For the serious student of the history of Latin America, this book is a veritable treasure. Its value lies both in its scholarly portrayal of the role of the city and former Province of Socorro in the War of Independence and in its reproduction of a vast number of documents bearing upon the events described. The author, Dr. Horacio Rodríguez Plata, is a past-President of the Colombian Academy of History and a native of the city of Socorro (La Villa de Nuestra Señora del Socorro). Dr. Rodríguez Plata understandably manifests local pride in his narrative, but he makes a strong case for the pivotal role of his community and in so doing ties it to the entire sweep of events in northern South America during the years, 1810-1825.
The author affirms, and he uses as his source no less an authority than the royalist general, Pablo Morillo, “El Pacificador,” that Socorro was the “Manchester of the Kingdom” (La Nueva Reina de Granada). It was located in that part of the country which was the strongest economically, the most heavily populated, and wherein resided those most devoted to the idea of liberty and those “most convinced of the value of human dignity.” For these reasons, there are few aspects of the War of Independence that are not treated in the history of this city and former province (the province was renamed the State of Santander in 1857). The men of Socorro fought in the campaigns of Cúcuta, Caracas, Popayán, Pasto, Bogotá, Santa Marta, Boyacá, Carabobo, and Ayacucho. They served under Bolívar (numerous documents are included in which “The Liberator” praises the contributions of Socorro), Monslave, and Santander, and opposed such royalist commanders as Boves, Morillo, and Bartolomé Lizón. In all, at least 10,000 socorranos were buried in graves lining the “road to liberation” in five states of northern South America. And Socorro contributed not only its men, but its women (many were executed during the Spanish re-occupation or “Reign of Terror,” 1816-1819), as well as its economic resources. The thriving and wealthy Socorro of 1810 was depopulated and devastated by 1830.
There are, of course, segments which are devoted specifically to the local history, but, even here, the whole history is enhanced by the capsule. Dr. Rodríguez Plata is proud of the fact that the revolutionary movement of Socorro of 10 July, 1810, preceded that of Santa Fé de Bogotá by ten days. His description of the three leaders of that movement, accompanied by extensive archival material (much of it unpublished and in the author’s personal possession), is an excellent study of the motivation and organization of one of the earliest revolutionary juntas in New Granada. José Lorenzo Plata y Martínez, Alberto Montero Oses, and Miguel Tadeo Gómez Durán may take their place with the other precursors of Latin American independence.
Dr. Rodríguez Plata does not confine his documentation to “rebel” sources. One of the most interesting documents is an eyewitness account of the 10 July 1810 movement by a Capuchin monk, who was horrified at the turn of events. Ten years later this document fell into the hands of an unknown “patriot,” who made humorous marginal notes on the manuscript. There is also a portfolio of documents covering the Spanish reconquest and occupation of Socorro (1816-1819). The messages exchanged between Morillo and the Spanish Commandant of Socorro, the “villainous” Colonel Antonio Fominaya, depict some of the harshness of Spanish rule during this period.
There is much more that could be said about this study, which comprises Volume XCVIII of the National History of Colombia. Suffice it to say, if one is going to teach or write about the War of Independence, he ought not ignore this work.