Antonio José de Sucre

Antonio José de Sucre
Antonio José de Sucre

Antonio José de Sucre fought against Spain and alongside Simón Bolívar for the independence of South America. More of a soldier than an administrator, he also served as the first president of Bolivia.

Sucre was born on February 3, 1795, to Don Vicente de Sucre Urbaneja, a colonel in the colonial army, and Doña Maria Manuela de Alcalá in Cumaná (present-day Sucre), on the northeast coast of Venezuela, then part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada.

He was the seventh child of prosperous Creole parents and the eighth generation of his family to be born in the New World. Among his ancestors were Spanish nobles, Christianized Jews from Flanders, a few Indians, and some African slaves. Sucre received a basic education and then studied mathematics and engineering with a tutor.

As a family of high office and long residence, the Sucres were natural leaders within the province of New Andalucia. When the revolutionary movement took shape in Caracas and Cumaná in April 1810, the slight but tall Sucre enlisted as a cadet in the company of hussars that his father commanded.

The republican government gave him the rank of second sublieutenant for the militia. Sucre served with the hussars until mid-1811, when he was assigned to a corps of engineers that was constructing defenses at the Fort of Margarita.

Promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 1812, he was instructed to join the expeditionary force that his father was organizing for the purpose of suppressing the royalist reactionaries in Barcelona. However, the revolution failed, and the new royalist government sought to punish those who were involved with the revolutionary government. Sucre managed to flee to Trinidad, but his father wound up in a dungeon.

When Bolívar launched a second attempt at a revolution in 1813, Sucre joined him. Sucre, now promoted to major, took Cumaná on August 2, 1813. In the attack on Barcelona, Sucre headed the Zapadores battalion, which he founded to provide engineering services.

Sucre next served as adjutant to General Santiago Mariño when he routed the army of José Tomás Boves on March 31, 1814, at Boca Chica. Unfortunately for Sucre, the republicans lost the next few battles. At the end of 1815 Sucre fled Venezuela for exile in Haiti. Too short of funds to stay on the island, he moved to Trinidad to get financial aid from relatives.

In 1816 Sucre returned to the South American fight. After participating in the capture of Yaguarapao and the siege of Cumaná with the Colombian battalion, he became the governor of the province of Cumaná. In 1817 Sucre was named to head the Baja Orinoco battalion and subsequently became major general of the Lower Orinoco.

Modest, loyal to Bolívar, and absolutely dedicated to independence, Sucre gained a stellar reputation as a soldier and administrator. In 1820 Bolívar named Sucre to be chief of the general staff and assistant minister of war. He helped Venezuela gain independence later that same year.

Bolívar and Sucre then turned their attentions to Colombia. In August 1821 Sucre marched 1,200 men to Babahoyo. With the Spanish loyalist forces unaware of his presence, Sucre surprised and decisively defeated them at Yaguachi.

In the 1822 Battle of Pinchincha, Sucre concluded the Quito (present-day Ecuador) campaign and obtained liberation for Colombia. Sucre became the political and military governor of the southern department of Gran Colombia. He began working with Bolívar to prepare for the attack on Peru, the center of Spanish control in the Americas.

Accompanying Bolívar to Peru, Sucre distinguished himself at the August 1824 Battle of Junín. Bolívar was absent, and Sucre was the chief commander when the Battle of Ayacucho was fought in December 1824. The generous terms that he granted to the loyalist forces were typical of Sucre’s magnanimous style.

With considerable reluctance, Sucre accepted the presidency of the newly created state of Bolivia. He was never happy in the post. Despite the conciliatory spirit of his rule, an attempt was made on his life. In 1828 he resigned and returned to Quito. A few months later, he led the forces that repelled a Peruvian invasion.

He was elected president of the constitutional convention that met in 1830 in an effort to prevent Bolívar’s large republic of Colombia from disintegrating. Sucre’s efforts to prevent Venezuela from seceding and becoming a separate state failed.

On June 4, 1830, when he was riding back from the congress to his home in Quito, Sucre was ambushed by Apolimar Morillo, José Erazo, Juan Gregorio Sarría, and three accomplices in La Jacoba, a wild mountainous region.

The attack may have been arranged by a rival, José María Obando, who commanded the troops at Cauca. Sucre was shot through the heart. His body remained face down in the mud for 24 hours before he was buried at the side of the road. Upon learning of Sucre’s assassination, Bolívar famously stated that Abel had been killed.