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The Guayaquil Conference

The South American wars of independence are barely known outside its borders: a bloody, twelve year conflict – spanning the entire continent. The might of the Spanish Empire was on one side and a group of poorly armed rebels, mercenaries, and escaped slaves on the other.

Simón Bolívar led the insurrection in the North, liberating what is now Venezuela, Columbia, and Ecuador while dealing with a few ambushes, jungle crossings, man-eating swamps, and civil wars along the way.

The lesser known José de San Martín deserted the Spanish Army and raised the flag of rebellion in Argentina. He scaled the Andes and took Santiago in a daring assault, then launched an attack on Lima by sea with the help of a disgraced British sea captain who was secretly angling to place Napoleon on the thrown of a unified South America.

By 1822, the Spanish had retreated to the highlands of Cusco and Upper Peru (or what is now known as Bolivia) and neither San Martín nor Bolívar had sufficient soldiers to finish them off, and the two generals had to come together somehow.

They had been corresponding for some time and San Martín had recently sent Bolívar reinforcements when he was locked in the battle for Quito. They agreed to meet in the port town of Guayaquil, just north of the Peru-Ecuador border, to discuss the conclusion of the war.

San Martín sailed up from Lima, while Bolívar raced down from Quito on horseback, surprising San Martín by arriving before him. They embraced awkwardly on the pier, the two Liberators of South America meeting for the very first time.

They entered the City Hall in Guayaquil alone, without witnesses, and no record was made of their conversation. In fact, neither man spoke of the incident at all afterward.

No-one was quite sure how the meeting would go. Essentially they were both on the same side, however neither would readily submit to the other.

To the consternation of his men, San Martín resigned as Protector of Peru and handed over control of his armies to Bolívar, who went on to immortalize himself in the final battles winning South America’s freedom.

San Martín died in exile, anonymous.

So, what happened in that room? Why did a man at the peak of his career, on the verge of glory, step aside?

I’ve spent the last five years trying to figure out the answers.

About David Gaughran

David lives in Dublin, where it rains every day and conversation is a sport. He writes historical adventures and has helped thousands of authors to self-publish through his workshops, books, and this here blog.


8 thoughts on “The Guayaquil Conference

  1. As I mentioned in your other blog, I’m not from South America and I’m not hispanic in anyway.. not gentically at least. But my father spent the first 15 years of his life in Colonel Olviedo, Paruguay and my step-mother was born and raised in Bogota, Columbia. So this is all facinating stuff to me. We need more cross cultural historical education.

    When I went to Columbia in 1993, we stayed in Santa Marta. One of the places we visited there was Simón Bolívar Memorial Monument. Being 16 I forgot his name, but I did remember it was an important place. The sense I got was the same sense I’d felt years ago when I visited Mount Vernon here isn the USA. I’d try to describe the feeling, but I’ve sat here for ten minutes and the right words wouldn’t come.

    So, I look forward to following this blog. :}

    Posted by Cathryn Leigh | October 3, 2011, 3:31 pm
    • Hi Cathryn,

      Sounds like you have soaked up a little South America through osmosis! I was only in Paraguay briefly, a quick jump across the border at Iguassu – Cidade del Este, which was like something from Mad Max. I remember ordering half a chicken. They were true to their word, I even got half the beak. Good beer though, if I remember right.

      I was only in Colombia for a couple of weeks (I spent much more time in Brazil, Peru, and Argentina), but yeah, there were statues of Bolivar everywhere. He is revered.

      It’s a different story in the South, where San Martin takes his place on the pedestal, for understandable reasons. In fact, historians have long battled over what happened in that room, usually on national lines. Argentines and Chileans will have a very different opinion to Colombians and Venezuelans, and it’s impossible to read anything on the subject that isn’t colored by national prejudices. It’s amazing really, arguably the most momentous meeting in South American history and nobody has any real idea what happened.


      Posted by davidgaughran | October 3, 2011, 4:10 pm
  2. By the time I got as far as South America my tolerance of cold climates had waned considerably, so many parts were off limits. A real shame. Luckily that still left vast tracts of warmer areas to explore, but did prevent me following the history trail of the independence wars, despite being obsessed by the continent’s history as a child.

    For some reason by the age of ten enjoying an idyllic childhood living by the sea, I was obsessed with the idea of visiting isolated, landlocked countries, and bizarrely fixated on Mongolia, Upper Volta (now Burkina Fasso) and Paraguay. In my twenties I managed to get arrested in both Ulan Bator and Ascuncion for alleged visa violations (this back when Mongolia was closed to foreigners and Stroessner ruled Paraguay and actual visas were not available, so they had a point) and while the supposed life-time ban wouldn’t be invoked nowadays, I’ve never been back.

    Needless to say i had a warmer welcome in West Africa. and have rarely left since, but when i do, the favelas of Brazil are usually where I head for (with the “slums” of Calcutta a close second).

    Posted by Mark Williams International | October 4, 2011, 12:21 am
    • That’s funny, I had my own visa problems in Paraguay. To say the border between Cidade del Este and Brazil is porous would be something of an understatement. There is the official road – which passes through where the customs officials are, and then there is the road that everyone actually uses – which is about 6 feet to the left and perfectly visible to the customs officials and army officers who pretend not to notice. But we actually wanted a stamp, despite the fact we were only going for lunch and a look around. So after twenty minutes of explanation in broken Spanish, the hysterical official finally took out the stamp (after having some difficulty finding it) and decorated our passports – just to get rid of us I think. When we returned three hours later to get stamped out of Paraguay, he chased us out of his office, screaming at us. We were worried that it would present problems at future borders, as we were now on official record of entering the country but not leaving. We returned to the office, but he threatened to have us arrested, so we had to scarper.

      We never did get that exit stamp.

      Posted by davidgaughran | October 4, 2011, 12:36 am
      • LOL! The problems of border passport controls are a book in themselves.

        As for passort stamps… My Russian and East German visas stopped my getting into the US many times, and passport stamps remain a bugbear.

        I love country hopping here, and alwasys travel overland if possible. But The Gambia is landlocked, coast aside, by Senegal. Even just to visit the next country along, Guniea Bissau, means stamp out of Gambia, stamp into Senegal, stamp out of Senegal, stamp into Guinea Bissau.And the same on the way back. Going further afield to my old haunts in Sierra Leone can wipe out half a passport!

        Posted by Mark Williams International | October 4, 2011, 12:49 am
      • My favorite was the bus trip to Ushuaia. Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago, separated from the Argentine mainland by the Straits of Magellan. But to get to the ferry crossing, you must first pass through a narrow sliver of Chile, maybe a mile wide. This meant disembarking from the bus (in the dead of night of course), queuing in the freezing cold, getting stamped out of Argentina, piling back on the bus, driving 50 yards, repeating the same process to enter Chile, then again to leave after driving for about 60 seconds, then again to enter Argentina. Could they not have just waved the bus through? Once you factor in the return journey, that’s eight stamps that you really didn’t need.

        Posted by davidgaughran | October 4, 2011, 2:24 am
      • I think I must have been missing something in my travels to South America! We crossed voer to Brazil while I was there, but I don’t remember any pasport staming… We took a taxi actually and thankfully the 16 year old daughter of my father’s old friend managed to mangle enough of her Spanish for the Brazilian driver to understand us.

        I do remember the bathroom was the shower, in the little hotel we stayed at on the Paruguay side.

        Then there was the 14 hour bus ride, on which I watch Beastmaster for the first time ever, and some murder mystery that had something to do with balarina… OH and the delicious Arekipa (spelling probably mangled) sold by the locals through the bus windows at each stop. I’m going to have to go back just for that….

        I think we did have some issues going from Argentina to Paruguay, but mostly I remember the VW Bus throwing it’s belt every 15 miles. Eventually someone in a VW Bug had to come and pick us and out lugage up. That was a tight fit.

        And the other thing that made an impression on me was the old fashioned carts drawn by a single horse on car tires. And the quinceanera party I got to attend. That was… interesting.

        Posted by Cathryn Leigh | October 4, 2011, 3:22 pm


  1. Pingback: September Report: A Big, Big Slump | David Gaughran - October 3, 2011

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