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Born in La Paz in 1792, Andrés de Santa Cruz lived through the turbulent times that led to independence across Latin America. He fought to shape the newly established republics, and between 1836 and 1839 he created the Peru-Bolivia Confederation. The epitome of an Andean caudillo, with armed forces at the center of his ideas of governance, he was a state builder whose ambition ensured a strong and well-administered country. But the ultimate failure of the Confederation had long-reaching consequences that still have an impact today. The story of his life introduces students to broader questions of nationality and identity during this turbulent transition from Spanish colonial rule to the founding of Peru and Bolivia.
The Confederate wars that raged between 1836 and 1839 mirrored, in many ways, the wars of independence. The close relationship between the south of Peru and the north of Bolivia remained the driving force for the union and was an extremely difficult area to penetrate either from the coast or from the south. In the 1830s – just as they had done two decades earlier – the men from the southern plains of what had become Argentina made an effort to reach these high valleys, and those attempting to do so by sea tried to take the coast of Arequipa. Also as before neither of these strategies was successful. The natural barriers – the deserts and high mountains – made access close to impossible, and the general support for the cause among the local populations made the core of the Confederation impregnable.
This chapter explores how once again, replaying a conflict already experienced, success was found by attacking Lima and establishing a strong military force in the northern Andes. Lima was an easy target and could not be defended, whereas the northern Andes provided a peaceful and relatively wealthy place from which to prepare for the campaign. This chapter examines how, even though the Confederate army was the better prepared, it was ultimately defeated. Santa Cruz had endeavored to retain its loyalty by paying his troops fairly. He was good at providing his men with food and clothing and he had developed a dedicated following among troops and officers.
The union of Peru and Bolivia had been a long-held desire for many people with divided loyalties, such as Santa Cruz. Since independence, there had been a vocal constituency advocating both federation and political union. The southern provinces, separated by the creation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776, were reunited between 1810 and 1825 when the armies raised in southern Peru intervened to prevent the Junta of Buenos Aires from taking control of the Audiencia of Charcas. In colonial times they had belonged to different administrative entities for only thirty-four years. During the wars of independence, they were brought back together for fifteen years, and when the Confederation came into being, only a decade had elapsed since they had become separate republics. For many, the union of Peru and Bolivia was no more than a return to a comfortable status quo ante. Arequipa, Cuzco, Tacna, Puno, and La Paz remained the provinces historically most committed to the union, whereas those who had opposed it continued to view it with distrust. This chapter explores the process by which the Confederation came into being as well as the sources of its support. It also examines the difficulties the Confederation encountered and seeks to understand the opposition to it.
The union was never universally popular, but in spite of this Santa Cruz was able to silence the opposition in Bolivia and obtain the support he needed.
One of the most difficult issues to resolve after independence was that of identity. The problem was particularly acute in border areas, and individuals who felt ties to more than one new republic found it most challenging. This was the case for Santa Cruz. He had tried to remain linked to Peruvian politics, but eventually had to come to terms with being limited in what he could do politically in Peru, because his enemies had successfully portrayed him as a foreigner. Although he accepted the presidency of Bolivia and took to it with all his energy and determination, he was still convinced that it was possible and advantageous to unite Peru and Bolivia in a federation. Santa Cruz was not alone, and indeed there were many important links between these territories that made a union possible to imagine. Many people in southern Peru and northern Bolivia were convinced that they belonged together. Santa Cruz was persuaded that the union would become a reality only if Bolivia became strong. So he dedicated all his energy to consolidating his country and to strengthening the economy and the army. He believed that if he was able to end political wrangling and have the backing of an organized military, he would be able to convince Peruvians to join a mutually beneficial federation. Peru, on the other hand, was marred by instability, because Santa Cruz's ability as an administrator was matched by Gamarra's inability to maintain control in Peru.
With the defeat of the royalist forces in Peru, the wars of independence in continental Spanish America were nearly over. Only the Upper Peruvian provinces remained in the hands of men who continued to recognize the king in Spain as the legitimate authority. The area that, as early as 1809, declared it did not want to be under the control of Buenos Aires or Lima and had sought to establish autonomous Juntas in Chuquisaca and La Paz was still in 1825 asserting its desire to be independent from the two former viceregal capitals. Although both were the centers of new independent republics, the provinces of the Audiencia of Charcas still wanted to remain separate from them. One way to achieve this was to maintain their links to the peninsula.
This chapter begins by looking at the process by which Bolivia came into being and the role Colombians, who were outsiders, played in finding a solution. The situation was so complicated that even they had different views on whether to create a new republic or not. Sucre and Bolívar did not agree on how to decide the future of these territories. There were two main principles used to settle this issue. Sucre favored “free determination of the people” – giving local populations the right to choose – whereas Bolívar was inclined toward uti possidetis, the principle under which viceregal boundaries were to be respected.
Andrés de Santa Cruz y Calahumana was born in the city of La Paz in the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata in 1792 at the very end of the colonial period, when the Andes were still firmly under the control of the Spanish monarchy. He grew up in the aftermath of the greatest indigenous rebellion seen in 300 years and lived through the convulsed times that led to independence. Santa Cruz was an important participant during this time of change. He had the opportunity to lead and fought to shape the newly established republics in the Andes.
This is the story of a man, but it is also the story of a time and a place. Indeed, this life story is an entry point into the world in which this particular man lived. It is much more the story of the place he inhabited than a tale of the man as an individual. It does not attempt to reconstruct his personal life in detail; rather, it focuses on the politics of his time and the part he played in the process by which the countries we now know as Peru and Bolivia came into being.
Santa Cruz is often overlooked in history books when the wars of independence and the early national periods are studied because little attention is paid to the complicated events that took place in this region.
Santa Cruz abandoned the royalists and became an important member of the forces that fought for independence. These were heterogeneous, comprising men from places as diverse as the provinces of Buenos Aires, Chile, and northern and central Peru. Among those fighting were many slaves, from both the River Plate and coastal Peru. They had been granted freedom in exchange for joining the army. This chapter explores the new experiences of warfare Santa Cruz gained. These were quite different from what he had seen in the Andes and became even more diverse when he came into contact with the men from northern South America. In the campaign to liberate Quito, he met many who became long-lasting friends and allies. His previous experience of war under the banner of the king stood him in good stead, and in the context of war, he progressed rapidly through the ranks.
During this second act in his military career, he came in contact with Simón Bolívar, the most prominent South American liberator. An extremely charismatic and successful hero and political thinker, Bolívar exerted a lasting influence on Santa Cruz: he became a “bolivarian,” one of the Liberator's closest associates, who, long after his death, endeavored to keep his legacy alive. Under the guidance of Bolívar, Santa Cruz had the opportunity to fight for independence and was responsible for training troops and commanding them successfully in battle. Like his previous experience in Upper Peru, this was formative and influential during his later career.
The failure of the Confederation had far-reaching consequences that continue to be relevant today. The fight for the control of the port of Arica, as well as of the cities of Tacna and Tarapacá, has been at the center of the difficult relationship among Bolivia, Peru, and Chile that emerged in the western part of South America at the end of the colonial period. These republics have all laid claim to this area, and even today the control of Arica remains an issue of contention, discussed in bilateral and multilateral meetings of presidents and ministers. The vision that Santa Cruz put forward of joining Bolivia and Peru in a confederation was for him, and for many of the people of this region, the ideal option that would have allowed the people from the Altiplano access to the most suitable port. His failure, caused in no small measure by the intransigent opposition of Chile, and parts of Peru left the issue to simmer for decades, only to resurface when natural resources made the area ever more desirable. After the defeat of the Confederation, Chile had been content with the assurance that Bolivia and Peru would never be united politically. With time, as Chile's economic interests in the region grew, this changed, and their desire for control of the area increased.
Andrés de Santa Cruz was born at the end of the colonial period and was part of the generation that lived the transition from being subjects of the Spanish monarchy to becoming citizens in the republican era. To understand the process by which these new countries were created, it is necessary to be aware of the realities that shaped the worldview of men such as Santa Cruz. His childhood was spent in the high Andean region of La Paz and Cuzco and was deeply affected by the Indian rebellions that took place just ten years before his birth. Both his father and grandfather had been involved directly in the fight against the rebels and had suffered from their involvement in the conflict. The world he grew up in was still coming to terms with this legacy of insurrection when another external shock, the taking of the Spanish Peninsula by Napoleon, threw the region once again into disarray. It was in this context that Santa Cruz joined the army at seventeen and fought for a decade to defend the rights of the king in La Paz and later against the troops sent in from Buenos Aires. In 1809, he had his first experience of war, and he was exposed to the realities of fighting in the Andean region. It was also in this context that he grew familiar with the regional sentiment that made people from Arequipa, Cuzco, Puno, Arica, and Tacna fight so decisively to maintain their links to the Altiplano, La Paz, and Potosí.