Revolt of the Comuneros (New Granada)
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The Revolt of the Comuneros was a popular uprising in the Viceroyalty of New Granada (now Colombia and parts of Venezuela) against the Spanish authorities from March through October 1781. The revolt was in reaction to the increase in taxation to raise funds for defense of the region against the British, a rise in the price of tobacco and brandy, which were part of the late eighteenth-century Bourbon reforms. The initial revolt was local and not well known outside the region of Socorro, but in the late nineteenth century, historian Manuel Briceño saw the massive revolt as a precursor to independence. Prior to the 1781 revolt, residents in New Granada had protested, at times violently, crown policy implementation there between 1740 and 1779.
On March 16, 1781, in Socorro in northeastern Colombia, grocer Manuela Beltrán tore down posted edicts about new tax increases and other changes that would have reduced the profits of the colonists and enlarged the benefits of Spain. Many other towns in New Granada began to have the same occurrences with colonists livid about the conditions of the ruling government. Local residents began to assemble and elect a body of officials known as el común, or a central committee “to lead the movement.” The rebels unified under the leadership of Juan Francisco Berbeo, a Criollo elite. Despite coming from the upper classes of society, the rebels exposed the idea of the unity of different social classes and the organization of the common people. The endorsement of the elites furthered the rebels’ efforts to join together. Berbeo brought together 10,000 to 20,000 troops of rebels to march on the capital, Bogotá. Once the rebels defeated the soldiers sent against them from the capital, then they reached a town just north of Bogota. Spanish officials agreed to meet with the Comuneros and sign an agreement stating the conditions and complaints of the rebels. However, once the rebels dispersed and became unorganized, the Spanish government officials signed a document that discarded the agreement on the basis that it was forced upon them. Once reinforcements for the Spanish government arrived, they were sent to rebellious cities and towns to enforce the implementation of the increased taxes. José Antonio Galán, one of the leaders of the revolt, continued on with a small amount of rebels, but they were quickly defeated and he was executed, while other leaders of the rebellion were sentenced for life in prison for treason.
The influence of the revolt led to similar uprisings, with a similar outcome, as far north as Mérida and Timotes, now in Venezuela but at the time under jurisdiction of the Viceroyalty of New Granada.
Interpretations of its Causes
Many causes contributed to the revolt of 1781. Some causes were long-standing, related to the viceroyalty in New Granada in 1717. There is a debate among historians over what the main factor was that contributed to the start of the rebellion of 1781, but what is clear is the fact that the need for economic and political reform and the idea of self-government were all contributors.
A series of reforms to the economy and government of the colonies, now called the Bourbon Reforms, are believed to be a factor in the beginning of the revolt. As the growth of the population and development of the New World began to outgrow that of Spain, Spain began to look for ways to make the colonies more profitable. The Spanish government sought to eliminate tax evasion to reduce benefits of the colonies and created new laws and taxes to establish greater support and a larger revenue for the home country. Spain also created trading companies, allowed for agricultural and industrial “royal monopolies” and encouraged a greater amount of imports to the colonies to decrease the manufacturing capability of the colonies. These economic and social reforms increased the limitations for colonists to produce crops and changed their economy. Another factor considered by scholars is the major political reforms that the Spanish government forced on the colonies. In order for Spain to benefit economically from the colonies, it needed stricter control over their government. These political changes were also part of the Bourbon Reforms. Some historians such as Brian Hamnett believe that it was the age-long battle between “absolutism versus the unwritten constitution” of New Granada that spurred on the colonists. He believes that the imperialism of the Spanish home country and its dependence upon the colonies contributed for the need of the colonies’ “decentralization.” In a review of John Leddy Phelan's book on the Comunero revolt, Hamnett states that the revolt was started, not with the goal of an independence movement, political freedom and self-government, but only with the hope of reversing the reforms.
- Rebellion of Túpac Amaru II (coeval revolt in Peru caused by the Bourbon Reforms)
- Antonio Caballero y Góngora
- José Antonio Galán
- José Alfonso Pizarro
- Juan José García de Hevia
- Juan de Torrezar Díaz Pimienta
- Richard Stoller, "Comunero Revolt (New Granada)" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture vol. 2, p. 240. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996.
- Mark A. Burkholder and Lyman L. Johnson, Colonial Latin America 7th edition. New York: Oxford University Press 2010, p. 351.
- Stoller, "Comunero Revolt", p. 240.
- Young, Ronald. "Comuneros' Revolt in New Granada.” Modern World History Online. Facts on File , 2008. Accessed 29 January 2010.
- Phillip, Charles, and Alan Axelrold. “Comunero's Revolt in New Granada.” Modern World History Online. Facts on File, 2005. Accessed 29 January 2010.
- See Muñoz Oraá, Los comuneros de Venezuela.
- “Bourdon Reforms.” World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, n.d. Accessed 29 January 2010.
- John Leddy Phelan, The people and the King : the Comunero Revolution in Colombia, 1781. Madison : University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.
- Brian R. Hamnett, (1980). "Review of The People and the King: The Comunero Revolt in Colombia, 1781 by John Leddy Phelen". The Americas. 36 (3): 415–416. JSTOR 981304
- Aguilera Peña, Mario. Los comuneros: guerra social y lucha anticolonial. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia 1983.
- Briceño, Manuel. Los comuneros: historia de la insurección de 1781 (1880) Bogotá : C. Valencia Editores, 1977.
- Hamnett, Brian R. (1980). "Review of The People and the King: The Comunero Revolt in Colombia, 1781 by John Leddy Phelan". The Americas. 36 (3): 415–416. JSTOR 981304.
- Loy, Jane M. (1981). "Forgotten Comuneros: The 1781 Revolt in the Llanos of Casanare". The Hispanic American Historical Review. 61 (2): 235–257. doi:10.2307/2513830.
- McFarlane, Anthony. "Review of Los comuneros: Guerra social y luch anticolonial by Mario Aguilera Peña." Hispanic American Historical Review vol. 66, No. 4 (Nov. 1986), pp. 791–93.
- Muñoz Oraá, Carlos E. (1971). Los comuneros de Venezuela. Mérida, Venezuela: Universidad de Los Andes.
- Phelan, John Leddy, The people and the King: the Comunero Revolution in Colombia, 1781. Madison : University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.