Wars of Independence in Venezuela

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Vicente Emparán was deposed and the junta assumed power on April 19, 1810 in Caracas

The Wars of Independence in Venezuela were part of the South American Wars of Independence from 1810 to 1823. The aim of the armed struggle was to detach the General Capitol Venezuela from the colonial motherland Spain .

Also included is the civil war in which monarchist supporters of King Ferdinand VII of Spain fought against the defenders of the republic who were inspired by the French Revolution and are commonly referred to as patriots. The most important leader of the patriots was Simón Bolívar .


Due to the deficits in the Spanish colonial system, there had been uprisings by settlers since the early 16th century, but it was not until the independence of the USA and the French Revolution that additional reasons emerged that - after failed precursor rebellions - across the continent to strive for emancipation from Spanish tutelage led. For years, rich Creoles in particular had conspired against the power of the Iberians, but when Napoleonic troops occupied Spain and the colonies, the measure for the majority of the population was full and there were revolts against the Spanish colonial authorities, which did not oppose the French influence resisted. In Caracas , therefore, on April 19, 1810, the captain general Vicente Emparán was deposed by a council ( junta ) of dignitaries who took over the government and administration. This measure, which had nothing to do with the declaration of independence in the following year 1811, was the first step towards self-determination and is therefore celebrated today in Venezuela as a national holiday.

Approval for this first act of rebellion was relatively broad, but not everyone was ready to support the consistent continuation up to and including absolute independence. This led to the rejection of separatism efforts in parts of the local population, and the Spaniards were not ready to give up their claims to power and territory. So the first military conflicts followed within the patriots on the one hand and against the Spaniards and the supporters of the monarchy on the other.

The first republic

The western coastal region, which had not joined the uprising in Caracas, with Maracaibo and Coro , where the republic's first, less successful campaign had taken place in 1810, and the south-east, the province of Guiana , were the centers of rebellion against the new one in 1811 Order. But fighting was not only taking place in these hotspots, the republic not only met with approval in other parts of the country. So Francisco de Miranda had to undertake a campaign against the royalists of Valencia in July and August 1811 , which was quite costly for his armed forces, but ended with the suppression of the uprising.

On March 26, 1812, the day the republican offensive in Guiana failed, an earthquake devastated Caracas and ultimately ushered in the fall of the republic. The decisive factor was the campaign of the frigate captain Juan Domingo de Monteverde , who drove the military fight against Miranda's army on behalf of the Spanish governors of Maracaibo and Coro. On July 25, although the republic had a larger contingent of troops than the Spaniards, he signed the First Republic's document of surrender in San Mateo . Bolívar, who had gotten a prisoner uprising in Puerto Cabello through the betrayal of one of his officers and had brought the Spaniards into possession of the only fortified port in Venezuela, handed Miranda over to the Spaniards at the end of the month. The most important champion of Venezuelan independence died in Cadíz in 1816 in the fortress dungeon .

Establishment of the Second Republic

The patriots, who were subsequently victims of Spanish punitive actions, fled out of the country or to inaccessible regions of Venezuela. A meeting place for the refugees was the Colombian Cartagena de Indias . Among the exiles were officers of the Army of the First Republic who undertook campaigns against the monarchists in the service of the provincial government. One of these officers was Simón Bolívar, who enlisted two hundred men for a campaign with the "Manifesto of Cartagena" declaring the fall of the First Republic. This campaign on the upper Magdalena River was a success and Bolívar's army grew. Now under the orders of the Congress of the United Provinces of New Granada (Colombia, cf. The First Republic of Colombia ), he fended off an advance by the Spaniards on the Eastern Cordillera and obtained permission from Congress to continue the border security in the Venezuelan Merída Andes. He deliberately but unpunished with his new renadine troops, which were joined by many Venezuelan volunteers in the course of the campaign, when he marched on Caracas in May 1813, after the publication of his “Decree from War to Death” in Trujillo started. The Spanish had distributed five thousand defensive men across the country, while Bolívar undertook the campaign with only a few hundred fighters.

Meanwhile, on the Trinidadian island of Chacachacare , Santiago Mariño and 44 like-minded people decided to recapture Venezuela. Due to fortunate circumstances he was able to take the town of Güiria on the other side of the gulf , whereupon his troop suddenly grew to 5,000 men through supporters. The two campaigns, which took place almost simultaneously and which were given a huge boost by the sometimes draconian punitive measures taken by the Spaniards, forced Monteverde, who was the Spanish commander-in-chief after his successful campaign, to split up his troops. The patriots were victorious in both campaigns. While Mariño was still busy before Barcelona , Bolívar moved into Caracas at the end of his Campaña Admirable (span: admirable campaign ) at the beginning of August and proclaimed the Second Republic.

Defense of the Second Republic

Given the prevailing balance of power, it is hardly surprising that the numerically superior Spaniards and royalists did not want to come to terms with the two defeats and wanted to reorganize the armies that were defeated but not destroyed. For the republic, however, the behavior of the two liberators was more damaging: each insisted on his importance and demanded absolute supremacy. Liberated Venezuela was split into an eastern and a western part, which made work easier for the Spaniards. When Bolívar and Mariño agreed on joint action against the colonial forces in early 1814, which in the meantime had also received support from local royalists, it was too late.

Jose Tomas Boves and Francisco Tomás Morales recruited in the vast plains of the Orinoco and its tributaries with lances equipped Llaneros , cowherds (comparable to the later Cowboys in the US) who were trying to break into large numbers in the central region. After the first unsuccessful efforts of the mercenaries in royal service, an advance took place against which Bolívar built a bulwark in San Mateo, where the road from the south to Valencia in the west and Caracas in the east forks. After more than a month of siege, the Eastern Army finally arrived and brought Bolívar the much-needed relief. Mariño's troops defeated Boves' horsemen, but two more campaigns came from the west by Manuel Cajigal y Niño and José Ceballos, who had failed with a reconquest campaign at the end of 1813. These, too, could be beaten off with a concerted effort, but the return of Boves' Llaneros in mid-1814 led to their final defeat. Bolívar and Mariño were able to withdraw with their officers, and again Cartagena was their port of call. By the end of the year, the Llaneros destroyed almost all of the troops that had stayed behind and did not spare the civilian population either. Only a few patriots who remained in the country managed to escape into the jungle.

Spanish reconquest expedition

While the last Republicans often tried desperately to survive, Ferdinand VII , who had returned to the Spanish throne (Napoleon had installed his brother Joseph as ruler after his capture of Spain) had sent an expeditionary army under Pablo Morillo, over twelve thousand men, to his American colonies in 1815 to wipe out the unloved republics and restore Spanish colonial order. In Venezuela, the army had little to do after the campaign between Boves, who died in one of the last battles, and Morales, and turned to New Granada at the end of the year. The Venezuelans who fled to Cartagena now helped to defend the city against the army of Morillo (except Bolívar, who after his capture of Bogotá because of disputes between the local patriots and especially his siege of Cartagena because the latter was unwilling to start his campaign against the royalists to support Colombian northeast coast, had found exile in Jamaica - see also the first Republic of Colombia ). When Cartagena threatened to fail at the end of the year, the Venezuelan and Colombian officers fled and met Bolívar in Haiti (he had left Jamaica after a visionary letter to liberate South America and above all because of an attempted murder commissioned by Morillo).

The return of the patriots

With the support of Alexandre Petion , the President of Haiti , as well as the help of businessmen trading in the Caribbean, Bolívar returned to Venezuela with troops in early 1816. First the patriots tried to establish themselves in the eastern part and took Maturín . Henri Louis Ducoudray Holstein , who had already helped defend Cartagena , realized that this would not be a lasting success and left the separatists. The subsequent landing on the central Venezuelan coast near Ocumare de la Costa turned into a disaster after a lost battle because Bolívar fled, leaving his people and equipment behind. The soldiers who stayed behind managed to make their way to the eastern part of the country, where some of the remaining soldiers of the Second Republic had just got the upper hand again. Together with these troops succeeded in the capture of Barcelona, ​​where at the end of 1816 Bolívar was able to land the troops recruited again with the help of Petion and the associated equipment.

Again, disputes among each other prevented sustainable success against the Spaniards because Mariño, although there had already been a meeting on the island of Margarita, which Bolívar had declared as the chief chief, called a popular assembly on the mainland to make himself the supreme commander. Since parts of the troops that Bolívar had left behind in the east on his first return, Angostura (today Ciudad Bolívar ) and Ciudad Guayana , shortly before the mouth of the Orinoco, had prepared for capture, Bolívar was able to take control of the lower Orinoco with ship support at the beginning of August 1817 take necessary cities. Already here at the end of the following year 1818 he laid the foundation stone for Greater Colombia, which he proclaimed at the beginning of 1819 and whose end he witnessed in 1830 in the last months of his life.

Since 1816, Llaneros from the province of Apure with the remains of the Patriots of New Granada in Casanare had repeatedly inflicted losses on the Spaniards in numerous battles (both provinces at that time are larger than the current administrative units). These lancers were led by José Antonio Paez , who had fought for the patriots since the days of the First Republic. Raised to the rank of colonel, he had temporarily led the remaining Venezuelan-Colombian troops in Casanare and Apure. After the establishment of Bolívar's Republic on the Lower Orinoco, he joined this. His horsemen had liaised with the patriots in New Granada, and he had supported Bolívar's actions. He had appointed him general for this purpose and at the beginning of 1818 led a campaign with Paez's cavalry and the European mercenaries, who had been increasingly arriving since 1817 and who had been trained on the island of Margarita, as well as his own soldiers, which was to lead to Caracas. This so-called center campaign failed, however, partly because of self-inflicted mistakes, but also because of the numerical superiority of the Spaniards and the skills of the Spanish Commander-in-Chief Morillo.

The New Granada Campaign and its Consequences

Also on the advice of his European officers, who rightly pointed out that there were four Spanish divisions in Venezuela while only one was stationed in Colombia, Bolívar began the New Granada campaign in 1819, after Morillo had been active in Apure at the beginning of the year ( See The Battle of Boyacá ), which led to the liberation of the neighboring country and gave the Republicans considerable amounts of resources to continue the war. The Spaniards were shocked by the loss of their viceroyalty and their military operations were kept to a minimum. In 1820 the armistice of Santa Ana (near Trujillo) was signed by Bolívar and Morillo after their officers had negotiated the text of the treaty for months.

Since February 18, 1818 the Congress of Angostura took place, the aim of which was to create a Republic of Colombia ( Greater Colombia ).

Decision in Venezuela

Battle of Carabobo , painting by Martín Tovar y Tovar

After the New Year's uprising of Rafael del Riego , which should have led another expeditionary army to South America, the attitude towards the colonies in Spain changed for a few years - fortunately for the patriots, because another, even stronger army from Spain would undoubtedly have the aspirations for independence ended sustainably. The lack of support for Bolívar's most capable adversary, Pablo Morillo , associated with the policy change in Spain , led to his retirement in late 1820. He was succeeded by Miguel de la Torre . Bolívar led a campaign against him in 1821, which culminated in the Battle of Carabobo , in which the Spaniards finally forfeited their supremacy in Venezuela.

Fight after the Spanish defeat

Preparatory naval battle for the final naval battle of Maracaibo in 1823, painting by José María Espinosa Prieto

The Spaniards holed up in Puerto Cabello . In the following two years, Puerto Cabello was besieged three times. Nevertheless, the new commander in chief Francisco Tomás Morales managed to break out in 1822 with the help of the Spanish Caribbean fleet and occupy Maracaibo. From here he led campaigns to the east and south, which were joined by the local royalists who did not want to give up the resistance. Only the combined use of land forces and navy led to the surrender of the last Spanish commander-in-chief in Venezuela in August 1823. The last Spaniards were defeated by Paez in Puerto Cabello in November. This officially ended the war, but the royalists rose against the republic for years to come, which resulted in further military operations and hampered civil reconstruction (and social development).


  • Héctor Bencomo Barrios: Miranda y el Arte Militar. Bibl. De Autores y Temas Mirandinos, 85, Los Teques 2006.
  • Louis Henri Ducoudray Holstein: Bolivar's Memories. Hoffmann & Campe, 1830.
  • Hans-Joachim König: Simón Bolívar. Speeches and memoranda on politics, economy and society. Institute for Ibero America Customers, Hamburg 1984.
  • Vicente Lecuna: Bolívar y el Arte Militar. Colonial Press, New York 1955.
  • Eleazar López Contreras: Bolívar - Conductor de Tropas. Ed. de la Presidencia de la Republica, Caracas 2004.
  • Gerhard Masur: Simon Bolivar and the liberation of South America. Südverlag, 1947.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Lionel Mordaunt Fraser: History of Trinidad, Vol. I: From 1781 to 1813 . Government Printing Office, Port of Spain 1891, p. 362 .