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Mariano Melgarejo


In office
December 28, 1864 – January 15, 1871
Preceded by José María de Achá
Succeeded by Agustín Morales

Born April 13, 1820
Cochabamba, Bolivia
Died December 1871 (aged 51)
Lima, Peru
Nationality Bolivian

Manuel Mariano Melgarejo Valencia (1820–1871) was leader of his country, Bolivia, from December 28, 1864, to January 15, 1871.

Melgarejo was born on April 13, 1820 in the Department of Cochabamba, being the illegitimate son of a Spanish-Bolivian and a Quechua Indian.[1]

A career military officer from the department of Cochabamba, Melgarejo slowly climbed the hierarchy of the armed forces, aided by his sycophancy, willingness to participate in rebellions, and feats of personal valor. Having participated in an 1854 military revolt against long-time dictator Manuel Belzu, Melgarejo was tried for treason but pardoned, as he had begged for his life and blamed alcohol for his participation in the ill-fated coup. Belzu would come to rue having spared Melgarejo's life. General Melgarejo originally supported the Linares dictatorship (1857-61) and then combatted on behalf of the rebellious General José Maria de Achá, who became President in 1861. Predictably, in December 1864 he rose up against Achá and, prevailing against both the forces of Achá and former President Belzu (then struggling to return to power himself), proclaimed himself President of Bolivia. As Belzu contiunued to control part of the country and army, Melgarejo sought him and, by most accounts, murdered him personally. As legend had it, at the time a pro-Belzu crowd was reunited in Bolivia's central square, opposite the Palace of Government, chanting "vivas" to the former President. At that point, Melgarejo emerged onto a balcony with Belzu's corpse and proclaimed "Belzu is dead. Who lives now?" To which the crowd is said to have replied -- perhaps predictably -- "Long Live Melgarejo!"

Having installed himself in the Government Palace, Melgarejo proceeded to rule with more incompetence than any Bolivian leader in his time. He ruthlessly suppressed the opposition and assaulted the traditional rights of the country's indigenous population. Indeed, Melgarejo is the very epitome of the unprincipled personal caudillo, who ruled solely by fear and by the strength of his personality and machismo. In this he even outdistances Belzu. His "sexenio" is among the most tragic in the history of Bolivia, both for his repression and his foolish give-away of lands and concessions to Chile. Hardly erudite in the arts of statecraft, he relied on his obsequious civilian aide, Mariano Donato Muñoz, especially when it came to foreign policy.

As can be expected, Melgarejo eventually galvanized the opposition in a concerted effort to rid the country of his tyranny. On January 15, 1871, he was toppled by the Commander of the Army, General Agustín Morales. Having fled to exile in Lima, Peru, the ex-President was assassinated in December of the same year by his lover's enraged brother.

Mariano Melgarejo's almost foolhardy valor and brutal obduracy are the stuff of legend, as are the tall-tales, still in circulation (some 135 years after his death) of things he supposedly did or did not do. Melgarejo was said to have given a vast amount of land to Brazil for what he described as a magnificent white horse. The stories tell that a Brazilian minister presented Melgarejo with a white horse and other gifts, and to show his appreciation Melgarejo pulled out a map of Bolivia, traced the horse's hoof and gave that land away to the Brazilian government. This and other incidents, such as the seizure and sale of communal land on the Altiplano (Bolivian high plateau) to the highest bidder, deprived virtually all Indians of their land within a few decades. It is also said that in 1870 when Germany invaded France, he ordered one of his top generals to send most of his army to help defend Paris, a city he was fascinated by for its tales of sophistication and elegance, but also a city he could not even locate on a map. His General said it was impossible; it would take forever, as they would have to cross the atlantic ocean. Infuriated, Melgarejo said "Don't be stupid! We will take a short cut through the brush!"

References

  1. ^ Alva Curtis Wilgus (1963). South American Dictators During the First Century of Independence. Russell & Russell. pp. 334. 
Preceded by
José María de Achá
President of Bolivia
Provisional until 1870

1864–1871
Succeeded by
Agustín Morales
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