Ayacucho: scene of the battle to the death that gave Peru independence | Culture


Almost a century ago, two French counts wrote a book on Peru with annotations referring to the figure of the rabona, the protagonist of the Spanish-American wars of independence (1809-1829) and of the defeat of Spain in the battle of Ayacucho, which emancipated the Andean country and accelerated the creation of new republics in South America. The traveling lineage was astonished by the deployment of women and children in the Peruvian armies. They walked amidst the long lines of soldiers and mounts and herded herds with baggage and provisions, obtained along the trails to the battlefield.

They were the essential infantry, the companions of the soldiers, whom they followed on exhausting journeys with children hanging by their teats or skirts. Battered frequently, they did not eat a bite as long as their partner did not see fit to share it. On Pilgrimages of an Outcast (1838), the French feminist of Peruvian descent Flora Tristán admired their resistance: they unload mules, pitch tents, suckle, lie down, light fires, cook and throw themselves like lionesses on nearby villages demanding supplies for the army. If there were none, the meager beasts of burden satiated hunger.

Rabona Flora Barros is a relevant character in A day of war in Ayacucho (Fondo de Cultura Económica), the latest novel by the journalist, writer and Americanist Fermín Goñi, which recreates the battle of December 9, 1824 between the troops of Viceroy José de la Serna and the Bolivarian banners of Antonio José de Sucre: 14,000 combatants, 13,700 Americans, mostly Indians and mestizos, and the rest, peninsular Spaniards. A fierce combat of pikes, rifles, machetes, sabers and cannon shots, for the monarchy, for independence or for the one who wins, because numerous enlistments were forced.

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The writer Fermín Goñi.
The writer Fermín Goñi.

Years before the slaughter with the emancipatory regiments, the rebellions in America had contributed to the collapse of absolutism in Spain, the Riego uprising, the liberal triennium (1820-1823) and the reorganization of the Army by liberal constitutionalism, in order to curb their tendency to intervene in politics. The struggles between absolutists and liberals divided the officers on all fronts and delayed the sending of reinforcements to the viceroyalty of Peru, whose garrisons were ruined after the royalist defeat in the Ayacucho pampas.

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Fermín Goñi has written about what he would have liked to read and could not find about the last imperial battle of the Spanish army, non-existent in the history books of Spain and addressed in the Hispanic Americans from hyperbole and savoring, without further details on the circumstance and spirit of the contenders in a country disarticulated by racism, misery and colonial domination. After years of confrontation with scholars and archives, of burning soles through the rugged Andean orography, the author undertakes a thorough restoration of the physical and emotional hardships suffered by the expedition members, abundant during the thousand kilometers of looming journey to the theater of operations. : the Quinoa plain and the slopes of the Condorcunca, at an altitude of 4000 meters.

The dialogue of defeat between José de la Serna and one of his generals is eloquent:

“Your Excellency, today they hit us hard… More than 1,400 dead soldiers and officers. We have to capitulate. The living are either in disarray or not wanting to do anything.

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―Proceed as what you are, soldiers of the Royal Army of Peru, but do not sign anything that affects the honor or the homeland.

The preparation and development of combat are rigorously reconstructed in A day of war in Ayacucho, which closes the author’s trilogy The dreams of the liberator and Everything will bear his name. The rebel general Guillermo Miller (1795-1861), at the head of a montonera cavalry that speared until breaking the antlers, pointed out in the two volumes of his memoirs that the viceregal commanders demanded as a duty what the patriot leadership received as a degree. “Presenting the royalists as oppressors, the population alienated itself from them, denied them their aid and forced them to severe measures that degenerated with the greatest ease into tyrannical, and even barbarous.”

Wild elevations were the scene of a sort of civil war between Americans, between the Quechua, Aymara, Mestizo and Creole peasant levies of the viceroy, and the Quechuas, Aymara, Mestizos and Creoles of Sucre, with squads of neighbors and friends facing each other in the contest. Not in vain, the Spanish general and memorialist Andrés García Camba (1793-1861), wounded in the battle, admitted in his parts that few soldiers were reliable, much less the prisoners released to take up arms. A Peruvian colonel testified that there were those who cut their hamstrings and Achilles tendons to avoid being recruited.

Fermín Goñi has written a book of action, of heroes and heroines, also of military intrigues and cabal, from the distance of the narrator and his Latin Americanist vocation. The battle of liberating catharsis, three hours and more than 2,000 dead, began with the wrong bayonet charge of a royalist battalion that disarmed the flanks and allowed the enemy to counterattack advantageously and decimate the demotivated royalist ranks, which not only did not fight. withdrawal but overwhelmed those who tried to prevent it.

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The viceroy was wounded, taken prisoner and released, and the strategist Antonio José de Sucre, appointed Grand Marshal of Ayacucho. The story ran its course. 200 years ago the independence of Peru was proclaimed, only possible after the resounding military victory, which reverberated in Mexico, Central America and the Antilles and consolidated the emancipatory process initiated in Venezuela and Argentina by Bolívar and San Martín, and continued in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.

The story of the capitulation of an army with more than three centuries of presence in South America corresponds to military biographers, hardly interested in the Stations of the Cross of Rabona Flora Barros and her husband, the patriot Felipe Reyes, approached in the novel with a contagious humanity.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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