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12: The Guayaquil Meeting of Bolívar and San Martín

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Simón Bolívar, Venezuelan, and José de San Martín, Argentinian, met at Guayaquil, Ecuador, on July 26 and 27, 1822. Since then discussion has been rife in the Latin American press and in historical publications as to what actually took place at these meetings, where the two Liberators conferred in private-with no witnesses to their talks. However, much substantive information can be derived from three documents written immediately after the second meeting and dated July 29, 1822. Two of these are official communications from Bolívar's Chief Secretary, to the Colombian Government in Bogotá, and to General Sucre in Quito, giving a detailed account of the discussions; the third is a personal letter addressed by Bolívar to General Santander, Acting President of Colombia during Bolívar's absence. This letter confirms the statements of the two official communications.

San Martín was in Guayaquil only two days. In this brief narration we will follow his movements from arrival to departure by drawing on the writings of members of the staffs of the two Generals who were present at that time. A perusal of these documents and of the various other letters and communications cited might lead one to conclude that the main purpose of San Martín's visit to Guayaquil was an attempt to bring that province under Peruvian authority. Therefore, it may be pertinent to give the background of events that led to these historic and much-discussed meetings.


The Province of Guayaquil had been under the jurisdiction of the Royal Audience of Quito1 for nearly three centuries, and as such it formed an integral part of the territory governed by the Viceroyalty of Santa Fe (Colombia). However, on July 7, 1803, nineteen years prior to the meeting of the two Liberators, the Spanish King issued a Royal Order transferring the dependence of Guayaquil from the jurisdiction of Santa Fe to that of the Viceroyalty of Peru.

This was prompted by military considerations. At the time communications between Guayaquil and Santa Fe were precarious at best. The mule trail between the two cities traversed two formidable ranges of the Andes and crossed innumerable turbulent mountain streams. It took a Royal Courier the better part of a month to negotiate the route on horseback. On the other hand, Lima, seat of the Peruvian Viceroyalty, although 800 miles south of Guayaquil, could render military assistance to that Province by sea in less than two weeks. However, it was not the intent of this Royal Order to transfer the civil administration of the Province to Lima. But because of the revolt of Quito of 1809 and that of Santa Fe in 1810, after the latter the Viceroy in Lima took both the military and administrative affairs of Guayaquil under his full administration.

This arrangement lasted only a short time. Nine years later a new Royal Order, dated June 30, 1819, re-transferred the Province of Guayaquil to the jurisdiction of the Royal Audience in Quito, which, as mentioned before, was a dependency of the Viceroyalty of Santa Fe. The new status of Guayaquil lasted scarcely one year, because on October 9, 1820, the Province declared its independence from Spain. This was not an isolated move, but the result of a chain of events in the mother country. The invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by the Napoleonic armies prevented Spain from exercising proper control over its American Colonies, and as a result several of these had revolted against their Spanish masters; Guayaquil simply followed suit at the opportune moment.

Here we will digress briefly to relate the swiftly developing events in some of the other Spanish-American Colonies, which were responsible for the Guayaquil meeting of the two Liberators. We shall begin by narrating those concerning General San Martín.

San Martín

The Argentine General, José de San Martín, after helping to establish the independence of his own country, conceived the idea of liberating Chile and Peru. By eliminating the Spanish domination in these neighboring countries, Argentine independence would be consolidated, and the threat of again being subject to the Spanish yoke would be removed forever.

In Mendoza2 San Martín spent two years of painful and persevering toil, training and equipping the army of nearly 4,000 men with which he crossed the Andes in 1817. After three bloody battles which ended in the complete defeat of the Spaniards, who were far superior in numbers, he entered

Santiago (capital of Chile) on February 12, 1817. The crossing of the Andes by San Martín was a stupendous military feat. The pass is at an altitude of nearly 13,000 feet, and the distance between Mendoza, at the foot of the Andes on the Argentine side, and Santiago, in the Aconcagua Valley on the Chilean side, is over 300 miles.3 Because of the steep and inhospitable terrain and the lack of adequate shelters and food for the troops, it took San Martín's army the better part of a month to reach the Aconcagua valley.

After his victory in Chile, San Martín was obliged to remain there over three years, in order to assemble a fleet large enough to transport his army to Peru. He embarked on this adventure in August, 1820, and made his triumphal entry into Lima on July 9, 1821. In less than three weeks, on July 28th, Peru proclaimed its independence from Spain. In Lima, the Congress of the newly constituted nation immediately appointed San Martín its supreme head with the title of "Protector of Peru". In the meantime, the Spanish Viceroy had fled Lima with the remnants of his troops, taking refuge in the highlands of the interior.

After consolidating his position in Lima, one of San Martín's first official acts was to send a delegation to Guayaquil, congratulating that Province on its new independent status, and offering Peru's assistance to its authorities. Peruvian public opinion favored the annexation of Guayaquil to Peru, and, reassured by popular sentiment, San Martín anticipated success in eventually bringing that Province into the Peruvian state. His delegates painted an enticing picture, for both the authorities and the people, of the benefits that would accrue to the Province if it should become an integral part of the Peruvian nation, which at that time possessed a strong army and navy. This military support was urgently needed by Guayaquil because, although Venezuela and the Northern Provinces of Colombia had already been liberated by Bolívar, Quito, adjoining Guayaquil to the northeast, was still in the hands of the Spaniards. We shall now turn to Bolívar's part in the events preceding the Guayaquil Meeting.


Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan Liberator, had achieved the independence of the territories which today comprise Venezuela and all of northern Colombia. While on his way to liberate the Colombian southern provinces (today Ecuador), Bolívar was informed of Peru's plans to annex Guayaquil. He lost no time in addressing a letter from Cali, Colombia, to José Joaquin Olmedo, President of the junta governing Guayaquil, dated January 2, 1822, which read in part:

"Your Excellency must be aware that Guayaquil is an integral part of Colombian territory; that a Province has no right to secede from the association to which it belongs; and that it would be contrary to natural and political laws to allow an intermediate region to become a battlefield between two powerful states. Moreover, I believe that Colombia will never permit another American power to hold dominion over its territory."

Less than five months later, on May 24, 1822, Quito was liberated by the Battle of Pichincha, won by Bolívar's ablest officer, General Antonio José de Sucre, and three days afterward Quito declared for annexation to Colombia. Still greatly concerned over the Peruvian designs on Guayaquil, Bolívar wrote from Trapiche (Patia Valley), on June 1st, to Pedro Gual, Secretary of State of Colombia in Bogotá, sending him copies of the correspondence exchanged with San Martín, and saying:

...From these documents you will note that the Protector of Peru is determined:

1) To meddle in the internal affairs of Colombia as regards her relations with her provinces;

2) To assert that Guayaquil should not remain independent but must decide to join one state or the other; 3) To assure Guayaquil that Peru will cherish Guayaquil's independence as dearly as its own.

...I thought it my duty to consult the Executive Power respecting the line of conduct that I should pursue in regard to Guayaquil and Peru, particularly the immediate problem of Guayaquil's separating and Peru's intervention ...."

The Colombian Government answered on June 25th, saying:

"As Peru has no grounds, legal or otherwise, to justify its designs, nor to authorize its Protector [San Martín] to give Your Excellency advice that you don't need .... you are authorized to occupy the territories belonging to Colombia, and should the Guayaquil Junta oppose your actions, you are to take possession of the entire Province, which from that moment should and is to be considered an integral part of Colombia."

From the time he left Bogotá, it took Bolívar nearly six months to reach Quito. While en route, at the head of an army of 3,000 troops, he liberated the southern territories by defeating the Spaniards at the Battle of Bombona, near Pasto, on April 7, 1822, and when he reached Quito after the Pichincha victory he addressed a letter to San Martín in Lima, on June 22, 1822, expressing the same thoughts he had previously conveyed to Olmedo, i.e., that Guayaquil formed an integral part of Colombia, and adding:

"I do not believe that Guayaquil has any right to demand permission from Colombia to express its will to incorporate itself into the Republic .... but I will nevertheless consult the people of Guayaquil, not only because they deserve unlimited consideration from Colombia, but also in order to demonstrate to the world that, in the entire territory of Colombia, there is not a single region unwilling to obey its just laws."

In another paragraph he stated:

"It is not fitting that a small Province should disturb the great destiny of South America, which, united in heart, in interests and in glory .... anticipates with joy the progress of generation upon generation free to enjoy the bountiful gifts showered upon the land by the Almighty, and ever exulting in the achievements of its Protectors and Liberators."

Bolívar hastened his departure from Quito, and on July 11, 1822, arrived in Guayaquil, where he was welcomed with overwhelming demonstrations of joy. A few hours later he was joined by the troops who had been the victors of Bombona and Pichincha. Noting that public opinion was favorable to Colombia, Bolívar issued a proclamation on July 13th, which said in part:

"People of Guayaquil! Your hearts belong to Colombia, not only because of your love for that country, but also because from time immemorial you have been part of the territory that today has the honor of bearing the name of the Father of the New World! However, I wish to consult you, through an Electoral College, that it may not be said there is a single Colombian who does not love his fatherland and its laws."

This proclamation was supplemented on the same day by an ordinance issued by the Colombian Chief of Staff, General Bartolome Salom, reading as follows:

1) His Excellency the Liberator has taken the City and Province of Guayaquil under the protection of Colombia.
2) The flag and coat-of-arms of Colombia will be adopted by the Province as by the rest of the Nation.
3) Citizens of all opinions will be equally protected and will enjoy the most absolute safety.
4) In all military and civil ceremonies the name of Colombia will be cheered.
5) His Excellency the Liberator and his aides have assumed charge of the political and military government of the City and Province of Guayaquil.
6) To prevent recurring disturbances it is recommended to the citizens that order be maintained.
7) The political and military functions of the old authorities have ceased; but they will be respected as they have been up to now, until the appointment of the representatives of the Province."

San Martín and Bolívar

When San Martín was told about the victory at Pichincha, which liberated the southern part of Colombia, and simultaneously received Bolívar's letter of June 22nd, he decided to leave for Guayaquil immediately, with the expectation of arriving there while the Colombian Liberator was still in Quito. It was his hope that his popularity, backed by the strength of his fleet and of the Santa Cruz Brigade,4 would sway public opinion in favor of annexing the Province to Peru. Accordingly, San Martín boarded the transport "Macedonia" at the port of Callao on July 14th, and arrived at the Island of Puna in the mouth of the Guayas River on July 25th. Guayaquil is situated on the right bank of this river some 35 miles upstream.

At Puná San Martín learned that Bolívar had arrived in Guayaquil two weeks earlier and proclaimed the Province an integral part of Colombia, assuming full command of its territory. Profoundly vexed that the prime object of his trip had been frustrated, San Martín decided not to disembark. His disappointment was understandable because in the face of a recent defeat at the hands of the Spaniards, suffered by one of his divisions at Ica (Peru), the acquisition of Guayaquil would have represented a victory for his policies and strengthened his government.

That same day, when Bolívar heard of San Martín's decision not to land, he sent a personal note, urging the Argentine General to come ashore, and adding:

"Your not coming to this city would be as regrettable to me as if we had been defeated in many battles; but no, you will not disappoint the eager wish that I cherish of embracing on Colombian soil5 the greatest friend of my heart and of my country. "How is it possible that you would have come so far only to refuse us in Guayaquil the immense pleasure of welcoming the outstanding man that all are anxious to meet, and, if possible, to touch?"

The "Macedonia" sailed up the Guayas River, arriving at Guayaquil on the morning of July 26th, and was met by Bolívar, who went on board to welcome the Argentine Liberator. San Martín disembarked with his entourage and went directly to a nearby residence which had been specially prepared for him. On the way he received the military honors of an infantry battalion.

Bolívar, who had disembarked before San Martín, was waiting for him at the door of the house, in full dress uniform and surrounded by his staff. They entered the reception room together, and San Martín received various delegations, including a group of ladies who presented him with a golden laurel crown. After these ceremonies the two Liberators retired to a nearby room for a brief conference. A short time later Bolívar left the house, while San Martín appeared on a balcony and greeted the immense crowd gathered outside with a few phrases of thanks. Then, after paying a courtesy visit to Bolívar's residence, he returned to his own headquarters for dinner and rest.

The next day (July 27th) San Martín called on Bolívar, and they conferred alone for the best part of four hours. At 5 P.M. they emerged to attend a banquet for fifty persons given by Bolívar in honor of his guest. After dinner, San Martín returned to his lodgings to rest until 9 P.M., when he attended a ball given by the municipality in his honor. At 1:00 A.M., on July 28th, he summoned his aides-de-camp and, accompanied by Bolívar, left by the back stairs to avoid the crowd, going directly to the "Macedonia". At the dock the two Liberators embraced and parted, never to meet again.

The Meeting

We will give here a brief resume of the subjects discussed at the two meetings, taken from the text of Bolívar's letter to Santander, dated July 29, 1822, mentioned at the beginning of our chronicle.

According to Bolívar, San Martín, having become convinced that the Colombian was already the master of Guayaquil, affirmed his readiness not to interfere in its affairs. Bolívar nevertheless assured the Argentine General that the wishes expressed in his letter from Lima five months earlier would be carried out. San Martín had said:

.... that the Guayaquil problem [should] be solved by a popular vote, leaving the people free to choose their own destiny and decided for themselves which country they wished to be part of....'

Bolívar added that an Assembly to be specially elected by the popular vote would decide the issue, but indicated that in his Opinion the results would show an overwhelming majority favoring Colombia.

The other subjects discussed, though important, were overshadowed by that of Guayaquil. On the military side, Bolívar was sending to Peru 3,000 fully equipped troops on board Admiral Encalada's fleet, departing the very day of the last meeting. On the political side, a plan was considered for designating Guayaquil the site for discussing the formation of a federation of the South American countries liberated from Spain. Regarding the demarcation of boundaries between Colombia and Peru, San Martín offered to use his influence with the Peruvian Congress to obtain an amicable settlement, but agreed to Bolívar's suggestion that the matter be left in the hands of a joint mission to be duly appointed by both Governments.

Then San Martín confided to Bolívar his determination to leave Peru permanently and retire to Mendoza (Argentina) as soon as he achieved his first major victory over the Spaniards, without waiting for the end of the war. In conclusion, San Martín said to Bolívar: "Ask anything of Peru, and it will be granted immediately. I will see to that." And he added, "I expect that Colombia will act in the same way." So ended the meeting of the two great South American Liberators-whose paths never crossed again.


San Martín died in exile at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, twenty-eight years later, on August 17, 1850, almost totally blind and extremely limited in financial resources. Worse still, he was greatly disillusioned because the native land which he had so loved and helped to freedom was at that time rent by internal dissension, and had for more than fifteen years been subject to the rule of an Argentine tyrant.

While Bolívar, shortly before his death in 1830, was to witness the secession of the Southern Provinces, which included Quito and Guayaquil, from Colombia. These provinces declared their independence and took the name of "República del Ecuador". It was then that, sick in heart and body, and seeing the disintegration of his fatherland, he is said to have exclaimed:

"I have ploughed the Sea!"

1. Quito, situated about one-third of the way from Guayaquil to Santa Fe, was the seat of the Royal Audience, where the Viceroy of Santa Fe handled all the political and juridical business of the Province.

2. Mendoza: an Argentine city located on the slopes of the Andes near the Chilean border.

3The mule trail over the mountains crossed a desert about 120 miles long at an altitude of 7,000 feet. Napoleon once said that the three most difficult obstacles when moving an army were deserts, high mountains and wide rivers; of these he considered deserts the most formidable.

4A Peruvian Brigade under General Andres de Santa Cruz had previously been sent by San Martín to General Sucre, who won the Battle of Pichincha with the help of these Peruvian troops. In order to repatriate this Brigade to Peru after Pichincha, San Martín dispatched the Chilean fleet to Guayaquil, under the command of Admiral Blanco Encalada. Bolívar had replaced the heavy casualties suffered by this Brigade at Pichincha, and increased its strength to 1,600 men by adding to it some Colombian contingents composed of prisoners captured in Quito. On July 28, 1822, a total of 3,000 soldiers embarked for Peru in Admiral Encalada's fleet, because Bolívar, in his desire to help San Martín, had added 1,400 Colombian troops of his own.

5Bolívar wanted to emphasize to San Martín in this letter that Guayaquil was part of Colombia.

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