As we celebrate the 235th anniversary of the American Independence and the men and women who helped make the United States a reality, here’s a look at some of the key Latin American Independence events and heroes. Viva la libertad!
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The single most influential leader in Latin American history, El Libertador led Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela to victory over the Spanish. He became the second president of Venezuela and president of the short-lived multi-country Gran Colombia, and of Peru and Bolivia. A tireless warrior and visionary, he is responsible for planting the seeds of democracy (and later, as he struggled to retain power, of dictatorship) throughout the continent between 1808 and 1829.
It took Cuba three tries to gain its independence from Spain and there were many figures whose sacrifices stood out, but none are more closely associated with the fight for freedom than Marti. A poet and statesman, he was the struggle’s intellectual architect who lived in exile in New York for 14 years while he wrote and spoke about the possibility of freedom in the island and throughout Latin America. He died in battle in 1895, as the Cuban War of Independence was beginning (it lasted until 1898).
El Grito de Dolores
Oh, the power of words. It was a Catholic priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla who sparked the Mexican War of Independence with a fiery speech in the church at the town of Dolores on September 16, 1810 that challenged Mexican-born criollos to break free of the oppressive, abusive rule of the Spanish. Four days later, rebel troops engaged the Spanish in the first major battle of a war that would end with Mexico’s victory in 1821. That’s why El Grito (or The Cry) de Dolores is also known as El Grito de la Independencia.
El Grito de Lares
That massive pride that Puerto Ricans carry inside them? It’s no wonder it exists given events like this. With tariffs and taxes becoming burdensome and the people craving self-determination, island-born criollos rose up against Spain on September 23, 1868 in the town of Lares by planting an early version of the Puerto Rican flag and going up against much better armed Spanish soldiers. They lost and Puerto Rico passed to American hands in 1898 during the Spanish-American War but the pride remains.
Jose de San Martin
Born in Argentina but raised in Spain, De San Martin fought on the side of Spain in the Peninsular Wars against France, but then soured on the ‘mother country,’ returning to Argentina to lead the fight for independence from Spain. Working with Simon Bolivar, he was responsible for the southern half of South America, liberating Argentina and Chile. A national Argentine hero, the country’s highest honor carries his name: Orden del Libertador San Martin.
For many years the Ecuadorian-born mistress of Simon Bolivar was dismissed as just that. But in truth, she was every bit the fierce warrior he was. After leaving her husband for Bolivar, she spied for him, distributed propaganda leaflets and once prevented an assassination attempt on his life and helped him escape. Their collaboration lasted eight years, until his death. He called her La libertadora del libertador.
When the Mexican Revolution came, they were there to say presente: Female soldiers wearing braids and bullet bandoliers who fought alongside the men (as well as cooked at the campsites and cared for the wounded) in the fight to end Porfirio Diaz’s oppressive rule, starting in 1910.