Güemes, Martín (1785–1821)

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Güemes, Martín (1785–1821)

Martín Gúemes (b. 7 February 1785; d. 17 June 1821), ruler of Argentina's northwestern province of Salta (1815–1821). Argentina's deep political divisions and Salta's peripheral location have combined to shroud Güemes in controversial, often erroneous images. No one, however, denies his forceful military leadership in ejecting Spanish royalists from the north. Salteños revere him as a patriot and defender of provincial autonomy against centralist political forces. Born and educated in Salta, Güemes joined the military as a cadet in 1799, at the age of fourteen. He first saw action during the English invasion of Buenos Aires in 1806. An aide to Santiago Liniers, he received a promotion to the rank of lieutenant and later to general.

Güemes joined the independence forces after the revolution of May 1810. He led a military unit into Upper Peru that gained intelligence on royalist movements and disrupted their communications. Güemes then served in Montevideo and Buenos Aires. In March 1814, General José de San Martín appointed him general commander of forces in Salta. The success of Güemes's gaucho cavalrymen in expelling the royalists from Salta created great popular support. Thanks to his kinship ties to the salteño landed elite, he was elected governor of the province in May 1815.

Like Juan Manuel de Rosas in Buenos Aires Province, Güemes drew support from both the gaucho masses and elements of the landed elite. But he aroused strong opposition from political rivals and from some wealthy salteños with his taxation and land-reform proposals. He died ten days after being wounded by a royalist supporter, possibly with the complicity of local opponents. The anti-Güemes Patria Nueva movement condemned him as a tyrant. Yet he effectively held royalist forces at bay and led his province through a period of brutal warfare and political conflict.

See alsoGaucho; Salta.


Atilio Cornejo, Historia de Güemes (1946).

Roger M. Haigh, Martín Güemes: Tyrant or Tool? (1968).

Additional Bibliography

Colmenares, Luis Oscar. Martín Güemes: el héroe mártir. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Ciudad Argentina, 1998.

Solá, Guillermo. El gran bastion de la patria. Salta: Maktub, 2005.

                                  Richard W. Slatta