Jose de San Martin

San Martin

February 25, 1778: Birth of Jose de San Martin 

 It's mid-1816, and South America is boiling with rebellion. Jose Artigas, who led 16,000 of his fellow Banda Oriental residents in the Exodus of 1811 and issued the provocative Reglamento provisorio for land redistribution in 1815, is beginning to suffer major defeats. (Even so, he came to be regarded as the first hero of Uruguayan independence, which is why his statue stands at the south end of the Avenue of the Americas, at Dominick St.)

The Spanish royalists have reconquered Venezuela, and Bolivar has retreated to the hinterlands of the territory he had liberated only three years earlier. San Martin, on the other hand, is settled in at Mendoza, just east of the Andes, hundreds of miles from Buenos Aires or Santiago.

Chance favors the prepared mind

San Martin's stay in Mendoza epitomizes the differences between him and most other leaders of the South American independence movements in the 1810s and 1820s. Born in Argentina but raised in Spain, he served as a professional soldier in Spain and North Africa for 22 years. In Mendoza he was behaving like a professional: recruiting and training troops, collecting armaments and supplies, surveying passes into Chile, gathering information on enemy movements, disseminating false information to the enemy. San Martin proposed reaching Peru (the last stronghold of the Spaniards in America) by way of Chile. After two years of preparations at Mendoza, he moved across the two-mile-high Andes with 4,000 troops and 1,000 support personnel in a matter of weeks, and within four months had fought decisive battles, including the Battle of Maipu (April 1818), the decisive defeat of the royalists in Chile.

In 1820, after two more years of preparation (including assembling a fleet to transport troops and supplies), San Martin set out with over 4,000 Chileans and Argentineans to liberate Peru. Rather than fighting pitched battles with the Spanish royalists - a force some 23,000 strong - he aimed to inspire rebellion among residents by spreading revolutionary propaganda. Peruvian independence was declared in July 1821, with Lima naming San Martin Protector of a Free Peru. The month before, Bolivar had won the Battle of Carabobo, liberating Venezuela for the third time in ten years. (This time it stuck.)

For all his efficiency, San Martin - like Artigas and Bolivar - died in exile. Why? No one's quite sure. In 1821, San Martin sent Bolivar a thousand men to help liberate the province of Quito. In July 1822 San Martin had an historic meeting with Bolivar at Guayaquil. Their discussion is not recorded, but in two months later San Martin resigned as Protector of Peru. In 1824 he sailed for France, where he spent the last 26 years of his life.

San Martin and Bolivar

San Martin confronts Bolivar at the north end of Avenue of the Americas as he did in real life at Guayaquil. The pedestals mirror each other in height and style: unfortunately, both are too high to allow passersby to see the sculptures. Bolivar's pedestal and San Martin's each claims their hero as Liberator of Peru. In terms of New York statues, San Martin is the clear winner: the dramatic pose, with San Martin pointing into the distance on a rearing horse, is much easier to read.