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.