Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Wars of Independence: New Overviews and Underviews (Reviews of books by Fletcher, McFarlane and Paez Victor)

In 2013, as in previous years, lots of new books and articles continued to be published on the subject of the wars of independence in Spanish America, as the wave of interest in the history of the period catalysed by the first bicentennial celebrations left its mark. In this post I want to draw your attention to three completely different books on the subject published in English in 2013.

They are John Fletcher's The Wars of Spanish American Independence 1809-29 (Osprey Publishing), Maria Paez Victor's Liberty or Death! The Life and Campaigns of Richard L. Vowell, British Legionnaire and Commander - Hero and Patriot of the Americas (Tattered Flag) and Anthony McFarlane's War and Independence in Spanish America (Routledge).

John Fletcher's The Wars of Spanish American Independence 1809-29 (Osprey Publishing) is a lavishly illustrated and splendidly presented concise (96 pages) overview of the wars, aimed at the reader who has been bewildered by the complexity of the subject and its intricate regional variations and chronological overlaps. Each period of the wars is broken down and described region by region, with clear attempts to introduce the protagonists. The author has written gamers-guides on the conflict before and this book provides the historical background and context to complement them. The book is built around narratives of the military campaigning, providing some clear maps of the progression from battle to battle, and accessible introductions to the military strategies adopted. These are the strongest sections of the book; but the political summaries are succinct and useful as well, especially for a reader new to the subject. Historians who are well versed in the social, political and cultural histories of independence, but would like to dip a toe into the military history, would be well advised to start here.

Anthony McFarlane's War and Independence in Spanish America also puts warfare at the centre of its analysis. Rather than narrating the battles, however, McFarlane (Emeritus Professor of Latin American History at the University of Warwick) argues that understanding the social, political and economic consequences of warfare is fundamental to understanding the processes and meanings of independence. This massive book of 450 pages covers the long build-up to war, digs deep into the crucial 1810-1815 period, and then broadens out into the 'final' period of 'reconquest and liberation' of 1815-1825. It is based on many years of  research in dozens of libraries and archives.  I am reviewing this book for the journal War in History so I won't write any more for now. Suffice to say for now that anyone studying and researching the wars of independence from now on will have to read this book.

Large Image

Finally, after two very different overviews, a view of what the wars of independence looked and felt like from the outsider who got as far under the radar as was possible. Maria Paez Victor's Liberty or Death! The Life and Campaigns of Richard L. Vowell, British Legionnaire and Commander - Hero and Patriot of the Americas tells the story of the life of Richard Longfield Vowell, the Somerset-born adventurer who dropped out of Oxford University, served under Simon Bolivar in Venezuela, joined the Chilean navy under Lord Cochrane and spent a total of eleven years in South America in a variety of military and naval postings. With a wealth of observations and notes he returned to Bath and wrote a magnificent travel narrative and two novels set in Venezuela. The author quotes liberally from these accounts, and gives a good sense of what an insightful person Vowell was. When I wrote the entry on Vowell for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography a few years ago, we worked out that Vowell had been deported from Britain after publishing his three books in the early 1830s, and that he had ended up in Australia. Maria Paez Victor has put in the hard yards chasing Vowell's story across continents, to great avail, and the reader of the book's final chapters is rewarded with an astounding tale (which I won't give away) ending with his death in Casterton, Victoria, Australia in 1870.

When historians talk of the writing the 'global history' of the nineteenth-century, they often focus on ideas, or networks, or products, or diseases. Richard L. Vowell was one of those people who lived defiantly global lives. Anthony McFarlane's book reveals the big picture behind lives like Vowell's, in which imperial geopolitics, anti-colonial warfare and nascent states and nations came into conflict across Spanish America. The three books surveyed here are excellent, readable and original, and will certainly change the way their readers think about the conflicts of two centuries ago.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Military Lists of Foreign Adventurers in Colombian Army, Achaguas, December 1820

These six sheets are held in the Archivo Histórico de Guayas in Guayaquil. Together they comprise the ‘Descriptive Roll’ of the soldiers of the British Legion, compiled by its officers in Achaguas, Venezuela, in December 1820.

I first became aware of the existence of this document, unparalleled for the detailed information it provides about occupations, ages and names of Colombia’s foreign soldiers, in the work of Eric Lambert, Voluntarios británicos e irlandeses en la gesta bolivariana. I relied heavily on it for the quantitative sections of my book Adventuring through Spanish Colonies: Simon Bolivar, Foreign Mercenaries and the Birth of New Nations (2006). I remain immensely grateful to the Archivo Histórico de Guayas, and to José Antonio Gómez, for facilitating me the document. I look forward to thanking them again in person when I am Ecuador in June this year. In the last few years several people have asked me if would post these copies onto the blog, and I apologise that it has taken me so long.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Independence and History: A Walk from San Martin to Bolivar, in Lima, Peru

I walked from Bolívar to San Martín in Santiago de Chile, enjoyed myself, and learned a lot about Chile and its history. Several people said they enjoyed the blog, so I thought I might do it again, in Lima, Peru, where I was researching the quipu project, about the forced sterilizations of thousands of people under the Fujirmori government, as well as looking at the origins of the first sports clubs in Peru. This time I would walk from San Martín to Bolívar, the reverse of my Santiago walk.

This time it didn’t go quite so well.

San Marin in the Plaza San Martin in Lima
For a start I was very poorly prepared. The Santiago walk had a long genesis, and was planned over drinks with friends and historians: I took on advice and moulded my plans accordingly. In Lima, I got up early, overwhelmed by enthusiasm for the idea, swallowed a cortado doble, got on the Metropolitano bus, and was stood in the Plaza San Martín, ready to go, before I had even considered a route, a plan, a map or a direction.

So I looked around the Plaza San Martín for a while. In contrast to his peripheral position in Santiago, in Lima San Martin is the man. San Martín led his liberating army up from Chile, and presented himself to Peruvians as a Protector, modelling his title on Oliver Cromwell. Peruvians were nonplussed. San Martín camped out for many months before finally ceding to Bolívar and bidding goodbye to the country he had taken as his own. His statue therefore dominates his plaza from an enormous pedestal. I think he looks down his nose at the Hotel Bolívar opposite him. Behind him stand an HSBC bank and the Fenix Club; both I think legacies of the British presence in Peru in the nineteenth century. The square is unrecognisable from when I was last here in 2000: it is now clean, bright and civic. I didn’t recognise anything.

The starting point: with San Martin's statue behind me, and the Hotel Bolivar in front of me.
I strode off. Following the previous walk’s model my aim was to walk to the statue of Bolívar in Plaza Bolívar going only along roads named after independence figures. Immediately I waded into a marsh of difficulty: very few roads in central Lima are named after independence figures. In stark contrast  to the protagonist role Heroes were given in Santiago, in Lima it is places that carry you here and there, an attempt by nineteenth-century urban planners to inculcate a sense of republican territoriality within the capital’s citizens. (Chile’s occupation of Lima during the War of the Pacific, which resulted in the loss of a substantial chunk of Peru’s and Bolivia’s national territories, may have had something to do with that). There are one or two exceptions. What was Wilson (named after Bolívar’s aide-de-camp, who was later British Minister in Lima) is now Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, for example. Generally the streets retain their colonial names. I circled the grid like a vulture hungry for Independence, and found nothing. 

Soon I was lost.

Happily lost. I wandered the streets, enjoying the vitality, the smells, the restored urban architecture, turning here and there, stopping for coffee, stopping for advice. I immersed myself in Lima’s historical centre, its casco, sensing its proud revindication of its colonial glories, contrasting that with the beggars and poverty encrusted along its pavements.  I became tired.  The incessant honking of car horns, klaxons, and the revving of engines passed from being vibrant and intoxicating to being annoying. Eventually I happened upon Calle Emancipación. This would have to do.

Tiring quickly, I fell onto Camaná street and into the Instituto Riva-Agüero, a city-centre outpost of the Catholic University, and where I had spent many afternoons researching my Masters thesis on Lord Cochrane and the British and Irish naval volunteers, years ago. In the IRA I saw a poster for an event organised by Gabriel Ramón on La patria, los monumentos y el espacio publico en Lima. My salvation! Unfortunately it was to take place the day after I left Lima. My historical urban education would remain incomplete.

I consulted my map, looking for the shortest possible route. I found it. Out along Camaná, four blocks, turn right onto Avenida Junín – named after Bolívar’s major battle in Peru, the 1824 battle of Junín (after which Bolívar headed straight for Lima, leaving Sucre to actually win the war against the royalists). I marched along Junín – a straight line wasn’t possible, but I kept my speed up. Plaza Bolívar sits outside the Congress, closed by Fujimori in his auto-golpe self-coup of 1992, now well and truly open and a unfortunately often a byword for corruption and clientelism. Bolívar looks away from Congress and over Lima, majestic on his horse as ever. His square is fenced off with green spikes, so the public cannot get near his statue (or their Congress). 
Bolivar in the Plaza Bolivar, Lima. Explanatory note: the zoom on my camera is broken. Nevertheless, I was still trying to made a point re: restrictions on access, and by extension restrictions to democracy, regardless of my technological inabilities.
In the picture a TV reporter might just be seen speaking to camera, so special permissions must be sometimes granted. I wasn’t in the mood for special pleading, nor for chatting with the riot police unconsciously grazing at the side of the square. My walk had shown me that the place of Independence in Peruvian history, its historiography, and its urban landscape, remains a problematic and complicated matter. I should have known this already. Historians such as Cecilia Mendez, Natalia Sobrevilla Perea, Charles Walker, Heraclio Bonilla, Mónica Ricketts and others have demonstrated the ambiguities and paradoxes of political loyalties amongst Peruvians during the Independence period. There are no straight lines, no binary splits, no easy answers. I walked back to the library, dragging my feet.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Independence, 11 September, Santiago: A Walk through History

To walk or to read? A caminar.

The National Library of Chile’s recent publication La Memoria que nos une (The Memory That Unites Us, 2013) shows clearly how Chile’s buildings, books, roads and institutions have been intimately linked to and shaped by the country’s domestic history and international relations. So has it has been for 200 years, and so it continues to be today.

After an intense week of conferences, meetings and archival research in Santiago, we established that the history of Chile in the 1820s was not nation-centric, but closely connected to events and people elsewhere in the world. Hopefully the publications that come out of our meetings will demonstrate this. My colleagues from the Chilean 1820s project – Joanna Crow, Andrés Baeza, Juan Luis Ossa, Daniel Gutierrez Ardila, Graciela Iglesias Rogers, Manuel Llorca-Jaña, Susana Gazmuri – have returned to their homes. I had a day to spare (14 September 2013) before travelling on to Lima, so put my Independence Walk plan into action.

En los pasos de la independencia

My route, in the end, was quite simple. From República metro station I ascended to the statue of Simón Bolívar, then went south down Avenida José Miguel Carrera, through the Parque O’Higgins, along Blanco Encalada, up Calle Lord Cochrane continuing onto Amunátegui and back down Calle San Martín to the statue of San Martín on the Avenida Bernardo O’Higgins. I walked more or less due south, east a bit, due north, west a bit, due south. On the map the route is like a long rectangle.

What did I hope to achieve on this walk? (see previous post). I wanted to see if limiting my walk to streets marked by the history of Independence would give me any insight into the history of Chile, two hundred years ago and today. Choosing such a route took me to areas of the city I didn’t know. It allowed to stretch my legs after a week cooped up in libraries and lecture theatres.

The statue of Bolivar is a pretty standard affair, and given that he never came to Chile, seemed a good place from which to depart on this walk into the reaches of Chilean history. Avenida José Miguel Carrera, named after one of the heroes of early Chilean history, expunged from political life by his rival Bernardo O’Higgins and thus a patriotic martyr to the stunted dreams of free, prosperous national life, begins as an immediately dark channel away from the vibrant centre, overlooked by the immense Colegio de los Sagrados Corazones. Two-story houses with faded glamour begin to crumble, with many padlocked. 

Further down, the signs of early gentrification begin with street art and a cafe or two. At the end of Carrera I moved on to Blanco Encalada, Chile’s first naval hero who was moved aside upon the arrival of Lord Cochrane in 1818, when the Scotsman became the first head of the Chilean navy despite Blanco Encalada’s previous experience and national origins. B.E.’s road is a wide boulevard with racing traffic lined by the sturdy buildings of the Universidad de Chile. From here I entered the Parque O’Higgins.

During the c.19 this was the Parque Cousiño, and it was here that Santiago’s first games of football were played, next to the racecourses of the Club Hipico. On this Saturday afternoon families relaxed after lunch, teenagers gaggled and couples embraced. There was little football being played, so I walked through the park, and turned back on myself up Avenida Manuel Rodriguez. M.R. was an ally of the Carrera brothers, another whose heroics in the early stage of independence were recalled by later radicals who wanted to achieve real freedom a century after independence. M.R’s road is a massive dirty racetrack sliced through by the new metro line that stops nearby at the Parque O’Higgins stop. I trekked northwards and quickly came across, tucked into the corner of the Parque O’Higgins, the Santiago Lawn Tennis Club, founded 4 November 1904. Inside, I asked permission to take a photo, and was referred by the car park attendant to the grounds attendant to, finally, the administrator, Hector Garrido. Hector kindly showed me round the 12 clay courts and the mock-Tudor-English-chalet-style clubhouse, purpose built in 1910 for the club, whose first director was Sir Gerald Lowther. After an agreeable chat about the history of tennis in Chile and its present decline (as we spoke Chile were being dumped out of the Davis Cup World Group I by the Dominican Republic, though there was a football match on the clubhouse’s tv) I headed back onto the trail of the history of independence. I wanted to reach the Scottish hero of independence: Lord Cochrane.

First I had to walk along Avenida Ejército Libertador, the road of the Liberating Army, which took me around the Parque Militar. Outside, I asked two apparently obsequious cadets if I could take a photo. ‘La cosa está muy complicada’, said Fierro, gesturing towards the CCTV cameras that overlooked us with a glance that implied that resistance was, and always would be, futile. Eventually I was consented to take a picture of the building as long as I was 50m away.

Remaining in the Zona Militar, I rounded the building, a huge, early c.20 monolith, to find the entrance, where entrance is not allowed. Instead I was barked at by a dog, and I took a photo of a 1896 German cannon which was aimed, threateningly, at the centre of the city. I took my leave of the guard dogs, and headed up Ejército Libertador again. 
My weak attempt at visual art: a view of the Santiago property bubble and construction boom seen through and over a nineteenth-century German canon

As I headed towards Cochrane I had to make my first and only leave of Independence. Walking along Claudio Gay, named after the French mid.c19 traveller whose engraved books are a treasure trove of tropes of European visions of South America, I reached the corner with Manuel Rodriguez, and I was back on independent-ground. Above a bakery was an old commercial sign for a previous owner 'Importadora y Exportadora de Alimientos: Walden y Lambreaux Ltda'. The man stood lolling beneath the sign said that as far as he was concerned I could take a picture, as business was not his field.

Guillermo – who had returned to Chile from exile in Brazil a decade ago and spoke Spanish with a Brazilian accent and English showing the signs of the cassettes that had taught him - and I spent half an hour under the sign, discussing conspiracy theories about Chilean politics, and the history of Chilean Independence. The split between Carrera and O’Higgins of two centuries ago, Guillermo contends, is the same chasm that still separates left and right, impulse and order, passion and force, in the twenty-first century. He is neither Carrerista nor O’Higginista. We separated the best of friends.

I bought a Golpe chocolate bar to keep my energy up, realising for the fisrt time that one of Chile’s best-selling chocolate bars, that I bought and ate all the time was a teacher here, is called Golpe: Coup. A chocolate bar called Coup! Surely if Marathon could be changed to Snickers it might be possible, in the name of memory and reconciliation, to change Golpe to something else. Like Perdón, for example. Or perhaps keeping the word in the public domain through chocolate has actually been an extraordinarily successful p.r. campaign. Munching on my coup, I crossed Manuel Rodriguez and made for Lord Cochrane.
Near to Cochrane is a square dedicated to Las Heras, another Independence-era figure. Like many it has been defaced with anarchist graffit
Cochrane is a down-at-heel kind of road at its southern end, distinguished mainly by the car lot owned by Miguel Angel Helo, who a plaque told me is the Consul of South Korea in Chile. I’m not sure if this end of Cochrane has ever seen better days, perhaps reflecting the lowly status of foreign admirals here in inland Santiago. A derelict lot was taken over by a graffiti collective. This made me feel like I was back at home in Easton.

Further up Cochrane's road I came across an excellent art intervention, pictured below which has replaced Cochrane's name on a street sign with the names of two young Chilean protesters, Rodrigo Cisternas and Johnny Carriqueo, killed according to El Ciudadano by the Chilean state during protests in the last decade. These images say as much as I had hoped to find during my walk.


I passed through a park featuring two impromptu mixed-sex volleyball games. At the northern end of Cochrane an electricity substation and some major new developments fought for space with old, dark, crumbling houses. When I entered the light of the Avenida Bernardo O’Higgins I reflected on Cochrane’s minor place in the urban iconography of Santiago – not even a statue. 

Continuing in the same direction carried me on Amunátegui, named after one of the major c.19 historians of independence. A former business district, the highlight here was the corner building, formerly the hq of Braden Copper Co, even more previously the residence of the Argentinian Legation in Chile, where in 1891 President Balmaceda – cited by many as the inspiration for President Allende’s decision to allow himself to be martyred on 11 September 1973 - blew his brains out after defeat in the civil war.

By now my legs were tired. I took a short-cut through Huerfanos, literally Orphans street, which after 3 blocks took me to San Martín street, and a turn south towards the end of my walk. Here, most obviously of anywhere I had been in Santiago, were the signs of the protests, marches and skirmishes of 11 September 2013. I reproduce here some of the photos I took of the bill posters slapped on the walls, half-heartedly ripped down in the subsequent days. 

"The Struggle Against Power is the Struggle of Remembering Against Forgetting"

San Martín street was by far the most politicised of the roads I walked down: San Martín himself, who was dedicated to overcoming factionalism, would no doubt have been appalled. Their theme was clear: the progress which has been made in terms of historical memory and recognition of past crimes, has not been matched by social or economic change, and impunity has not been overcome. Remembering is not enough.

At the end of San Martin I reached the Avenida Bernardo O’Higgins, and looked out for his statue. As I came towards him, along the central reservation of this six lane highway, I met General Ramon Freire, another hero of independence, president and supreme anti-Bolivarian. His proud statue looks south; behind him slept a homeless indigente, an easy symbol for the way that the dreams of equality and prosperity that accompanied independence have yet to be fully realised.
Ramon Freire and friend

With that, casting a glance at the 20m high photo of Salvador Allende that overlooks the statue, at last I reached don José. His equestrian figure is mounted so high that it is barely possible to photograph it. San Martín and his steed, in conventional, epic pose, are looking over the city and towards the Andes. He is racing from Bolívar’s statue, where I started my walk, just a few blocks further west. The Liberator is reaching for the sky, flying from the streets of Santiago, leaving Chile to its own heroes, conflicts, politics and memories. The streets retain that history much better than any statue.