Aug 062015


On this date in 1825 Bolivia (then Upper Peru) formally declared independence from Spain. I’ll try to tease out the important threads in the drive for independence in Bolivia, although the freedom of South America from Spain is a really tangled skein, with regions fighting alongside one another some of the time and turning against one another at others (not to mention factionalism and numerous divisive issues). This is one small thread.

The invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1807-08 by Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces proved critical to the independence struggle in South America as a whole. The overthrow of the Bourbon Dynasty and the placement of Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne tested the loyalty of the local elites in Upper Peru, who were suddenly confronted with several conflicting authorities. Most remained loyal to Spain. Taking a wait-and-see attitude, they supported the Junta Central in Spain, a government in the name of the abdicated Bourbon king, Ferdinand VII. Some liberals eagerly welcomed the reforms of colonial rule promised by Joseph Bonaparte. Others supported the claims of Carlota, Ferdinand’s sister, who governed Brazil with her husband, Prince Regent John of Portugal. Finally, a number of radical criollos (persons of pure Spanish descent born in the New World) wanted independence for Upper Peru. Pedro Domingo Murillo led an 1809 revolt in La Paz, claiming an independent state in Upper Peru.

This conflict of authority resulted in a local power struggle in Upper Peru between 1808 and 1810 and constituted the first phase of the efforts to achieve independence. In 1808 the president of the Audiencia (appellate court), Ramón García León de Pizarro, demanded affiliation with the Junta Central. The conservative judges of the Audiencia were influenced, however, by their autocratic royalist loyalties and refused to recognize the authority of the junta because they saw it as a product of a popular rebellion. On May 25, 1809, tensions grew when radical criollos, also refusing to recognize the junta because they wanted independence, took to the streets. This revolt, one of the first in Latin America, was soon put down by the authorities.


On July 16, 1809, Pedro Domingo Murillo led another revolt by criollos and mestizos (those of mixed European and Indian ancestry) in La Paz and proclaimed an independent state in Upper Peru in the name of Ferdinand VII. The loyalty to Ferdinand was a pretense used to legitimize the independence movement. By November 1809, the cities of Cochabamba, Oruro, and Potosí had joined Murillo. Although the revolt was put down by royalist forces sent to La Paz by the viceroy of Peru and to Chuquisaca by the viceroy of Río de La Plata, Upper Peru was never again completely controlled by Spain.

During the following seven years, Upper Peru became the battleground for forces of the independent Argentine Republic and royalist troops from Peru. Although the royalists repulsed four Argentine invasions, guerrillas controlled most of the countryside, where they formed six major republiquetas, or zones of insurrection. In these zones, local patriotism would eventually develop into the fight for independence.

By 1817 Upper Peru was relatively quiet and under the control of Lima. After 1820 the Conservative Party criollos supported General Pedro Antonio de Olañeta, a Charcas native, who refused to accept the measures by the Spanish Cortes (legislature) to conciliate the colonies after the liberal revolution in Spain. Olañeta, convinced that these measures threatened royal authority, refused to join the royalist forces or the rebel armies under the command of Simón Bolívar and Antonio José de Sucre y Alcalá. Olañeta did not relinquish his command even after the Peruvian royalists included him and his forces in the capitulation agreement following their defeat in the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824, the final battle of the wars of independence in Latin America. Olañeta continued a quixotic war until Sucre’s forces defeated his forces, and he was killed by his own men on April 1, 1825, in a battle that effectively ended Spanish rule in Upper Peru.


In 1825 Bolívar (, first president of what became known as Bolivia, transferred authority over Upper Peru to his lieutenant, Sucre (1825–28), who called a constituent assembly in Chuquisaca to determine the future of the region. Almost all delegates wanted an independent Upper Peru and rejected attachment to Argentina or Peru. On August 6, 1825, the assembly adopted a declaration of independence. Five days later, the assembly, hoping to placate Bolívar’s reservations about the independence of Upper Peru, resolved to name the new nation after him.

Bolivia’s national cuisine is much like that of most of South America with many Bolivian dishes similar to those of other nations. Saltiñas, for example, are baked empanadas with a different name (an Argentine one). Chanka de pollo is a well-known Bolivian chicken soup that blends European and indigenous influences, and is very popular in cold Andean winters. It is named for the Chanka people who were dominant before the rise of the Inca. It has a base of chicken and chicken broth combined with potatoes, broad beans, and green onions. It can be made in numerous ways. Pictured is a version I made for dinner today. It is common to use peeled, diced potatoes but here I used small, unpeeled ones.


Chanka de Pollo

Cover a jointed chicken with rich chicken stock in a large saucepan. Add green onions cut into 1 inch lengths. Bring slowly to a simmer and cook, partly covered, for 30 minutes. Add potatoes and shucked broad beans and cook for another 30 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces, shred the meat, and return it to the stock. The soup should be packed with chicken and vegetables, not thin and watery. Serve very hot in deep bowls.