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(Article submitted to mark "Bolivia celebrated independence 6 August 2008")

(Upper Peru) Bolivia after Independence 1825: Santa Cruz and Pazos Kanki[]

In an era of stereotypes and generalisations about “other countries” perhaps we should highlight from time to time the exceptions to the rule. For example the history books tell us that the only group which had cause to celebrate the independence of Bolivia in 1825 was that of the white Creole elite. Vicente Pazos Kanki bucked the trend. He was born (3/10/1779) an Aymaran in the highlands of what was then - prior to Independence – called Upper Peru, quite near to the eastern shore of Lake Tititcaca (30 kilometres north-east of Sorata). The Gods would not have predicted an international diplomatic career for the young Vicente. Yet by the time Bolivia had joined up again with Peru to form the Confederation (1836-39), Pazos Kanki was named by President Santa Cruz “Ambassador of Bolivia to Great Britiain (Gibralta)”.

Pazos Kanki was blessed with exceptional intellectual talent and a commanding personality. He was arguably one of the founders of the Bolivian community in Britain – now some 170 years later numbering upwards of 10,000 souls (see Runneymede Report for more precise estimates). He married an Englishwoman, authored several books including the first Spanish translation of Thomas Paine (another was made in Venezuela around the same time), and was an associate of a Scottish clan-chief, MacGregor MacGregor, in the “Invasion of Florida” as well as being a minor thorn in the side of Lord Palmerston, then Britain’s Foreign Secretary.

Santa Cruz, most Bolivians tell you, is the most respected, admired – even adored – previous leader of Bolivia. Certainly his reputation as one of the ablest, honest and fairest Presidents has withstood the test of time and several critical academic theses. He agreed to the appointment of Pazos Kanki as Bolivia’s representative in Britain and “Ambassador to Gibralta”. As such Pazos argued that he was, de facto, Ambassador to Great Britain. Palmerston, it seems, never really got clarification from Santa Cruz on this point, before another man turned up in London to claim the Ambassadorship: Jose Joaquin de Mora. Nor did Palmerston get an explanation of why Gibralta had figured so myteriously on Bolivia’s list of diplomatic targets. Pazos Kanki and de Mora were polar opposites – the one Aymaran, rumbustuous and a risk-taker, the other Spanish in origin, legalistic and risk-averse. De Mora was derogatory about Pazos Kanki’s origins commenting that “no sabia ni el ingles, ni el espanol” (accents omitted). Santa Cruz, it seems, never really did get a handle on his representation in Great Britain, which had become, following the defeat of Goyeneche and other royalist (Spanish) supporters in 1825, the principal economic power in Bolivia.

This “contrapuntal role-playing” (between “Aymaran” and “Spaniard / European”) has been faithfully replicated within the Bolivain communities to this day, as the Runneymede report commented, only that the report talks of the “new arrivals” and the older residents. Pazos Kanki would have been bemused but would, come August 6th each year, have been exhorting his fellow “Bolivians” (a new term then) to celebrate. Sadly the confederation between Peru and Bolivia did not last and its demise saw the fall of Santa Cruz.

I think Pazos Kanki has done more than enough – give or take the odd peccadillo or two - to earn his place in a hall of fame. However we await a good short biography of him, in English, so that the grandchildren of Bolivians in these Emerald Isles can enjoy his story and understand with some interest the troubled history of Bolivia in the early years of Independence.

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