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15: Bolívar at Pativilca

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In 1824 Bolívar was at Pativilca, a small Peruvian village about 125 miles north of Lima (three days journey on horseback) and about 10 miles from the port of Supe. The Liberator was seriously ill. Although he was only forty years of age, the vicissitudes of his career and the exhausting military campaigns of the past fourteen years had taken their toll of his health-enduring 10,000 miles on horseback over the precarious trails of the Andes, sleeping mostly in the open, subsisting on a deficient diet, and exposed to the rigors of inclement and variable weather from the scorching Venezuelan plains to the frigid Sierras. In a letter dated January 7, 1824, to General Santander (Acting President of Colombia during the absence of Bolívar), he thus described his illness:

It is a combination of an internal irritation and rheumatism, of fever and retention of fluid, of extreme nausea and colic pains.

But if the miseries of the flesh were considerable, the tribulations of the spirit were overwhelming, owing to the chaotic political, military and financial conditions which Bolívar had to cope with upon his arrival in Perú. Having liberated the vast territories which comprise the Republics of Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, he had come to Perú, only after three embassies from the Peruvians had implored his military assistance, as well as his reassuring presence in Lima.

Two and a half years previously, a victorious patriot army, consisting of Peruvian, Chilean and Argentine contingents under General Josá de San Martín, had liberated the country. However, by 1824 San Martín had left the scene of his triumphs, and the Chilean troops had returned to their own country; the scanty remnants of the Argentine troops, ill-fed and unpaid for a long period of time, were becoming insubordinate, and the Peruvian army was greatly reduced in numbers. President Josá de la Riva Agüero, having been deposed by the Legislature, had fled to the northern provinces, taking with him the remnants of the Peruvian army, and leaving the capital at the mercy of the enemy.

All of this took place at a time when the enemy armies controlled most of the Peruvian Andes and the greater part - of the Peruvian coast south of Lima. To oppose the powerful Spanish forces, the Liberator had scarcely 5,000 Colombian troops, quartered in the northern provinces of Cajamarca, Trujillo and Huaraz. An additional 3,000 Peruvian "green" troops, mostly conscripted, were being trained in Trujillo. This disparity in numbers prevented Bolívar from engaging in a decisive battle with the powerful Spanish army, which had been victorious for the past fourteen years. In an attempt to remedy the situation, the Liberator had sent numerous emissaries to Bogotá, urging the Colombian Government to supply him with at least 9,000 additional troops.

Such was the disastrous situation confronting Bolívar when, during his convalescence at Pativilca, he was visited by Joaquin Mosquera, Colombian Minister to Perú, who was traveling to Bogotá. Mosquera found the Great Man seated on a rickety bench, leaning against the adobe wall of a small orchard. His face was thin and wan, and his voice weak and hollow. Seeing his hero in this deplorable physical condition, at a time when the state of the country was so discouraging, Mosquera, with a heavy heart, asked, "What do you intend to do now, Liberator?" Suddenly possessed of supernatural strength, and with a strange fire in his eyes, Bolívar leaped to his feet and exclaimed: "Conquer!"

The rest is history. Before the end of 1824, the victorious armies of Bolívar, triumphant at Junín and Ayacucho, had not only liberated all of Perú, but had also been instrumental in ending the Spanish domination of South America. What a magnificent legacy of courage, determination and faith Bolívar has left to succeeding generations of Americans, with his unforgettable reply to Mosquera—"Conquer!"

When despair and defeat crush our spirits; when relentless Fate inflicts upon us repeated failures and disappointments; when we find ourselves in the depths of discouragement and frustration, disillusioned and despondent, we should then ask ourselves, "What are we going to do?" And, drawing upon the incomparable strength and courage displayed by the Liberator at Pativilca, we should echo his reply to Mosquera and resolutely answer—"Conquer!"

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