Colombia’s Independence Day: July 20, 1810:
On July 20, 1810, Colombian patriots stirred the population of Bogotá into street protests against Spanish rule. The Viceroy, under pressure, was forced to agree to allow for a limited independence which later became permanent. Today, July 20 is celebrated in Colombia as Independence Day.
An Unhappy Population:
The people of New Granada (now Colombia) were unhappy with Spanish rule. Napoleon had invaded Spain in 1808 and imprisoned King Ferdinand VII. Napoleon then put his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne, infuriating most of Spanish America. In New Granada, Camilo Torres Tenorio had written in 1809 his famous Memorial de Agravios (“Remembrance of Offenses”) about repeated Spanish slights against Creoles, who often could not hold high offices and whose trade was restricted. His sentiments were echoed by many.
Pressure for Colombian Independence:
Conspiracies and Flower Vases:
Bogota’s patriots had a plan. On the morning of the 20th, they would ask well-known Spanish merchant Joaquín Gonzalez Llorente to borrow a flower vase with which to adorn a table for a celebration in honor of Antonio Villavicencio, a well-known patriot sympathizer. It was assumed that Llorente, who had a reputation for irascibility, would refuse. His refusal would be the excuse to provoke a riot and force the Viceroy to hand power over to the creoles. Meanwhile, Joaquín Camacho would go to the Viceregal palace and request an open council: they knew that this, too, would be refused.
The Plan in Action:
Camacho proceeded to the home of Viceroy Viceroy Antonio José Amar y Borbón, where the petition for an open town meeting regarding independence was predictably denied. Meanwhile, Luís Rubio went to ask Llorente for the flower vase. By some accounts, he refused rudely, and by others, he declined politely, forcing the patriots to go to plan B, which was to antagonize him into saying something rude. Either Llorente obliged them or they made it up: it didn’t matter. Patriots ran through the streets of Bogota, claiming that both Amar y Borbón and Llorente had been rude. The population, already on edge, was easy to incite.
Riot in Bogota:
The people of Bogota took to the streets to protest Spanish arrogance. The intervention of Bogota Mayor José Miguel Pey was necessary to save the skin of the unfortunate Llorente, who was attacked by a mob. Guided by patriots like José María Carbonell, the lower classes of Bogota made their way to the main square, where they loudly demanded an open town meeting to determine the future of the city and New Granada. Once the people were sufficiently stirred up, Carbonell then took some men and surrounded the local cavalry and infantry barracks, where the soldiers did not dare attack the unruly mob.
An Open Meeting:
Meanwhile, patriot leaders returned to Viceroy Amar y Borbón and tried to get him to consent to a peaceful solution: if he agreed to hold a town meeting to elect a local governing council, they would see to it that he would be part of the council. When Amar y Borbón hesitated, José Acevedo y Gómez made an impassioned speech to the angry crowd, directing them to the Royal Audience, where the Viceroy was meeting with the Creoles. With a mob at his doorstep, Amar y Borbón had no choice but to sign the act which permitted a local ruling council and eventually independence.
Legacy of the July 20 Conspiracy:
Bogotá, like Quito and Caracas, formed a local ruling council which supposedly would rule until such time as Ferdinand VII was restored to power. In reality, it was the sort of measure that cannot be undone, and as such was the first official step on Colombia's path to freedom which would culminate in 1819 with the Battle of Boyacá and Simón Bolívar's triumphant entry into Bogotá.
Viceroy Amar y Borbón was allowed to sit on the council for a while before being arrested. Even his wife was arrested, mostly to appease the wives of Creole leaders who detested her.
Many of the patriots involved in the conspiracy, such as Carbonell, Camacho and Torres, went on to become important leaders of Colombia in the next few years.
Although Bogotá had followed Cartagena and other cities in rebellion against Spain, they did not unite. The next few years would be marked by such civil strife between independent regions and cities that the era would become known as the "Patria Boba" which roughly translates as "Idiot Nation" or "Foolish Fatherland." It wasn't until Colombians began fighting the Spanish instead of one another that New Granada would continue on its path to freedom.
Colombians are very patriotic and enjoy celebrating their Independence Day with feasts, traditional food, parades and parties.
Bushnell, David. The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself. University of California Press, 1993.
Harvey, Robert. Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2000.
Lynch, John. The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826 New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986.
Santos Molano, Enrique. Colombia día a día: una cronología de 15,000 años. Bogota: Planeta, 2009.
Scheina, Robert L. Latin America's Wars, Volume 1: The Age of the Caudillo 1791-1899 Washington, D.C.: Brassey's Inc., 2003.