2010 Bicentennial of Santa Cruz Bolivia

Why is Santa Cruz Bolivia celebrating its bicentennial in 2010? Bolivia's history is long and complicated.

Some may be wondering why, if Santa Cruz was founded in 1551, it isn't celebrating it's 459th birthday. Others are asking why, if the Republic of Bolivia was officially created in 1825, Santa Cruz isn't waiting to celebrate until the nation's bicentennial in 2025. And to make matters more confusing, if Bolivia's first cry for freedom from Spain was heard in 1809 in Sucre, it could be said the bicentennial took place last year.

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To unravel the mystery of the Bicentennial of Santa Cruz, we have to go back in time two centuries, to 1809, when the city of La Plata (known today as Sucre) was the capital of the Audiencia de Charcas, an administrative center that governed over a large region of today's Bolivia including two departments that were then known as the 'gobernaciones' of Moxos and Chiquitos (and today are known as the 'departments' of Beni and Santa Cruz).

In 1809 the people decided they no longer wanted to be ruled by the Spanish. Five provinces, the 'gobernaciones' of Moxos and Chiquitos, and the viceroyalty of Río de la Plata (known today as Argentina) sent delegates with a mission: rouse the people and encourage them to take up arms against Spain. Thus, battles for independence from Spain began to take place all over the region.

In this manner, many of the provinces followed Chuquisaca's lead, each fighting for its independence on its own, and each winning its battles on different dates, and even in different years, as the wars for independence spread throughout South America. This, of course, took place before South America (which had been divided into viceroyalties by the Spanish) was reorganized into the countries you see on the map today. That's why Bolivia's current 9 departments (states) don't all celebrate their bicentennials at the same time. They each calculate the date of their bicentennial beginning on the first day they began their own rebellion against Spanish rule.

Santa Cruz began to conspire its rebellion under the auspices of Eustaquio Moldes, a delegate sent by Charcas and the Buenos Aires Junta for this area. He convinced the head of the Spanish garrison, Coronel Antonio Suárez, to join the cause and the Guaraní chief Birimbay, to support it as well. Chief Birimbay entrusted his men to Father José Andrés Salvatierra and his altar boy José Vicente Baca (later known as the famous poet-warrior nicknamed 'Cañoto'). Their troop took up arms on September 10, 1810. The actual battle in the small town of Santa Cruz de la Sierra began on September 24, 1810 when a group of patriots they were leading took advantage of the fact that the entire town were already gathered in the central plaza for a religious festivity, to call upon the townspeople to fight. The people agreed and soon various militias had been organized: Suárez' soldiers, the townspeople (Spaniards, creoles, and mestizos), black slaves, Guaraní archers, etc.

Thus, a long and bloody war began, sometimes fought in the formal military style, and sometimes fought 'guerrilla' style, with both victories and losses. The government and the town changed hands several times. Between 1810 and 1811 the patriots had the upper hand. Toward the end of 1811 the Spanish army once again took over and governed through 1813. Between 1813 and 1816 the patriots had once again taken power. This continued through 1816 when, during the Battle of El Pari, the people of Santa Cruz, commanded by Coronel Ignacio Warnes, were defeated by the Spanish army under brigadier Francisco Javier de Aguilera. When he took over the government the revolutionaries were forced to continue fighting 'guerrilla' style in surrounding rural areas.

It wasn't until 1825 that, encouraged by the news that Mariscal Sucre had triumphed against the last of the Spanish in South America, Coronel José Manuel Mercado (leader of the patriots of Santa Cruz and known as 'El Colorao') ordered his men to surround the town of Santa Cruz. They overtook the Spanish, bringing the prolonged war to an end. Mercado proclaimed this region free and independent. This lasted until the República de Bolívar (Bolivia's original name) was officially created in August of 1825 and Santa Cruz found itself suddenly included as part of Bolivia.

The initial call to take up arms against the Spanish on September 24, 1810 is the date Santa Cruz celebrates its freedom from Spain. To commemorate it's 200th year of independence, authorities have scheduled activities to take place throughout the entire year including cultural activities, history seminars, festivals, colonial music concerts, sports competitions, and much more, all of which must be themed in celebration of this date. The most important festivities will take place between July and September 2010. All of this will come to an end on the most important date, September 24th, when festivities will be similar to those that take place on Bolivia's national independence day, although they will focus exclusively on Santa Cruz, and cruceño history and culture.

The Santa Cruz Bicentennial Committee is formed by representatives of the Santa Cruz Departmental Government (also called the prefecture), the Mayor's office, the Society of Geographic and Historic Studies, and the Pro Santa Cruz Committee. In addition, Santa Cruz now has a new museum: the Museo de la Independencia (Santa Cruz Independence Museum).

You can read more on the official Santa Cruz Bicentennial website which contains historic data, many images, and details on all the events and festivities that are planned for 2010 (in Spanish).

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