In Ecuador there is no shortage of streets, provinces, restaurants or monuments that are named after one of these two men; their importance in the independence struggle is hard to overstate after-all. Yet given their birth in the Spanish Empire’s province of what is now Venezuela makes their popularity in Ecuador seem curious.
In 1809 the first movement for independence was formed though it was in favor of the Spanish king and against the Bonapartist dynasty installed during the Napoleon’s Iberian campaign. Ultimately this government was crushed by 1812 with royalist forces from the viceroyalty of Peru. It would not be until 1820 when the tide of independence once again rose in an effort to sweep away Spanish rule though this time in favor of total independence.
Simon Bolivar by this time had already defeated Spain in Venezuela and Colombia, ultimately forming the Republic of Gran Colombia. His Field Marshal Antonio Jose de Sucre had played an important role in this conflict and would prove as much in Ecuador as well. The fledgling independence movement in Ecuador appealed to the stronger forces of Argentina and Gran Colombia (now independent of Spanish rule). Finally at the Battle of Pichincha near the city of Quito, the combined forces of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador gave the final blow to Spanish rule in the country. Ecuador would be incorporated into Gran Colombia soon afterwards.
General Bolivar and Mariscal (Marshal) Sucre hoped that the defeat of Spain would unite the new republics and they dreamed of a continent spanning union from Argentina to Mexico not just to protect themselves from European aggression but from the more direct threat of the united States. Bolivar rightly predicted that the U.S. would have a malevolent role on the continent and use disunity to further its own interests. Mariscal Sucre himself was also a believer in the Patria Grande (Greater fatherland) that would have encompassed all of Spain’s former colonies.
By 1830 the union of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama was at the point of collapse due to sectarianism and disunity. For his part Bolivar was accused of being dictatorial as president of the republic and his attempts to centralize. Sucre’s assassination in 1830 (allegedly on the orders of Ecuadorian General Flores) and Simon Bolivar’s death of tuberculosis that same year put an end to the dreams of a united Latin American nation. Ironically the new provincial leaders of these republics would employ the same iron-fisted and centralizing efforts that they had opposed Bolivar for. Perhaps if the two leaders had survived the dream of union may have succeeded and allowed the region to challenge U.S. domination.
Regardless of this, the two Venezuelan men remain icons of heroism and an integral part of Ecuador’s fight for freedom. Antonio Jose de Sucre remain buried under the Cathedral of Quito due to his wish to be buried in his wife’s home-city.