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History, Independence

Jose Antonio Paez, Battle of Carabobo, Ciudad Bolivar, Gran Colombia, cabildo

The first decisive attempt by a Spanish American colony to gain independence from Spain was made by Venezuela. In 1808 the armies of French emperor Napoleon I overran Spain and Portugal. They deposed Ferdinand VII of Spain. In 1810 the Creoles in the cabildo, or town council, of Caracas overthrew the Spanish authorities and formed a junta, or governing body, to rule in the name of the king. However, the junta soon threw aside all pretense of loyalty to the Spanish crown and issued a formal declaration of independence on July 5, 1811.

This first attempt to gain independence faltered after July 1812, when Spanish troops began reconquering the colony. Francisco de Miranda, the commander in chief of the revolutionary forces, tried to negotiate peace with the Spanish commander but was taken to Spain, where he died in prison. Leadership in the movement for independence passed to one of his lieutenants, Simon Bolivar, who recovered control of Caracas briefly in 1813, only to be driven out by the Spanish a year later.

Spanish rule was solidified in Venezuela after the arrival of a large force of Spanish troops in 1815. Bolivar, whose forces were too weak to oppose the Spanish army, withdrew to Haiti. In 1816, however, he returned to the mainland with a reinforced army and seized control of the lower Orinoco Valley. Over the next few years Bolivar gathered his forces. In 1819 Bolivar's position was further strengthened when a congress, convened by him at Angostura (now Ciudad Bolivar), proclaimed a union of New Granada (now Colombia and Panama), Venezuela, and Ecuador under the name of the Republic of Colombia (also known as Gran Colombia), with Bolivar as president. On June 24, 1821, the Spanish army was decisively beaten in Venezuela at the Battle of Carabobo, assuring the independence of the new nation.

Venezuela seceded from the union in 1829 and formed an independent republic with its capital at Caracas. Jose Antonio Paez, a hero of the revolution, served as president and remained the dominant political figure until 1846. He was tolerant toward the Roman Catholic Church and fostered a few measures for the stimulation of trade, agriculture, and education.

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