In order to understand the Battle of Carabobo, we have to consider two crucial events: the rebellion of general Rafael de Riego in Cadiz, in January, 1820, when he refused to sail to Venezuela with an army of 20,000 men and forced Ferdinand VII to abide by the Constitution of Cadiz of 1812; and the signing of the Armistice between Simón Bolívar and Pablo Morillo, in the town of Santa Ana, Trujillo, on November 25, 1820. Morillo knew that the war had been lost due to Riego’s insurrection, that the royalists who remained, along with most of the Venezuelan members of his troops, were doomed to fail without reinforcements that would never come.
The ceasefire was agreed for six months and the Spanish defeat was the headline for the Treaty, which read: “And his Excellency the President of Colombia, Simón Bolívar, as Commander in Chief of the Republic.” The Republic’s existence was acknowledged, which had never been before, and its President was called “Excellency.” Spain acknowledged its defeat. However, South America still had to see four more years of battles for that defeat to be complete.
Morillo took his papers and gave command to Miguel de la Torre. He sailed to Spain on December 17, 1820 and died in France many years after his nearly six-year-long adventure in America. Meanwhile, the liberal experience in Spain lasted until April, 1823, when Louis XVIII sent troops to restore Ferdinand VII’s absolute power. Riego was then executed, the liberals persecuted and despotism ascended the throne again.
But America was already lost.
The Republic’s existence was acknowledged, which had never been before, and its President was called “Excellency.”
It’s evident that the last straw for the royalists was Riego’s rebellion in Spain, since it prevented the only promising exit they had in America: the arrival of reinforcement. Nevertheless, bolivarian panegyrists tend to make shy, veiled or purposefully diminished mentions of this. Obviously, that event doesn’t contribute to the glory of patriots, but it’s unavoidable from an honest perspective on the study of historical events. After the Armistice in Trujillo in November, 1820, the royalist defeat was a matter of time, since they were fighting for survival and without hope of getting backup, clinging to honor and without alternatives. What could they do? Surrender?
In January, 1821, Bolívar was in Bogota, determined to coordinate administrative affairs with Vice-president Santander while consolidating his army for when the ceasefire was meant to expire, six months later. However, the situation escalated when general Rafael Urdaneta took Maracaibo on March 8, 1821, answering his people’s call as they joined the republican project. Meanwhile, de la Torre said the Armistice had been violated. Bolívar returned to Venezuela on April 28, formally breaking the Armistice and preparing the final battle that wasn’t such, as we’ll soon see.
Bolívar commanded Páez to advance from Apure to the central region and Ambrosio Plaza occupied Barinas before also mobilizing to the central region. Bermúdez started his famous diversion, meaning that he marched to Caracas in order to keep part of the royalist army engaged in defending it, while the patriot armies marched toward Carabobo. Urdaneta took Barquisimeto and made his way to San Carlos. Both armies are ready for battle at dawn, on June 24, 1821, and I don’t need to describe what happened.
This was a fatal blow for the royalists, but still almost 60 minor clashes took place before the last battle in the Maracaibo lake.
De la Torre, with Morales and Montenegro Colón, led the royalist army. Most of their soldiers were Venezuelan; few remained of those who arrived with Morillo in 1815, there were 5,000 men, while the patriot army had about 7,000 soldiers. The patriot victory was complete and the remainder of the royalist army retreated to Puerto Cabello, chased down by Rangel. This was a fatal blow for the royalists, but still almost 60 minor clashes took place before the last battle in the Maracaibo lake, on July 25, 1825, the actual final confrontation.
The reader might ask, why is the Battle of Carabobo considered the last battle when it wasn’t? Well, the odds of recovery for the royalists were nonexistent afterwards and it was the last battle where Bolívar was present. The remaining royalists fought for two more years until finally defeated at the naval battle, with Páez forcing de la Calzada to capitulate in Puerto Cabello, 1823. Something similar happens with Colombia’s history: Boyaca wasn’t the last nor the most important battle, but it marked the start of the royalist decline in Nueva Granada’s northern area, and this victory opened Bogota to the patriots. Both battles established essential milestones that also contribute to the formation of a national mythology.
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