First Afrocolombian President

Long before the United States elected their first black President, Colombia had one. His name was Juan José Nieto Gil. But, if you ask most Colombians, they will have no idea who this guy is. The truth is that for reasons that historians can only attribute to racism, Colombia's only black president has been almost erased from history -- in fact, when his portrait was restored in the 1970's they changed his skin tone to white.

Nieto Gil was born in what is now the department of Atlántico, on June 24, 1805. He was the son of a 1/2 black 1/2 Indian mother (a Zamba) and a Spanish father. Early on, he taught himself to read, and he became fascinated by political philosophy.

In 1839, he was elected to the Provincial Chamber in Cartagena. In 1840, he participated in the War of Los Supremos (a topic for another blog), and was taken prisoner. In 1849, he started a newspaper called, La Democracia. He became governor of what was then called the Province of Cartagena in 1851. One year later, on January 1, 1852, at a gathering of multitudes of blacks and mulattos, he emotionally announced the end to slavery.

Nieto Gil's Colombia, was unlike it is today. First, it was called the United States of New Granada, and it consisted of various small, semi-independent countries. Nieto Gil became the President of one of those countries, then called the State of Bolivar. Frustrated with the conservative leadership of the central government of New Granada in Bogotá, he started a campaign to unite with other states and bring down the presidency of Mariano Ospina Rodríguez. He was able to get the states of Magdalena, Santander, and later, Cauca to join him.
While Cauca's president, general Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, had control of the South, and with his armies was working his way to Bogotá, Nieto Gil had control of the entire Atlantic Coast with its critically important ports.

As the Presidency of Ospina disintegrated, and feeling himself in control of the most vital spot of Colombia, Nieto Gil declared himself President of the United States of New Granada, he also stated that he would hold the title of President until Mosquera reached Bogotá and could take over the leadership of the country himself. Thus, he served as President from January 25, 1861, until July 18, 1861. Despite this, he is rarely included in any history book of Colombia.

Therefore, in reality, Juan Manuel Santos is not the 85th president of Colombia, but the 86th.



Rubén said…
Hi Colombian Mommy,

I just found your blog today and am fascinated.

As a Colombian, I'm embarrassed to admit I had no idea we had had a president with such strong African background - that's really impressive (though I'm not surprised).

I'll be checking out the blog often.


Colombian Mommy said…
Rubén, Thank you for your comment. I glad that I can share little known pieces of Colombian history with you.
Sarah Parker said…
WOW this is so interesting! I am so appreciative that I found your blog, its so educational about the colombian culture! I find it really interesting that they erased this black president from their history...although he did not serve for that long i feel that it should still be included in the history books. It could also inspire other afrocolombianos in their career endeavors. My boyfriends family always tells me that they view afrocolombianos the same as them..they are all equal. I also noticed that there was an egalitarian vibe between the afros and the other colombians when I was in the city there compared to a separated culture between black/white/hispanics in the U.S. I am curious though, how equally treated are they? or is there still a segregation between the afros in colombia at least to some small degree?

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