Castilla, Ramón (1797–1867)

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Castilla, Ramón (1797–1867)

Ramón Castilla (b. 27 August 1797; d. 25 May 1867), military officer and twice president of Peru (1845–1851, 1855–1862), he contributed to the formation of the Peruvian republican state during the nineteenth-century struggle by military strongmen (caudillos) after independence from Spain. His efforts were aided considerably by the dawn of the Guano Age, which brought considerable income from export activities to the Peruvian state.

Castilla was born in Tarapacá. During his early military career he was trained by the Spanish colonial army and fought against the forces of independence led by the Argentine General José de San Martín in Chacabuco, Chile (1817). Taken prisoner, he escaped to Brazil and then in 1818 to Peru. Castilla switched allegiances only in 1822, when he offered his military services to General San Martín in southern Peru. He fought in the army of Simón Bolívar against the Spanish army in the decisive battle of Ayacucho (1824), which guaranteed Peruvian independence.

After independence in 1825, Castilla was named subprefect of his native province of Tarapacá. He started his career as a rather conservative and creole-patriotic military caudillo by opposing Bolívar's constitutional designs. In 1829, Castilla rejected General Andrés de Santa Cruz's liberal leanings, instead supporting the protectionist and conservative General Agustín Gamarra. In 1833, Castilla fell from grace with Gamarra and transferred his support to generals Luis José de Orbegoso and Felipe Santiago Salaverry. When Santa Cruz seized power in 1836 for the second time, Castilla traveled to Chile and once again joined Gamarra in a successful Chilean military expedition against Santa Cruz's Peru-Bolivia Confederation. During Gamarra's second administration (1839–1841) Castilla was appointed minister of the treasury and in that capacity arranged the first guano export contracts with native businessman Francisco Quirós. In 1841, Castilla was taken prisoner at Ingaví, Gamarra's failed last adventure against Bolivian forces. Soon, however, Castilla was politically active again in Cuzco.

By 1845, Castilla had surfaced as supreme chief from the complex caudillo struggles that pitted Generals Juan Crisóstomo Torrico, Francisco Vidal, and Manuel Ignacio Vivanco against each other. During Castilla's first administration his most important measure was the introduction of the first national budget. New contracts for guano marketing abroad were signed with local and foreign merchants. Eventually the British firm Antony Gibbs y Cía assumed the distribution of guano to Great Britain and the French firm Montané the distribution to France. Consequently, transportation began to improve (steamship lines, the first railway between Lima and Callao in 1851), and state finances, military facilities, and payroll became organized. Most important, Castilla regularized the service of the internal and external debts, introducing in 1850 the Law of Consolidation (amortization and repayment) of the floating national debt.

Castilla saw in General José Rufino Echenique a deserving successor and peacefully handed power to him in 1851. However, Echenique's supporters manipulated the consolidation of the internal debt to their own advantage through corrupt means. Politically, the archconservative Echenique began to drift away from Castilla's watchful eye. Sensing growing popular opposition, Castilla decided to lead a motley group of liberals and radicals who fought Echenique in a civil war (1854–1855). To obtain support, Castilla followed the advice of liberals Pedro Gálvez and Manuel Toribio Ureta and abolished slavery and the Indian tribute in 1854. Castilla regained power in 1855 after the battle of La Palma, in which Echenique was finally defeated.

During his second term of office, Castilla initially complied with the liberal faction that had supported him, pressing for the liberal constitution of 1856. However, after the defeat of the conservative reaction led by Vivanco in 1858, Castilla turned against his liberal supporters and promoted instead an executive-biased constitution that was enacted in 1860. His preoccupation with such constitutional matters earned him the name of "Soldier of the Law." A successful short war over boundaries with Ecuador in 1859 enhanced Castilla's conservative constitutionalist and nationalist stand.

At the end of his second term in 1862, Castilla once again peacefully handed power to elected General Miguel de San Román. However, San Román died in office and was succeeded by Vice President Juan Antonio Pezet, who, like Echenique before him, disregarded the influential Castilla. The unpopular Pezet was deposed as a result of the nationalist movement led by Colonel Mariano Ignacio Prado against the Spanish aggression of 1864–1866. Prado, however, was opposed by Castilla, who went into exile in Chile to organize yet another revolution. Castilla died in Tivilichi.

See alsoPeru: Peru Since Independence; Peru-Bolivia Confederation.


Jorge Basadre, Historia de la República del Perú, vols. 2-3 (1963).

Alberto Regal, Castilla constructor: Las obras de ingeniería de Castilla (1967).

Celia Wu, Generals and Diplomats: Great Britain and Peru, 1820–40 (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Cayo Córdoba, Percy. Ramón Castilla. Lima: Editorial Brasa, 1994.

Garibaldi, Rosa. La política exterior del Perú en la era de Ramón Castilla: Defensa hemisférica y defensa de la jurisdicción nacional. Perú: Fondo Editorial Fundación Academia Diplomática del Perú, 2003.

                                  Alfonso W. Quiroz

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Castilla, Ramón (1797–1867)

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