To celebrate Fiestas Patrias, we bring you a 4-part historical series on the most important battles of the Peruvian war of Independence.
Why is the Peruvian flag red and white?
One story goes that the famous general Jose de San Martín saw a flock of flamingos upon his arrival to Peru after the liberation of Chile and was inspired by their colors. According to others, the red symbolizes the blood of the heroes who died for the country. As we journey through the most important moments of Peru’s brutal wars of independence this week to celebrate Fiestas Patrias, perhaps the latter hypothesis will seem the more likely.
San Martín is often toted as the face of the Peruvian independence.
After consolidating the independence of Argentina as part of South America’s southern independence movement (virtually autonomous from Simón Bolivar’s movement in Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador), his campaigns from 1814 to 1821 through Chile and Peru eventually led to the declaration of Independence for today’s Inca nation.
It is these campaigns we remember today.
Despite the rivalry between the countries, much of the fighting in the campaign leading to Peru’s independence declaration actually happened in what is now modern-day Chile. The liberation of Chile was an important precursor to San Martín’s campaign into Peru because it gave the independence forces a base to launch seaborne attacks on Peru’s coast.
A naval attack resulted in the capture of the important port of Pisco and the Spanish loyalist forces withdrew into Peru’s interior. This cleared the way for San Martin to enter Lima with relatively little fighting compared to the battles in Chile.
However, it is not true to say that the Peruvian war of independence began in Chile.
Many point to the indigenous rebellion of Tupac Amaru II in Cusco in 1780-1781 as an important precursor to the independence. Another important rebellion in Cusco occurred in 1814-1815, just before San Martín launched his most decisive campaigns into Chile. These rebellions were crushed by a Peruvian upper-class administration that was deeply loyal to the Spanish crown.
This strong Spanish loyalism of Lima’s upper class is the reason that Peru was one of the last South American countries to be truly liberated.
Thus, it was the combination of recruits from Peru’s lower and middle classes that ultimately made up the majority of Peruvians fighting for independence, under the leadership of the elite foreign leaders such as San Martín.
It was a diverse army: the professional soldiers came from newly independent Argentina or Chile and England (who funded and backed San Martin’s campaign against the Spanish), while local militias were gathered that included large numbers of indigenous peoples and slaves of African origin. Although it was rare for women to participate in combat, they performed important roles such as social actors, spies, and gatherers of intelligence for the movement.
The marginalized lower classes were promised freedom and a better life for their children by revolutionary forces.
Peru’s wars of independence were bloody affairs in which women, indigenous peoples, and slaves fought among the ranks for the promise of a freer and juster society. Though many of these promises were later betrayed and social inequality continues even to this day, the people who struggled for these ideals should not be discarded as meaningless; rather, they should be elevated as heroes so that their ancestors remember what is worth fighting for.