Urbina, José María (1808–1891)

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Urbina, José María (1808–1891)

José María Urbina (b. March 1808; d. 4 September 1891), jefe supremo (supreme leader) of Ecuador (1851–1852) and president (1852–1856). Born in Ambato, Urbina attended the Naval School at Guayaquil briefly but left early to participate in military actions (siege of Callao, 1824–1826; Malpelo, 1828; defense of Ecuadorian independence, 1830). Rising rapidly through military ranks, he became aide-de-camp to President Juan José Flores. On a diplomatic mission to Bogotá for President Vicente Rocafuerte, he committed a serious indiscretion and was recalled in 1837. Caught plotting against the government, he was banished but returned in 1839 to enter politics under the tutelage of President Flores. For his political loyalty to Flores, Urbina was rewarded with the governorship of Manabí. In 1845 he joined rebels to topple Flores from power. He was promoted to brigadier general and rose to high posts in the provisional government.

President Vicente Ramón Roca (1845–1849) named Urbina chief of the general staff, which enormously increased his political and military power. In 1851, Urbina led a revolt and proclaimed himself jefe supremo. He would dominate Ecuadorian politics for the rest of the decade.

As jefe supremo Urbina abolished slavery and repelled an armed invasion by Flores from Peru. Under a new constitution he was elected president in 1852 and served a four-year term that was characterized by vigorous executive domination, glib assertions of liberal principles, stern control of the press, and the expulsion of the Jesuits. He severed relations with the Vatican, quarreled with Peru over asylum given to Flores and over Ecuador's southern boundary, and sought unsuccessfully to establish a U.S. protectorate over Ecuador.

From 1856 to 1859, Urbina was the éminence grise of the Francisco Robles administration, which collapsed in 1859 after a Peruvian attack at Guayaquil. Urbina fled into exile, plotted in Peru to regain power in Ecuador, but did not return until 1876. He helped place Ignacio Veintemilla in power, but his influence diminished rapidly thereafter. He died in Guayaquil, forgotten by friends and denounced by liberal leaders.

See alsoFlores, Juan José; Roca Rodríguez, Vicente Ramón.


José Le Gouhir y Rodas, Historia de la república del Ecuador, vol. 1 (1920), pp. 401-539.

Luis Robalino Dávila, La reacción anti-floreana (1967).

Additional Bibliography

Guerra Cáceres, Alejandro. Esclavos manumitidos durante el gobierno del Gral. José María Urbina. Guayaquil, Ecuador: Archivo Histórico del Guayas and Banco Central del Ecuador, 1997.

Macías Núñez, Edison. El general José María Urbina. Quito, Ecuador: Presidencia de la República del Ecuador, Comisión Nacional Permanente de Conmemora-ciones Cívicas, 1992.

                                   Mark J. Van Aken