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Chapter 14

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Antonio José de Sucre

Guillermo Antonio Sherwell

Press of Byron S. Adams
Washington, D. C., 1924

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 16

p186 Chapter XV

The Dissolution of Colombia.

Thayer's Note: For following the geography in the text, the map provided by the author at the end of the book may be useful; it opens in a separate window.

The situation in Colombia and Peru was becoming worse day by day and the people were more hostile to Bolívar. It was evident that the great Colombia of the Liberator's dream would not endure. Páez was ready to effect the separation of Venezuela; Santander, that of Colombia; Ecuador would have to go its own way. Bolívar was insulted in Caracas, Bogotá, and Lima. He had lost all influence in Peru, which explains why a Peruvian army could advance against Bolivia when Sucre was in power. The worst crime imputed to Sucre by the Peruvians was that he was a foreigner and a friend of Bolívar. Not satisfied with what they had already done against Bolívar, his enemies wished to destroy what influence he might still have in Colombia. On the 25th of September he was nearly assassinated in Bogotá. Treachery was so prevalent that Bolívar was told that Sucre had been dealing personally with Santander. Sucre's answer was, "Revolution did not take me out of the mud." This closed the incident as far as the Liberator was concerned.

Then his enemies tried to present Sucre, if not as a grafter, at least as one who would use his influence to prevent the payment of taxes due the Government.  p187 These attacks also failed, for they were obvious slanders. On December 18, 1828, Sucre offered his wife's property to help in the campaign of the south. He offered cattle, corn, and all other resources of the land which he controlled.

Sucre first concentrated his attention upon the care of his and his wife's small interests. The attempt to murder Bolívar convinced him of the necessity of uniting the greatest energy in the management of Colombia's affairs. His deep affection for the Liberator led him to break his silence and keep in touch with him on public matters. In a letter from Quito on October 27th, he writes:

"I insist that we are completely lost if we continue this system of hesitancy. Experienced has convinced the blindest of men of the truth. The calamities which we mourn are the result of indecisive conduct . . . I understand that public opinion has expressed itself clearly and that the people of Colombia desire only a strong Government by which personal safety, property rights and civil liberties may be strictly protected. Men, tired of so many reverses, now care little for the exaggerated political liberty. Instead of impracticable principles, they want a constitutional government which will give them real protection and will deliver them from a labyrinth of written guarantees which in fact do not even give them property rights and personal safety."

 p188  The expected aggression from Peru was materializing. The southern section of Colombia was preparing for defense and for offense. On July 28th the Colombian Government issued a proclamation explaining why war had to be undertaken against the southern neighbor. But the war was unpopular. Sucre informed Bolívar in a communication of December 6, 1828, that the people were tired of fighting. His reluctance to start the war was severely criticized, even by his friend O'Leary, who wrote the Liberator on October 20th:

"The Peruvians do not want peace. So they say in their public press, where they also attack Sucre for having offered his mediation. He indeed deserves it."

Still, Bolívar not only placed Sucre in command, but gave him full powers.

"All my powers, good or bad," he wrote on October 28th, "I give you. Make war, make peace, save or lose the South. You are arbiter of its destiny. I have all my hopes in you . . . Read this letter to Flores and O'Leary so that they may realize that I consider you another Simón Bolívar. Yes, my dear Sucre, you and I are one, excepting your kindness and my luck."

As late as December 14th Sucre wrote O'Leary insisting that an honorable peace should be negotiated with Peru, but matters had gone too far.

 p189  The Peruvian army, seven thousand strong, crossed the Ecuadorian boundary, intent upon adding Guayaquil to Peru. Sucre, appointed supreme director of the war, went to Cuenca and awaited the Peruvians on a plain called Tarqui. The Venezuelan general Juan José Flores, who had organized the army of the south, was glad to place himself under Sucre, to whom he was united by close friendship and mutual respect.

Sucre's proclamation to his soldiers ends with these words:

"A new victory will add very little to the glory of your history, to the brilliancy of your name; but it is necessary to obtain it in order not to stain the luster of your arms . . . Soldiers: Boyacá, Pichincha, Carabobo, Junín" . . . (he added a list of the victories obtained by the independents, ending with Ayacucho) . . . "one hundred battlefields and three Republics redeemed by your valor and triumphal march from the Orinoco to the Potosí remind you at this moment of your duty toward your country, toward your glory and toward Bolívar."

This proclamation was signed in Cuenca on January 28, 1829. Sucre had been at home only from September 30, 1828, to the latter part of January, 1829.

The commander of the Peruvian army was general La Mar, President of Peru, the old comrade of  p190 Sucre. With him was General Gamarra, and among the highest Peruvian officers were many who had fought with Sucre at Ayacucho. This conflict, although between Colombians and Peruvians, was in reality but a civil war, for they were all brothers; they had been redeemed by the same genius and by the same great general, and it was disheartening to the soul of Sucre to take part in such a battle. While at Tarqui he still tried to obtain a peaceful solution, but the Peruvian generals were intent on obtaining a victory with their great force over the small army under Sucre and Flores.

The battle lasted only half an hour, at the end of which La Mar and Gamarra were in full flight and fifteen hundred of their men were dead on the field. Sucre offered a capitulation which was accepted. La Mar and Gamarra returned to Peru with twenty-five hundred of their eight thousand men. Upon La Mar's arrival at Lima the people rebelled and deposed him. He went into exile and later died in Central America. Thus, through their own faults or the ingratitude of the people, elimination of the heroes began.

The Colombian seacoast had been blockaded by Peruvian warships. Peruvians landed in various places, including Guayaquil, and outrages were committed, but at last the flagship was sunk and the commander of the fleet, Martin George Guise, was killed. After Cochrane, he was the most distinguished  p191 naval commander of South America. Thus another hero left the shifting scene.

The Government of Peru entered into a final treaty of peace with Colombia and in that treaty the principle of arbitration was acknowledged by a stipulation that all differences should be adjudicated by the Government of the United States of America.

The campaign of Tarqui was General Sucre's last military enterprise. In his proclamation to the army, issued on that field, March 2, 1829, he said:

"Soldiers, an honorable peace or a splendid victory was necessary for national dignity and the repose of the people of the south . . . As generous as you are brave, you have sealed your victory by granting to the conquered the friendship of brothers . . .

"In all circumstances, despite any danger, place yourself on the side of Government and the law. Keep the enthusiasm and discipline that distinguish you. Place on your bayonets the standard of union and you will insure the substantial good which you have procured for your country at the price of suffering and blood."

Back in Cuenca he wrote Bolívar:

"I took command of the South because of the danger, but since danger has passed I do not want such a command for anything. If you esteem me and wish my small services and those rendered at Tarqui to be rewarded, the best reward for me will be to relieve me of command  p192 and public positions. I am tired; invincible repugnance leads me far away from any employment. With such repugnance nothing can be done well."

Then he went home. On July 10, 1829, a daughter was born to him. She was named Theresa, and General Flores was her godfather. She was Sucre's only child.

It is easy to understand Sucre's state of mind and his strong desire to keep away from public life. Everybody wanted everything for himself. Bolívar could not meet the situation. His best friends abandoned him. Córdoba, the dashing young general, rebelled and died on the field of battle, with a smile on his lips, the heroic, light-hearted youth who was like a thunderbolt at Pichincha and Ayacucho. There was not a man to trust. Only Sucre was constant, a warning when danger approached, good advice in time of need, a cheerful word for cheerless moments, a strong support and a loyal critic.

Among those who contributed to embitter the life of Bolívar and Sucre was General José María Obando, who had served the royalists and the independents, and had finally taken sides with La Mar. When Bolívar advanced toward Guayaquil on the occasion of the war with Peru, he learned that Obando had risen in arms in Popayán. He accepted the amnesty offered by Bolívar and accompanied him to Guayaquil. From there he went to Peru,  p193 where he exercised a certain influence among the restless natives. We shall have to mention him again very soon.a

Almost all the towns of the country saw the necessity that Bolívar should be made a dictator. Bolívar accepted, later calling for the Constituent Congress to meet in Bogotá in 1830. Sucre was elected to represent Cumaná or Quito; we have not be able to ascertain which. So in November, 1829, he went to Bogotá to take his place in the Congress. He was so poor that he could hardly undertake the trip.

"I am not ashamed of saying," he wrote Bolívar on October 9th, "that there are days when I am penniless. I live through God's mercy and perhaps through my wife's mercy."

He was received at Bogotá with delirious enthusiasm.

Bolívar resigned his dictatorship before this Congress, first asking the people to support the decisions of their representatives.

Several principles were submitted for the best government of Colombia. Some wanted the country divided; some wanted an alternating government, and others wanted a central government for life, while some even proposed the establishment of a monarchy under a foreign prince. Sucre had learned much of the character of the people with whom he had to deal and had acquired that sad  p194 skepticism which has been the patrimony of many Latin American statesmen. He wanted a strong government under which property and civil rights would be perfectly protected. The general tendency, however, was that of a division of Colombia into its three principal components. Each of the sections had its own leader: Páez in Venezuela, Santander in Nueva Granada, and Flores in Ecuador.

Sucre at first opposed this tendency for division. General opinion was against him. Only a strong dictatorship would maintain unity, but Bolívar did not want to use his personal prestige any longer in this undertaking. Sucre offered his personal services provided that Colombia remained united and the army be used simply to support the law, and under strict discipline. The various liberators wanted to make use of the emancipated countries for their own ends, thus justifying the saying of one historian:

"Liberty can never exist while there are still liberators."

Sucre, by his declarations, lost the good will of the army and became the center of hatred of all those who opposed Colombia and the genial conception of unity born in Bolívar's mind.

Later, in May, 1830, while he was in Popayán on his way back to Quito, Sucre declared that Colombia could not last long unless organized as a confederacy,  p195 but he wanted smaller states than the three large ones of Colombia, so as to prevent great power in any one of the federated units. He also declared that separation should be effected by means of a resolution of the Colombian assembly and not as the result of violence.

The Congress met on January 20, 1830. Sucre was elected its President. Shortly afterwards a revolution broke out in Venezuela with the declaration that the union with Nueva Granada was dissolved. Congress insisted upon maintaining Colombian unity and a commission was appointed to go to Venezuela and acquaint the Venezuelans with the bases of the new constitution, and offer amnesty to all rebels. Sucre was accompanied by the Bishop of Santa Marta. He had no faith in the success of his mission and said so clearly before leaving. He could not even reach his destination. The Venezuelans detained him with orders not to proceed nor to deliver the documents he had.

Fearing that his appointment as delegate might militate against his success with Páez, Sucre asked to be relieved, but not obtaining this, he proceeded with his duties. From the end of March to the end of April, when the discord was getting worse day by day in Bogotá as well as in other sections of Nueva Granada and Venezuela, he remained in Cúcuta. General Mariño, sent by Páez to confer with him, arrived in Cúcuta on April 17th. Sucre directed his negotiations with the purpose of depriving  p196 the military men of political power. On April 15th he had written the following to Bolívar:

"Aranda has told me that you are firmly resolved to surrender power. Because of this, and knowing that the commissioners want Congress to accept your resignation, I suggest that, when the subject is broached, you submit the proposal that neither you nor any commanding general be eligible for the Presidency or Vice Presidency of the Republic or of any of the States (if a confederacy is formed), at least during the first period of the establishment of the Constitution, since the misuse of military power has produced such dissension and distrust that some such step is necessary. If this is obtained, we shall get rid of some dangerous men, for there are many generals among those who are stirring up Venezuela. Moreover, if this is obtained, it will be seen that neither you nor I want anything, since in Caracas they think I am very close to you."

Sucre's final address to Mariño in the conferences reflects great serenity and a spirit of self sacrifice.

Although he had been away from Colombia for six years, he understood that the public sufferings did not come from what was called the despotism of the Liberator — since the same or even greater complaints were made during the preceding administration and in almost every period — but they resulted from the revolution itself and from the despotism of a military aristocracy which  p197 had seized power everywhere and had made citizens suffer through an absolute neglect of guarantees or rights. This abuse had been so bold that not even the tremendous power of a dictatorship had been able to curb it. With the purpose of correcting the situation, and in order to facilitate the complete reëstablishment of rights and guarantees, he presented to the commissioners of Venezuela the following proposition, so that, if they deemed it acceptable, they would engage to support it there, as he (Sucre) would support it in the Congress of Colombia:

"Some military leaders have become dangerous through an abuse of their influence and power; some have violated the law, and others are accused of intentions to change the form of Government. It is prohibited, therefore, for a term of no less than four years, that any general in command, or any other general who held high positions in the republic from the year 1820 to 1830, become President or Vice President of the Republic, or of any State in case a confederacy is established; it being understood that 'high positions' means the positions of President or Vice President, Ministers in the Cabinet or superior officials" (as Governors of the Departments).

Mariño did not accept this suggestion and even considered it offensive to Páez. In a letter written to Bolívar on 20th, Sucre writes:

 p198  "I am sure that my proposition is going to produce enemies for me, and they are going to attack its fiercely, considering it a scheme planned in agreement with you, as they have already said; but I have done my duty to my conscience as a patriot and as a friend."

Once the failure of the conference was obvious he decided to return to Quito. Having lost faith in the men about him, in a letter to his wife he says:

"I shall leave everything for two main reasons: first, to please you; and second, to escape any public career. I only want to live with you in peace. Nothing will make me abandon this purpose."

In Bogotá the people were very much in favor of making him President of Colombia, and his enemies were intriguing against him in the Congress, and even planning to do away with him altogether. They introduced a law providing that no person under forty years of age could be President. He received with contempt the news of this attack which was so much in accord with his own desire. The election of President and Vice President took place, and he left Bogotá for Quito.

Thayer's Note:

a pp200‑203.

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Page updated: 21 Dec 17