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Biography of José Félix Ribas

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Biography of José Félix Ribas

Jose Felix Ribas

Painting by Martin Tovar y Tovar, 1874.

Biography of José Félix Ribas:

José Félix Ribas (September 19, 1775 - January 31, 1815) was a Venezuelan rebel, patriot and general who fought alongside Simon Bolivar in the struggle for Independence for northern South America. Although he had no formal military training, he was a skilled general who helped win some major battles and contributed enormously to Bolívar's "Admirable Campaign." He was a charismatic leader who was good at recruiting soldiers and making eloquent arguments for the cause of independence. He was captured by royalist forces and executed in 1815.

Early Life of José Félix Ribas:

Much like Bolívar himself, Ribas was born into a wealthy Creole family from Caracas: the two men were even cousins. An ardent believer in independence, he had ties to Francisco de Miranda and narrowly escaped punishment for involvement in an 1808 conspiracy against the crown. On April 19, 1810, when the people of Caracas met to decide their fate, Ribas rode through the town, exhorting his countrymen to lose their fear and participate. When the First Venezuelan Republic was established in 1810, he served as a representative of Caracas.

Ribas Distinguishes Himself in Battle:

The wealthy Ribas also financed the Barlovento Battalion and was made colonel in spite of his lack of military training. He fought alongside Bolívar and Miranda as the First Republic crumbled in 1812 and accompanied Bolívar into exile. He served with Bolívar during the Admirable Campaign of 1813, distinguishing himself as a soldier and leader. His reckless charge up a steep hill into an enemy position carried the day at the Battle of Cucuta on February 28. On July 22, while protecting the flank of Bolívar’s army, Ribas was attacked by a large Spanish force, which he drove off by capturing the Spanish artillery and turning it against them.

Ribas and the Battle of La Victoria:

Ribas' greatest moment came at the Battle of La Victoria on February 12, 1814. The Second Venezuelan Republic was crumbling under a fierce royalist onslaught. The marauding army of savage plainsmen led by Tomas Boves was making for Caracas. Bolívar ordered Ribas to protect Caracas at all costs. Ribas recruited teenagers from the schools of the city and made a gallant defense. According to tradition, a dying young soldier asked that someone tell General Ribas that he had not taken one single step backward during the fight. The plainsmen were held at bay until reinforcements arrived and drove them off: no less than three horses were killed under Ribas that day.

Fall of the Second Republic:

Bolivar, Ribas and other patriot leaders decided to try and drive off Boves and his army once and for all, and pursued them into the plains. This was a mistake, as Boves’ cavalry army devastated the patriot force at the Second Battle of La Puerta. Bolivar, Ribas and others escaped the carnage, but the fall of the republic was inevitable after the defeat. Bolívar went back into exile, but Ribas stayed to continue the fight. Ribas fought well at the Battle of Urica, where Boves crushed the remaining patriot forces, even though he himself was mortally wounded by a patriot lance.

Death of José Félix Ribas:

Ribas again decided to stay and fight. He was betrayed by a slave named Concepción González, however, and captured by royalist forces. He was executed on January 31, 1815, and his head (hat and all) was preserved in a jar of oil and sent to Caracas, where it was placed in a cage and displayed publicly as a warning to other patriot sympathizers. González was later captured and hanged for his role in the death of Ribas.

Legacy of José Félix Ribas:

The death of Ribas was a great blow to Simón Bolívar. Not only were they friends and relatives, but Ribas was a loyal, skilled soldier and competent commander. He was a straightforward, simple man who cared little for intrigues or personal glory: in short, he was the sort of officer that Bolivar could ill-afford to lose. It is unfortunate that Ribas did not survive the wars of Independence: a hero with his qualities might have been a very stabilizing influence in the chaotic times that followed the liberation of Venezuela and New Granada.

José Félix Ribas is considered a great hero in Venezuela: there is a township in the state of Aragua named after him. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez even named one of the "Bolivarian Missions" after him: "Misión Ribas" is designed to provide education for high-school dropouts. His victory at the Battle of La Victoria is remembered annually: his young soldiers fought so bravely that February 12 is "Dia de la Juventud" or "Day of the Youth" in Venezuela.

Sources:

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.

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

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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