The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
HTA Home Page | E-books | Latin America | Bolívar in México

1: Bolívar in México

Prologue || 2: Francisco de Miranda >>

Early in his life, when the future Liberator was ten or eleven years old, he wanted to go to Spain to complete his education in Madrid. Although his uncle and guardian, Don Carlos Palacios y Blanco, concurred in his nephew's desire, he was reluctant to expose a boy of such tender years to the inconveniences of so long a trip, and to the hazards of pirates terrorizing the Caribbean, as well as to the dangers of the naval war with England.

The opportunity presented itself a few years later, in 1799, when Bolívar was fifteen and a half years of age, with the arrival at La Guayra of the vessel San Ildefonso, a large ship with better accommodations than those offered by regular ships in the route to Spain. Moreover, the San Ildefonso was equipped as a man-of-war, and therefore able to defend itself against any unforeseen attack.

Having been entrusted to the Captain, Don José Uriarte y Borja, our future hero embarked on the San Ildefonso, which departed La Guayra on January 19, 1799. En route to Spain the ship was to call Veracruz, México, and Havana, Cuba.

General D. F. O'Leary, an aide-de-camp of the Liberator, in referring to the care and attention which the Captain showered on his young protégé during the crossing, mentions in his "Narration" that Bolívar, upon recalling this trip, had said that "the Captain of the San Ildefonso was a worthy member of his relatives in heaven"—a reference to St. Francis de Borja, of whose family Borja was a descendant.(1)

Fourteen days later, on February 2, 1799, the ship arrived at Veracruz, México, where it was forced to remain for more than six weeks, as Havana, the next port-of-call, was under blockade by sixteen men-of-war from a British naval squadron.

Bolívar, who had been provided with a letter of introduction from the Bishop of Caracas to his nephew, judge Guillermo de Aguirre y Viana took advantage of the delay to visit the city of México. He left for that metropolis on February 27th, upon receiving from the Spanish authorities a passport permitting him to travel to the capital.

At the time there was a road over the mountains (Sierra Madre Oriental), which was used by small stagecoaches and barouches. Because of the ruggedness of the terrain and the primitive condition of the road, the trip was very hazardous and took between four and five days to accomplish.(2)

The house of judge Aguirre, where Bolívar stayed while in México City, was located at the corner which is today the intersection of Venustiano Carranza Avenue and Bolívar Street, and was already in existence at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1712 the property had been acquired by Captain Don Juan Manuel de Aguirre y Espinosa, the highest Senior Magistrate of México City, being subsequently inherited by his daughter, Dona Josefa de Aguirre y Luyando.

At the time of Bolívar's visit, this house was actually owned by the great-grandson of Magistrate Aguirre, Don Manuel de Luyando y Aguirre, who was lifetime Magistrate of the City of México; but it was being occupied by judge Don Guillermo de Aguirre y Viana, Regent of the Royal Audience.

Some seventy-five years later this house where Bolívar had stayed was torn down and replaced by two more modern buildings: one at the front facing Las Damas Street (now Bolívar Street); and one at the rear facing Cadena Street (now Venustiano Carranza Avenue).

History presents strange contrasts, as can be noted here. The house facing Cadena Street, and bearing the number 8, was acquired in 1888, almost ninety years after the Liberator of Five Republics had stayed there, by the Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz, who resided there until his overthrow in 1910.

Moreover, on the land where these two houses stood, Banco de Comercio recently erected a sumptuous building, where exhibited in the ninth floor foyer is a magnificent bust of Bolívar, to commemorate the visit of the Liberator to México City.

When Bolívar arrived at the capital, judge Aguirre introduced him to the Viceroy, Don José Manuel de Azanza (afterwards Duke of Santa Fe), who invited the young traveler to the social affairs at the palace.

Of these friendly gatherings at the palace of the Viceroy, the historian Felipe Larrazabal narrates the following:

"The Viceroy enjoyed the conversation of the young man from Caracas, with his vivacity and his repartee, and liked to question him to admire his agility-until a certain day when from one question to another, they came to some questions of a controversial political nature. Noticing this, the Viceroy changed the conversation to other subjects and requested judge Aguirre to promptly send the young man to Spain."

Nearly thirty years later, in commenting on his controversy with Azanza, Bolívar mentioned that the Viceroy's questions referred to the movements of the Caracas insurrection of Gual and Espana, adding, "I have completely forgotten the words I used at that time, but I remember that I defended without any embarrassment the rights of the independence of America."(3)

After spending eight days in the Mexican capital, Bolívar returned to Veracruz, arriving there on March 20, 1799. In the course of his journey to and from México City, he had stopped at the cities of Puebla and Jalapa to visit their industries and manufactories. The trip cost 400 pesos (four hundred dollars).

In a letter written in Veracruz that same morning to his guardian, Don Carlos Palacios y Blanco, in Caracas, Bolívar requested him to pay the sum of 400 pesos to Don Pedro Miguel Echeverría, who had defrayed the expenses, or to make the payment in Caracas to Echeverría's agent, Don Juan Esteban de Echezuria.(4)

On the afternoon of the same day (March 20, 1799) the San Ildefonso sailed from Veracruz for Havana, where it stopped for forty-eight hours; continuing its voyage, it arrived at the Spanish port of Santona (Province of Vizcay) on May 30th. The crossing from La Guayra had taken Bolívar almost four and one-half months.

1. The cargo that the San Ildefonso carried from Spain to México consisted of 2919 quintals of quicksilver from Almaden and Germany; 1392 reams of paper for the Royal Offices in México; 9120 ditto for the Offices of the Tobacco Revenue; 6 boxes of flowers, medicinal herbs, roots and seeds for the Manila Hospital; also an oil painting for the Royal Academy; plus 3 trunks and a small box containing general merchandise. (Data taken from "La Gazeta de México", Monday, March 4, 1799)

2. Today there are three modern highways linking the two cities, over which the trip can be made comfortably by automobile in less than eight hours. The capital of México is situated at an altitude of about 7,250 feet above sea level, and the distance is about 240 miles.

3. Peru de Lacroix, Diario de Bucaramanga.

4. The ship Nuestra Señora del Carmen (Our Lady of Carmen), nicknamed "La Dichosa" (The Lucky One), which carried Bolívar's letter to Venezuela, had brought to México a cargo of Venezuelan cocoa, and sailed on April 7, 1799, to return to Maracaibo with a cargo of flour, coined and wrought silver, earthenware from Puebla, wrought copper and other goods.

Prologue || 2: Francisco de Miranda >>