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Chapter 15

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 17

p199 Chapter XVI

The Death of Abel.

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.

Rumors had told Sucre that plans were being made against his life. He paid no attention to them and proceeded to Popayán. In Popayán his friends were very much alarmed because of suspicious movements, and advised him to go to the port of Buenaventura and from there to Guayaquil by sea. He did not heed their advice and declined an escort offered him in another place. In Patía some friends asked him to wait until they could make ready to accompany him. He refused to delay and proceeded to the south in the company of the representative from Cuenca and two orderlies.

On the 2nd of June he stopped at the house of an old royalist named José Erazo, who had a very bad reputation. On the 3rd he arrived at a place called Ventaquemada and there he again found Erazo, who had arrived first by means of short cuts. With him was another man known to be a regular bandit and murderer, named Juan Gregorio Zarría. The place was very lonely. Sucre had the feeling of impending danger and instructed his orderlies to watch the whole night. At eight o'clock on the morning of the 4th he started again, and entered a forest, close to a mountain called Berruecos, forty miles north of Pasto. He had not gone two miles  p200 when a shot was heard, and then three more. A bullet pierced his heart and two entered his head. He fell dead in a marsh.

The body was left in the mud until the following day, when the orderlies and some travelers and humble men of the neighborhood took it to a meadow, where they dug his grave, enveloped him in his cloak, and buried him. They left no other monument than a cross made of tree limbs to mark the grave of the man who had been gloriously victorious at Pichincha and Ayacucho; who had been a great statesman, generous in his treatment of his enemies; the man who had been the most loyal to the Liberator, who had given freedom to Ecuador and Peru, had brought the wars of American independence to a successful end, had founded Bolivia, and had always championed the cause of democracy.

His body remained buried there one day. On June 6th it was exhumed for examination of a surgeon by command of general José María Obando, the commander of the troops in Pasto, whom public opinion considered the real author of the crime, those who actually did the shooting having been his hirelings.

After the examination the remains were reinterred and left there until 1833, when they were taken to Quito and deposited in a church in a tomb belonging to his wife's family. For many years Venezuela has been endeavoring to obtain the remains  p201 in order to place them in the Pantheon at Caracas.

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Sucre's Tomb
in the Cathedral of Quito

Belated justice was administered in 1842, twelve years after the crime was committed. One of the actual criminals, named Apolinar Morillo, promoted after the crime from captain to colonel, was tried and sentenced to death. Erazo spent his remaining days in prison and the others suffered in various ways. Only Obando escaped from the grasp of man's justice, because he rebelled and went to Peru. He wrote a book accusing General Juan José Flores of the crime, but a son of the latter refuted the charge. Political fortunes made Obando President of Nueva Granada. Overthrown, he was imprisoned, and Captain Antonio José de Sucre y Alcalá, nephew and namesake of the great hero, was placed in command of the guard. He resigned. Afterwards he established a school and became a priest. In 1861 he was appointed chaplain of the Government's army. In a battle Obando fell mortally wounded, and Father Sucre said the last prayers over the dying murderer of the Great Marshal of Ayacucho.

We must at least record that the accusation against Obando was never fully proved. The fact is that Sucre had to die, as Bolívar would have had to die had he not been already on the verge of death. He had been the object of conspiracies and had been the center of general hatred, and so was Sucre. But Bolívar's life was on the wane. He himself realized that very soon he would find rest through the inexorable work of nature.

 p202  But Sucre was entirely different. He was in the flower of manhood, thirty-five years of age, attractive, popular with the soldiers, strong in his convictions, full of personal magnetism. He was a born leader and the real heir of Bolívar's conception of Colombian unity and life. At any time this strong man might become the center about whom the elements of order and the partisans of law might congregate to crush the self-seeking men as well as the honestly mistaken men who were aspiring to power. For the enemies of Sucre and Bolívar were not all of the same caliber. Some sought to foster their personal ambitions and others deemed their plans to be the best things for their respective sections. Venezuela had Páez, and no one will ever deny the great work of this general and his plainsmen. Without him the work of independence would have been much more difficult, if not impossible. Nueva Granada had Santander, and no one can deny his great work, his love for his country, and his excellent organization of the nation which later bore the name of Colombia, though it only comprised a third of Bolívar's dream. Ecuador had Flores, a brave and distinguished general, whose patriotism was beyond dispute and who, though a Venezuelan by birth, was identified with the interests and life of the Republic of the Equator. But the great Colombia, the union of the three, had Bolívar; and Bolívar had Sucre. And Sucre was above Páez, Santander,  p203 and Flores. Sucre's place in the hearts of the true Colombians was second only to Bolívar's. Bolívar was almost gone; but Sucre was still there.

Personal ambitions, discord, selfishness, misguided patriotism, and the curse of Latin America: the large number of men who consider that they alone are essential to happiness of their country — these were Sucre's murderers.

In Bogotá meetings had been held at which the assassination of Sucre was openly discussed and planned, and a paper called "El Demócrata" published on June 1, 1830, the following words: "Perhaps Obando will do to Sucre what we failed to do to Bolívar." That was three days before the murder.

Civil Wars had started in South America, and have continued intermittently down to the present day. The worst crime, to men out of power, is the success of the men in power in the work of developing the resources of their country and giving it peace and happiness. Liberty has been a pretext for the gratification of ambitions. Very often, after the removal of a so‑called tyrant, there is much regret for the lost happiness that he was able to give. Sucre knew that the greatest problem of Latin America was not of a political character. It was to be economic, social, cultural. Political life, when it expresses social conditions, is stable and beneficial; but when political institutions are established as an origin and a foundation, and society is required to shape itself in accord with these institutions, then failure  p204 and chaos are certain. To the neglect of this principle, and the establishment of sham democracies, are due the perpetuation of trouble and the slow development of many of the Latin American countries.

Sucre's loyalty to Bolívar lasted even longer than his life. In his will he bequeathed to him the sword of honor given him by Colombia as a reward for the battle of Ayacucho.

When Bolívar was informed of the assassination of his friend he exclaimed, "Merciful God, they have killed Abel!" This sorrow hastened his death. That year had not passed before Bolívar joined his lieutenant and friend in the mansion of heroes.

Shortly after the crime, Bolívar wrote a letter to General Flores warning him that he might suffer the same fate. Referring to the murder, he wrote:

"This news has produced such an impression upon my spirit that I am disturbed to the point of judging it impossible to live in a country where they murder cruelly and barbarously their most illustrious generals, those who have given freedom to America . . . I fear for all the illustrious men capable of redeeming the country. The immaculate Sucre could not escape the snares of the monsters. I cannot imagine what motive that general could have given that they should have attempted his life, since he has been more liberal and generous than all heroes on record . . . I think that the object of this crime was to deprive the country of a successor for myself, and to leave the south  p205 alone in the struggle, so that all blows and assaults may be directed against you alone . . . I have ardently desired to contribute to domestic peace by every means possible, but when I see that the most sublime, unselfish and purest innocence is not enough to prevent the benefactor from dying as a tyrant, I decide not to serve such a criminal country, such ungrateful and hateful men."

An army went south to protect the region where the crime was committed, and the Liberator wrote Flores:

"Let us avenge Sucre, let vengeance be exercised for Colombia, who possessed him; for the world, which admired him; for the glory of the army and for humankind, insulted through the most innocent of men . . . The most renowned liberals of Europe have written that Sucre's death is the blackest and most indelible blot on the history of the New World and that such a thing has not happened in the Old World for many centuries. It is up to you to efface the hateful stain."

Thus the story of treachery and blood started in Latin America.

The list of victims is too long. The liberators disappeared. Other men have come and gone, but the lesson taught by the lives of them all is not yet completely learned. It is a lesson of complete devotion to country and complete renunciation of personal ambition.

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Page updated: 21 Dec 17