty of parliament” (over the King / the Executive) being derived from the people. Puritans and non-conformist protestants carried the message to the American colonies and many of the principles thrashed out during the English civil war became enshrined in the US constitution 130 years later (but not for slaves, native Americans and women) and influenced political philosophers and writers from John Locke to Thomas Paine.

However, many of the new South American republics took off from a different philosophical base. In terms of federalism, in the US the individual colonial entities had become states with a reasonable degree of independence and religious pluralism whereas Bolivar was confronted with monolithic viceregal structures that, once fractured, proved difficult to unite externally and govern internally. Also, a centralized Roman Catholic church – with the Inquisition still intact – resisted a more plural society for another century.

Bolivar and education

Two hundred years ago (in 1810), Bolivar visited Britain’s then avant-garde Lancasterian school in London’s Borough Road (which links St Georges Circus to Borough High Street and not far from the Elephant and Castle). He was accompanied by the MP for Southwark and was shown round the school by Joseph Lancaster, who founded the school in 1798.

During the nineteenth century over 1000 schools, it is said, were modeled on the Borough Road establishment. These schools were to be found not just in Britain but worldwide – and outside the Empire, most notably in Venezuela and other Bolivarian nations. In Venezuela there is still one Lancasterian school up-and-running but much changed with the years.

Bolivar left a number of new – still excellent – schools and universities in his wake as he traveled through South America.  His intellectual and educational legacy is perhaps little remembered alongside the record of his military campaigns and vital, if sometimes inappropriate, constitutional constructions.


Zotero bibliography | PBS films on Peru | LANIC-Peru | BBC History of the World podcasts  | Evolving articles | Study/Research Peru SAS-ISA | Wikipedia articles on Peru | Other (OA) open access | OA Archaeology |

Paul Goulder: Academic and specialist on Latin America and Peru. Last academic posts: ENSCP-Paris; King’s College, University of London; UNSA, Arequipa, Peru.  Also not-for-profit work in ecology, development and education in UK and Peru.

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