Mirentxu Amezaga

Marie (Mirentxu) Amezaga Clark. I was born in Paris, France on May 7, 1938, the eldest daughter of Mercedes Iribarren and Vicente de Amezaga, Basque exiles, originally from Las Arenas, Getxo, and Algorta, Getxo, respectively.

After my parents set off for the Americas, to escape the clutches of the Germans, at the age of two anda half, I went to live with my aunt, uncle, and grandfather in Las Arenas, where I spent my childhood.  I was reunited with my parents in Montevideo, Uruguay, where I spent my adolescence.  We went to live in Caracas, Venezuela, where I spent my youth.  There, I met my future husband, Robert P. Clark.  We were married and came to Washington, in the US, to live.  I had my three children in that country: Anne Miren, Kathleen, and Robert Vincent; I studied there, graduating with honors from George Mason University with a degree in BIS.  With a handful of Basque residing in the Washington metro area, we created the “Euskalerria” Basque Center on April 4, 1982, though it unfortunately closed seen years later.  I had the opportunity to right the book “Nere Aita” in 1992 under the Basque Government’s “América era Euskalduna” program.  My husband and I have been married for 56 years and we have four grandchildren.

The article we’re dedicating to Uruguay as a part of our series on the bicentennial of the independence of the Republics of the Americas was written by Mirentxu Amézaga, a Basque who was born and raised in exile: Basque, Uruguayan, Venezuelan, and American, she knows well the story of the Basques of the New World Diaspora, and the history of the republics in the Americas.

Regarding Uruguay, over these years we have written a number of articles covering the stories in or about the Oriental Republic of Uruguay in which Basques play a leading role.

We’ve brought you the story of the  training ships used in the Port of Montevideo, some of which have a very Basque name: Ederra.  We recalled how a seed from the Tree of Guernica took root in that Republic and how a sapling was planted in Montevideo in 1919.  We were left speechless by the story of the shipwreck of the Leopoldina Rosa on June 9, 1842 at Cape Polonio, where 231 passengers of the 303 on board lost their lives: most were Basque and most were women and children.

And we’ve discovered the history of people with Basque roots who lived, thrived, and survived there:

Irma Ayçaguer Ciganda, the Basque from Uruguay who planted rice, showed films, and started a rural school.

Pascual Harriague, the Basque from Labourd who became the promoter and father of Uruguay viticulture 200 years ago.

– The adaptation problems some Basques had to that frontier world that was Uruguay at the beginning of the 19th century.

– Or how we could see them enjoying themselves dancing in the Roaring ’20s.

In sum, we’ve brought you stories on certain events.  But there is little we know of the history of this country that achieved independence three times: from the Kingdom of Spain, from Brazil, and from Argentina; nor of its leaders, among whom one stands out: the Federalist General José Gervasio Artigas, who fought against submission to the Kingdom of Spain and who faced up to the centralism of Buenos Aires once its independence process had begun; nor of all those comings and goings that this young republic has had since its first independence movements arose in 1811, up until the Oriental Republic of Uruguay was declared.

There is a great deal we do not know of the “land of the Guachos”, but thanks to this article, easy to read and highly detailed, that Mirentxu Amézaga prepared for us for our series on the bicentennial of the independence of the New World republics, we have a much clearer idea of that whole process, which, as we can well see, is full of Basque surnames.


Marie (Mirentxu) Amezaga Clark

Mapa de Uruguay

The Oriental Republic of Uruguay, so called because of its location to the east of the La Plata Estuary, is a country with a long coastline of rolling beaches and an inland area covered in vast, green prairies.  It’s a country that was born to be free, and to that end fought many wars against military forces that were superior until it achieved its freedom.  In these struggles for Independence, Basque immigrants and descendants played an important role, despite their small number.

Situated on the southeastern coast of South America, it’s the second-smallest country on the continent, and it has been politically and economically eclipsed by neighboring countries Brazil and Argentina.  On the map, it may seem that Uruguay is surrounded by its two large neighbors, seemingly tiny, but it isn’t, as Uruguayan author and historian Eduardo Galeano writes, “but not really, we have five times more land than Holland and five times fewer inhabitants.  We have more arable land than Japan, and a population forty times smaller.”  And this combination of free space and a low population density has given Uruguay many opportunities to develop economically.

There are signs of habitation in the Eastern Band dating from thousands of years ago: testament to that are the findings of the Catalanense Culture in Artigas Department, dating back to 10,000 BC, making it the oldest human archeological find in the country.  Also important are the cerritos to the east, dating back 5,000 years.  The site at Vizcaino, near Sauce, is a revelation, rich with the megafauna and stone age tool marks, indicating the presence of humans at that place thousands of years ago.

Before the Europeans arrived, the territory now called Uruguay had between 5,000 and 10,000 inhabitants.  The main groups who inhabited the country were the semi-nomadic Charrúa, Chana, and Guaraní peoples.

The Charrúas, in constant movement, sought resources to sustain themselves in different areas of the Southern Cone, in what is today Uruguay and the adjacent areas of Entre Ríos, in Argentina, and Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil.  They lived off fishing and hunting.  In summer, they moved to the riverbank to fish and gather fruits and roots, and spent winters inland, hunting deer and rheas using their only tools, bows and wooden- or stone-pointed arrows and boleadoras, stones connected to ropes they threw at their prey to catch them.  They lived in bands of eight to twelve families in towns of five to six hide tents.  They were true artists, carving and polishing their weapons and stone tools.  They fought the Spanish for many years, even managing to kill the first European explorer who arrived in Uruguay, navigator Juan Díaz de Solís, in 1516, who, alongside other explorers, were killed and eaten by the Charrúas or Guaranís.

The Chana people were closely related to the Charrúa people who lived at the confluence of the Negro and Uruguay Rivers.  They spoke the Chana language, in the Charrúa family.  Their physical appearance and culture were similar to that of the Charrúas.

The Guaraní people lived in the subtropical forests to the east of Paraguay, and had some settlements in the north of Uruguay.

The Jesuits and Franciscans did not establish any missions in Uruguay until about 1620.  By then, the indigenous population had mostly disappeared because of the diseases brought by the Europeans.

By the 19th century, very few Indians survived.  The last large-scale massacre of Indians occurred in the Salsipuedes attack on April 11, 1831, when the Uruguayan government troops, under the command of Bernabé Rivera, nephew to President Fructuoso Rivera, attacked the Charrúas.  The drastic demographic reduction of the Charrúas didn’t happen until the first term of the first president of Uruguay, Fructuoso Rivera.  That point is referred to as the culmination of the extermination of the Charrúa people, whose population had been being exterminated for centuries.  They were successful in making the Charrúa people disappear, but not their cultural legacy.  Based on the Rivera report, 40 Indians died and 300 were taken prisoner.  Among the troops, there were nine injured and one killed.

The Uruguayan authorities of the time considered the remnants of some Charrúa tribes which still moved about freely through the fields, especially in the northern territories, almost as they had in pre-colonial times, as an unsalvageable “obstacle” for structuring a society that needed to be organized.

What was known as the Eastern Band of Uruguay was a transit area between an area of hostile neighbors throughout much of their colonial history: the Portuguese to the north in Brazil, the Spanish to the west, and the Argentines to the south.

The cattle of the neighboring regions roamed freely throughout Uruguay, multiplying over the years until their numbers reached the millions.  It is said that this process got started in 1603, when the governor of Paraguay, Hernando Arias de Saavedra, sent a number of cattle and horses downriver from Asunción, and the animals were disembarked on the shores of the Uruguay River.

The reason why was the nature of the environment.  The vast plains covered in tall prairie grasses were the home of wild cattle and the ferocious nomadic Indian hunters, the Charrúas.  The region was visited by Europeans on horseback making brief incursions for cattle.  But there was no mineral wealth to attract colonizers, and the landscape was not enough incentive to establish and cultivate the land.

Gaucho uruguayo 1880
Uruguayan Gaucho, 1880

They gauchos hunted them for their pelts.  The term “gaucho” started to be used in the last few decades of the 18th century to refer to a certain type of independent and rebellious rural resident of Creole origin who didn’t obey or accept social or work routines imposed by the authorities.  They were able riders, and thanks to the proliferation of cattle, they became an icon of national tradition and rural customs.  Around them, the so-called “gauchesca” literature arose, whose main theme was denouncing social injustice.  Its high points were the books “El gaucho Martín Fierro” (1872) and “La vuelta de Martín Fierro” (1879).

The Portuguese took the first step, sending colonists from Brazil in 1680 to establish the Sacramento Colony to the north of the Río de la Plata estuary immediately opposite Buenos Aires.  It was a measure of relatively little importance for Buenos Aires at that time, and it would be many decades before the Spaniards reacted.  But in 1726, the governor of Buenos Aires established a settlement at Montevideo, also on the northern shore, near the ocean.  The garrison here was well placed to intercept Portuguese ships en route to Sacramento Colony.  The founding of Montevideo marked a more aggressive Spanish presence in the region.

Montevideo was officially founded on December 24, 1726 by Captain Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, called “Strong Arm”.  It was commissioned by the authorities in Buenos Aires to serve as a military fortress, and rapidly grew, thanks to its port, into a commercial center to compete with Buenos Aires.  The newly-founded city was at first called Fort San José and then San Felipe and Santiago, although the place had been known for a long time by the Spaniards as Montevideu, perhaps derived from the term “monte videum”, used by Miguel de Triana when he first spotted the mountain near the coastline.

Biscayan shipowner Francisco Alzaibar, a business from Arteta, Biscay, sent the first group of colonists from the Canary Islands aboard the ship Nuestra Señora del Encina to establish themselves in Montevideo, where they arrived on November 19, 1726.  He set down roots in the city, and made a considerable fortune in agriculture and cattle, and efficiently cooperated in developing Montevideo from the outset; indeed, the 1740 start of construction of the first church, Iglesia Matriz, which was consecrated in 1804, was due largely to his donations.  Today, it is called the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and St. Philip and St. James of Montevideo.  Located in front of the Cabildo, it houses the mortal remains of important people, including Larrañaga and Lavalleja inside its walls.

Mapa y vista de Montevideo hacia la década de 1760
Map and overview of Montevideon in the 1760s


In 1776, the Eastern Band became part of the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata, with its capital at Buenos Aires; however, Montevideo could still send cargo directly to Spain without having to ship it first to Buenos Aires.

By 1800, there were approximately 10,000 residents in Montevideo, and another 20,000 in the rest of Uruguay.  About a third of that total were African slaves, working in houses and salthouses.  The middle class, small in number, was growing, thanks to merchants, craftsmen, and army officers of mestizo and European origin.  Most of the elites were Basques, Catalans, and Spaniards from the Canary Islands and other parts of Spain.

Montevideo, with its Spanish soldiers and naval contingents, was a royal fortress when, in 1810, an independence movement arose in Buenos Aires.  In the Eastern Band, the fight against Spain was led by José Gervasio Artigas, (1764-1850), statesman, soldier, leader of the Orientales, and protector of free peoples, commander of the Blandengues, which were originally Creole cavalry militias. 

Until now, the gauchos lived off of grazing cattle in the Uruguayan Pampas, as well as in Argentina and Paraguay, but when Argentina and Paraguay declare their independence from Spain, it is the gaucho who takes over in Uruguay.

General José Gervasio Artigas
General José Gervasio Artigas

n February 1811, when Francisco Javier Elio, Spanish soldier, governor of Montevideo, and the last viceroy of Río de la Plata (1807-9) was preparing an offensive against Buenos Aires, the inland part of the Eastern Band, led by the captain of the Blandengues, José Gervasio Artigas, rose up in opposition to Elio and offered his services to Buenos Aires.  Artigas, 46 at the time, was the son of a family that had settled in Montevideo in 1726.  Influenced by federalism, Artigas was unsatisfied with the administration of the former colonial governor of Buenos Aires, especially with the discrimination against Montevideo regarding commercial matters.

On February 28, 1811, on the shores of the Asencio Creek, the Creoles from the Eastern Band decided to take the first revolutionary actions against the royal Spanish authorities in Montevideo, joining up with the Government of Buenos Aires.  Thus, “The Cry of Asencio” was the name given to the triumph of the Easterners in arms led by Venancio Benavidez and Pedro Viera against the Spanish. 

This military act represented an act of disobedience against the Spanish power imposed by Montevideo, and allowed the towns of Mercedes and Santo Domingo de Soriano to be taken over by the rebels who supported the statement from the governing committee in Buenos Aires, turning the “admirable alarm” of the beginning of the eastern revolution into a campaign that began to move the masses and show its most obvious sign: its predominantly rural character.  Thus began the division of the eastern territory into the loyalist city and revolutionary countryside.

In January 1811, Elio arrived at Montevideo from Spain with the title of Viceroy, and wasted no time in making the preparations to declare war on Buenos Aires, which he did on February 12.  To help, he took a series of fiscal measures that allowed him to take over resources: legalizing property deeds to charge taxes, requesting patriotic donations, tariffs on leather and tobacco, controlling contraband by allowing trade only with authorized ships and via domestic intermediaries.

These measures hurt the landowners, businessmen, merchants, and ship owners, as their business began declining due to the crisis and the Spanish control of trade, as it blocked trade with the English.  

These fiscal measures were added to the forced loans on the clergy, employees and owners, craftsmen, landowners, merchants, and the use of force to coerce the towns into recognizing the authority of Montevideo.  In consequence, some military leaders in the service of the Spanish Government, but with a connection to the eastern campaigns, switched to the side of the revolutionaries, as is the case of José Artigas who, on February 15, 1811, abandoned the royal garrison at Colonia de Sacramento and put himself at the orders of the government in Buenos Aires, which ordered him to return to the Eastern Band with aid for the uprisings in the campaign.

At the beginning of 1813, after Artigas returned to the Eastern Band, coming up as the champion of federalism against the unitary centralism of Buenos Aires, the new government in Buenos Aires called a constitutional meeting, and under Artigas’ instructions and proposed a series of political guidelines, later known as “Year Thirteen Instructions”.  These guidelines included the declaration of independence of the colonies and the creation of a confederation of provinces of the former Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata (dissolved in 1810 when independence was declared).  This formula, inspired by the Constitution of the United States, would have guaranteed political and economic autonomy for every area, especially the Eastern Band from Buenos Aires.  However, the assembly refused to seat the Eastern Band and Buenos Aires delegates, continuing with the system based on unitary centralism.

On February 24, the news they’d been waiting for finally arrived: Buenos Aires had declared warm. And by February 26, the patriots, hidden in the forest above Asencio Creek in the modern-day department of Soriano, had reached 300 in number. 

Three days later, on February 27, the contingent of revolutionaries, led by Pedro José Viera, decided to take the first step.  The next day, it took the nearby town of Mercedes y Santo Domingo Soriano.  The incipient movement received a strong push from the incorporation of Artigas, who would become the leader of the revolution in the Oriental Band.

Many gauchos raised up José Gervasio Artigas’ ideas, which were completely revolutionary in the region, mixing the contents of the French Enlightenment and the independence of the United States regarding the political and cultural legacy of the Spanish.  The gauchos, along with the indigenous peoples and other farmers, helped gel the first federal government in the immense region of the Río de la Plata, bringing together the Union of Free Peoples inside the United Provinces of Río de la Plata, more appropriately the set of confederated provinces not led by the centralism of Buenos Aires.

Governor Elio designated frigate captain José Posadas the leader of the regular troops that guarded the royalist plaza fort.  Posadas installed his headquarters in San Isidro Labrador de Las Piedras, near Montevideo, to lead a decisive battle against the revolutionaries there.

Meanwhile, José Artigas set up in the town of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, a chapel that has now become a cathedral.  There, he drew up the first national flag (1828), which is why the Virgin is accompanied by a Uruguayan flag.

Artigas’ followers had a 1000-man-strong army, while the royalists’ was 1230 men strong, though almost 200 of them deserted and joined the Río de la Plata revolutionary side in the midst of battle.  The Spanish soldiers were professional, and had the most modern artillery and firearms of the time.  They were prepared to carry out complex military maneuvers and make the most of the armaments they had.  Artigas’ militia was mostly made up of farmers who had deserted the royalist ranks.

Despite the elevation favoring the Spanish, it was Artigas who struck the first blow: at about 11:00 in the morning on May 18, he sent over part of the infantry, under Antonio Pérez.  In response, Posadas ordered his men to open fire on the group, who fled in retreat.  The Spanish infantry abandoned their advantageous position to chase the revolutionaries.  The cousin of José Artigas, Manuel Artigas, leading 600 cavalrymen armed with bolas and cattle prods, attacked Posadas’ rearguard from the left, and thus trapped the Spanish army between two forces: the cavalry and infantry, which halted its retreat and returned to the fight.

The battle stretched on for several hours, until 5:00 in the evening, when the Spanish troops began to abandon their posts; Captain José Posadas raised a white flag and handed over his sword to Artigas, an act of great symbolic importance to the revolution.  Thus, Artigas’ army had its most important victory against the Spanish at the Battle of Las Piedras on May 18, 1811.

Óleo de Juan Manuel Blanes sobre la Batalla de las Piedras
Oil painting of Juan Manuel Blanes at the Balled of Las Piedras

It was an important triumph for Artigas, and as a consequence, the patriotic army managed to advance and besiege the city of Montevideo, which was in the hands of the Spanish.

However, the victory at Las Piedras would be counterbalanced by the Portuguese invasion of the Oriental Band, pushed for by Elio’s forces.

Eastern Exodus

The Exodus of the Easter People is a historical event without parallel, marking the birth of the Eastern feeling of the people of Uruguay.  After the uprising of the Siege of Montevideo, the inhabitants of the Eastern Band followed Artigas on a collective emigration towards the Salto Chico on the Uruguay River.

In October 1811, Artigas’ army, which had triumphed in the Battle of Las Piedras, and had just lifted the first Siege of Montevideo, which was occupied by the forces of Viceroy Francisco Javiero Elio, had just set up camp on the banks of the San José River, near the town of San José de Mayo.

This camp, along with Artigas’ militias, housed a large number of civilians, including women and children, many of whom were the relatives of the soldiers who had joined the army when the Siege had been lifted after the negotiations for armistice between Elio and the government at Buenos Aires.  They stayed mostly in wagons and carts.  They lit many bonfires, which they used to prepare food in large pots, or for roasting beef.

The signing of the Armistice, without the support of the government in Buenos Aires, placed the eastern camp in an untenable situation, at the mercy of the Spanish forces in Montevideo.

The column set off from the San José River Mountains northwest, and then followed the Uruguay River north.  Men from the country families they passed were constantly joining, with the end result that almost all the Creole towns in the Eastern Band were a part of it.  It took them several days to cross the Negro River at the Yepeyu Ford, and the march started up again on November 13, towards Paysandú, where they spent the month.

To literally describe the movement of the column, the highest representative of Uruguayan poetry, Juan Zorrilla de San Martín, wrote: “The march is painfully slow.  Some ride on horseback, others on foot, other is vehicles that are more or less crude: open-air wagons or wagons covered with rags, pulled by horses, heavily-laden mules… the primitive road oscillates, going up and down; it seems that, with their wooden eyes and solid wheels, it is saddened by the largely painful, hard pull of the oxen.  The pilgrimage of the homeland.”

"Revista das Tropas Destinadas a Montevidéu na Praia Grande" - Embarque de la Infanteria portuguesa,en Ponta da Areia, Praia Grande, Rio de Janeiro, el 7 de Junio de 1816.
“Review of the Troops Sent to Montevideo on the Praia Grande” – Embarkation of the Portuguese infantry at Ponta da Areia, Praia Grande, Rio de Janeiro, June 7, 1816.

In August 1816, a powerful army from the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarbe invaded the Eastern Province by sea and land, knowing that the government of the United Provinces of Río de la Plata had almost all their resources dedicated to facing the royalist attacks from Upper Peru and even from the now-recovered Chile.

On January 4, 1817, the Viscount of Laguna, Carlos Federico Lecor, a renown Portuguese military leader and administrator, took the city of Maldonado, getting in touch with the Portuguese squadron of the Count of Bianna, agreeing on the operations to take Montevideo and establish their headquarters in Pan de Azúcar.  Once Artigas’ forces had been defeated in the East and the Portuguese-Brazilians had then been victorious over the Easterners in the north of the Eastern Band, José Artigas resolved to withdraw his troops to Montevideo.  The road was open for Lecor, who would accept the surrender of the square.

In 1817, Lecor occupied the city of Montevideo, which was part of the United Provinces of Río de la Plata at that time, and convinced the inhabitants to accept the protection of the Portuguese court.

Governor Miguel Barreiro and Regent Joaquín Suárez, who ran the Government of Montevideo, abandoned the city, taking their forces and several families who were loyal to Artigas towards the Santa Lucía River.  The haste of the withdrawal would not permit them to comply with Artigas’ orders on the destruction of Montevideo’s walls and fortifications.

On January 20, Lecor entered the city, and the General Solicitor gave him the keys to the city, submissively begging him to be so kind that, in should any cause require him to leave the city, he would not give them to any other authority or power that wasn’t the Mayor himself, as the representative authority of Montevideo and of the whole Eastern Province, whose rights he had re-assumed given the circumstances.

Lecor replied that he would give it as a gift to His Majesty John VI of Portugal, and took effective possession of the square, and ordered the flag of Portugal raised on all public buildings, among cheers and ringing bells, while as he went by, the ladies of the leading families rivalled each other in their applause and throwing of flowers.  Soon after, the port would be opened to free trade, which would soon give rise to disputes on the docks and roads, as the merchant ships from Great Britain were getting impatient waiting in the Río de la Plata for that highly-sought after plaza.  This free trade agreement neutralized the control Buenos Aires was trying to place on the trade of the Provinces of the Federal League, opening up the inland rivers to British trade in its historical alliance with the Portuguese and Brazilians.

While the province had been occupied by the military and the keys to its capital handed over to the occupier by local representatives, the formal situation itself was not regularized.  The government of King John VI of Portugal ordered the inhabitants of the province to be consulted about what destiny they had in mind for their country: “if they would like to cordially and frankly join the kingdom of Brazil, if they would prefer to join with any of the other Provinces, or if they would in the end like to form their own Independent State.”

Governor Lecor received instructions from the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Silvestre Pinheiro Ferreira, to convene a Congress of locals to decide their fate.  Lecor manipulated the situation such that the attendees were all favorable and thus they would vote for joining Portugal.  He had surrounded himself with a group of Easterners called the Baron Club, which was how an elite group close to Governor Carlos Federico Lecor was called, as he was the Baron of Laguna, and soon they forgot their Artigas-inspired ideals to become faithful servants of the Portuguese crown.

The Cisplatino Congress was a meeting of the inhabitants of what was then the Cisplatina Province, held on July 15 and 31, 1821, which validate the occupation of the province by the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarve, and declared it to be part of the same.

Sello con la imagen de Damaso Antonio Larrañaga
Stamp with the image of Damaso Antonio Larrañaga

On the morning of July 15, the Congress was formally declared in the Town Hall, with 16 members.  It was presided over by Juan José Duran, and his vice president was Father Damaso Antonio Larrañaga, a Uruguayan architect, ranch owner, naturist, and botanist, and one of the leading figures of the founding of the National Library, and a contributor in the creation of the University of the Republic.

Of the three formulas put up for consideration, the Congress first considered independence, but discarded it as unfeasible or inappropriate given the situation the Province found itself it at the time; so the process of elimination led them to lean towards incorporation with Portugal, more for circumstantial reasons than for any historico-political ones.

The words of Larrañaga summarize the mood:

The sweet name of the Homeland must move us: but the patriot is not he who calls out its name, but rather he who aspires to free it of the evils that threaten it.  We have seen this sacred name called up by different factions who have destroyed and annihilated the country; after ten years of revolution, we are far away from that central point which we left.  What we must do now is preserve the remains of that almost generalized annihilation; if we achieve that, we will be true patriots.

Similar ideas were expressed by Fructuoso Rivera, who did not see “absolute independence” as viable, given the circumstances, but rather “relative independence.”  Jerónimo Oío Bianquí expressed:

To make this province a State is a thing that would seem politically impossible given the lack of means to sustain its independence and govern it in order and peace; therefore, it should form a part of another State.  Since Buenos Aires, Entre Ríos, and Spain have been rejected for many reasons, no other option remains but to incorporate ourselves into the Portuguese monarchy under a liberal constitution, which would free the Province from anarchy.

On July 18, the Congress unanimously voted for incorporation into Portugal.  On July 28, the Congress conferred upon MPs Rivera and Jerónimo Pío Bianqui the distinction of taking the acts of incorporation to the head of the occupation, Lecor.  On July 30, both messengers reported to the Congress that they had delivered the file.

Finally, at the behest of Larrañaga, on July 31, the bases for the “pact of incorporation” to the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarve were approved with thirteen terms.

The borders as established were, on the east, the Atlantic Ocean; on the south, the Río de la Plata; on the west, the Uruguay River, and on the north, the Cuareim River up to Cuchilla de Santa Ana.

The Freedom Crusade is the historical denomination for what is understood as the movement led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja, a Uruguayan soldier and politician, which started with the disembarkation of the Thirty-Three Easterners on April 19, 1825.

In 1824, a group of leading Easterners conspired within Buenos Aires with the aim of organizing a movement that would be able to return the Eastern Band to its status as a Province of the United Provinces of Río de la Plata.

The first meeting to begin the armed movement was held in 1820, and its participants were Manuel and Igancio Oribe, Pedtro Trapani, and many others.  These conspirators were tolerated by the government in Buenos Aires, which decided not to interfere in their activities despite the repeated protests from Brazil, as well as the great support from the saladeristas in the port, including Juan Manuel Rosas, who had aspirations of leadership and whose importance as a politician would clearly grow.

At the beginning of 1823, Lavalleja entrusted Gregorio Sanabria, who would go on to be one of the Thirty-Three in 1825, to leave Buenos Aires for Colonia, San José, and Soriano, where he would get in touch with several patriots and prepare them for the liberation movement.

Throughout 1824, the patriots worked very hard, encouraged especially by Lavalleja, Oribe, and Trapani, getting in touch with many exiled Easterners in 1825 in Buenos Aires, and even communicating with some leaders on the continent, including Bolívar, among others.

The support from the saladeristas was decisive, as it allowed for the movement to access plenty of financing, receiving a total of 150,000 pesos (a huge sum for the time).  This commitment from the saladeristas was largely due to the need of this incipient market to have access to the great fishing wealth of the Eastern Band, which was traditionally one of their basic sources of raw materials.  Ever since the Portuguese-Brazilian invasion, the eastern cows were sold largely in southern Brazil, where a prosperous saladeril industry flourished.  This situation was not favorable for the interests of the port businessmen, and they consequently worked to support the Freedom Crusade.

The conspirators decided to take action on January 21, 1825, when General Antonio José Sucre defeated the last royalist forces in the Battle of Ayacucho and thus ended the process of anti-colonial independence.  In this panorama, the Easterners, hurt by the fact that theirs was the only land that was still under the yoke of the Brazilian imperialists, decided to act.

The Disembarkation

Agraciada Beach is a low, narrow stretch of sand on the Uruguay River, about 13 km or 8 mi long, located in the Soriano Department, and it was here on April 19, 1825 that the military expedition known as the Thirty-Three Easterners, under the orders of Juan Antonio Lavalleja and Manuel Oribe, disembarked with the goal of expelling the Imperial Brazilian Army which occupied the Eastern Province, called at that time the Cisplatina Province by the Brazilians.

El Juramento de los Treinta y Tres Orientales, Juan Manuel Blanes. Museo Juan Manuel Blanes.
The Oath of the Thirty-Three Easterners, Juan Manuel Blanes. Juan Manuel Blanes Museum.

The famous Thirty-Three Easterners were the General Staff of a movement that was largely prepared and which was mobilized in an Eastern Band that found itself in the mood for an uprising.  So, in a way, it was they who were the leaders.  But there are three figures that must be highlighted: Lavalleja, Pedro Trapani, and Oribe.  It could be said of them that Lavalleja, on the one hand, was the head organizer of the movement, while Oribe was a soldier who had been fighting for the freedom of the Eastern people since the times of Artigas, and was thus in charge of supplying the movement with weapons, and the last was Pedro Trapani, who was the administration for the movement and its representative in Buenos Aires.  Another of the more influential participants was Sergeant Major Pablo Zufriategui, the second highest-ranking officer after Lavalleja, who would be designated the Chief of Staff of the future army.

On April 1, 1825, Lavalleja and his men embarked at San Isidro, a locale in Buenos Aires Province on the shores of the Río de la Plata, just a few kilometers northwest of the City of Buenos Aires, and carefully advanced through the islands of the Paraná delta, and then waited for weeks for the arrival of the remaining co-conspirators, avoiding the patrols of the Brazilian fleet.  That night, they crossed the Uruguay River on two rafts and disembarked on Agraciada Beach in the early morning of April 19.  When they set foot on Eastern soil among cheers and kisses, they numbered 33 men according to the accounts of the survivors.  Waiting for them on the beach were local guides Basilio Araujo y Echeveste, and a few extremely anxious hours later, the Ruiz brothers, local landowners, who arrived with the cavalry and other men who had joined the revolution that had just started.  There, they hoisted their flag, made up of three stripes, blue, white, and red, the traditional colors that had been in use since Artigas.  On the white stripe, the slogan “Freedom or Death” appeared.  According to one of the Crusaders, Juan Spikerman heard the leader, Lavalleja, say just after disembarking:

Friends, we are in our Homeland.  God will aid our efforts, and if we must die, we will die as good men on our own soil.  Freedom or death!

he Florida Assembly

Lavalleja convened the people to decide on the creation of a provisional government which, under the presidency of Captain Manuel Calleros, got started on June 14 in La Florida.  This provisional government convened a Hearing of Representatives of the mayors of all the towns in the province, which got underway on August 20 under the presidency of Juan Francisco Larrobla.  On August 25, 1825, this body unanimously declared the independence of the Eastern Province from Brazil, as well as joining the United Provinces of Río de la Plata.  Some other laws were declared;

Asamblea presidida por Lavalleja, conocida como «de la Florida», en la que figuran los treinta y tres orientales. 25 de agosto de 1825. Óleo, conservado en el Palacio del Senado de Montevideo, obra de Pedro Blanes Viale.
Assembly presided over by Lavalleja, known as “La Florida”, where the Thirty-Three Easterners can be seen, August 25, 1825.  Oil, preserved at the Palace of the Senate in Montevideo, work by Pedro Blanes Viale.

The Law of Independence (…) null, void, dissolved, and of no value forever are all the acts of incorporation, recognitions, acclamations, and oaths torn out of the Peoples of the Eastern Province by the violence of the united forces of treachery from the invasive powers of Portugal and Brazil … free and independent of the King of Portugal, of the Emperor of Brazil, and of any other from the universe, and with the support and full powers it may grant itself as one with and in exercising its Sovereignty which it deems appropriate.

The Union Law; the Eastern Province of Río de la Plata, united to the others with this name in the land of South America, at the free and spontaneous will of the Peoples that make it up, shown with irrefutable testimonies and heroic acts since the very beginning of the political regeneration of said Provinces.  Approved in the Meeting Room of the Representation of the Province, in San Fernando de la Florida, on the twenty-fifth of August, 1825.

The Pavilion Law Established a pavilion as the flag of the Province, made up of three horizontal stripes in sky blue, white, and Ponceau red from then until, once the MPs from this Province had been incorporated into national sovereignty, the one recognized by the units of Río de la Plata to which it belongs was raised. 

The Law of Wombs declared that the children of slaves were born free.

In addition to passing these laws, the Hall of Representatives designated Lavalleja as the Captain General and Governor of the province, and chose two MPs to join the Constitutional Congress of the United Provinces to be held in Buenos Aires.

While all this was happening, on September 4, 1825, Rivera enjoyed an overwhelming military victory at the Battle of Rincón at Rincón de las Gallinas (in the modern-day Río Negro department) over a Brazilian detachment; and on October 12 of that same year, Lavalleja, in a cavalry charge that would make the Battle of Sarandí legendary, was victorious over the Brazilian army.

Batalla de Sarandi contra los brasileños
Battle of Sarandi against the Brazilians

Several more victories took place, including the taking of Fortaleza de Santa Teresa on December 31, 1825 and the Battle of the Cerro, or Battle of the Pantanoso, on February 9, 1826.  Lecor’s besieged forces tried to escape at the hands of Commander Pita, trying to break the siege, but Oriba, with troops made up of only Easterners, defeated them completely.

On October 25, 1825, 13 days after the Battle of Sarandí, the General Congress of the United Provinces determined that the Eastern Province should be recognized..

in fact, it was reincorporated into the Republic of the United Provinces of Río de la Plata to which it had de jure always belonged to and where it wished to return.  Consequently, the government entrusted the National Executive Power to provide for defense and security.

Constitution of Uruguay of 1830

On July 18, 1830, the first national constitution of the current Oriental Republic of Uruguay was sworn in.  This created a unitary, republican, and confessional state; the official religion was Catholicism.  Citizenship was restricted to landowners and people who were literate; salaried workers and illiterate people were excluded.

The work of the Commission was presented to the Assembly on June 5, 1829, and approved by the same on September 10 of the same year.  On July 18, 1830, the Eastern people solemnly swore in their First Constitution.  As a consequence of its entering into force, the Assembly was dissolved and the bicameral parliament we have to this day was opened.

This Constitution was based on those of France and the United States.  This date is considered one of the most important in the country’s history; the main avenue in Montevideo, and indeed those in most cities and towns, are named “July 18”.

Made up of 28 members, the Commission of Constitutional Matters was presided over by Jaime Zudáñez, with José Ellauri (secretary), Luis B. Cavia, Cristóbal Echevarriarza, and Solano García as other leading members.  Other noteworthy Assembly members in drawing up the Constitution were Pedro Berro, Luis Eduardo Pérez, Alejandro Chucarro, Lázaro Gadea, Ramon Massini, Juan María Pérez, and Lorenzo Justiniano Pérez.  The work of the Commission was presented to the Assembly on May 6, 1820,and approved by the same in September of the same year.

The Constitution restricted the right to vote and proclaimed Catholicism as the official religion, and divided the territory into nine administrative jurisdictions known as departments.  From 1885 to the present, the territory of Uruguay is divided up into 19 departments.  In each one of them, the leader holds executive power, and is elected by universal suffrage for a period of five years; while the legislative power rested with the Councilmen of the Departamental Assembly.

Uruguay briefly fought against the Spanish, Brazilians, as Portuguese, and Francisco Acuña de Figueroa, the composer of the Uruguayan national anthem, beautifully expressed this in the lyrics;

 “Easterners, the homeland or the grave! Freedom or a glorious death!  Freedom, freedom Easterners, this cry to the Homeland saved its brave men in fierce battles, and ignited sublime enthusiasm.

Basque participation in the creation of the New Oriental Republic of Uruguay

The Basque presence during the independence process is stamped in the signing of the first Constitution of Uruguay, when several signers were Basques or Basque-descendants.  The founder of the Uruguayan capital was from Biscay, Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, and the first governor, Álava-born José Joaquín de Viana, and many other names for the governors of Río de la Plata, Biscayan José de Andonaegui, Juan de Achucarro, who contributed to the history of Uruguay, in addition to collaboration in different areas of improving the quality of life in Uruguay.

Plaza en Montevideo dedicada a su fundador, el bizkaino Bruno Mauricio de Zabala
Zabala Plaza, dedicated to the founder of the city of Montevideo, Biscayan Bruno Mauricio de Zabala.  It is one of the few plazas in Montevideo to maintain its iron gates and fences.  It is located where the former Fort of the walled city stood.  The equestrian statue of Zabala, by Spanish sculptor Lorenzo Coullant, in collaboration with famed Basque architect Pedro Muguruza Otaño, was inaugurated on December 27, 1931, in the plaza of the same name.

Bruno Mauricio Zabala, originally from Durango, Biscay, founder of Montevideo, capital of Uruguay.

Damaso Antonio Larrañaga, priest with a Basque father, from Azcoitia, Gipuzkoa.  His participation was key in the birth of Uruguay.

José Joaquín de Viana, originally from Villa Alavesa de Lagran, coronel y primer gobernador de Montevideo en dos ocasiones.

José de Andonaegui, originally from Marquina, Biscay, Governor of Rio de La Plata.

Pablo José Zufriategui, had Basque parents, his father was originally from Eibar, Gipuzkoa, and his mother, Catalina Mas de Ayala. Colonel.  Member of the 33 Easterners Liberating Force.  Captain of the Port of Montevideo and of the Constitutional and Legislative Assemblies.  Member of Parliament who fought in the wars of independence.

Francisco Alzaibar from Arteta, Vizcaya, cooperated in building up the city and in the construction of the Metropolitan Cathedral.

José Longinos de Ellauri, father was born in Zeanuri, Biscay.

Juan Achucarro, born in Galdácano, Biscay in 1711, and died in Montevideo in 1768.

Cristóbal Echevarriarza, had a Basque father.

José Antonio Zubillaga, had a Basque father.

Juan Francisco Giro, his mother, Antonia María Zufriategui y Mas was Basque, from Ayala; government leader, member of the cabildante, Constitutional and Legislative Assemblies.  President of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (4th, March 1, 1852–September 25, 1853).

José Longinos Ellauri, had a Basque father.

Echeveste had Basque parents.

These founding fathers and Basque immigrants to a nascent Uruguay permeated the future of Uruguay with their ethic spirit and culture in different ways, such as creating Basque institutions and also by supporting the growth of the newly-born nation.

In the times of the colonization of the Americas, Basque institutions in Peru (Brotherhood of Aránzazu), in Mexico (Colegio de las Vizcaínas) arose, and it was at the end of the 19th century, coinciding with the massive emigration to the Americas, when most of them arrived to the shores of the Río de la Plata in Argentina and Uruguay, and began opening the Basque Centers we know today.  It is not known for sure which one was first, but it is believed that it was the one in Montevideo, “Laurak Bat”, founded in December of 1876, and now closed.  Today, Montevideo has two Basque Centers, “Euskaro Español” founded on June 29, 1911, and “Euskalerria”, founded on March 3, 1912.

The Basque centers have always been a meeting point for Basques in the New World.  Starting in 1943, after the Great Basque Week was held in Montevideo, put together with great success by Vicente de Amézaga, the Basque Center would carry out important cultural work, such as the creation of the Department for Basque Studies at the University of the Republic, and the first university seat in Basque.

Uruguay has been confirmed as having the third largest number of Basque Centers in the world, after Argentina and the United States.

A 1996 study found that of the 4,304 Basque emigrants in Uruguay in the 20th century, approximately 28% were from Biscay, 25% from Gipuzkoa, 22% from the Northern Basque Country, 17% from Navarre, and 7% from Alava.

With the Republic’s second president, Manuel Ceferino Oribe (1792-1857), the presence of Basque surnames on the list of Uruguayan presidents began.

Perhaps due to their history traditionally being linked to Basques and Basque descendants in Uruguay, Basque is better known here than in other Latin American countries, and the express “word of a Basque” is taken in this country as a word of honor, ensuring loyalty and commitment.  This is the knowledge and respect Uruguayans have for the Basques.


Last Updated on Nov 1, 2021 by About Basque Country

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