La Batalla de La Tablada

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La Tablada: The Battle that Won Tarija’s Independence. In 1817 many of the colonies in South America were still fighting for their independence from Spain, among them the regions to the South of the Audiencia de Charcas, known as republiquetas (small republics). One of these was the Republiqueta of Tarija, the capital of which was San Bernardo de la Frontera de Tarixa (also known as Villa de Tarija), which was occupied and continuously harassed by patriot soldiers.

These men, mostly from modest mixed-race classes, were known as the Montoneros. Their commanders were Eustaquio Méndez, José María Avilés, and coronel Francisco Pérez de Uriondo. The best known of these was Eustaquio Méndez, nicknamed “Moto” Méndez who was from the town of San Lorenzo. One of his hands had been amputated ("moto" means "one-handed"). He was a second in command under the Argentine general Manuel Belgrano. By fighting along with the United Provinces of Rio de La Plata (Argentina), the Tarijeño and Argentine camps cooperated much like the armies of Santa Cruz and Chuquisaca (Sucre) did, to achieve a common goal: freedom from Spain.

It was Belgrano who decided to send one of his guerrilla leaders from the area of Tucumán, lieutenant coronel Gregorio Araoz de La Madrid, to face the Spanish royalist army in Potosí and Oruro. On his way Araoz took a detour to find fresh horses and headed to Tarija where he knew the Spanish, under commander Mateo Ramírez, had control of the town, although he also knew it was surrounded by the Montoneros. Since he had a squadron of hussars and a regiment of soldiers from Tucumán with him, he decided to attack Villa de Tarija and, heading down the Cuesta del Inca (the Inca trail to the East), he arrived on the 14th of April.

La Madrid had half the troops that Ramirez did; however, when the Spanish faced him to fight, his guerrilla warriors counterattacked the Spanish near the center and flanked them. Not long after, Moto Méndez and the Montoneros arrived. They had previously met La Madrid as he was entering the town and had given him fresh horses and supplies. They charged brashly against the left flank of royalist soldiers, bringing them down and clearing the way for La Madrid to continue his frontal attack until finally the royalists retreated and he was able to take control of Villa de Tarija.

The next day, on Tuesday the 15th of April of 1817, the Montoneros faced off with Spanish troops under commander Malacabeza in a field nearby called La Tablada de Tolomosa. They won that battle and took a third of the Spanish troops as prisoners. In this manner they prevented the three Spanish royalist commanders of the area (Ramírez at the central plaza, Malacabeza near the outskirts of town, and a third whose last name was Santa Cruz, in the Valle de Concepción) from assisting each other. Toward the end of the day Ramírez signed his surrender in a field called Campo de las Carreras (which today is Tarija’s Bolivar Park).

To commemorate the occasion, in 1922 the Tarija Town Council passed a decree stating that the 15th of April would be celebrated as Tarija's ephemerid day - one hundred and fifty years after the battle that won the land of the “chapacos” its freedom.

Today the Department of Tarija celebrates its independence throughout the entire month of April with a cultural fair involving dozens of events including music and dance, theater, fairs and handcrafts, concerts and many other cultural events in what has come to be called Los Abriles de Tarija (the April Days of Tarija). In town of San Lorenzo, just 20 minutes from the city of Tarija, you can take a tour of the home of Moto Mendez who headed the Montaneros. San Lorenzo is also the prettiest place in Bolivia to spend Easter. Because the entire town is decorated with flowers, it's called Pascua Florida (flowery Easter).

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La Tablada: La batalla que independizó Tarija. Hacia 1817, buena parte de las colonias españolas en Sudamérica aun luchaban por su independencia, entre ellas las regiones al sur de la Audiencia de Charcas, conocidas por entonces como Republiquetas. Una de ellas era la Republiqueta de Tarija, cuya capital, la Villa de San Bernardo de la Frontera de Tarixa (o Villa de Tarija), se encontraba ocupada por tropas realistas y continuamente hostigada por guerrilleros del bando patriota.

Aquellos hombres, en su mayoría de clase modesta, mestizos y criollos, eran conocidos como Los Montoneros. Tenían por comandantes a Eustaquio Méndez, José María Avilés y el coronel Francisco Pérez de Uriondo, de los cuales el más célebre seria el primero, un oriundo del pueblo de San Lorenzo, conocido por el sobrenombre de Moto Méndez, por carecer de una mano amputada (“moto” significa manco), quien era lugarteniente del general argentino Manuel Belgrano, pues, al luchar como parte de las Provincias Unidas del Rio de La Plata, los bandos tarijeño y argentino, así como el cruceño y el chuquisaqueño, solían colaborar entre si en el objetivo común de liberarse de España.

Fue Belgrano quien decidió enviar a uno de los jefes de los guerrilleros de la zona de Tucumán, el teniente coronel Gregorio Araoz de La Madrid, con órdenes de enfrentarse a los realistas en Potosí y Oruro. Este se desvió de su destino para aprovisionarse de caballos en Tarija, donde supo que la población estaba tomada por los españoles bajo el mando del comandante Mateo Ramírez y cercada por los Montoneros. Como traía consigo a un escuadrón de Húsares y un regimiento de milicianos tucumanos, decidió atacar la Villa,y bajando por la Cuesta del Inca, al este, llegó a ella el 14 de abril.

La Madrid tenía la mitad de tropas que Ramírez, sin embargo, cuando aquel se le puso al frente, contraatacó a los españoles por el centro (la Plaza Mayor) y hacia los flancos. Poco después, llegaron los Montoneros de Méndez, quienes lo habían recibido y aprovisionado previamente a la entrada de la ciudad, y cargaron de forma temeraria contra el ala izquierda de los realistas, desbaratándolos y dejándole al argentino la vía libre para continuar el ataque frontal, hacer retirar a los realistas y tomar la Villa de Tarija.

Al día siguiente, el martes 15 de abril de 1817, los Montoneros se enfrentaron en el campo de La Tablada de Tolomosa, en los alrededores, a las tropas del comandante español Malacabeza, venciéndolos y tomando prisionero a un tercio de ellos. De esta manera, impidieron que los tres comandantes realistas, Ramírez en la plaza, Malacabeza en las cercanías y Santa Cruz en el valle de Concepción, pudieran auxiliarse mutuamente. Al atardecer de ese mismo día, Ramírez firmó su rendición en el Campo de las Carreras, hoy Parque Bolívar, en la ciudad de Tarija.

En conmemoración de la ocasión, el Concejo Municipal de Tarija decretó que esa fecha seria festejada la efeméride departamental, puesta en vigencia desde 1922, ciento cinco años después de la batalla de que decidiría la libertad de las tierras chapacas.

Today the Department of Tarija celebrates its independence throughout the entire month of April with a cultural fair involving dozens of events including music and dance, theater, fairs and handcrafts, concerts and many other cultural events in what has come to be called Los Abriles de Tarija (the Aprils of Tarija). In town of San Lorenzo, just 20 minutes from the city of Tarija, you can take a tour of the home of "Moto" Méndez who headed the Montaneros. San Lorenzo is also the prettiest place in Bolivia to spend Easter (Pascua Florida).

Actualmente el Departamento de Tarija celebra su independencia durante todo el mes de abril con una feria cultural con docenas de eventos incluyendo música y danza, teatro, ferias y manualidades, conciertos y muchos otros eventos culturales in lo que se llama los Abriles de Tarija. En el pueblo de San Lorenzo, tan solo 20 minutos de la ciudad de Tarija, puedes tomar un tour de la casa de "Moto" Méndez quien dirigió a lo Montaneros. San Lorenzo es, además, el lugar más bonito de Bolivia durante la Semana Santa (Pascua Florida).

Correspondent/Corresponsal: Alura Gonzales

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