MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, MD: Two hundred and ten years ago July 20, 1810, was a Friday and market day in Santa Fé de Bogotá, the capital of New Granada (mostly modern Colombia). The local gentry prepared a banquet for a visiting celebrity, Antonio Villavicencio. Villavicencio had been named Resident Regent of New Granada, a post just below the King’s Viceroy. He was born in Quito Ecuador and had studied in Bogotá and in Spain. Joining the Spanish Navy, Villavicencio distinguished himself in the battle of Trafalgar. ‘
He was seen by the local Spanish government as a threat because of his progressive thinking.
According to a well laid out plan, several of the local gentries approached a local Spanish merchant, González Llorente, requesting to borrow a flower vase for the banquet. Some believed that Llorente would react negatively and even forcefully to the request. They wanted to take advantage of the circumstances. Llorente was known as irascible and a dyed-in-the-wool loyalist to the Spanish government.
Whether Llorente obliged or was forced to defend himself, a fight ensued, and the vase broke. That was not all that was broken.
A report of insults and insolence by the Spaniard to the locals was passed around, inciting the mobs that had congregated.
Llorente had to be rescued by the local militia when a riot followed the flower vase fight.
People attending the market and others from the rest of the city congregated in the main square and soon they were told that if they did not act against the Spanish rulers, they would be treated as conspirators and thrown in jail. A similar event had occurred in Quito, Ecuador the year before, but in that case, the insurgents had been thrown in jail.
While the flower vase incident was taking place Joaquín Camacho, another conspirator, visited Viceroy Antonio José Amar y Borbón. He was requesting an open meeting to establish a new government in the Colony. This was necessary, according to Camacho, because of the overthrown of the Spanish government and the deposing of King Ferdinand VII by Napoleon.
Napoleon had named his brother, José Bonaparte King of Spain after invading and taking over the country. Camacho’s request, as expected, was denied.
Several of the insurgents led groups of enraged locals to encircle the barracks of the Spanish soldiers stationed in Bogotá and the Viceroy’s palace. Lack of direct orders to disband the locals and fear of causing an even larger event kept the soldiers in their quarters and solidified control by the dissidents. These events forced the Viceroy to agree to the creation of a government that included locals and himself.
In the following days, the real motive for the riot and subsequent taking of power became clear.
The Viceroy was thrown in jail as well as his family. A ruling group, including Villavicencio, grew and steps were taken to create a complete break with Spain. Emissaries were sent to other cities in New Granada to try to consolidate the opposition to Spain. Unfortunately, these were not fully successful.
In the years that followed, petty differences delayed the normal evolution of Colombia into an independent country. This laid the country vulnerable to a re-establishment force led by Spanish General Pablo Morillo. Villavicencio was captured and executed, and many lives were lost.
It took over nine years for the complete break up with Spain to happen. On August 7, 1819 forces led by the Venezuelan Simón Bolivar defeated the Spanish in the Battle of Boyacá, northeast of Bogotá, to seal independence.
The building where the actions took place still stands in the northeast corner of the main plaza (Plaza de Bolivar) in Bogotá. The building dates to the late 16th century. In 1960 it became a museum, “The Independence Museum of the Flower vase House” (Museo de la Independencia – Casa del Florero).
An unusual way for the place where a flower vase was broken, to become a museum.
Lead Image: De Desconocido – Casa Museo 20 de Julio, Bogotá, http://www.lablaa.org/blaavirtual/biografias/villanto.htm, Dominio público, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2489031
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a history buff and Colombian by birth. He still remembers the history lessons that he received while a child, narrating this episode. He is on Twitter (@chibcharus), LinkedIn, and Facebook (Mario Salazar).