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Martin Miguel de Güemes: the Father of the Poor

The Gaucha War Maker is much more than the hero of Independence. A brief biography of the Salteño governor admired by San Martín y Belgrano, hated by the powerful.


 Every June 17 at the foot of a beautiful monument in the Quebrada de la Horqueta meets thousands in the Guard under the Stars.   A popular holiday that gathers gauchos from la Puna with the salteños of the city, between zambas and dances in the sidewalks, in  a moment of communion that would surely have pleased the honored, Don Martín Miguel de Güemes  . Because in addition to an intrepid military, leader of the Infernals, this Creole of the New World had a political idea that reflected in the integration of marginalized sectors, gauchos and slaves, at the tide of the country in weapons that were these lands in the independent struggles. Sovereignty and unity among compatriots were the highest political aspirations of Salteño, “when will the day come,” says Güemes in a letter to Álvarez Thomas, in a quote by Lucia Gálvez - when we see our Congress composed of wise and virtuous men who form a free Constitution, dictate wise laws and end differences... That will be the end of the revolution, because when sovereignty is distributed throughout all there can be neither order, nor government, nor freedom, nor sovereignty but anarchy and endless civil war ; Here one of the keys to his murder in 1821 and that ended with a gaucho dream. As Artigas's gaucho-guarani dream ended, a sad, not lonely end of Güemes who wrote to Belgrano in 1818,  “How should I not praise the conduct and virtue of the gauchos? They work personally and do not except even the only horse they have, when those who have the advantages of the revolution think nothing but to thicken flows.” 

Don Martin knew well what he was talking about. He was born on February 7, 1785 into a wealthy family in Salta, descended by mother Magdalena of Jujuy's founder. Spanish and Creole blood flowed equally in his blood but in the teenage campaign he learns Martin with “those meek but dirty and tanned men who introduce the “patroncito” into the ways and customs of life” From them he learns all the field tasks: link, herd cattle, tame a foal or advance to the race a mountain. An experience that would mark his life as much as the defense of Buenos Aires in the British Invasions, when he already had a solid military training in the custody of the Viceroy, and advanced instruction in mathematics and drawing.  In 1806 he board on horseback during low tide to one of the English ships, La Justina,  being recognized by his peers as lieutenant, among them one of his future great friends, Juan Martín de Pueyrredón.

Güemes brings to Salta the novelties of the May Revolution. And in June 1810 he organized 60 horsemen who stinger the realists, who plan the reaction from Potosí. The young lieutenant starts a war of “supporters”, later called the gaucha war, which would extend ten years in the Tarija area to Tucumán.  To support it, perhaps he created the first Argentine secret service, “Los Bomberos de Güemes”, a skillful spying network, gauchos, women and Indians especially, who water the entire front of a Spanish army that never knew where the shot came from.   He actively participates with his Salteños squadrons and divisions of Tarijeños in the triumph of Suipacha, essential to avoid the crushing of the Buenos Aires insurrects, although a series of strategic disagreements with the command of Juan José Castelli result in the expulsion of the now capitalist and aacute; n. It will not be the first time that the patriot army will separate Güemes, a little in rejection of his well-known haughtness, in the case of Belgrano -then a great friend-; another out of envy, José Rondeau -then, enemy -  Only Manuel Dorrego's preaching and   San Martín,  who understood the importance of Güemes  and his “bizarre peasant patriots,” as they were told in Buenos Aires, managed to make it recognized in the independence military forces.

 All power to Guemes!  

While the Army of the North was torn apart by the realists in Vilcapugio and Ayohuma and invaded Salta and Jujuy, Güemes was displaced in Buenos Aires but making a huge friendship, José de San Martín. When they return to the North together in 1814, Güemes felt that the “land is full of my name” and that the brave countrymen who continue to patrol the Quebrada de Humahuaca did not forget one of them, even though he wears silk bombachas. From February to November he links victories against a large and better equipped rival, La Pedrera and Tuscal de Velarde some of dozens of clashes with the realists commanded by Pezuela and Saturnino Castro. The Liberator declares him “Benemeritus” in gratitude for his services to the Homeland, and promotes him to colonel, simultaneously with the reconquest of Salta and Jujuy. He triumphed in April 1815 in Puesto de Marqués and asked Rondeau to pursue the defeated, the same Buenos Aires general who months earlier stated “the services that the commander general of advanced Don Martín Miguel de Güemes has done to the State in the combined well plan of hostilities that have been made to the State sustained constantly (devised by Dorrego, St. Martin and Güemes himself), and honoring the weapons of the homeland, in all the time that has occupied the enemy army in the squares of Salta and Jujuy” But that year the tensions between the line soldiers and the gauchos and slaves, that in times of war were freed from the chains of leases and the gentlemen, hatched with the unjustified arrest of Pardo Panama, Vicente Martínez, captain of the division of the Gauchos de Línea. Martín Rodríguez and Güemes braid themselves in epistolar stake, “I will not be able to neglect myself from the just defense of these heroes”, Güemes; “Who are you lord commander of gauchos to warn me? ”, Rodriguez. The end was a new displacement ordered by Rondeau, who was the maximum chief due to the withdrawal from San Martin to Cuyo, in the preparations for the Andes Crossing and the liberation of half continent.  At the bottom was the struggle between the new order of the Buenos Aires elite and the revolutionary ideals of equality and freedom of Mayo . When only the Rio de la Plata was the focus of emancipation in Latin America, and a powerful army that had beaten Napoleon approached from Lima, a cruel advance of civilization versus  barbarism.  

Arrived in Salta, and after the theft of 700 rifles for “los gauchos”, Güemes is anointed by popular clamor in Salta's Cabildo, whose representatives approve the motion not without certain reluctance. Güemes was one of them, a rich landowner, but he was not, “ he was worshiped by the gauchos, who saw not in their idol but the representative of a tiny class, the protector and Father of the Poor, as they called it, because it must be said, the sincere patriot and determined by independence: because Gü  “ General Paz outlines his famous memoirs, an unusual mix of admiration and contempt.

Martin meets Carmen Puch, the “divine Carmen” in the words of the Buenos Aires officers, daughter of an aristocratic Salta family allied with the patriots, and marries her in mid-1815, with two offspring, Martin and Luis.  It is important to note that Martin falls in love with Carmen and does not follow the tradition of arranged marriages, in a gesture more of a revolutionary mentality even in customs.  

In his government tasks he must face a growing unrest of merchants and landowners, between tired of the tax impositions of the war, and fearful of the social mobility of the humble classes. The Patria Nueva Party, made up of the children of illustrious Salteños, demands greater freedom of trade, in order to recover the economic centrality of the NOA in colonial times, and a call for demilitarization of the population, which saw a gateway to their rights in the endless war. They accused Güemes of verticalism and demagogy and involved in the dispute the governor of Tucumán, Barnabé Aráoz, who represented a province that would benefit most from a free market policy, even at the risk of agreeing with the Spaniards.  The circumstance occurred at the worst time since San Martin, after his glorious passage in Chile, had finally called Güemes to complete his  continental plan in 1820 . This was General Salteño's greatest military longing.   Something he could not complete in life because he had to fight with the Tucumans, whose forces invaded Salta on behalf of President Aráoz (sic), and regain the governorate because he was dismissed while preparing the liberator Observation Army of Peru. To prove that his power emanated from the campaign he ordered a terrible looting of his beloved city, in an action that anticipated La Mazorca and the Argentine warlord. And the liberation of the southern region of Upper Peru would wait for triumphs long after Simon Bolivar's armies.  With it, the loss of the provinces of Alto Peru to the future Argentina.  

 The double death of Gemes 

They had a sworn in. That is why he sent to the El Carmen de Güemes Chacra -now a national historical monument 5 km from Salta capital- to his family in early 1821, in a context that the realists of Olañeta, the Tucumans of Aráoz and the same disgruntled Salteños harassed tirelessly. And the betrayal didn't take long to arrive. In the dark of the night a realistic outpost commanded by Colonel Valdez, Barbarucho, a well-known smuggler of mules and merchandise, connoisseur of meanders and puneños landscapes, arrives the city of Salta.  According to some historians it was handed over by the merchant Mariano Benítez, others attribute the baseness to Manuel Arias, a lieutenant of the gaucho army who reconquered Humahuaca (such an Argentine curiosity: the Salta coat of arms adopted in 1946 reproduces the medal awarded him Pueyrredón,   a minor detail who was responsible because a small group descends towards the house of Machaca, Güemes' sister through the Campo de la Cruz, without guards (sic), and kills the only custody. Güemes goes on horseback with an escort and hears some crouched men say,  the classic realist, “Who lives? ” “The Fatherland! “cries Don Martín  and embarks on a speedy race in the middle of a shower of shots from the Rey's rifles. He comes to the corner of his mother's house and more enemies are waiting for them “Who lives? “shout the killers of the procer, in the memory of Dionysius Puch, the first biographer, and Carmen's brother who witnessed the facts, “La Patria! “Again closed fire that hurt it mortally in the hip, at the groin level, others talk about the ingress of the projectile into a buttock. The Sablozos manages to make their way to two rows of shooters that attack with the bayonets. Güemes galloped towards the Quebrada de Burgos, following the skirt of Cerro San Bernardo, until he found a loyal match “I come hurt” told the gauchos, that they improvised a stretcher with ponchos and branches under a red cebil.  Seven days of agony surrounded in the Quebrada de la Horqueta of gauchos, Chinas and Indians who came to pay their respects, and expect a miracle   from a man they considered legend, a living saint   “My Carmen will not be long to follow me...” were the last words of a man in love on June 17, 1821.  

The betrayal of the elites killed Güemes that winter in the middle of the nineteenth century anarchy, and then its subsequent elevation to a national marble figure at the end of the 20th century, was the second blow.  Güemes, Hero of Independence, is as decisive as Güemes, Father of the Poor.   The political and social science of the gauchos,  the most humble and marginalized of the campaign, would take decades to silence. And it would be shut down, finally. On the Bicentennial of his Step to Immortality in 2021, “Year of General Martín Miguel de Güemes”, an opportunity for a United Argentina.

Sources: Galvez, L.  Martin Guemes. The martyr hero. Buenos Aires : Aguilar. 2007; Camogli, P.  People and War. Social history of the War of Independence . Planet. Buenos Aires. 2017; O'Donnell, P.  The sacred cry. The Argentine story they didn't tell us . Buenos Aires: South American. 1998

Publication Date: 08/02/2021

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We suggest you continue reading the following notes:

Guemes 17 June - Passing to the immortality of General Don Martín Miguel de Güemes
El gran sueño de la independencia The great dream of independence



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