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The first President of Bolivia was tireless in his work of organization. The people loved him, and showed their affection in a number of ways. But Latin American freedom was poisoned at its source and the task of purification has been slow and painful. Intrigues were brewing and treachery lurked behind him.
For a long time the activities of Peru had given him no little concern. On November 12, 1827, he wrote Bolívar about a concentration of Peruvian forces near the border and added: "From investigations made to find out what is the object of these troops near our border it appears certain that they seek to incite Bolivia to insurrection so as to intervene as pacifiers." And this was at a time when Bolivia was the model of South America. Her revenues were sufficient for her expenditures, her debt was negligible. She enjoyed domestic peace, while Colombia was suffering the first symptoms of that disintegration which ended by tearing her asunder; Peru was divided into factions; Brazil and the Argentine Republic were sworn enemies and the provinces of the latter were on the verge of secession; Chile was suffering from discord and misgovernment; Uruguay could not even predict her final p164 fate and Paraguay was a mystery under the absolute dictatorship of Francia.
On the 20th of the same month Sucre received more detailed information. Under the pretext that Bolivia intended to take Peru, the latter was making a great levy of soldiers. La Mar was to go northward and take Guayaquil for Peru — the old pretension of San Martín — while Santa Cruz gathered ten thousand men in Arequipa to undertake the conquest of the plateau. He was to inspire animosity between Bolivians and the Colombian auxiliaries, while at the same time La Mar would refuse them permission to go through Peruvian territory and return home, as he did not want them to strengthen the defenders of Guayaquil. Sucre felt rather philosophic about all this:
"On my part, I am not worrying. If they attack me I am sure that I can repulse them; if the Bolivians rise against me, I shall go home sooner, and shall be very happy to leave duties which exasperate me and make me long more every day for private life at Quito."
On the 27th the Peruvians under Gamarra were in Puno, in an aggressive attitude. Sucre strengthened La Paz. He was ready to go himself when he received a friendly letter from La Mar, with protestations of peace, and he delayed his departure. At the same time La Mar informed him that permission was at last granted for the passage of the Colombian p165 soldiers through Peru on their way home. But by December 20th, Gamarra had three thousand infantry, five hundred cavalry, and two pieces of artillery near the border. Sucre placed three thousand infantry, seven hundred cavalry and four cannon from Oruro to La Paz and made ready to meet any emergency. This army was commanded by General Urdinínea, for Sucre could not leave the urgent business of the Presidency. In his letter of that date to Bolívar he again lets his deep knowledge of men express itself in prophetic words:
"After such a good impression (Bolivia's domestic peace) I will not assure you that Bolivia is to be spared the revolutionary fires which are destroying America. One madman is enough to disturb a whole country, as we have recently seen in Peru . . . Bolivia is surrounded by the turbulency of the Argentine provinces and the misdeeds of the Peruvian Government, and may very easily become involved . . . We Americans have all built our political houses on sand, and any daring man may overthrow them with one push."
We have emphasized this last sentence. It is a prophecy which covers a century of fulfillment. It is a summary of the independent history of too many of the Latin American nations.
The Colombian troops, neglected by their own government, and receiving orders from Santander that were contrary to Sucre's, were losing their discipline. p166 Some revolted in La Paz on Christmas Day and imprisoned Urdinínea and other officers. Urdinínea escaped and soon the rebels were defeated and punished. Sucre was notified, and by January 5th he was in La Paz. Before leaving Chuquisaca he issued the decree calling the Congress to its ordinary session. In most of his letters of this period he reiterates his decision to leave the country on the 6th of August.
On January 27th he advised Bolívar regarding the situation and recommended that war with Peru be avoided as far as dignity permitted. He was meanwhile sending the Colombians home and by that time there were few left. On March 5th Gamarra had a friendly conference with him on the Desaguadero, and peace seemed secure, at least for the time being. Santa Cruz had been appointed Minister to Chile and Buenos Aires, and Sucre, not discovering any immediate peril by the middle of March, returned to Chuquisaca. On April 12th he still wrote to Bolívar on routine matters. Brazil had recognized Bolivia; the Colombian auxiliaries were almost all gone; elections were prepared and were to be held on May 4th; the Congress was to meet on the long-hoped for 6th of August, the day of Sucre's release from power. Gamarra was quiet, but he was not to be trusted — all more or less as was to be expected.
Then came the 18th of April, 1828. Sucre had p167 trusted so much in his own sincerity of purpose that he did not keep any considerable body of soldiers to protect him. His enemies prepared a plot and succeeded in bribing the garrison of Chuquisaca. They seized the officers and led the soldiers in rebellion against the Government. Sucre was advised of the insurrection early in the morning. He hastened to gather some few men, mounted a horse and went to the place where the soldiers were. He was attacked and wounded in the head and arm. His horse was beyond control because of the broken arm, and ran to the palace where some of those who remained true to Sucre followed him.1
The garrisons of nearby towns were summoned and the rebellion was quelled shortly. Sucre was confined to bed on account of his wounds. His constant recommendation was that the prisoners should not be shot. He was surrounded by friends; the whole population showed their devotion to the great ruler and all social classes showed by their attitude that they were ready to defend and support him in all contingencies.
On the day of the conspiracy Sucre handed the Executive Power to the Cabinet (Council of Ministers) in accordance with the Constitution, and, thoroughly p168 disgusted, positively refused to take charge of the Government again. He left the palace and, after spending a few days at the home of a friend, went to a farm so his wounds might heal. He wanted to settle his personal matters, write a message to Congress, and leave the country. Then he was again followed by the highest members of society as well as by the common people, who recognized him as the father of the country.
The country was invaded by the Peruvians; a short campaign ensued, and a treaty was signed on July 6th, without the intervention of Sucre.
Worthy of mention is the communication which Sucre sent to General Gamarra, the commander of the Peruvian forces, when he was approaching Bolivia under the pretext of protecting his person. It ends with the following words:
Thanking you for this proof of your gratitude for my services to Peru by putting yourself between the murderers and my person, I hope that in order to make this testimony perfect you will return to Peru. I should rather die a thousand times than permit that for my sake the ominous right of the strongest be introduced into America, that any American country set the abominable example of intervention and still less of Tartar-like invasion. Tomorrow Colombia, stronger than Peru and with better rights, may intervene in Peruvian affairs, and Europe, seeing that our international law is composed of bayonets and force, p169 will not hesitate to give us lessons in disposing of our destinies. This is how evil the example is which you have set. I cannot wish to accept the favor you offer me. I had rather be the victim of Bolivian discord than see the rights and independence of an American Republic violated."
Sucre's biographer, quoted above, mentions three great qualities which were remarkable during his government of Bolivia and afterwards. In the first place, he was not afraid of reasonable opposition. Dr. Olañeta, who was employed in the administration of justice, wanted to enter the opposition against Sucre, and tendered his resignation. Sucre refused to accept it, saying that he believed that it was a duty of the Government to encourage his work of opposition, for such work was necessary to the development and preservation of the representative system.
In the second place, he was extremely generous, giving all he had to his soldiers and friends. The Bolivian Congress gave him twenty-five thousand pesos and he distributed this amount among the orphans and widows of those who had died at Ayacucho. His salary under the Government of Colombia he sent to his family. His salary under the Ecuadorian Government he gave for the welfare of his soldiers.
In the third place, he was so honest in the handing of public monies that after five years of splendid p170 service, when he returned to Quito after having handled the treasures of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, he had only one thousand pesos. What Peru had given him he never enjoyed. Later, on October 27th, when living in Quito with his wife, he wrote his friend General Flores as follows:
"My own little possessions in Peru are subject to the disturbances of that country and up to this day they have not yielded me a penny . . . From Bolivia I brought one thousand pesos as the result of my savings and from them my first expenditure was to pay taxes imposed on my wife during my absence, when I was wounded and my life in great danger."
According to O'Connor, the thousand dollars he carried with him was the result of a loan obtained by Sucre's nephew. The same writer continues:
"Thus left Bolivia a President whose equal the Bolivians will never have: a great statesman and philosopher, a just man, amiable to all, sagacious, intelligent and wise, tireless at work, slave of law and equity, very learned, noble, generous, extremely humane. Of all these beautiful qualities and virtues he gave many eloquent proofs during his incomparable administration."2
The two last qualities mentioned, his generosity and his honesty, made him poor, so much so that on January 27th he had written Bolívar:
p171 "My good luck does not make me like the generals of Napoleon, of whom it is said that after becoming rich they did not want to work. My living depends on nothing but what my future wife has, and I am satisfied. She will give me my daily bread and I shall give her whatever honors I have received from war, because I shall resign even the titles."
After his marriage he wrote the Liberator: "At present I am obliged to earn my life's bread."
One biographer writes:
"The people of Quito later, in April, 1829, saw their liberator, the hero of Pichincha, riding on his mule, deprived of the use of one arm, leave the city to go to the country to work daily as the manager of his wife's farms. For, as in other times he gave example as an obedient subordinate, as a general of wisdom and valor, as a patriotic dictator, as a just President, so now when he left public service he went to give example as a working man. He knew how to divide his time between the reading of his books and the cultivation of his lands."
Sucre left Chuquisaca on August 2nd and went to the seashore, where he took a boat for Callao. So great was Santa Cruz' hatred for him that he, his successor, made all efforts to find incriminating information in the archives, but without success. At Callao, without landing, Sucre vainly offered his mediation in order to bring about a conciliation between p172 the Governments of Peru and Colombia. From there he went to Guayaquil and then to Quito, where he established his home with his wife, whom he had married by proxy on August 20, 1828, two days after his wound.
On the river, near Guayaquil (September 18, 1828), he still wrote Bolívar that the differences between Colombia and Peru should be submitted to the American Assembly at Tacubaya, this being in accord with his Pan American convictions.
By this time his wound had healed but his fingers were stiff and his hand and arm very weak. As he had written before, he, who had gone through the wars of independence unharmed, carried a broken arm as a mark of man's ingratitude.
1 Vicente Pesquera Vallenilla (El Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho; p108) relates that Sucre leaned against a wall and left the print of his bloody hand, which has been kept under a frame with the following words: "Behold the hand of Bolivia's father and her first President, whom treachery sought to immolate."
2 O'Connor; op. cit. p243.
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