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The liberator's noble match.


"HERE, GRAND MARSHAL, I have brought you these relics," Dona Josefa Linares whispered sweetly, as one of her gloved hands offered a rosary to the wounded and bedridden Sucre. "Take them," she insisted calmly, while her other hand concealed a couple of old pistols under his pillow. "They're loaded with blessings."

A day before, on April 17, 1828, a Chuquisaca regiment had revolted against Sucre, Bolivia's first president, and he had dared to ride into the central court of the barracks to talk to the mutineers. As a reward for his courage, South America's wisest and noblest warrior received a volley of musket fire that splintered his right arm, grazed his head and left him semi-conscious. Fortunately, his wounded horse bolted and carried him back to the palace stables. Sucre regained consciousness as he was being undressed on his bed. Realizing the seriousness of his predicament, he cried out: "This broken arm ended the wars of independence in Ayacucho and created Bolivia."

The news of Sucre's injuries and his imprisonment in the palace spread quickly, and many, especially women, came to offer help. Their "blessings," cheers and support worked marvels upon the injured chief executive: a week later he defeated the rebels. In the end, however, all efforts by the people of Chuquisaca to bolster Sucre's presidency would prove to be in vain. By then, different factions elsewhere in Bolivia, Lima and Buenos Aires had already begun their work of disaffection, and a few months later, after more revolts and another period of incarceration, Sucre was forced to leave his high post. It can be said that the Grand Marshal of Ayacucho, as Sucre is often called, then began a two-year-long calvary that would end in 1830 when he was cowardly assassinated.

In mid-1828, the two men who contributed most to the independence of South America--Simon Bolivar, then president of Colombia, and Antonio Sucre, then president of Bolivia--simultaneously began the last acts of their magnificent careers. It was a prolonged, painful and futile finale, because the two leaders were forced constantly to thwart the betrayal of their compatriots and the cruelty of their enemies. They both ultimately succumbed to ungratefulness and disloyalty. Bolivar died of despair and tuberculosis in December 1830, at age forty-seven, as he was leaving Colombia for an uncertain exile in Jamaica or Europe. A crash of muskets shattered Sucre's life in July 1830; he was only thirty-five years old and was returning to his home in Quito, tired of wars and in search of respite.

Bolivar and Sucre were indeed romantic heroes, obsessed with defeating the Spanish empire, and intoxicated with the glory heaped upon them. Both were born in Venezuela and were, in many ways, kindred spirits. Moreover, they maintained a father-son relationship from 1818, when Sucre's diplomatic skills secured Bolivar's absolute leadership over the Venezuelan Army of Liberation, until their death. The two leaders, however, could not avoid competing for the leadership of the campaigns to liberate Guayaquil and Quito (1821-22), and Peru and Bolivia (1823-25). But their rivalry was as tender as it was noble. Always supporting and championing each other, they earned together the ultimate distinction of ending Spanish rule in South America.


Antonio Jose Francisco de Sucre was born on February 3, 1795, on the northeast coast of the Captaincy of Venezuela. Among his forebears were Spanish nobles, Christianized Jews from Flanders and perhaps a few Indians and African slaves. Wealthy creoles like the Sucres were the accepted leaders in the region. Antonio's great-grandfather had been Captain General of a province whose capital was Cumana, and it was here that the Sucres resided. His grandfather was a lieutenant colonel in the colonial militia, and his father, Vicente de Sucre, attained the rank of colonel. As a young boy, the future Grand Marshal was made to take pride in his lineage and his ancestral tradition of soldiering. His military career was thus predetermined.

Sucre's quiet childhood by the sea was profoundly altered by the death of his mother in 1802, and his father's second marriage a year later. The fact that he found himself without maternal affection and, soon thereafter, without the masculine influence of his father, might explain Sucre's life-long quest for tenderness and his later response to strong father-figures like Bolivar.

As a youngster, Sucre was educated by private tutors. Later, he attended a local mathematics school and, when not yet 13, he departed for Caracas to enter a military academy run by an antimonarchist Spanish colonel. Secular and republican schooling set him apart from most of his contemporaries, who were exposed only to teachings approved by the Church and the Crown.

When the Venezuelans first pronounced themselves against Spanish rule and a Patriotic Junta took over, Sucre returned to Cumana, a town that had declared self-rule and was calling itself the Republic of Cumana. There, in July 1810, he was granted a commission as a lieutenant in the provincial armed forces commanded by his father. He was 15 and ready to prove himself in combat. By the time the Venezuelan Congress finally declared full independence on July 5, 1811, Sucre had already undergone his baptism by fire and was a staff officer of artillery and engineer regiments. A year later, when the First Republic of Venezuela fell and Spain reestablished its despotic rule, he was forced to retire temporarily to the family hacienda. For a time, Lieutenant Sucre nursed his rebellious inclinations in the company of his older brothers Francisco, Jeronimo, Vicente and Pedro. But Antonio's combative spirit would soon find a new cause when he and his brother Jeronimo joined Santiago Marino's Army of the East.

Meanwhile, at the head of the Army of the West, the thirty-year-old Simon Bolivar was tenaciously fighting the Spaniards and had retaken his hometown, Caracas. The two armies met after a triumph at La Victoria in 1814 and, for the first time, Sucre had the opportunity to witness Bolivar's magnetism. In the following years the Liberator (Bolivar's title since 1813) would need all the charisma he could muster to unite the various patriot factions that had emerged in Venezuela. For a time, however, the plausible leaders of the uprising (Bolivar, Marino, Jose Francisco Bermudez, Manuel Carlos Piar) would remain hopelessly divided. And although the revolution moved forward on the wings of many victories (in which Sucre played key roles), these did not prevent Spain from prevailing once again in 1815. Most of the revolutionary leaders then had to flee Venezuela.

Early in 1816, Bolivar, Bermudez, Marino, Piar, Sucre and other officers arrived in Haiti to plan an invasion and resume the war on Venezuelan soil. But Sucre, disillusioned by the way the leaders wasted time and energy wrangling among themselves, decided to sail to Trinidad, where he had relatives. However, as soon as he heard that Bolivar and Marino had secured two beachheads on the coast of Venezuela and would march to Caracas, Sucre resolved to join his old regiment. The brave soldier who had escaped harm in fierce combat came close to losing his life off the coast of Trinidad, when he was shipwrecked and had to spend a whole day floating on a wooden chest before local fishermen rescued him.

Throughout 1817 and part of 1818, Bolivar and Marino pursued their own campaigns against the common foe. Sucre, a commander in Marino's army, saw the need to unite all the rebel factions. He considered Bolivar the most talented of the leaders. Furthermore, Sucre knew that the Liberator had the best troops. But his loyalty to Marino made it very hard for Sucre to leave his commander and join Bolivar. The deus ex machina was Jeronimo Sucre, who wrote to Bolivar requesting assignments on his personal staff for both Antonio and himself. The Liberator, having heard of Antonio's abilities, replied that he would call the young soldier to his side as soon as Cumana had been liberated.

Sucre was to be Bolivar's man from that time on. Several times the Liberator relied on him to intervene in efforts to pacify Marino. In July 1818, Sucre's diplomatic endeavors bore their best fruit when Marino publicly proclaimed loyalty to Bolivar. That day marked the beginning of the devoted collaboration and friendly rivalry between Bolivar, the putative father, and Sucre, the loving protege.


After his triumph in Boyaca and the liberation of New Granada (now Colombia) in July 1819, Bolivar went to Angostura and formed the Republic of Great Colombia (the union of Venezuela and New Granada) and became its president. Sucre was not there at the time, but was considered for a seat in the Colombian Congress, which he could not accept because he was too young. That same year, Francisco Antonio Zea, Colombia's vice-president, decided that the twenty-four-year-old Sucre had earned his generalship, and promoted him without consulting first with the president. In his memoirs General Daniel O'Leary relates Bolivar's reaction: ". . . Bolivar was descending the Orinoco and met a vessel going upstream. 'Who goes in that boat?' asked Bolivar. 'General Sucre,' was the reply. "There is no such general,' he shouted with anger. Sucre then explained to him that although he had been appointed general, perhaps because his services entitled him to it, he had never intended to accept the rank without Bolivar's approval. Bolivar understood the reproach and apologized."

As a member of Bolivar's staff, Sucre's first important mission was to go to St. Thomas to buy arms. When Sucre delivered the goods, Bolivar made him Acting Minister of War and Navy. The assignment was brief, but the young Minister performed a wide variety of tasks, including issuing military orders, purchasing supplies, assigning personnel, drafting reports, establishing hospitals, hiring spies, recruiting men and subverting royalist officers. He executed his duties with dedication as well as brilliance.

In January 1821, Sucre was ordered to lead the campaign to liberate the Presidency of Quito, a crusade that Bolivar had wanted to conduct himself. "I have resolved to make him known," the Liberator wrote about the twenty-six-year-old general. "And I am convinced that some day he will compete with me." For Sucre this was a military gamble, since the success or failure of a complicated operation would be solely his. He devised a strategy and cleverly executed it. After first liberating the port of Guayaquil, he marched toward Quito, at whose gates he engaged and defeated the Spaniards. On May 24, 1822, on the slopes of the Pichincha mountain, the Royalist Army totally disintegrated in the face of an assault by Sucre's forces, and the next day the youthful general occupied the city of Quito. Simon Bolivar rode triumphantly into the liberated capital on June 16. The Presidency of Quito and all its provinces had already become part of Great Colombia--thanks to Sucre. The general was now a proven leader.

While in Quito, both warriors succumbed to the powers of Love. Bolivar met Manuela Saenz, who would be his mistress and soulmate for the rest of his life. Sucre became engaged to a seventeen-year-old beauty named Mariana Carcelen y Larrea, whom he would marry six years later. Apparently, the betrothal was not Sucre's idea but the Marquis de Solanda's, Mariana's father. Perceiving an advantage in his daughter's romance with the Governor (Sucre's title), the Marquis set a deliberate trap for him. Sucre found himself alone in a room with the girl, a most precarious predicament that forced him to blurt out an agreement to marry her when her father, feigning anger, demanded to know his intentions. Mariana was thus promised to the splendid warrior. Sucre was of medium height, slender and of fine military bearing. Like Bolivar, he had curly black hair that receded deeply at the temples. His eyebrows were thin and expressive, shadowing dark brown eyes that flashed and sparkled with a hint of profound but very controlled emotion. He had an aquiline nose that was prominent but not ugly, and a delicate, sensual mouth. From a young age, he proved that he was as bold in the frays of Venus as he was in the battles of Mars: from the former he often bolted, leaving behind illegitimate offspring; from the latter he always emerged with a crown of glory.

Matters of love were soon put aside as Sucre faced his next challenge: a diplomatic and military mission to Peru, the last and best defended citadel of the Royalists. After General Jose de San Martin departed Lima in September 1822, leaving behind cipation, Peru became the most chaotic and treacherous political quagmire the liberators would ever encounter. Bolivar planned to follow his protege as soon as the Congress in Bogota authorized him to leave Colombia to take command of the several armies (Peruvian, Chilean, Argentine and Colombian) stationed on Peruvian soil. The Liberator might have been at that point a little jealous of his "son." In the eyes of many, Sucre was the better general. He always displayed mild manners and patience, was never cruel to the Spaniards he defeated, and never sought to avenge the six siblings he lost in the wars of independence. Moreover, he was brave and indefatigable, wrote his own dispatches, conducted espionage with brilliance, was the best ambassador Bolivar ever had, and was ready to support the Liberator in every quest. Sucre's only sin was vanity, but he had reason to be vain, for he was far superior to his peers.

What Sucre found in Lima was total anarchy. He watched prudently as the Peruvian Congress and the Presidents (at some point there were two, Jose de Riva Aguero and the Marquis de Torre Tagle) undermined each other. The Spanish armies of Canterac and La Serna grew stronger in the countryside, and the liberated districts fell victim to famine and crime. Sucre's judicious attitude did not solve Peru's problems, and later many accused him of being politically inept. But no one could have done better. Slogging carefully through Lima's political mire, he managed to keep the country from disintegrating until Bolivar's arrival. He avoided capitulation, or worst, an alliance with the enemy, the patriots' best prospect under the circumstances.

"I am the man who fell from heaven," said Bolivar upon his arrival in Lima. He was, indeed, the last hope for Peru. For various self-serving reasons, he received a jubilant welcome from all the parties and armies involved in the power struggle. Being of a strongly democratic bent, Bolivar declined to accept the title of dictator and refused the absolute power the Peruvian Congress wanted to bestow upon him immediately. Events soon convinced him that his prestige alone would not suffice. His first serious trouble came from soi-disant President Jose de Riva Aguero, who had fled to Trujillo. When Bolivar travelled north to deal with him, President Torre Tagle opened the gates of Lima to the royalists. Most of the territory was reclaimed by the Spanish. These events changed the character of Bolivar's mission. From then on he used all his moral authority and the strongest mandate the Peruvian Congress could give him.

After overthrowing and exiling Riva Aguero, Bolivar and Sucre kept a firm hold on the only liberated districts north of Lima. Since the situation was extremely precarious, Bolivar decided to begin a campaign as soon as possible against the Spanish armies whose defeat was of the essence if local opposition was also to be crushed. In August 1824 the entire Royalist Army, led by General Canterac, converged on the plain of Junin. Bolivar and his multinational forces had moved across the Andes from the coast and were awaiting the enemy. The Liberator resolved to attack first and won the day. Canterac fled south to join forces with La Serna. Bolivar and Sucre pursued them.

When the rival armies reached Ayacucho four months later, Bolivar found himself unable to lead his men into battle, for the Colombian Congress had stripped him of active command. He could have disobeyed or ignored the order, as he had done often before. However, he decided to comply, and put Sucre in charge of the patriot forces. This was the second important campaign Bolivar's protege took from him "You will be the rival of my glory," the Liberator had said when Sucre accepted the command of the assault on Quito. But the showdown at Ayacucho was even more important than Pichincha, and the Liberator must have sensed that if Sucre, and not he, defeated Canterac and La Serna, the taste of victory might turn sour. He nonetheless provided Sucre with the plan of battle and wrote to him: "The action I handed over to you I first wished to carry out myself. It was only because I believed you would do it better that I gave it to you."

As Sucre prepared for the encounter that could easily end his career and his life, he was a man madly in love. In the solitude of the Andes, he had discovered that he adored Mariana. That relationship was now his highest priority, and before he faced the enemy he decided to settle an important issue. After Sucre left Quito, Mariana had met Colonel Arthur Sandes and, in a whim, had promised to marry him. Though aware of this, Sucre had done nothing. He now called Sandes to him and declared: "I want Mariana more than anything else in this world. And I know that you do, too. Shall we let luck be the matchmaker?" "Why not?" replied Sandes. "We may both die very soon." In an earnest voice, the general begged his subordinate to toss a coin. "Heads," shouted Sucre, as the coin went up. The tiny disc of silver fell to the floor and slowly rolled and rotated, in no hurry to decide Mariana's future. As it fell flat, Sucre saw Charles IV's imperial profile and smiled. That same night he sent her a tender letter, begging her to make all the arrangements for their wedding. Perhaps being wildy in love made the romantic hero invincible. In a little more than an hour, although outnumbered on the field of battle, he trounced the enemy he had been fighting for fourteen years. After the roar of the artillery subsided and the bloody swords went back into their sheaths, over two thousand of Canterac's soldiers lay dying on the battlefield. La Serna, his gray hair matted with blood, signed a complete capitulation.

Sucre's victory message reached Bolivar late at night on December 17, 1824. The Liberator was resting at the viceroy's summer villa, not far from Lima. It had not been a good day, for he had been coughing blood and had a fever. But when the courier handed him the dispatch, he climbed onto a table and began to dance. Everyone thought he was mad, until at last he cried aloud: "Victory, victory, victory!" Sucre's message ended with a fine sample of his true and exquisite nobility: "As a reward," he wrote to Bolivar, "I beg for your lasting friendship." And, as always, friendship prevailed over jealousy. Bolivar was generous toward "the rival of his glory." At his urging, the Peruvian Congress made Sucre a Grand Marshal with the title of "Liberator of Peru." Bolivar was named "Father and Savior of Peru." He reluctantly kept the supreme power he had been granted and remained in Lima a few more months while Sucre moved south. From the moment the King of Spain lost his colonies by Sucre's sword and not by Bolivar's, the Liberator had determined to find for himself an even grander enterprise. Bolivar's Bolivia was already a gleam in his ambitious eyes.


Once again, Antonio Jose de Sucre would be the prophet, opening for Bolivar the road to the republic honoring his name. With sword and pen, Sucre supported self-determination and home rule for Upper Peru, the southernmost province of Peru. On August 6, exactly a year after Bolivar's triumph in Junin, the Assembly of Upper Peru, at Sucre's urging, created the Republic of Bolivia. Sucre became Bolivia's Governor and, as in Quito before, the "soldier-philosopher" proved that he was also a highly capable statesman. When Bolivar made a triumphal visit to view Sucre's handiwork, he was highly impressed.

During those hectic years of governing--first as governor, then as dictator and finally as constitutional president--Sucre frequently complained of declining health and vigor. Moreover, his heart was not in his work, for he was now obsessed with marrying Mariana. He often fantasized about the bucolic bliss of a farm in the country, good books, and a lovely wife as companion. But only after the April 1828 mutiny that left him badly injured would he marry Mariana by proxy. Still many months and distressing events would precede their physical union, which finally took place in Quito on the last day of September, 1828. Frustrations, incarceration and numerous betrayals had changed Sucre. He was now unsure whether married life would agree with him--even the hint of boredom or distress made the pain in his arm unbearable. The couple alternated residences between Quito and the countryside. But not even a callow wife and closeness to nature could bring peace to Sucre's spirit. When Mariana gave birth to a daughter, he was overwhelmed with shame. He thought siring a girl was a reflection on his virility. Moreover, he despised himself for not producing a soldier for the fatherland. Sucre's life now entered an unhappy phase. The Grand Marshal was unnerved by the mewling of the infant and the complaints of his wife; his home life began to torment him. He was soon off to the wars again, this time not to fight the Spanish, but the caudillos who were destroying Bolivar's dream of democracy and unity in America.

Bolivar and Sucre reunited in Quito in April 1829. The meeting was emotional and put Sucre in line to be the next president of Colombia. Bolivar sent him on another military and diplomatic mission soon thereafter. Both met again in Bogota in January 1830. This was the worst of times for Bolivar, who was forced into exile only four months later. When that moment arrived, Sucre was out of town. He said good-bye to his mentor in a letter which ended: "Farewell, my dear general. The tears your absence is bringing me are the measure of my friendship. I hope you will be happy wherever you go, and no matter where you may be, you can count on the help and gratitude of your most faithful and passionate friend."

Bolivar's answer was also stirring. He pledged: "I will forget you only when those who love glory forget Pichincha and Ayacucho." But those words never reached Sucre. At dawn on June 4, 1830 the Grand Marshal was assassinated as he rode down a trail in the forested mountainside of Berruecos. When the news reached Bolivar, he exclaimed: "My God! They have shed the blood of Abel! It is impossible to live in a land where famous generals, the very men to whom America owes its freedom, are cruelly and brutally murdered."

As the assassination became a cause celebre in Colombia, Simon Bolivar, now a bitter, defeated and sick man, continued his journey toward exile and death. The last letters he wrote prove that his thoughts were moored to the rival of his glory. "We must avenge Sucre! We must avenge Colombia, which possessed Sucre, the world which admired him, the glory of the army and the holiness of humanity, which have been affronted by the death of the most innocent of men!"

Martha Gil-Montero, a frequent contributor to Americas, has published a biography on Carmen Miranda and is currently working on a novel based on the life of Manuela Saenz.
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Title Annotation:Antonio Jose de Sucre
Author:Gil-Montero, Martha
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:May 1, 1993
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