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Independence from Spain in Venezuela

Fifteen Years of Strife and Violence end in Freedom


Independence from Spain in Venezuela

Simon Bolivar

Painting by Jose Gil de Castro (1785-1841)

The Independence of Venezuela

Venezuela was a leader in Latin America's Independence movement. Led by visionary radicals such as Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Miranda, Venezuela was the first of the South American Republics to formally break away from Spain. The decade or so that followed was extremely bloody, with unspeakable atrocities on both sides and several important battles, but in the end the patriots prevailed, finally securing Venezuelan independence in 1821.

Venezuela Under the Spanish

Under the Spanish colonial system, Venezuela was a bit of a backwater. It was part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, ruled by a Viceroy in Bogota (present-day Colombia). The economy was mostly agricultural and a handful of extremely wealthy families had complete control over the region. In the years leading up to independence, the creoles (those born in Venezuela of European descent) began to resent Spain for high taxes, limited opportunities and mismanagement of the colony. By 1800, people were talking openly about independence, albeit in secret.

1806: Miranda Invades Venezuela

Francisco de Miranda was a Venezuelan soldier who had gone to Europe and had become a General during the French Revolution. A fascinating man, he was friends with Alexander Hamilton and other important international figures and even was the lover of Catherine the Great of Russia for a while. All throughout his many adventures in Europe, he dreamed of freedom for his homeland. In 1806 he was able to scrape together a small mercenary force in the USA and Caribbean and launched an invasion of Venezuela. He held the town of Coro for about two weeks before Spanish forces drove him out. Although the invasion was a fiasco, he had proven to many that independence was not an impossible dream.

April 19, 1810: Venezuela Declares Independence

By early 1810, Venezuela was ready for independence. Ferdinand VII, heir to the Spanish crown, was a prisoner of Napoleon of France, who became the de facto if indirect ruler of Spain. Even those Creoles who supported Spain in the New World were appalled. On April 19, 1810, Venezuelan Creole patriots held a meeting in Caracas where they declared a provisional independence: they would rule themselves until such time as the Spanish monarchy was restored. For those who truly wanted independence, such as young Simón Bolívar, it was a half-victory, but still better than no victory at all.

The First Venezuelan Republic

The resulting government became known as the First Venezuelan Republic. Radicals within the government, such as Simón Bolívar, José Félix Ribas and Francisco de Miranda pushed for unconditional independence and on July 5, 1811, the congress approved it, making Venezuela the first South American nation to formally sever all ties with Spain. Spanish and royalist forces attacked, however, and a devastating earthquake leveled Caracas on March 26, 1812. Between the royalists and the earthquake, the young Republic was doomed. By July of 1812, leaders such as Bolívar had gone into exile and Miranda was in the hands of the Spanish.

The Admirable Campaign

By October of 1812, Bolívar was ready to rejoin the fight. He went to Colombia, where he was given a commission as an officer and a small force. He was told to harass the Spanish along the Magdalena River. Before long, Bolívar had driven the Spanish out of the region and amassed a large army, Impressed, the civilian leaders in Cartagena gave him permission to liberate western Venezuela. Bolívar did so and then promptly marched on Caracas, which he took back in August of 1813, a year after the fall of the first Venezuelan Republic and three months since he had left Colombia. This remarkable military feat is known as the "Admirable Campaign" for Bolívar's great skill in executing it.

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