Bolivian War of Independence

Bolivian War of Independence
Part of Spanish American wars of independence
(16 years)
LocationUpper Peru (modern Bolivia)
ResultRebel victory, independence of Bolivia
Flag of Argentina (alternative).svg United Provinces of the Río de la Plata


The Bolivian war of independence began in 1809 with the establishment of government juntas in Sucre and La Paz, after the Chuquisaca Revolution and La Paz revolution. These Juntas were defeated shortly after, and the cities fell again under Spanish control. The May Revolution of 1810 ousted the viceroy in Buenos Aires, which established its own junta. Buenos Aires sent three military campaigns to the Charcas, headed by Juan José Castelli, Manuel Belgrano and José Rondeau, but the royalists ultimately prevailed over each one. However, the conflict grew into a guerrilla war, the War of the Republiquetas, preventing the royalists from strengthening their presence. After Simón Bolívar and Antonio José de Sucre defeated the royalists in northern South America, Sucre led a campaign that was to defeat the royalists in Charcas for good when the last royalist general, Pedro Antonio Olañeta, suffered death and defeat at the hands of his own defected forces at the battle of Tumusla. Bolivian independence was proclaimed on August 6 of 1825.

The Colonial Governing Power and the Causes of the War

Charcas (modern day Bolivia) is also sometimes referred to as the Upper Peru.[1] This region fell under the authority of Spanish colonial rule in the sixteenth century. It was originally placed directly under the rule of the Viceroyalty of Peru, however this location proved to be too distant for effective ruling so Phillip II established the Audiencia of Charcas, which was an autonomous governing body under the purview of the viceroy of Peru.[2] This governing was composed of oidores or judges and a governor with the title of president of the Audiencia. The Audiencia was given authority to make final decisions when a viceroy was unavailable or absent.[3] The Audiencia was centered in Chuquisaca, which started out as an indigenous community and later became known by its post-independence name, Sucre. This was the center of administration as well as cultural activities for Charcas. The Archbishop of Charcas lived there and one of the prominent universities in Bolivia, was founded there. The Audiencia was a great honor for the Charcas.[1] Oidores mostly came directly from Spain[4] and tended to be very proud, often making everyone bow to them. They were also incredibly ignorant about the peoples needs and problems.[5] As Spanish settlements expanded to the south, the jurisdiction of the Audiencia of Charcas grew to include not only present day Bolivia, but also Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and even parts of Peru. In 1776, the Audiencia of Charcas was placed under the authority of the viceroy of Buenos Aires in the newly created Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata and most trade was redirected to Buenos Aires.[2] This change was against Peruvian desires because they had wanted to keep Charcas for its enormous wealth in the mines of Potosí. For the next few decades, the question of the political and economic ties with Charcas was constantly fought over by Peru and Río de la Plata.[6] On May 25, 1809 the citizens of Sucre participated in the first outbreak that was part of the initiation of the war of independence in Bolivia.[2]

In 1784 the Spanish rulers created the intendancy system. Four main intendancies were constructed in La Paz, Cochabamba, Potosí, and Chuquisaca. This system gave authority to a few, skillful and educated men who were directly responsible to the King of Spain. This system was implemented to increase to revenue as well as stop specific problems that had resulted from other authorities misusing their power.[3] The system consequently limited the power of the Audiencia.[5]

The Bolivian people were divided into three main categories, Criollos, Mestizos, and the indigenous population. In authority over all of these people were the Peninsulares, who were influential people who had come from Spain to assume a leadership position in the church or government, in one of the Spanish colonies. All the rest of Bolivian people had a social status beneath this elite class. The Criollos were people of pure Spanish descent that had been born in Latin America. The Criollos were envious of the power the Peninsulares held and this attitude formed part of the basis for the reason for war of independence. Under the Criollos on the social strata were the Mestizos, who were a mix of Spanish and Indigenous descent. The main reason these two people mixed was because of the lack of Spanish women in the region.[6] Finally, at the bottom of the hierarchy was the biggest social class, the indigenous people, who primarily spoke Aymara and Quechua. These people often did not know what was going on politically in the country, however they offered a large force of fighting men for both the patriots and the royalists in the war. Nevertheless, in the War of Independence they proved to be very unpredictable and would, at times, turn on the army at any provocation.[7] These people would generally fight for whoever controlled that area, whether loyalists, patriots, or royalists. The majority of the time it was the Republiquetas that controlled the rural areas were the Natives lived. Although they would fight for whomever, these people favored the patriots because they were part native, where as the other armies were of pure Spanish descent. The real intention of the Indigenous people was to reestablish the Incan empire and so wanted a form of government different from all three of the other groups. These groups all contented for the Natives' assistance in order to win the war, however not one army ever thought of liberating these people.[8]

Independence was not a new idea in the minds of the people of the Charcas. This concept had begun to take root long before and already signs of discontent with current form of government were beginning to show. The individuals in every class of the Bolivian population had become dissatisfied, the Criollos, the Mestizos, as well as the Indigenous people. They were all feeling the effects of increased Spanish taxes and trade restrictions. Indigenous rebellions started in 1730 in Cochabamba and others followed in the decades to come.[9] Although most of the people were discontent, the different social classes were not unified their solution to the dilemma. The indigenous wanted to do away with all the Spanish people and set up an Andean Utopia,[10] where as the Criollos simply desired more freedom from Spain. The Criollos were very racist against the Native population and so these two people groups never really united against Spain.[11]

Many revolutionary ideas were spread from the University in Chuquisaca.[5] In the early 1780s different students in the University distributed pamphlets in Charcas. These were written against Spanish authority and in them public officials were even called thieves.[12] The ideas of independence really stemmed from Aquinas, a church father, who wrote about politics. He taught that if a ruler is cruel and tyrannical the people have a right to rebel and fight against their own government. The ruler should be under the Pope, thus the people can rebel against the King but not against God.[13] There was not one main leader of the Revolutionaries or Radicals. Nevertheless, three main men were influential in this circle, Jaime Zudañez, Manuel Zudañez, and Bernardo Monteagudo. Jaime Zudañez was part of the Audiencia in the department of the defense of the poor. He would try to influence the decisions the Audiencia made and no one suspected his treasonous behavior. Manuel Zudeñez, his brother, was in the government as well and held an important position in the University in Chuquisaca. Finally Bernardo Monteagudo was a writer from a poor family but had an impact the people through his whispering campaigns. All three of these men were in favor of doing away with the president, Ramón García León de Pizarro.[14]