Honoring Juana Azurduy, a 52 foot high statue, a gift from Bolivia, has been installed in Argentina, replacing an older and smaller statue of Christopher Columbus. It is the largest statue in Argentina.
Who is Juana Azurduy?
Juana Azurduy, the “flower of alto Peru”, the “terror of the Spanish”, knew exactly what she wanted when, at 24 years of age, she wed Manuel de Padilla. Padilla, just 4 years her senior already had a well-developed disdain for the rule of the Spanish, a love of the people, and experience in the army and law. With him she would enter the military and with him she would liberate her people from Spanish rule. She trained and excelled in swordsmanship and marksmanship and horsemanship. When independence was declared 4 years into their marriage, they were ready. Bringing her children with her, and putting her hair up under her hat and wearing the traditional male uniform, Juana went to war.
What was the source of her passion and when was her inner fire kindled? The details of her childhood are limited, but enough that perhaps we can see the outlines … the origin of her fire. She was born mestiza, one parent Spanish and the other indigenous. Which was which we don’t seem to know, but we are told her father was killed by the Spanish without repercussion or justice, when she was very young. Not long after her mother died of causes unknown and young Juana was sent to live with an aunt. Was her aunt on her mother’s side and Spanish, we do not know, but we do know that her aunt sent young Juana, perhaps 12 years old, to live in a convent. The convent no doubt was catholic and run by the Spanish. We next learn that teenaged Juana was clandestinely organizing students to study together the lives of revolutionaries against the domination of the Spaniards, most notably Tupac Amaru, and she was expelled from the convent at age 17.
One can imagine young Juana ruminating over the killing of her papa by the unaccountable Spanish invaders. One can see her mourning the loss of her mother when she needed her the most. One can imagine her anger at her aunt, perhaps Spanish too, for thinking her too much trouble and sending her to the convent. And one can understand her rebelling against the strictures of convent life. Juana flowered into adulthood loving her people and bitter against the Spanish, determined to see things change. And so, it was in 1810, on the very day that independence from Spain was declared, Juana Adzurduy and her husband Manuel de Padilla joined the revolutionary army.
The initial 1810 revolutionary group was halted by the Spanish royalists; and the Padillas joined the army of the north to continue the fight. In 1811, they suffered a defeat in battle and the Padilla’s 4 children were captured, their property overrun, and their harvest and profits were confiscated. But Manuel rescued the children and returned to the battle.
In 1812 the Padillas joined the newly reconstituted army of the north and Manuel was made a military commander. By 1816 Juana was leading troops into battle. In March, she captured the region which was the prime source of Spanish Silver. During the battle she personally led a Calvary charge which captured the enemy standard. After this battle, she was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was personally, honored by General Manuel Belgrano, who gifted her with his own sword.
Later that year, her children were captured, the 2 sons killed outright and the 2 daughters held as hostage. Azurduy and Padilla mounted a ferocious raid to rescue them but the children were killed and Juana was injured in the attempt. Later that same year Manuel Padilla was captured and killed. Juana Azurduy swore over her husband’s corpse to continue to fight and continued as one of the most violent warriors on the field, earning the moniker “the Terror of the Spanish”.
In 1818, she was forced to withdraw with her forces to northern Argentina where she continued the fight under the command of General Guermes. She was appointed commander of the patriotic northern Army of the Revolutionary Government of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. With the army she was able to force the withdrawal of the Spanish forces from the region.
The estimated strength of her army at its maximum was about 6,000 men under her command. She was so determined for the cause that she actually fought while she was pregnant, at one point, giving birth to her daughter, then returning to the fight soon after. Following the war, she returned to Sucre and there was reduced to poverty.
In 1825 Simón Bolívar, known as the Liberator visited her. Seeing her impoverished conditions, he was embarrassed, and promoted her to the rank of Colonel and provided her with a pension. Following the visit, he remarked to Marshal Antonio José de Sucre: “This country should not be named Bolivia in my honor, but Padilla or Azurduy, because it was they who made it free.”
In 2009, Juana Azurduy was named General (posthumously) of the Argentine Army.
A movie has been filmed about her. see here.
The monument can be seen here and below, showing Juana with sword uplifted with one hand, a child on her back and he other hand stretched back protecting her child.
Juana Azurduy de Padilla International Airport in Sucre is honorably so named.
A blogger I recently read, (and I am sorry I cannot find who it is), asked the question: “Why has my country, Bolivia, been given a woman’s name? Could it be because of the founding influences?” It seems the answer is YES.
Casa de la Libertad now houses a museum of History of Bolivia! Follow them on facebook here. The tours are highly regarded.
The Monument to Juana Azurduy is being relocated a short distance in a renovation project in Buenos Aires. See a description and map showing the old and new locations here, and confirm before you travel.
As always, if you have something to add to this story, or a recommended landmark for visiting, I welcome your comments!