Sucre Alcalá, Antonio José de (1795–1830)

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Sucre Alcalá, Antonio José de (1795–1830)

Antonio José de Sucre AlcaláSimon Bolíva (b. 3 February 1795; d. 4 June 1830), Venezuelan military officer in the Wars of Independence, Simón Bolívar's trusted lieutenant, statesman, and the first constitutionally elected president of Bolivia. Sucre's parents were descended from well-to-do Europeans established in the coastal town of Cumaná. When news of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain reached Venezuela, Sucre was studying military engineering in Caracas. In July 1810 he joined the patriotic militia in Cumaná, launching a distinguished military career that culminated in the 9 December 1824 final victory of patriot forces over the Spanish at the battle of Ayacucho (Peru).

Sucre saw active service under the first and second Venezuelan republics but was forced to flee to the Antilles in 1814. After a brief effort to join patriot forces in New Granada (Colombia) at the end of 1815, he again went into exile. Aligning himself with Bolívar, who by 1816 was beginning to succeed in his campaign against loyalists in Venezuela, Sucre undertook a number of successful military assignments for the Liberator and by late 1820 had become his chief of staff. As such, Sucre undertook a delicate mission as head of an expeditionary force sent to Guayaquil (Ecuador) to aid local patriots following their October 1819 uprising against royal authority. Success in Guayaquil was followed by an expedition to liberate Quito, aided by auxiliary forces sent from Peru, which culminated in a patriot victory at the pivotal battle of Pichincha (24 May 1822) on the outskirts of Quito.

With virtually all of Gran Colombia liberated, Bolívar and Sucre turned their attention southward to Peru, where the army of José de San Martín and its Peruvian allies were engaged in a bitter struggle against the Spanish army and royalists for possession of Lima and the once-rich viceroyalty. After Bolívar's arrival in Lima, Sucre took charge of the military campaign in the Andean highlands, achieving a crucial victory at the battle of Junín (6 August 1824) and final victory at Ayacucho in December. Sucre was the author of a brilliant strategy that led to the humiliating defeat of the royalist forces, and dictated generous, humanitarian terms of surrender.

After Ayacucho the only serious obstacle to the liberation of Spanish South America was the ragtag army of royalist General Pedro de Olañeta in Upper Peru (today Bolivia). With Sucre in hot pursuit, Olañ;eta's forces melted away early in 1825, leaving the twenty-five-year-old Venezuelan with the responsibility for creating a republican form of government in the former Audiencia of Charcas. Two days after his triumphant arrival in La Paz, Upper Peru's largest and economically most important city, Sucre issued a decree (9 February 1825) convoking a constituent assembly of delegates from the audiencia's five former intendencias to decide whether they wished to ally themselves with the former viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, with that of Lima, or to become an independent nation. Sucre, without explicit authorization from Bolívar (who had returned to Lima after the victory at Junín) pledged to respect the wishes of the Upper Peruvian delegates.

The assembly, which met during July and August 1825 in Chuquisaca (renamed Sucre in honor of the victor of Ayacucho), voted overwhelmingly to create an independent state. Anticipating Bolívar's unhappiness, the delegates also voted to call the new nation the "Republic of Bolívar" and to name the Liberator its first constitutional president. Reluctantly accepting this fait accompli, during his visit to Upper Peru (July-December 1825) Bolívar acted as president of the infant nation, but most of the routine details of government were left to Sucre. Sucre's presidency ended when he was seriously wounded in a barracks revolt in the Bolivian capital and was forced to delegate his powers (April 1828). He left Bolivia in August of the same year for Quito, to join the woman to whom he had been married by proxy while still in Chuquisaca, Mariana Carcelén y Larrea, the Marquesa de Solanda, one of the wealthiest women in the former Audiencia of Quito.

Sucre's tenure as president of Bolivia (December 1825–April 1828) was marked by a revolutionary effort to impose economic and social reform upon a racially divided, geographically dispersed, and economically weak society led by a traditionalist elite that was jealous of its prerogatives and in time became very resentful of outside political and military influence. This effort included a wholesale reform of the Upper Peruvian church and the liquidation of most of its assets in favor of public education. Sucre created and funded a network of public secondary schools, for which he dictated a modern curriculum, recruited teachers, and provided books and supplies. New primary schools, orphanages, and asylums for the destitute were part of this reform, as were efforts to provide the principal cities with better water supplies, new public markets, street lighting, and public cemeteries. Sucre created a new port for the infant nation at Cobija, on the Atacama coast, in territory that would eventually become part of Chile. He tried to revive silver mining, the traditional mainstay of the Upper Peruvian economy, by attracting European investment, employing new technology, and reforming colonial institutions. Finally, Sucre tried to impose a revolutionary new experiment in public financing, eliminating the Indian tribute and the tithe and creating in their stead a system of taxes on wealth and income, and a universal head tax. Financially, the experiment was a dismal failure. The negative reaction toward this radical reform effort and toward the continued presence in Bolivia of large numbers of Colombian troops, along with growing hostility from Peru, eventually provoked Sucre's downfall.

Returning to Quito in September 1828, Sucre hoped to dedicate himself to family life and the administration of his wife's estate. But with the outbreak of hostilities between Peru and Gran Colombia, his military services were again needed. In February 1829 an army under his command defeated Peruvian invaders at the battle of Tarqui, in what became southern Ecuador. Fresh from the victory at Tarqui, in 1830 Sucre served as president of the Congreso Admirable meeting in Bogotá, a last-ditch effort to preserve Gran Colombian unity. The Congreso failed, despite Sucre's prestige, and Bolívar's creation broke up into three independent republics. On his way back to Quito, Sucre was killed at Berruecos, near Pasto. The identity of the assassins remains the object of historical speculation.

See alsoBolívar, Simón; Bolivia: Since 1825; Venezuela: The Colonial Era.


Laureano Villanueva, Vida de don Antonio José de Sucre, Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho (1945).

Guillermo A. Sherwell, Antonio José de Sucre (Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho), Hero and Martyr of American Independence: A Sketch of His Life (1924).

Charles W. Arnade, The Emergence of the Republic of Bolivia (1957).

Alfonso Rumazo González, Sucre, Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho (1963).

William Lofstrom, La presidencia de Sucre en Bolivia (1987).

Thomas Millington, Debt Politics after Independence: The Funding Conflict in Bolivia (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Kieffer Guzmán, Fernando. Antonio José de Sucre: Un estudio del guerrero y estadista. La Paz: s.n., 1995.

Quintero Montiel, Inés Mercedes. Antonio José de Sucre: Biografía política. Caracas: Academia Nacional de la Historia, 1998.

                                 William Lofstrom