Friday, 22 November 2013

Of Death, Design and Cuenca's Independence Day: Part the Second (We Do Not Want A Tyrant King)

In my last post I regaled you with tales of the Ecuadorian Day of the Deceased, which takes place on the 2nd of November.  But the Day of the Deceased is far from the only thing celebrated in Cuenca during the start of November.  Quite the reverse, for the 3rd of November, 1820 was the day that Cuenca declared its independence.

Cuenca's coat of arms.   Motto: First God and then wait your turn Sonny-Jim.  (n.b. I may have added that last bit)

Antonio Vallejo, the irascible and inflexible governor of Cuenca, is not best pleased.  He has woken to find the walls of the town, the king's walls, daubed with the following seditious slogan:

<<Nobles ciudadanos, prevengan las armas para la libertad nuestra y la de nuestros queremos tirano rey>>

<< Noble citizens, arm yourselves for our liberty and that of our children...
We do not want a tyrant king>>

In the coming days he will hear rumours of rabble-rousing leaflets calling for 'liberty and not these many oppressions' circulating amongst the citizenry of the town.  His zeal against the enemies of the king will not be found wanting, and his search will be exacting and thorough, but the people of Cuenca will remain tight-lipped and the culprits of this first cry for liberty will never be found. 

This day. the 21st of march 1795, will come to be known as the day the call for independence was first proclaimed in the streets of Cuenca.

Dr. José María Vásquez de Noboa - Mayor of Cuenca

A man riding an unsaddled packhorse, blood streaming from a bayonet wound in his leg, is criss-crossing the streets of Cuenca calling out to the people, exhorting them to rise up against royalist oppression.  His name is Tomás Ordóñez and it is the 3rd of November, 1820.

A week earlier, he was in the house of his father Paulino Ordóñez (one of the men suspected of the circulation of seditious leaflets in 1795), listening to an impassioned speech calling for a revolution against the monarchist government, delivered by his mother Margarita Torres in front of a group of revolutionary conspirators. 

Spurred on by Guayaquil's almost bloodless coup on October the 9th and undettered by two previous failed attempts to liberate Cuenca, the 'patriots' are confident that they have both the support of the people and also that of a powerful and influential co-conspirator.  They agree to take action on the following Friday and that is just what they do.

A few hours prior to his blood-spattered gallop of exhortation, Tomás had entered the Plaza de Armas accompanied by 8 other 'patriots'.  In the plaza, Dr. José María Vásquez de Noboa, the mayor of Cuenca and the king's representative in the city, was proclaiming Reales Ordenes Españolas, the king's commands, accompanied by a military bodyguard.  Unbeknownst to the bodyguard, Dr Vásquez de Noboa is the influential co-conspirator who has assisted in the masterminding of the plot and helped to arm the rebels.  Tomás and his fellow patriots had drawn arms, let out a cry for freedom and charged upon the bodyguard, thereby beginning the Battle for Cuenca.

¿Was Noboa a true believer in the revolution? or ¿was this a mere act of political expediency?   If he was playing the political game he did it with consummate skill: when patriots petitioning for Quito's independence on the 10th of August 1809 were unceremoniously bundled into jail Noboa loudly voiced his opposition to the petition; and when Guayaquil declared its independence on October 9, 1820, he categorically refused to second the proclamation.   He did however allow an open meeting of the city council to discuss the ramifications of Guayaquil's independence.  ¿Convert to the revolutionary cause, longtime double-agent or Machiavellian pragmatist?  You decide. 

Following the initial skirmish in the Plaza de Armas, the patriots regrouped in Plaza San Sebastian and officially declared Cuenca's independence in front of a large gathering of the people.  As you might expect, the royalists were somewhat unimpressed by this and the two sides engaged in a series of clashes, fracases, affrays and melees in which the royalists superior arms had them slowly gaining the upper hand. 

After two days of heavy fighting, and when all seemed to be lost for the revolutionary cause, on the afternoon of the fourth of November, 1820, reinforcements arrrived from the town of Chuquipata and helped to drive the royalist forces from the town.  

José María Vásquez de Noboa,
now chief of government of the Republic of Cuenca, opened his letter to General Santander, vice-president of Colombia, informing him of the victory, with the following words:

<<Los días 3 y 4 del presente fueron los de la mayor ignominia
para los agentes del despotismo.>>
<<The 3rd and 4th days of the present month were days of the greatest ignominity
for the agents of despotism.>>

At last, Cuenca had its independence and was free from the tyranny of the monarch (In fact, the city would be retaken barely a month later in a bloody battle, and face over a year of brutal repression until the arrival of Marshal Sucre's army on the 22nd of February, 1822, in the run-up to the Battle of Pichincha, would deliver a final crushing blow to the shackle of Imperialism in the city.  But let's skim over that inconvenient little detail).

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