History of Peru

INDEPENDENCE IMPOSED FROM WITHOUT, 1808-24

Despite the Túpac Amaru revolts, independence was slow to develop in the Viceroyalty of Peru. For one thing, Peru was a conservative, royalist stronghold where the potentially restless creole elites maintained a relatively privileged, if dependent, position in the old colonial system. At the same time, the "anti-white" manifestations of the Túpac Amaru revolt demonstrated that the indigenous masses could not easily be mobilized without posing a threat to the creole caste itself. Thus, when independence finally did come in 1824, it was largely a foreign imposition rather than a truly popular, indigenous, and nationalist movement. As historian David P. Werlich has aptly put it, "Peru's role in the drama of Latin American independence was largely that of an interested spectator until the final act."

What the spectator witnessed prior to 1820 was a civil war in the Americas that pitted dissident creole elites in favor of independence against royalists loyal to the crown and the old colonial order. The movement had erupted in reaction to Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Spain in 1808, which deposed Ferdinand VII and placed a usurper, Joseph Bonaparte, on the Spanish throne. In America this raised the question of the very political legitimacy of the colonial government. When juntas arose in favor of the captive Ferdinand in various South American capitals (except in Peru) the following year, even though of relatively short duration, they touched off a process toward eventual separation that ebbed and flowed throughout the continent over the next fifteen years. This process developed its greatest momentum at the periphery of Spanish power in South America--in what became Venezuela and Colombia in the north and the Río de la Plata region, particularly Argentina, in the south.

Not until both movements converged in Peru during the latter phases of the revolt, specifically the 4,500-man expeditionary force led by General José de San Martín that landed in Pisco in September 1820, was Spanish control of Peru seriously threatened. San Martín, the son of a Spanish army officer stationed in Argentina, had originally served in the Spanish army but returned to his native Argentina to join the rebellion. Once Argentine independence was achieved in 1814, San Martín conceived of the idea of liberating Peru by way of Chile. As commander of the 5,500-man Army of the Andes, half of which was composed of former black slaves, San Martín, in a spectacular military operation, crossed the Andes and liberated Chile in 1817. Three years later, his somewhat smaller army left Valparaíso for Peru in a fleet commanded by a former British admiral, Thomas Alexander Cochrane (Lord Dundonald).

Although some isolated stirrings for independence had manifested themselves earlier in Peru, San Martín's invasion persuaded the conservative creole intendant of Trujillo, José Bernardo de Tagle y Portocarrero, that Peru's liberation was at hand and that he should proclaim independence. It was symptomatic of the conservative nature of the viceroyalty that the internal forces now declaring for independence were led by a leading creole aristocrat, the fourth marquis of Torre Tagle, whose monarchist sympathies for any future political order coincided with those of the Argentine liberator.

The defeat of the last bastion of royal power on the continent, however, proved a slow and arduous task. Although a number of other coastal cities quickly embraced the liberating army, San Martín was able to take Lima in July 1821 only when the viceroy decided to withdraw his considerable force to the Sierra, where he believed he could better make a stand. Shortly thereafter, on July 28, 1821, San Martín proclaimed Peru independent and then was named protector by an assembly of notables. However, a number of problems, not the least of which was a growing Peruvian resentment over the heavy-handed rule of the foreigner they dubbed "King José," stalled the campaign to defeat the royalists. As a result, San Martín decided to seek aid from Simón Bolívar Palacios, who had liberated much of northern South America from Spanish power.

The two liberators met in a historic meeting in Guayaquil in mid-1822 to arrange the terms of a joint effort to complete the liberation of Peru. Bolívar refused to agree to a shared partnership in the Peruvian campaign, however, so a frustrated San Martín chose to resign his command and leave Peru for Chile and eventual exile in France. With significant help from San Martín's forces, Bolívar then proceeded to invade Peru, where he won the Battle of Junín in August 1824. But it remained for his trusted lieutenant, thirty-one-year-old General Antonio José de Sucre Alcalá, to complete the task of Peruvian independence by defeating royalist forces at the hacienda of Ayacucho near Huamanga (a city later renamed Ayacucho) on December 9, 1824. This battle in the remote southern highlands effectively ended the long era of Spanish colonial rule in South America.

Peru History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress