History of South America

And who was Alfonso Ugarte?

During this week, hundreds of teachers are attending the conferences, round tables, seminars and workshops offered by the V International Conference on Education Encinas 2014, which Derrama Magisterial organizes every two years since 2006, in Lima. This time, one of the best-known emblematic educational institutions in our capital ceded its auditorium facilities - for almost 800 people - for the holding of this academic event that aims to position itself as a benchmark for pedagogical and teaching activity, encouraging reflection, analysis and debate on current educational issues, teacher policies and social security applied to the profession. That school is named after one of our best-known historical figures. But do we really know who Alfonso Ugarte was? ?

It is relatively unknown that Alfonso Ugarte He was a merchant, farmer and businessman as well as a soldier. Son of Narciso Ugarte and Rosa Vernal Carpio, two wealthy merchants, Alfonso Ugarte He was born in the city of Iquique, province of Tarapacá, on July 13, 1847. He obtained the title of accountant, product of the studies that he followed between the cities of Valparaíso and Iquique.

The Ugarte family had a business tradition as they were dedicated to the saltpeter industry in the city of Iquique. Alfonso Ugarte he was an administrator of keen business acumen, as evidenced by the chronicles of the time. He knew how to associate with Antonio Cevallos and together they formed the largest and most prosperous saltpeter trading company in Iquique, the Ugarte Cevallos y Cía. The management of the saltpeter company carried out by the distinguished Peruvian, notably increased its wealth, which already had considerable capital at the time it passed into the hands of who would become a Peruvian military hero.

Alfonso Ugarte he always had a strong nationalist feeling towards what he considered his homeland. This marked inclination was seen on multiple occasions before the advent of the Pacific War. In August 1868, for example, Alfonso Ugarte he provided humanitarian aid to the population that had suffered the earthquake that devastated Iquique and Arica. At the age of 29, he was elected mayor of his hometown, a position he held and from which he carried out good administrative management.

Alfonso Ugarte He was preparing a trip to Europe after formalizing his wedding commitment to his maternal cousin, Timotea Vernal, at the time the armed conflict with Chile broke out. Faced with this imminent confrontation with the neighboring country to the south, Alfonso Ugarte he decides to stay in Peru to face the military confrontation.

Ugarte formed a battalion financed by himself under the name of Iquique Battalion Number 1. This military squad was made up, for the most part, of workers and artisans who, as was logical, They did not have military training. The effort of the Peruvian military hero managed to gather 429 soldiers and 36 officers. Known are the exploits of Ugarte in the battle of Tarapacá, a battle in which, despite having been seriously wounded in the head, he continued to fight to the limit of his strength.

After Peru's victory at the Battle of Tarapacá, on November 27, 1879, the Peruvian army withdrew to Arica, where two war meetings were held at charge of Colonel Francisco Bolognesi, another illustrious Peruvian military hero. Alfonso Ugarte he took an active part in both meetings, being the definitive and irrevocable slogan of the Peruvian combatants, to defend this bastion of resistance until there were no more ammunition, projectiles and bullets to continue doing so.

In the battle of Arica, Alfonso Ugarte he finds death by throwing himself from the top of the hill in order to prevent the flag / national flag of Peru from being violated by the Chilean troops who were very close to capturing him. Jorge Basadre, the distinguished Peruvian historian and one of the scholars who has best analyzed this military conflict, tells the following in his book History of the Republic of Peru:“Colonel Alfonso Ugarte , like the others, he did not want to surrender and, having run out of ammunition, he reached for his revolver, using his shots well; but as he was harassed by a large number of Chileans, he perished at last on a white horse”.

Basadre himself collected a testimony about the death of Ugarte and published it in an article that appeared in La patria de Lima in June 1880. The testimony detailed the following:“The last act of the short but interesting career of Alfonso Ugarte it reveals how much that truly great soul was capable of. Harassed by innumerable enemies, already defeated at the summit of the historic Morro, witnessing the mutilation of the fallen, the profanation of those sacred relics of heroism, he wanted to escape from enemy hands and digging his spurs into the flanks of his horse, he launched himself into the space from that immense height to fall in pieces on the rocks of the seashore”.

In the years after the publication of this chronicle by Basadre, multiple theories arose that questioned this episode of the death of Alfonso Ugarte , based on stories by the Chilean historian Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, who considered this story as "an invention of the Peruvians". Another version tells that Ugarte would have survived the war and that he would have actually died in France. However, none of these theories has prevailed over the well-known immolation of our hero to protect the flag.

Even in 2010, a book appeared entitled War of the Pacific:Alfonso Ugarte , from legend to reality, by the Peruvian historian and journalist Alejandro Tudela, which contains testimonies and recently found documents that reconfirm the heroism and courage of Alfonso Ugarte , immortalized in the painting that illustrates this note, which is in the National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History of Peru (Pueblo Libre). The canvas is the work of the Italian painter Agostino Marazzani Visconti.

Ugarte's body was not easily found despite the fact that his family was willing to post a reward for him. Finally, the body of the hero did not appear until seven years after the end of the war, that is, in 1890. At first, Ugarte's remains were given a Christian burial in a family mausoleum built by his mother, however, they did not many years ago he was definitively buried in the Crypt of the Heroes of the War of 1979 in the Presbítero Maestro Cemetery.

In times of peace it is difficult to imagine the magnitude of a figure like that of Alfonso Ugarte , and although Peru hopes not to experience circumstances like those of the Pacific War again, it is inevitable to be moved by the story of this national hero of Peru.