Páez, José Antonio (1790–1873)

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Páez, José Antonio (1790–1873)

José Antonio Páez (b. 13 June 1790; d. 6 May 1873), officer in the Venezuelan Liberating Army, president of Venezuela (1831–1835, 1839–1843, and 1861–1863). Páez began his public life in the Liberating Army. He stood out early as a good soldier and attained great popularity among the people of the plains. In 1816, he was named commanding officer of the region, and as such led numerous campaigns which consolidated control of the plains. He met with Simón Bolívar in 1818 and recognized him as supreme commander of the Liberating Army. From the plains, Páez supported the New Granada campaign and took part in the preparations that culminated in the victory at Carabobo in 1821. He was named commander in chief of one of the military districts into which the territory of Venezuela had been divided, and in that position defeated the armed factions that were still operating within Venezuela.

Through his military post and his personal prestige, Páez gradually became a key figure in the political process that evolved in Venezuela after adoption of the Constitution of Gran Colombia in 1821. The conflicting interests and fragile ties that characterized the unstable entity that was Gran Colombia finally led in 1826 to the outbreak of the separatist movement called La Cosiata, whose supporters ignored the authority of the government in Bogotá, recognized Páez as chief civil and military leader of Venezuela, and called for the dissolution of Gran Colombia. From that moment, Páez served as a unifying symbol of independence for the leading groups in Venezuela.

In December 1826 Bolívar returned from Peru and assumed the presidency of Gran Colombia. He traveled to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, on 1 January 1827 and issued a decree which forgave all those who participated in La Cosiata. Bolívar recognized Páez as military governor of Venezuela and Páez recognized Bolívar as president of Gran Colombia. Between 1827 and 1829, Páez continued consolidating his power, and when separatist sentiment returned among both the elites and the popular classes, Páez was well positioned to take advantage. In November 1829 the Assembly in the San Francisco Convent in Caracas disregarded Bolívar's authority, convened a constituent congress, and handed over all power to Páez, thus completing the dissolution of Gran Colombia.

The Constituent Congress named Páez provisional president of Venezuela, ratified a new constitution, and held an election, which Páez won. His political and military prestige brought a period of consensus during which the bases for the republic were established; the intense process of judicial, political, and economic organization was carried through; and the building of a nation state was initiated. His personal authority did not dissipate at the end of his term in 1835, and his influence continued to be felt in the country's politics. In 1838 he was reelected president. During his second four-year term, differences and confrontations within the ruling elite were becoming more and more evident. In 1846 he supported the election of General José Tadeo Monagas, who afterwards distanced himself from Páez and formed an alliance with the Liberal Party. This caused a rupture in the Conservative Party, with which Páez was associated. In 1847 Páez rose up in arms and was defeated, imprisoned, and exiled.

Páez remained abroad until the overthrow of Monagas in 1858, when he was called back to take charge of the pacification of the country. At the outbreak of the Federal War in 1859, he was appointed chief of operations against the federalists. After a brief absence from the country, he was named supreme chief of Venezuela with dictatorial powers in 1861. The war ended in 1863 with a victory for the federalists. Páez handed over power and again left the country. He spent his later years in the United States, where he wrote his autobiography, published in New York in 1869. He traveled to various Latin American countries, spent three years in Argentina, and then returned to the United States, where he died.

See alsoCosiata, La (1826); Gran Colombia; Monagas, José Tadeo; Venezuela: The Colonial Era; Venezuela: Venezuela since 1830; Venezuela, Political Parties: Conservative Party.


José Antonio Páez, Autobiografía del General José Antonio Páez, 2 vols. (1869; 1973).

Robert Graham, José Antonio Páez (1929).

Jesus Antonio Cova, El centauro: Vida del General José Antonio Páez, caudillo venezolano y brigadier del ejército argentino (1947).

Additional Bibliography

Plaza, Elena. Versiones de la tiranía en Venezuela: El último régimen del General José Antonio Páez, 1861–1863. Caracas: Facultad de Ciencias Jurídicas y Políticas, Universidad Central de Venezuela, 2000.

Polanco Alcántara, Tomás. José Antonio Páez, fundador de la República. Caracas: Ediciones GE, 2000.

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