Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera

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Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera

Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera (1798-1878) was a Colombian statesman. Four times his country's president, he headed Colombia's most productive administration in the 19th century and through the expropriation of Church property put its economy on a capitalistic basis.

Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera was born in Popayánon Sept. 26, 1798, to the leading family of southern Colombia. From 1820, when he became a captain in the patriot army, to 1830, by which year he was a general, Mosquera rose rapidly in military and administrative rank. An enthusiastic partisan of Simón Bolivar's dictatorship (1828-1830), at its fall he went on an extended tour of Europe and the United States (1831-1833).

During 1834-1837 Mosquera was a leader of the congressional opposition to Francisco de Paula Santander's regime. Mosquera became secretary of war under President José lgnacio de Márquez in 1838. Mosquera's success as a battlefield commander in the civil war of 1839-1842, although marred by acts of cruelty, firmly established his military and political reputation.

The Presidency

After diplomatic missions to Chile and Peru (1842-1845), Mosquera returned to win the presidency. His first administration (1845-1849) was the most constructive in 19th-century Colombia. It sponsored substantive developments in transportation (steamboats, railroads, highways, and canals), education (technical and classical), and scientific research and marked a dramatic shift from a colonial-style fiscal system toward one based on free trade.

In business in the United States from 1850 to 1854, Mosquera returned in 1854 to participate in the Liberal-Conservative military effort against the dictatorship of Gen. José María. Mosquera failed to create a third party and lost his bid for the presidency in 1856. He did win the presidency of his native Cauca State in 1858 and, using its resources (it included almost half of Colombia), led a victorious Liberal revolution in 1860-1861.

Mosquera endorsed a massive assault on the Church which destroyed its wealth, much of which had maintained social welfare services for the masses. This measure, by ending mortmain, freed large tracts of property from a number of peculiarly binding mortgages and brought capitalism fully into being in Colombia.

After ruling as provisional president from 1861 to 1863, he was elected president for a year (May 1863-April 1864). His fourth presidency was to have lasted from 1866 to 1868, but with his arbitrary closure of Congress, he was arrested on May 23, 1867, tried, and exiled to Peru (until 1870). He never recovered his national stature, though he did retain his political base, serving again as president of Cauca State (1871-1873), his last major political office. He died, close to Popayán, on Oct. 7, 1878.

In addition to a number of polemics, Gen. Mosquera was the author of a biography of Bolivar (1853) and of three important works on Colombian geography. These, plus his abiding support of the natural sciences, won him election to many learned societies in Europe and the United States. Not only the Colombian best known to his contemporaries abroad, Mosquera was also the only military man in his country's history to achieve (for his brilliant destruction of an Ecuadorian invasion in December 1863) field marshal rank.

Mosquera was headstrong, ruthless, and vain to a fault; but his driving ambition and superior intelligence combined to make him the modernizer of Colombia.

Further Reading

Major biographical and critical work on Mosquera is in Spanish. For an appraisal of his historical role see J. León Helguera's "The Problem of Liberalism versus Conservatism in Colombia, 1849-85" in Frederick B. Pike, ed., Latin American History: Select Problems (1969). A useful general background work is J. M. Heñao y Melguizo and Gerardo Arrubla, History of Colombia (1938). □

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Tomas Cipriano de Mosquera

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