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Independence from Spain in Venezuela

Fifteen Years of Strife and Violence end in Freedom

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Independence from Spain in Venezuela

The Battle of Boyaca

Painting by J.N. Cañarete / National Museum of Colombia

The Second Venezuelan Republic

Bolivar quickly established an independent government known as the Second Venezuelan Republic. He had outsmarted the Spanish during the Admirable Campaign, but he had not defeated them, and there were still large Spanish and royalist armies in Venezuela. Bolivar and other generals such as Santiago Mariño and Manuel Piar fought them bravely, but in the end the royalists were too much for them. The most feared royalist force was the "Infernal Legion" of tough-as-nails plainsmen led by cunning Spaniard Tomas "Taita" Boves, who cruelly executed prisoners and pillaged towns that had formerly been held by the patriots. The Second Venezuelan Republic fell in mid-1914 and Bolívar once again went into exile.

The Years of War, 1814-1819

During the period from 1814 to 1819, Venezuela was devastated by roving royalist and patriot armies that fought one another and occasionally amongst themselves. Patriot leaders such as Manuel Piar, José Antonio Páez and Simón Bolivar did not necessarily acknowledge one another's authority, leading to a lack of a coherent battle plan to free Venezuela. In 1817, Bolívar had Piar arrested and executed, putting the other warlords on notice that he would deal with them harshly as well: after that, the others generally accepted Bolívar's leadership. Still, the nation was in ruins and there was a military stalemate between the patriots and royalists.

Bolívar Crosses the Andes and the Battle of Boyaca

In early 1819, Bolívar was cornered in western Venezuela with his army. He was not powerful enough to knock out the Spanish armies, but they were not strong enough to defeat him, either. He made a daring move: he crossed the frosty Andes with his army, losing half of it in the process, and arrived in New Granada (Colombia) in July of 1819. New Granada had been relatively untouched by the war, so Bolívar was able to quickly recruit a new army from willing volunteers. He made a speedy march on Bogota, where the Spanish Viceroy hastily sent out a force to delay him. At the Battle of Boyaca on August 7, Bolívar scored a decisive victory, crushing the Spanish army. He marched unopposed into Bogota, and the volunteers and resources he found there allowed him to recruit and equip a much larger army, and he once again marched on Venezuela.

The Battle of Carabobo

Alarmed Spanish officers in Venezuela called for a cease-fire, which was agreed to and lasted until April of 1821. Patriot warlords back in Venezuela, such as Mariño and Páez, finally smelled victory and began to close in on Caracas. Spanish General Miguel de la Torre combined his armies and met the combined forces of Bolívar and Páez at the Battle of Carabobo on June 24, 1821. The resulting patriot victory secured Venezuela's independence, as the Spanish decided they could never pacify and re-take the region.

After the Battle of Carabobo

With the Spanish finally driven off, Venezuela began putting itself back together. Bolívar had formed the Republic of Gran Colombia, which included present-day Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Panama. The republic lasted until about 1830, when it fell apart into Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador (Panama was part of Colombia at the time). General Páez was the main leader behind Venezuela's break from Gran Colombia.

Today, Venezuela celebrates two independence days: April 19, when Caracas patriots first declared a provisional independence, and July 5, when they formally severed all ties with Spain. Venezuela celebrates its independence day (an official holiday) with parades, speeches and parties.

In 1874, Venezuelan President Antonio Guzmán Blanco announced his plans to turn the Holy Trinity Church of Caracas into a national Pantheon to house the bones of the most illustrious heroes of Venezuela. The remains of numerous heroes of Independence are housed there, including those of Simón Bolívar, José Antonio Páez, Carlos Soublette and Rafael Urdaneta.

Sources:

Harvey, Robert. Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2000.

Herring, Hubert. A History of Latin America From the Beginnings to the Present.. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962

Lynch, John. The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826 New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986.

Lynch, John. Simon Bolivar: A Life. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.

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.

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