Independence from Spain, 1809-39

Independence from Spain, 1809-39

The invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1807-08 by Napoleón's forces proved critical to the independence struggle in South America. The overthrow of the Bourbon Dynasty and the placement of Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne tested the loyalty of the local elites in Upper Peru, who were suddenly confronted with several conflicting authorities. Most remained loyal to Spain. Taking a wait-and-see attitude, they supported the Junta Central (Central Junta) in Spain, a government in the name of the abdicated Ferdinand VII. Some liberals eagerly welcomed the reforms of colonial rule promised by Joseph Bonaparte. Others supported the claims of Carlota, Ferdinand's sister, who governed Brazil with her husband, Prince Regent John of Portugal. Finally, a number of radical criollos wanted independence for Upper Peru.

This conflict of authority resulted in a local power struggle in Upper Peru between 1808 and 1810 and constituted the first phase of the efforts to achieve independence. In 1808 the president of the audiencia, Ramón García León de Pizarro, demanded affiliation with the Junta Central. The conservative judges of the audiencia were influenced, however, by their autocratic royalist philosophy and refused to recognize the authority of the junta because they saw it as a product of a popular rebellion. On May 25, 1809, tensions grew when radical criollos, also refusing to recognize the junta because they wanted independence, took to the streets. This revolt, one of the first in Latin America, was soon put down by the authorities.

On July 16, 1809, Pedro Domingo Murillo led another revolt by criollos and mestizos (those of mixed European and Indian ancestry) in La Paz and proclaimed an independent state in Upper Peru in the name of Ferdinand VII. The loyalty to Ferdinand was a pretense used to legitimize the independence movement. By November 1809, Cochabamba, Oruro, and Potosí had joined Murillo. Although the revolt was put down by royalist forces sent to La Paz by the viceroy of Peru and to Chuquisaca by the viceroy of Río de La Plata, Upper Peru was never again completely controlled by Spain.

During the following seven years, Upper Peru became the battleground for forces of the independent Argentine Republic and royalist troops from Peru. Although the royalists repulsed four Argentine invasions, guerrillas controlled most of the countryside, where they formed six major republiquetas, or zones of insurrection. In these zones, local patriotism would eventually develop into the fight for independence.

By 1817 Upper Peru was relatively quiet and under the control of Lima. After 1820 the Conservative Party criollos supported General Pedro Antonio de Olañeta, a Charcas native, who refused to accept the measures by the Spanish Cortes (legislature) to conciliate the colonies after the Liberal Party revolution in Spain. Olañeta, convinced that these measures threatened royal authority, refused to join the royalist forces or the rebel armies under the command of Simón Bolívar Palacio and Antonio José de Sucre Alcalá. Olañeta did not relinquish his command even after the Peruvian royalists included him and his forces in the capitulation agreement following their defeat in the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824, the final battle of the wars of independence in Latin America. Olañeta continued a quixotic war until Sucre's forces defeated his forces, and he was killed by his own men on April 1, 1825, in a battle that effectively ended Spanish rule in Upper Peru.

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