The Liberators of South America

Leaders of South America's Wars of Independence

In 1810, South America was still part of Spain's vast New World Empire. By 1825, however, the continent was free, having won its independence at the cost of bloody wars with Spanish and royalist forces. Independence might never have been won without the brave leadership of men and women ready to fight for liberty. Meet the Liberators of South America!

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Mural depicting Simon Bolivar fighting for independence.
Mural depicting Simon Bolivar fighting for independence. Guanare, Portuguesa, Venezuela. Krzysztof Dydynski / Getty Images

Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) was the greatest leader of Latin America's independence movement from Spain. A superb general and a charismatic politician, he not only drove the Spanish from northern South America but also was instrumental in the early formative years of the republics that sprang up once the Spanish had gone. His later years are marked by the collapse of his grand dream of a united South America. He is remembered as "The Liberator," the man who liberated his home from Spanish rule.

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Monument to Bernardo O'Higgins, Plaza República de Chile
Monument to Bernardo O'Higgins, Plaza República de Chile. De Osmar Valdebenito - Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 2.5 ar, Enlace

Bernardo O'Higgins (1778-1842) was a Chilean landowner and one of the leaders of its struggle for Independence. Although he had no formal military training, O'Higgins took charge of the ragged rebel army and fought the Spanish from 1810 to 1818 when Chile finally achieved its Independence. Today, he is revered as the liberator of Chile and the father of the nation.

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Illustration of Bolivar and Miranda Signing Declaration of Independence
Miranda and Bolivar lead their followers in signing of the Declaration of Independence for Venezuela against Spanish rule, July 5, 1811. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Sebastian Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816) was a Venezuelan patriot, general and traveler considered the "Precursor" to Simon Bolivar's "Liberator." A dashing, romantic figure, Miranda led one of the most fascinating lives in history. A friend of Americans such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, he also served as a General in the French Revolution and was the lover of Catherine the Great of Russia. Although he did not live to see South America freed from Spanish rule, his contribution to the cause was considerable.

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Manuela Sáenz. Public Domain Image

Manuela Sáenz (1797-1856) was an Ecuadorian noblewoman who was the confidante and lover of Simón Bolívar before and during the South American wars of Independence from Spain. In September 1828, she saved Bolívar's life when political rivals tried to assassinate him in Bogotá: this earned her the title "the Liberator of the Liberator." She is still considered a national hero in her native city of Quito, Ecuador.

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Manuel Piar. Public Domain Image

General Manuel Carlos Piar (1777-1817) was an important leader of the independence from Spain movement in northern South America. A skilled naval commander as well as a charismatic leader of men, Piar won several important engagements against the Spanish between 1810 and 1817. After opposing Simón Bolívar, Piar was arrested in 1817 before being tried and executed under orders from Bolivar himself.

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Jose Felix Ribas. Painting by Martin Tovar y Tovar, 1874.

José Félix Ribas (1775 - 1815) was a Venezuelan rebel, patriot, and general who fought alongside Simon Bolivar in the struggle for Independence for northern South America. Although he had no formal military training, he was a skilled general who helped win some major battles and contributed enormously to Bolívar's "Admirable Campaign." He was a charismatic leader who was good at recruiting soldiers and making eloquent arguments for the cause of independence. He was captured by royalist forces and executed in 1815.

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Santiago Mariño. Public Domain Image

Santiago Mariño (1788- 1854) was a Venezuelan general, patriot and one of the great leaders of Venezuela's War of Independence from Spain. He later tried several times to become President of Venezuela, and even seized power for a short time in 1835. His remains are housed in Venezuela's National Pantheon, a mausoleum designed to honor the greatest heroes and leaders of the country.

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Francisco de Paula Santander. Public Domain Image

Francisco de Paula Santander (1792-1840) was a Colombian lawyer, General, and politician. He was an important figure in the Independence wars with Spain, rising to the rank of General while fighting for Simón Bolívar. Later, he became president of New Granada and is today remembered for his long and bitter disputes with Bolívar over the governance of northern South America once the Spanish had been driven off.

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Dr. Mariano Moreno. Public Domain Image

Dr. Mariano Moreno (1778-1811) was an Argentine writer, lawyer, politician, and journalist. During the turbulent days of the early nineteenth century in Argentina, he emerged as a leader, first in the fighting against the British and then in the movement for independence from Spain. His promising political career ended prematurely when he died at sea under suspicious circumstances: he was only 32. He is considered among the founding fathers of the Republic of Argentina.

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Cornelio Saavedra. Painting by B. Marcel, 1860

Cornelio Saavedra (1759-1829) was an Argentine General, Patriot and politician who briefly served as head of a governing council during the early days of Argentine independence. Although his conservatism led to his exile from Argentina for a time, he returned and is today honored as an early pioneer of independence.