Rosas, Juan Manuel (1829-52)
He was born of a prominent family in Buenos Aires as Juan Manuel Ortiz de Rozas but he simplified his name to Juan Manuel de Rosas.
His family was successful in cattle ranching. As he grew up, he developed an affection for gauchos (cowboys) and they for him. Like
them, he was an excellent horseman and brave and hearty. Rosas engaged in derring-do just as they did. They saw him as one of
them even though he was from an upper-class family. In his political career, he would have gaucho support and would also tame them
for the other cattle ranchers.
He became rich not only through cattle ranching but also from the ownership of saladeros, meat salting plants. The small beef export trade
was composed of salted meat sent to Brazil, where it was fed to slaves.
In politics, he was parochial, more concerned with Buenos Aries than with the rest of what had been the Viceroyalty de la Plata (the Plate).
As a youngster, he had fought with Jacques de Liniers against the 1806 British invasion of Buenos Aires city. At age 27,
he fought the centralizing unitario (unitarian) tendencies of men such as Bernadino Rivadavia. He had
built a private army, Los Colorados del Montes. He fought as a federalist, wanting to preserve Buenos Aires provincial
autonomy. Rivadavia was president of what was called the United Provinces, but which was really limited to Buenos
Aires city and province and, in uncertain fashion, neighboring provinces. Rivadavia and the unitarios were
cosmopolitan and oriented towards Europe. They engaged in a war with Brazil over the Banda Oriental
(Uruguay) from 1825 to 1827,
a war which led to a blockade of the River Plate and caused financial crisis in the city. The United Provinces lost.
Rivadavia resigned. The Federalist leader, Manuel Dorrego, was deposed and executed in 1828; Rosas and friends
defeated Juan Lavalle, the unitarian leader. In 1829, he was elected the governor
of Buenos Aires province with power over the so-called the Confederación de la Río Plata. His rise to power represented the ascendancy
of the commercial cattle ranchers, the estancieros, who would play the dominant role in Argentine politics until the middle of the twentieth
In 1829, he was chosen for a three-year term of governor of Buenos Aires province. As governor, he:
The country was divided into two camps, the Liga Unitaria (the provinces of Córdoba, Santiago del Estero, Catamarca,
La Rioja, San Juan, San Luis, Tucumán, Salta y Mendoza) and the other camp, headed by Rosas, the Pacto Federal
(the provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Entre Ríos y Corrientes). From the beginning, Rosas was vehement
in attacking the Liga Unitaria, calling its members "savage." He was supported by the bourgeoisie, conservatives,
reactionaries, the Catholic Church, discontented gauchos, Indians, urban workers, and some of the rural population.
He was anti-European and anti-civil liberties. He particularly restricted the press. Although he ruled as a
centralist in the Federal Pact, he did not want a government which combined all of the Argentine provinces.
In the areas he controlled , his rule was absolute. As Francis Baylies, United
States chargé d'affaires in Buenos Aires wrote in July, 1832, "but
the, tremendous power with which he [Rosas] is clothed would transform a
patriot into a Tyrant and an angel into a demon." 1Rosas conducted summary
executions and deportations.
- gathered the federalist party around him;
- defeated all resistance attempts by unitarios (who argued for a strong central
- cultivated the Church; and
- enacted laws for advancement of education.
When his term ended in 1832, he left office. He wanted absolute power but could not get it. So he took
his army South to fight Indians. As he conquered Indian lands, he doled the out to supporters, thus
cementing their support of him. And his reputation soared as a brave Argentine who was successfully
defending the fatherland against the "savages." It was during his campaign
against the Indians south of Buenos Aires, that the famous English naturalist,
Charles Darwin, met him. He described his camp thusly:
Darwin saw him as popular with his men, a fine horseman, and enthusiastic.
It consisted of a square formed by waggons, artillery,
straw huts, etc. The soldiers were nearly all cavalry; and I should think such a
villaneous, banditti-like army was never before collected together. The greater
number of men were of mixed breed, between Negro, Indian and Spaniard. I know
not the reason, but men of such origin seldom have a good expression of
Meanwhile, in the 1832-35 period, trouble became endemic in Buenos Aires and no one could
keep the peace. This was partly caused by wife, Encarnación, and the Sociedad Popular Restauradora, called
the mazorca. The mazorca (más horca or more hangings) operated as a secret police in addition to having
bully boys who physically attacked the opponents, real or imagined, of the Rosas faction. The Rosas forces made it clear
to everyone that only General Rosas could restore order. Encarnación and the
mazorca staged a coup d'etat against Governor Juan Ramón González de Balcarce. According to Darwin:
This revolution was supported by scarcely any pretext of
grievances ... seventy men left the city and with the cry of Rosas,
the whole country took arms. The city was then blockaded, no
provisions, cattle or horses were allowed to enter; besides, there
was only a little skirmishing, and a few men killed daily. The
outside party well knew that, by stopping the supply of meat, they
would certainly be victorious. . . . The warfare on both sides was
avowedly protracted till it was possible to hear from Rosas ... on
the bare reception of his views, the Governor, ministers, and part
of the military . . . fled the city. The rebels entered, elected a
new governor.... From these proceedings it was clear that Rosas
ultimately would become dictator.3
When the caudillo Juan "Facundo" Quiroga of La Rioja was assassinated, the leaders of Buenos
Aires invited Rosas in 1835 to take a five-year term as provincial governor. He demanded that a
plebiscite be held to ratify his demand for absolute power. Perhaps he had Quiroga killed: As Rosas later
while in exile in Southampton, England, "They say I ordered the assassination of the illustrious General Quiroga. But have they proved it?"
The plebiscite passed and he stayed until he was
overthrown in 1852. It was a tough dictatorship with exiling, murder, and imprisonment of
vocal opponents common. He made an effort to make sure that teachers taught what he and
the other conservatives wanted and that books and curricula reflected conservative values
and praised Rosas. the Church had portraits of him placed on altars. He demanded complete fealty. His partisans
used the cries "Long live the Federation!" and "Death to the Unitarian savages!" People avoided wearing blue and white, the
color of the Unitarians, for fear of being bashed or killed. On ceremonial days, shades of red were advisable. People shut up
or went into exile. J. Anthony King, writing in 1846,
described Rosas' tyranny. He said that the central marketplace in Buenos Aires
was where "all popular rejoicings, gatherings and executions were held. It
was in the market place that Rosas hung the bodies of his many victims;
sometimes decorating them in mockery, with ribands of the unitarian blue and
even attaching to the corpses, labels, on which were inscribed the revolting
words 'Beef with the hide.'"4 William A. Harris,
chargé d'affaires, wrote in 1846:
Although he ruled Buenos Aires with an iron fist, there was considerable opposition to him.
Secret revolutionary groups, such as Joven Argentina (Young Argentina, more commonly known as the Asociación de Mayo, founded by Esteban Echeverría,
were formed. He created opposition among some of the finest minds in Argentina, men such as
Juan Bautista Alberdi, Bartolomé Mitre, and Domingo F. Sarmiento; these men would lead the intellectual opposition to him
and be intimately involved
in his ouster. Berón de Astrada led a rebellion in Corriente province in 1839, which Rosas suppressed. That
same year, Colonel Ramón Maza,
whose father was president of the house of representatives, and a group from the Association of May made an unsuccessful plot
against Rosas. Maza's father was killed in the hall of the legislature and Colonel Maza was caught and executed. Also in
that year General Juan Lavalle led a liberating army from Montevideo towards the island of Martín García but then turned towards
Entre Ríos province instead of Buenos Aires. Backed by French agents, his movement was
supposed to be coordinated with
a rebellion south of Buenos Aires but his deviation left the rebels in a jam. Their rebellion
which began October 29, 1839 was crushed by November 7th.
Such is the terror-the crushing fear-which is inspired by one man over that
multitude, which now submits to his decrees with a zeal, apparently as ardent,
as it is certainly abject and submissive. There is not a complaint heard. The
calm and dark waters of despotism are never disturbed by the slightest ripple.
Not a breath of free thought or manly speech passes over them, but they lie dead
and deep, into which every vestige of the people's liberty and freedom has sunk
and disappeared. Yet Gen'l. Rosas is the only man who could keep them together
for twenty-four hours; and this he does by the extraordinary energy of his
character, and the unqualified fear with which he has inspired them.5
His economic policies served people like himself, big
landowners and salted meat plant owners. He was xenophobic towards Europeans and
Rivadavia's efforts to encourage immigration. Argentina's population remained
about 600,000 persons during his regime. Immigrants would have found it
difficult to acquire land because Rosas sold or gave large chunks to the rich
and those who supported him. He tamed the gauchos where he could, making
them a tame labor force. He used the power of the port of Buenos Aires on the
Río de la Plata to tax the imports and exports of the interior provinces. He
imposed additional tariffs on any goods carried by ships which had docked in
Part of his ability to stay in power was diverting
attention from domestic affairs to foreign affairs. In 1837-1840, he went to war against Bolivia and its dictator,
Andrés Santa Cruz, who had conquered Peru and installed puppet rulers in the
two Peruvian states he created. Although Britain, the United States, and France
recognized the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation,
Chile and Rosas' Argentina did not. Chile went to was from 1836 to 1839 and beat
the Confederation, dismembering it. Rosas went to war in 1837 in support of the
northern province of Tucumán and lost. He had
gotten involved because he wanted control over Bolivia, which had been part of
the Viceroyalty de la Plata.
He constantly intervened in Uruguay, for he refused to accept
its independence. At times, he blockaded Montevideo, Uruguay. He supported the
conservative Uruguayan leader, Manuel Oribe, against the liberal leader, who was
supported by Brazil, Paraguay, Britain, and France. In 1838, the French blockaded Buenos Aires.
They stopped in 1840, and Rosas claimed victory. He controlled much of Uruguay
except Montevideo until 1842. The northern provinces on Argentina rose in revolt
and were beaten with
difficulty. From 1842 to 1851, Rosas blockaded Montevideo by sea while his Uruguayan ally, leader of the
Blancos, laid siege by land. In 1845, the French and British blockaded Buenos
Aires. Rosas had to increase taxes, an unpopular move.
The blockade also angered upriver caudillos who were losing revenue. French,
British, and Uruguayan troops occupied the island of Martín García and took
over Colonia, Uruguay across the river from Buenos Aires. The British withdrew
from the region in 1847, followed by the French in 1848.
His rule, however, had been alienating more and more people.
Exiles dreamed of throwing him out. Uruguayans were increasing tired of his
interference in their affairs and the Colorado (liberal) faction joined the
anti-Rosas army. In 1851, Justo José de Urquiza of Entre Ríos made an alliance with Colorado faction of
Uruguay, Brazilians, and Argentine exiles to push Rosas out. Urquiza knew that the British and French would
support him. In the Battle of Monte Caseros in 1852, Urquiza's army of 24,000 [the largest in South
American history to that time] easily beat Rosas' army. The dictator went into exile
to Southampton, England, where he became a farmer.
Rosas left Buenos Aires, city and province, separated from
the other provinces. He had a lot of some influence in the Federal Pact
provinces but never fully controlled them. Other provinces were not part of
Rosas' Argentina. The hope that a nation would be created by Urquiza and the provisional governors
when they agreed to meet in Santa Fé to write a national
federation constitution. Urquiza was named provisional director of the
federation. Buenos Aires rebelled against Urquiza, seceded from federation, and
declared itself the
independent Argentine nation.
Rosas had not helped either his province or
"Argentina." He had not even been willing to defend Argentina's
claims to the Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands.
1. Francis Baylies, Twenty Four Years in the Argentine Republic (New York: D. Appleton and Company; 1846), pp. 241, 323.
2. P. P. King, Robert Fitzroy, and Charles Darwin: Narrative
of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle
(London: 1839-40), Vol. III, p. 166.
3. Ibid., p. 83.
4. William R. Manning, ed, Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States;
Inter-American Affairs, 1831-1860 (Washington: Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, 1932). Vol. I, pp.132-3.
5. Manning, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 400.
Donald J. Mabry