DON SIMÓN BOLÍVAR (1783-1830)
Known as El Libertador (the Liberator), six nations, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia owe their independence from Spain to Simón Bolívar.
Born on July 24, 1783 into a very prominent family in Venezuela, this great statesman, writer, and revolutionary general gave up his social status for a more noble cause-- independence of Latin America from foreign rule. He traveled the world and along the way was inspired by the times in which he lived, particularly the crowning of Napoleon as emperor in 1804. This same act awoke in him a desire to quell this fire that later, while visiting Rome, he solemnly swore he would do, "...I will not rest my soul until Hispanic America is liberated from Spanish rule".
He possessed an uncanny ability to inspire men to follow him through trackless wilderness to fight and die for liberty. For 20 years Bolívar led the fight to free northern South America. His small, poorly equipped forces won amazing victories and met overwhelming defeats. Not everything was easy for him. There were times where his defeats caused him to seek exile in Haiti and Jamaica, but always returned with a greater strength in energy and armies.
At the height of his power, between 1825 and 1828, he was president of La Gran Colombia (present day Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador), Peru, and the newly formed Bolivia (a country named after him). Bolívar was a sincere patriot, devoted to the cause of liberty and equality, and a big promoter for the unification of all the Latin American countries under one unified republic‹the idea of Pan-Americanism.
He died a sad, lonely death marred by Tuberculosis, in Santa Marta, Colombia on December 17, 1830.
DON JOSÉ DE SAN MARTÍN (1778-1850)
One of the greatest heroes of South American independence was Jose de San Martin. He helped liberate Argentina, Chile, and Peru from Spanish rule. A proud ruler, at the height of his success he relinquished his power to Simon Bolivar after a historic meeting in 1822.
Jose Francisco de San Martin was born on Feb. 25, 1778 in Yapeyu, an Indian settlement in what is now northern Argentina. His father, a Spanish army captain, was administrator there. When Captain San Martin was called back to Spain, he enrolled his son in a Madrid school. When he was 11 years old, young San Martin became a cadet in the infantry. He was 13 when he fought his first battle in North Africa.
For the next 20 years he fought the Moors and Napoleon's forces where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. San Martin's sympathies, however, were always with the mistreated colonials.
In 1812 he resigned and returned to Argentina to join the revolt there. In 1814, he had himself made governor of a district in the foothills of the Andes. After gathering and training an army, he led it across the Andes Mountains into Chile where his men routed the Spanish at Chacabuco in 1817 and entered Santiago unopposed. The next year, San Martin's decisive victory at Maipo set all of Chile free.
In 1820 his army landed on the southern coast of Peru and entered Lima in 1821. San Martin met with Bolivar in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in July 1822 and turned over the command to him.
On returning to Argentina, San Martin learned that his wife had died. He left for Europe with his daughter and spent the rest of his life in exile. San Martin lived in France and Belgium until his death in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, on Aug. 17, 1850.
DON BERNARDO O'HIGGINS (1778-1842)
The leader of Chile's first independent government and a brilliant soldier, Bernardo O'Higgins led the Chilean patriots in their battle for independence. A reformer and an idealist, he was the first national leader in the Americas to abolish black slavery.
O'Higgins was born on Aug. 20, 1778, in Chillan, Chile. His father was Spain's governor for Chile and viceroy for Peru. In 1790, O'Higgins went to Peru to study, staying until he was 16, when his father sent him to Europe. In Spain, O'Higgins met Jose de San Martin, later the liberator of Argentina.
In 1802, O'Higgins returned to Chile to manage property left him by his father. He joined the militia and rose to the rank of Colonel. When Chile rebelled against Spain in 1810, he offered his services and eventually helped drive the Spaniards out of Chile. When a new Spanish force invaded Chile, he was made commander of the revolutionary army but was defeated at the battle of Rancagua in 1814.
O'Higgins, with the other Chilean patriots, fled to Argentina. In 1817, under O'Higgins, these men came back to win Chacabuco and Maipo, the battles that secured Chilean independence. Chile's provisional government asked O'Higgins to rule the country as supreme director. During his rule, which lasted for six years, he instituted a number of reforms and also helped San Martin build forces to fight Spain in Peru.
O'Higgins' liberal policies did not suit the Chilean aristocrats. As a result, in 1823 he was forced to resign. Peru offered him asylum, and O'Higgins went there to spend the rest of his life as an exile, away from his heart--the country he had worked so hard to free. Don Bernardo O'Higgins died several years later on Oct. 24, 1842.
DON BENITO JUAREZ (1806-1872)
Mexico's national hero and its first president of Indian descent was Benito Juarez. During his years in the Government, he succeeded in undermining the power of the Roman Catholic Church and the wealthy landlords in order to make Mexico a constitutional democracy.
Juarez was born at San Pablo Guelatao in the state of Oaxaca on March 21, 1806. He studied law at the Oaxaca Institute of Arts and Sciences, receiving his degree in 1831. Within a few years he had served in both state and national legislatures. In 1841 he became a judge and served as governor of his state. From his government service he gained many ideas for political and economic reform.
When liberals defeated conservatives in the elections of 1855, Juarez became minister of justice and public instruction. The new administration abolished special courts for the church and the military, forced the church to sell its enormous property holdings, and created a new, liberal constitution. In 1857 Juarez was chosen to preside over the Supreme Court and, in effect, to serve as vice-president. During a conservative revolt from 1858 to 1860, he acted as president.
He was forced to flee Mexico City but held the government together until he died at the age of 66.
DON JOSE MARTI (1853-1895)
Cuba's foremost patriot in the struggle for independence from Spain was the poet and essayist Jose Julian Marti. His lifelong dedication to Cuban freedom was spelled out in essays and poems that circulated throughout the Latin American countries. He considered himself a citizen of all the Americas, and his essays did much to promote better relations between the United States and Latin America; but more importantly, between the Latin American nations themselves.
Jose Julian Marti y Perez was born on Jan. 28, 1853, in Havana, where he obtained his early schooling. As a teenager he became involved with a revolutionary group and was sentenced to six months at hard labor for speaking against the government. At age 18, he was exiled to Spain, where he finished his schooling at the University of Saragosa in 1874. He then fled to Mexico by way of France.
After a brief visit to Cuba in 1877, he settled in Guatemala as a teacher. He returned to Cuba in 1878 and continued his political activities. This again led to exile in Spain in 1879. He did not see Cuba again until 1895. He left Spain after two months and lived successively in New York City and Venezuela. His politics offended the Venezuelan dictator at the time, who then forced Marti to return to New York.
A continuous stream of articles published in South American newspapers brought him fame throughout Latin America. In 1892 he became head of the Cuban Revolutionary party and began planning an invasion of the island. He and other revolutionaries arrived in Cuba on April 11, 1895. But tragically, on May 19, he was killed in battle at Dos Rios.
Don Jose Julian Marti will be forever remembered because he waged war neither with swords nor guns, but with simple words expressing the truth.