Libertadores: A collection of eight films about the heroes of latin american independence
JOSE ARTIGAS - Artigas, La Redota (Uruguay)

JOSE ARTIGAS (1764-1850)


He was born in Montevideo in 1764. After studying in the Franciscan school of San Bernardino, he worked on farms that belonged to his father. In 1971, his first son Manuel (El Caciquillo) is born, from his relationship with Isabel Sánchez, a Native Indian girl.

In 1797 he enlisted as a cavalry soldier in the regiment of Blandengues, created to fight against those who stole cattle and dealt with contraband in Banda Oriental. They also protected the border with Brazil. He was already an official member of the regiment when he was forced to retire from the army due to health reasons. Artigas re-enlisted again and in 1806, during the British invasion, he participated in the conquest of Buenos Aires and in defense of Montevideo.

During the month of February 1811, the Spanish Governor of Montevideo, Javier de Elio, now proclaimed Viceroy of Rio de la Plata, declared the war against the Revolutionary Committee created in Buenos Aires in May of 1810. Captain Artigas deserted the army and left to work for the government of Buenos Aires who promoted him to Lieutenant Coronal, so he could start the revolt against the Spanish domination.


Artigas recruited a popular army, formed by poor eastern villagers and Indian Charrúa communities who were called upon by his son Manuel and who were promised the lands and cattle that the Spanish took from them.

On the 18th of May of 1811, he defeated the Realists in the fight of Las Piedras until the First Triumvirate was signed on the 20th of October. This treaty stated that the troops would retire. Artigas fled to Entre Rios to reorganize the fight. This marked the exodus of the Eastern villages.

Artigas regained his rule after the fall of the First triumvirate, towards the end of 1812 and the Easterners accepted to unite with the troops from Buenos Aires in order to surround Montevideo. The leaders of Banda Oriental attended the Buenos Aires Assembly with clear federalist and revolutionary content:

  • Immediate Declaration of Independence.
  • Republican Constitution.
  • Civil and Religious Freedom.
  • Equality of all citizens.
  • Central government with respect of the provincial autonomies.
  • Establishment of the capital outside of Buenos Aires.
The Assembly rejected all proposals and they scheduled for another meeting in order to choose new deputes. Artigas broke ties with Buenos Aires and was declared a traitor. This rupture was due to the fact that the upper class feared:

  • A possible alliance of Artigas with San Martin, which would accelerate the independence against the wishes of Great Britain, now an ally of Spain.
  • The influence and popularity of Artigas could extend to the rest of the provinces.
  • That Artigas is a dangerous example, giving away land and cattle and putting their economic power at risk.
Jose Artigas was the first to express his idea on federalism in Rio de la Plata:
"Taking the United States as a model I want the provinces to be autonomous and may each state have their own government… The people must be free…"

In 1814, several of the Argentine provinces, ruined by the politics of Buenos Aires, formed The League of the Free Villages and they united with the Easterners. Artigas fought against centralist ideas. A year later, Artigas recuperated Montevideo, occupied until then by troops from Buenos Aires and he called for a meeting of the League of the Free Villages in Concepcion del Uruguay. His first actions were to:

  • Swear the independence from Spain.
  • Raise the tricolored flag, crossed with a red banner (symbol of federalism).
  • Not attend the Congress of Tucuman, in protest for the attitude adopted by the government in Buenos Aires.

In 1817, the opposition instigated the invasion of the Portuguese that took Montevideo, as a way of getting rid of Artigas. At the end of 1819, the League decides to face both fronts: the Central forces in Buenos Aires and the Portuguese. Artigas is defeated by the Portuguese in Tacuarembó.

Several of the leaders of the League signed the Treaty of El Pilar, behind Artigas´s back and abandoned him. Artigas, defeated, went to Paraguay where he took exile.

He lived modestly in a house, surrounded by Indians and farmers who called him Carai Marangatu, the Father of the poor. After three decades in exile, Artigas died, at 86 years of age, on September 23rd 1850. This man whose only ambition was the freedom of America, died alone without any medals or uniforms.

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