So after saying (in this post) that there is nothing left to do but fill in the tiny spaces that Gabriel Garcia Marquez has left between his writings, I find myself ready to accept my subordinate position, and to begin filling in these gaps.
To be honest, I should have written this post months ago, when I was living in the city that took its name from my subject. Why didn’t I? Instead I’m left with this untimely biography, scraped out of literary despair. Anyway, there’s no bad time to drag a hero out of the obscurity of history, right?
I was probably a little cruel in that earlier post when I said that the life of Antonio Jose de Sucre was contained with the life of his mentor, Simon Bolivar. For most of Sucre’s life their paths were intertwined, but there are some important differences between Bolivar the Liberator and his protege.
Sucre was born in Venezuela in 1795 into a family with a proud military history. He joined the army at 15 years of age and by 19 he had taken up the struggle for American independence from Spain. This of course put him onto the same trajectory as Bolivar, and by 1821, aged 26, Sucre became a very young brigadier general in Bolivar’s army.
Bolivar’s staff were made up of the cream of the American military, along with some distinguished ring-ins from Europe (particularly England, Ireland, Scotland), but from among this illustrious company it was Sucre that was raised up to the greatest heights by Bolivar, to the chagrin of other commanders. Not that Sucre wasn’t worthy of the accolade; he was a capable and proven general. It was given to him to liberate Quito, thus paving the way for Bolivar’s advance south towards Peru.
This campaign forever bound Sucre to Quito. Despite a number of setbacks and defeats, Sucre was successful in defeating the Spanish and capturing Quito. In 1822 he entered the city with Bolivar, and was named President of the Province of Quito (this title didn’t exist for long, as Quito was absorbed into Bolivar’s Gran Colombia), a position he never really wanted. It was also during this time that Sucre met his future wife, Mariana Carcelen y Larrea, and that Bolivar met his lover, Manuela Saenz. Thereafter Bolivar would be forever departing from Quito, and Sucre would be forever returning to it, or longing to return to it.
Bolivar and Sucre continued on to Peru and fought together there. It was Sucre, though, that defeated a much larger army at the Battle of Ayacucho, so ending Spanish control of South America. He was 29 years old, and Bolivar conferred upon him the highest possible title, “The Grand Marshal of Ayacucho”.
Subsequently Bolivar wrote a short biography of Sucre, full of praise and love for his lieutenant (see, even in this I am preceded and preempted by greater men). In a letter to Sucre Bolivar wrote “believe me, General, nobody loves your glory as much as I do”. This may have been another big difference between Sucre and Bolivar; while the Grand Liberator was obsessed with glory, Sucre was more modest, and less inclined towards the spotlight.
For this reason Sucre might have been more suited to presidential power than Bolivar, even though he was less impelled towards it. The Battle of Ayacucho was the last of Sucre’s happy victories. Thereafter he shed his military regalia as he entered reluctantly into the world of politics. Four months after Bolivar became the first president of the newly-formed Bolivia Sucre took over this role. After three years, as the dream of a united South America was fragmenting, Sucre quit the presidency and returned to his beloved wife in his beloved Qutio. Although he had lovers and an illegitimate child, it was always and forever his interrupted life in Quito that he yearned for.
Even so, Bolivar prevailed upon Sucre to return to politics, as they tried to hold together the dream of Gran Colombia. Sucre was elected president of the Colombian Congress, and it was widely believed that he was being groomed to replace Bolivar. While Bolivar and his allies sought to promote Sucre, their rivals sort to block this action, and meanwhile Sucre was reluctant to involve himself with any of this political wheeling and dealing; he did not want the presidency.
The wars and their savage aftermath had left Bolivar a shadow of himself, while Sucre was still, it seemed, in the prime of his life. When Bolivar resigned and made ready to go into exile, Sucre again tried to return to his private life in Quito. Rather than taking the logical sea route, he made a rapid dash over the lonely mountains, tasting again the possibility of a life with his wife and newborn daughter.
His dream went unfulfilled though; among the high mountain passes Sucre was ambushed and shot in the back, probably by political adversaries that he had once fought alongside. The standard destiny of all Latin American revolutionaries. He was buried in Quito, as he had desired, coming finally as close as he would ever come to his dream of finding peace there.
With Sucre died one of the last fleeting hopes for a united South America. Being a reluctant politician, he made have been the best candidate for the presidency, unburdened by Bolivar’s obsession with glory or other politicians’ obsession with power. A man determined to live a peaceful life in love with his family may have been exactly what the newly liberated lands needed. It may still be what they are waiting for.