Antonio Nariño y Álvarez

Antonio Nariño y Alvarez was born in Santa Fe de Bogotá, on April 17, 1765. He was the child of a Spaniard Vicente Nariño, the official accountant of the King of Spain, and a Bogotá born mother, Catalina Alvarez del Casal. Though his earliest years were spent in school, he eventually left school and became mostly self-taught. Many of his ideas were influenced by the teachings of his uncle, Manuel de Bernardo Alvarez.

At 20, he married Magdalena Ortega y Mesa. Just after his marriage, an earthquake shook Bogotá, and Nariño got permission to print a newspaper about the event and its consequences just 3 days after it happened. The report was a huge success and lead to permission for the writing, editing, and printing of a new newspaper called the "Gaceta de la Ciudad de Santa Fe." However, after just three weeks of publication, the Superior Government of Bogotá withdrew its support for the newspaper and all publication was cancelled.

At the age of 24, he was elected as one of the mayors in the Cabildo of Bogota, and in 1791, at the age of 26 he was named the principal Mayor of Bogotá. One of his acts as Mayor was to create a public lottery that financed the building of the Hopital San Juan de Dios -- a hospital that remained in use until 1999. Perhaps some of our readers or their children were born there.

From 1789- 1794, Nariño hosted a parlor group that discussed many different ideas. During this time, Nariño was exposed to the ideas of the French Revolution and he received a copy of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which he translated into Spanish and began to circulate. As you might expect, his dissemination of these rebellious ideas was no looked upon very favorably. An order was issued for his capture. In August of 1794, he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 10 years of prison in Africa. However, on his way to Africa, the ship stopped in Cadiz, Spain. There he escaped and made his way to Paris.

From Paris, he went on to London, hoping to convince the British to support an Independence movement in the New Granada. Though William Pitt spoke with Nariño and promised to support him, nothing further ever came of those discussions.

In 1797, Nariño returned to the Americas, landing in Venezuela. He disguised himself as a priest. He stopped in El Socorro and began forging a plan to start a rebellion in that area, but before his well thought out plan was executed, he returned to Bogotá, confessed his plan to a priest -- who told the Viceroy-- and was again arrested. He spent 6 years in a Bogotá prison. But while there, he wrote clandestine letters to the free press where he explained many of his ideas for reform. In 1803, he was released from prison owing to his very ill health.

From 1806-1809, he worked to convince agricultural workers to rebel against the Spanish. When his plans were again made known to the Viceroy. He was captured, along with his son, and sent to the prison in Cartagena. On the way to Cartagena, there was a terrific storm. During the confusion caused by the storm, the two of them escaped. They headed for Santa Marta, where a royal spy recognized them and they were again arrested and sent to prison in Cartagena. There they remained until 1810 when the Independence movement hit Cartagena.

Once freed, Nariño became alarmed at the division that existed among the patriots of the Independence movement. Rather than union, the patriots had chosen to break into 3 separate states and Nariño was chosen as the President of Cundinamarca. This division existed even though they were still fighting for their independence from Spain. After gaining control of rebellious factions in Cundinamarca, Nariño headed South to help in the Independence fights against Spain (1814).

During a battle near Popayán, Nariño surrendered and was captured. He was sent to Quito. From Quito, he was again sent to Cadiz where he spent 4 years in solitary confinement. This may have actually been a blessing because in 1816, Spain regained control of Bogotá and all rebel leaders were executed.

In 1820, he was freed, and in 1821, following Bolivar's victory at the Battle of Boyacá. Nariño returned home. Bolivar named Nariño as his Vice-President. After being attacked for desertion when he surrendered at the Battle of Pasto, he renounced the Vice-Presidency. He then was elected to the Senate in 1823, where he gave a remarkable speech defending all that he had done for the Republic. Unfortunately, time and prison and negative speculation took their toll on the man and on December 13, 1823, at the age of 58, he died in Villa de Leyva.

Today, he is remembered as a patriot and a champion of human rights. It is for him that the Department of Nariño is named.

* Photo by Wikicommons


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