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Early civilizations
Spanish rule
     A glimpse of Inca treasure
     Lima and the Spanish empire
     Peru and San Martín
     The Guayaquil Conference
     Bolívar and Peru
     Sucre and Bolivia


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A glimpse of Inca treasure: 1527-1532

Two small Spanish ships, commanded by Bartolomé Ruiz, sail southwards in the Pacific in 1527 towards Peru. Their journey brings them across the equator (they are the first Europeans to cross the line in this ocean). The Spaniards are surprised to come across an ocean-going raft, made of balsa wood and fitted with cotton sails, with a crew of twenty.

When they seize the raft, its rich contents also astonish them (the ornaments and textiles are described later in Glowing terms to the Spanish king). The people who sent out this trading vessel are clearly worth meeting. Ruiz takes the precaution of keeping three of the crew to be trained as interpreters.


This chance encounter is the first contact between Europeans and the fabulously wealthy empire of the Incas. And the glimpse of Inca treasure can only inflame Spanish greed.

The leader of the expedition (not aboard on the reconnaissance by Ruiz) is Francisco Pizarro. The winter of 1527 is spent on a swampy uninhabited island. The conditions are so appalling that by the spring Pizarro is left with only thirteen companions. They sail on southwards. At Tumbes they reach their first Inca city. Two of Pizarro's men go ashore. Their reports confirm that this is indeed a rich and civilized society.


It takes Pizarro eighteen months, mainly spent at the royal court in Spain, to drum up sufficient support for a voyage of conquest. The great Cortes happens to be at the Spanish court at the same time. He offers personal encouragement, and the example of his own astonishing achievement in Mexico inspires ambitious young Spaniards to join the new cause.

Ennobled, and granted the status of governor of a notional Spanish province along the Peruvian coast, Pizarro leaves Spain with a small fleet in January 1530. At the end of the year, in December, his expedition sails south from Panama.


Unlike the speedy advance of Cortes into Mexico in 1519, Pizarro's progress south is slow through the tropical terrain of Ecuador. Nearly two years have passed by the time he establishes a small Spanish settlement, which he calls San Miguel, near Piura in the coastal plain of northern Peru.

From here at last, in September 1532, he marches out to attack the vast empire of the Incas. His army by now consists of 62 horsemen and 106 foot soldiers. Yet within ten months, in one of history's most dramatic and gruesome stories, Pizarro and his small band of adventurers massacre the Inca court, seize untold wealth in gold, and finally murder Atahualpa to rule in his place.


Lima and the Spanish empire: 1535-1818

After the murder of Atahualpa, in July 1533, the Spanish conquistadors under Francisco Pizarro rapidly complete their conquest of the Inca empire. In November of that year they capture and sack the Inca capital of Cuzco, high in the Andes.

The Spaniards, unlike the Incas, depend for their survival on contact by sea with the rest of the world. They need a coastal capital. In 1535 Pizarro chooses a site a few miles inland on the Rimac river. Here he lays out the city which becomes Lima. Its trading link with the outer world is through a natural harbour, just south of the river's mouth, at Callao.


Lima prospers greatly as the capital of the viceroyalty of Peru and as the trading centre for the entire Spanish empire in south America. Through this city and its port the silver from Potosí finds its way to Spain (up the coast to Panama and then on mule trains across the isthmus to be shipped from Portobelo). But Lima is also the point of transit for a very much wider range of South American goods.

Because of the obsessively protective mercantile system of the Spanish empire, even the overseas trade of Buenos Aires on the Atlantic coast is handled by authorized merchants in the viceregal capital at Lima on the Pacific.


This changes in the 18th century, when two new viceroyalties are created in south America. Lima loses modern Ecuador and Colombia to the viceroyalty of New Granada and the entire Spanish region east of the Andes to the viceroyalty of La Plata. The century also brings physical disaster. In 1746 an earthquake destroys much of Lima; an ensuing tidal wave engulfs Callao.

It is therefore a greatly reduced Peru which confronts the challenge of the independence movement which sweeps through the continent in the early 19th century. Even so, the centuries of privilege have made Peru the most conservative region in Spanish south America. Here, if anywhere, the Spanish authorities can hold out against rebellion.


In 1813 Spanish troops, campaigning east through the Andes, defeat Argentinian rebel forces in the region which is now eastern Bolivia - and in doing so convince the Argentinian general José de San Martín that Peru must be conquered before independence can be securely established. This perception begins the ten-year process which leads eventually to the end of Spanish rule in Peru.

San Martín strikes through Chile, the impoverished province which forms the southern extremity of the viceroyalty of Peru. In control here by 1817, San Martín builds up a Chilean navy for an invasion of Peru. To help him in his task he invites to Chile a British admiral, Thomas Cochrane, famous for his unconventional genius as a naval commander.


San Martín and Peru: 1818-1821

Cochrane, an eccentric Scottish nobleman, has made a dashing reputation for his exploits at sea during the Napoleonic wars but he has been dismissed from the British navy because of financial fraud. He accepts the Chilean invitation and arrives at Valparaiso in November 1818.

The Chilean navy consists of just seven ships, ranging from fifty to fourteen guns. The Spanish fleet on the Pacific coast is more than twice as powerful, but over the next two years Cochrane harries the enemy and attacks coastal forts in Peru until the advantage changes. His most famous exploit is stealing from Callao harbour, one dark night in November 1820, the Esmeralda - the largest and fastest frigate in Spain's Peruvian fleet.


Ten days previously Cochrane's squadron has landed near Lima an invading army of 4200 men, transported up the coast from Chile under the command of San Martín. The mere news of their arrival causes an entire Spanish battalion of 650 local Creoles to change sides and come over to the rebel cause. In this atmosphere, and to the fury of Cochrane, San Martín decides to wait for a Spanish withdrawal from Lima rather than attack the capital city directly.

Eventually, on 6 July 1821, the royalist garrison begins a retreat inland to a more secure position in the Andes. San Martín enters Lima on July 9 and proclaims Peruvian independence (on July 28) with himself as 'Protector'.


The next stage in the story of Peru is also a turning point in the careers of the two leaders of the American independence movement. While San Martín is attempting to secure his hold over Peru, Simón Bolívar is pressing south through Ecuador to complete his conquest of New Granada. Between the two liberators lies the important harbour of Guayaquil. Each wants it for his own territory. They converge on the town in 1822. Bolívar gets there first. San Martín arrives two weeks later, on July 25.

Over the next two days, with appropriate intervals for feasting, dancing and the toasting of liberty, the two men deliberate in private.


The Guayaquil Conference: 1822

Bolívar and Peru: 1823-1824

Although unwilling to collaborate with San Martín, Bolívar has many reservations about advancing into Peru. There is much unrest and rivalry in his first liberated republic, Gran Colombia, and he considers for a while making terms with the Spanish in Peru so that he can concentrate his energies further north. But the congress of the new Peruvian republic, endangered by Spanish forces, begs for his assistance.

In September 1823 Bolívar arrives in Lima, to a tremendous civic welcome. It has been agreed in advance that he is to have not only command of the army but 'dictatorial political authority' throughout the republic. He pledges himself to deliver a 'free and sovereign Peru'.


The Spanish forces are based in what are considered almost impregnable regions in the mountains east of Lima, but Bolívar and his talented chief of staff, Antonio José de Sucre, successfully confront them there. Together they win a victory at Junin on 6 August 1824. Bolívar leaves the rest of the campaign to Sucre, who goes on to win the decisive engagement at Ayacucho on December 9.

After Ayacucho the Spanish army surrenders, along with the viceroy himself who was commanding in the field. This success completes the liberation of almost the entire Spanish empire in south America. The exception is Upper Peru, beyond Lake Titicaca. Again Bolívar entrusts this final task to Sucre.


Sucre and Bolivia: 1825-1827

The republican victory at Ayacucho leaves only one Spanish army at large, in the high Andean territory of Upper Peru. Sucre moves into this region early in 1825 and defeats the Spanish in April at Tumusla.

Upper Peru has been administered from Lima in the early centuries of Spanish rule, although geographically - lying mainly east of the Andes - it has more obvious links with Buenos Aires. The republican governments in both cities are eager to incorporate this region, with its famous mines at Potosí, but locally a spirit of independence prevails. When Sucre convenes a congress in July 1825 to consider the region's future, the vote is for a separate state.


In honour of their liberators the delegates propose to name the new republic after Bolivár and to rename as Sucre the historic city (Chuquisaca) in which they are meeting.

The nation is duly proclaimed on 6 August 1825 as República Bolívar, soon to be better known to the world as Bolivia. Bolívar himself drafts a constitution. When it is adopted, in 1826, Sucre is elected president for life. Prudently he accepts a term of only two years, but the violence of political life in this new and remote republic means that he does not complete even this modest term. Already in 1827 there are several uprisings, in one of which Sucre is wounded. He resigns as president and returns to his home in Ecuador.


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