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Bolivia’s Independence

Bolivian Independence

Bolivian Independence. From August 12 to December 29, 1825, Simon Bolivar led Bolivia on the path to democracy and independence.

Bolivian Independence, achieved after centuries of Spanish colonial rule, was a process that spanned more than 15 years, from 1809 to 1825, and involved numerous battles and countless deaths. The struggle for independence started locally and later Simon Bolivar and Antonio Jose de Sucre gave cohesiveness to fragmented and unorganized cause. Ultimately, this new and independent country, Bolivia, would get its name from the Simon Bolivar, the military and political leader that changed the course of Colonial South America.

Bolivia during the 18th century was known as Upper Peru and as was an autonomous region dependant on the Viceroyalty of Peru. Local government was the responsibility of the Royal Audience directed by a President. This Audience was known as the Audiencia de Charcas. As was the case in other places, the Spanish overseers were widely ignorant of the situation of the people and considered themselves superior to the indigenous people. It was not uncommon for these Oidores to make the people bow to them.

In 1776 a reorganization of territories was ordered by Spain and Upper Peru joined the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata against the wishes of the Viceroyalty of Peru—which would stand to lose valuable natural resources and the money that would come with them. This would bitterly divide the relationship between these two regions. Further dividing the bases of power was the implementation of the intendancy system that subdivided the power of Viceroy and created internal power struggles between Intendants and Viceroys.

The South American Independence

At the start of the 19th century a perfecto storm of circumstances came together to fan the flames of independence in South America. In 1807, Napoleon invaded Spain in a quest to increase his empire. This created an enormous vacuum of power and oversight in South America permitting the independence movements to begin their fight in earnest while the Spanish Monarchy was distracted with its own problems back home.

The first wave of nationalist uprisings in Bolivia occurred in 1809, when the government juntas of Charcas and La Paz were formed as a reaction to the events in Spain—the chaotic, almost anarchic, situation in Spain was duplicating itself in Bolivia. The junta in Charcas was created by the removal of the President, Ramon Garcia Leon de Pizarro, by the Audience because the Spanish Oidores suspected him of wanting to join with Portugal. The representatives of the Monarchy decided to convert Upper Peru into a junta that would remain loyal to Spain in spirit while isolating itself politically from the other surrounding regions including the Viceroyalty of Peru. In La Paz, the junta there was an effort to break free from Spanish rule altogether and wanting complete independence from any European power. These juntas ended up being short lived, however, and soon fell back under Spanish control thanks to the intervention of the Viceroy of Peru and the better equipped Royalists easily defeated the nationalists, who were lacking in money, resources and military experience.

The defeat of the juntas did not mark the end of the independence movement; they constituted an important part of the history of Bolivia. The juntas were able to promote and encourage the independence movement which was kept alive by a six guerrilla armies that formed away from the cities and took control of various regions of Bolivia. In 1810, these six breakaway regions would come to be known as republiquetas (little republics) and  each were headed by a caudillo (military leader or dictator). These regions had little or no influence in the surrounding areas but were strong enough to withstand any interference by the royalist forces for more than 15 years.

Simon Bolivar

With the American war of independence still fresh in the mind of the world; especially in South America which was subject to Colonial Spanish rule, people began to question the legitimacy of colonial occupation. In 1807, a South American aristocrat and liberal thinker had just returned from his travels in Europe. In Venezuela, this man, Simon Bolivar was beginning a revolution of South American independence from Spain. His struggle would take him all over South America and his cause gained followers every day that passed. After having liberated Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, Bolivar was now close to liberating Peru in 1821.

In Upper Peru, following 1817, there was relative calm with the power of the caudillos and the Viceroy of Peru reaching a point of equilibrium. In 1820 this equilibrium was broken with the conservative general, Pedro Antonio de Olañeta, refusing to recognize the Spanish Constitution of 1812 and breaking away from the Viceroyalty of Peru. He also refused to join the rebel armies of Bolivar that were beginning to approach Upper Peru as he considered himself “the only defender of the throne and altar” in the region. With the fall of Peru to Bolivar the next he set his sights on was Upper Peru. In the latter half of 1823 the forces of Bolivar crossed Bolivia and on December 9, 1824 the rebel forces under the command of Antonio Jose de Sucre defeated the royalist army in the Battle of Ayacucho.

The remaining royalist forces were easily defeated at El Callao but there remained one last military obstacle: General Olañeta. As the last holdout, he attempted to surrender Upper Peru to Brazil in a last ditch effort to maintain Spanish control in the area but to no avail. In one final battle on April 9, 1825 Olañeta and Sucre met on the battlefield. Olañeta’s troops now knowing that defeat would be their destiny murdered Olañeta on the battlefield and surrendered to the rebel army. Spain’s last outpost in South America was now lost forever.

A constitutional congress was summoned and on August 6, 1825 to create a new Magna Carta as well as name this new independent country Bolivia in honor of the aristocrat turned liberator, Simon Bolivar. From August 12 to December 29, 1825, Bolivar led Bolivia on the path to democracy and independence and after he stepped down fellow war hero, Antonio Jose de Sucre, would continue in the presidency.

Today, Bolivia’s Independence Day is now celebrated every year on 6th August. Celebrations are held throughout the country and it is a common sight to see schoolchildren parading through the streets in their school uniforms while proudly carrying the Bolivian flag.