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Bibliographic details

[BOLIVARIANA] SUCRE, Antonio José de (1795 – 1830) and MILLER, William (1795 – 1861). Letter on headed paper of the Ejército Libertador (31x21cm). General Headquarters of Chuquisaca, Upper Peru, 28 May 1825. Double-sided letter on headed paper of the Ejército Libertador (“Freedom Army”), dated 28 May 1825 and written at the general headquarters of Chuquisaca, Upper Peru, by Venezuelan aristocrat Antonio José de Sucre y Alcalá, one of the most respected liberators of South America. Known as Grand Marshall of Ayacucho, de Sucre was the right-hand man of Simón Bolívar. He served as second President of Bolivia and fourth President of Peru and was one amongst Bolívar’s closest friends. De Sucre was the libertador of Bolivia and it is not by chance that the Latin American country’s true capital city is Sucre, called so after him, and not La Paz, as it is commonly thought, yet mistakenly. With regard to General William Miller, after fighting under Wellington against Napoleonic forces and then against the United States in North America, he entered South America with the rank of captain of artillery serving under San Martín and Blanco Encalada in the liberation of Chile; he was commandant of marines and chief of land operations under Lord Cochrane and served again under San Martín until the latter’s retirement from Peru; he exercised various commands under Bolívar and de Sucre and was commanding general of the combined cavalry in the battles of Junín and Ayacucho; he, then, was appointed president of Puno and president of Potosí, which were the most important mining centres of Upper Peru, before returning to England. He is considered by Peru as one of the “próceres” of her independence and is buried in the Panteón de los Próceres in Lima.
De Sucre’s letter is addressed to José Hipólito Unanue y Pavón, who was Peru’s Head of Treasury. Unanue is not mentioned by name, but by title: “Ministro del Departamento de Hacienda”. In his letter de Sucre transcribes in “duplicado”, duplicate, the letter that he recently received from General William Miller, also known as Guillermo Miller, and hereafter referred to as “General Presidente del Departamento de Potosí”. Miller was appointed directly by no less than the great Libertador Bolívar to head the government in the region of Potosí on April 25, since not long before, precisely on 9 December 1824, the valiant de Sucre defeated Royalist Don Pedro Antonio de Olañeta’s army at Ayacucho, freeing Upper Peru from the influence of the King of Spain. Miller’s Memoirs (London, 1828, Vol. II, p. 281), which were written by his brother John under dictation, describe the nature of the General’s high appointment in detail: “General Miller was invested with the civil as well as military command of the department […] He was also named superintendent of the mint, and director of the bank […] the powers of vice-patron of the church [were] especially delegated to him by General Sucre, as supreme chief of Upper Peru”. Furthermore, he was appointed to the prefecture and established a college for the study of mineralogy at Potosí. Chapters 29 and 30 of his Memoirs’ 2nd volume are entirely dedicated to the descriptions of his sojourn in Potosí, its people and traditions, the mines and their economic features. The Memoirs describe in great detail also the mines of Puno (the place where Bolívar first sent him), revealing Miller’s interest for the mining industry.
In this letter De Sucre forwards the transcription of Miller’s letter to Minister Unanue, in which is outlined Miller’s major plan to foster and revive the mining sector in Potosí. By then “la Rivera de Potosí” and the Cerro Rico, literally “Rich Mountain”, had been known for centuries as one of the richest mining sites in the American subcontinent, particularly rich in silver reserves, which the British were soon to lay their hands on it and prove their capitalist flair. However, Potosí’s mines were as rich with silver as they were bearer of human tragedies, as General Miller sadly reported (Memoirs, Vol. I, p. 5): “more than twelve thousand Indians were annually subject to the mita conscription [i.e., mandatory public service through which native labourers were forced to work in the mines for little salaries] in Potosi alone. It is computed that eight millions two hundred and eighty-five thousand Indians thus perished in the mines of Peru”. Potosí’s Cerro Rico is indeed known as the man-eating mountain. As Tristan Platt showed in his study on the state of the silver industry during the early Bolivian republic (1825-1850), the once miraculously productive Potosí mines were languishing due to scarcity of quicksilver and funds, as well as the state monopoly. On top of this, Miller’s Memoirs add the information that Potosí’s population decreased from a maximum of 150.000 inhabitants, at the apogee of the Spanish rule, to a minimum of 8.000 in the early C19th, during the civil wars; a drastically diminished number which was determined also by the abolition of the horrible mita conscription by decision of the new government. Now that the Spaniards were finally out and an Englishman was in charge on behalf of the revolutionary patriots, the British were more than ready to seek their fortune and invest their capitals in the newly liberated but depressed area; a land with endless opportunities for mineral exploitation that was waiting for economic relaunch.
Indeed, in his letter Miller tells de Sucre that ever since he arrived at Potosí, he has wanted to give an impulse to the mining industry and, having summoned the miners’ guild (“Gremio de Azoguería”), he learned from its members that the difficulty and the delay in getting Potosí’s mines to work properly is due especially to lack of quicksilver (“azogue”), which at the time was fundamental for extracting silver from ore through amalgamation. Then Miller states that it is hard to find in the whole South America as much mercury as it is needed for his purpose. So, he deems necessary, actually “indispensable”, to ask Peru’s government to contact its agent (“apoderado”) in London, who has access to great funds and can gather enough pounds to provide 4000 quintals (400 tons) of quicksilver, which is indicated as the figure of yearly usage. Miller asks to ship this huge amount of quicksilver produced in Europe to the port of Arica, which today is part of northern Chile, where he advises to give it for sale to the Peruvian state, which then should sell it at moderate price, since, as he puts it, it is known that tax revenues will benefit greatly from such practice (basically, monopoly).
De Sucre closes his transcription of Miller’s letter on the verso of the sheet and includes 15 lines of text in which he points out his clear endorsement of General Miller’s request for help with regard to increasing Potosí’s mining sector. De Sucre underlines especially how important is to satisfy the demand for more quicksilver in order to give the paralysed mining industry much needed boost. Indeed, interceding for Miller, de Sucre asks Minister Unanue to provide what he requests, “proporcionar lo q.[ue] pide el S. Presidente de Potosí”. De Sucre remarks how crucial revenues from the mines will be for the future prosperity of the country, because from them “resulta un grande aumento al herario nacional y la prosperidad del pais”, undoubtedly bearing in mind the idea of Bolivia as a future independent nation, whose declaration of independence was indeed signed shortly afterwards, on August 6 1825. De Sucre eventually signs his letter styling it in such way: “Dios guarde a V.[uestra] S.[eñoria] / A.J. de Sucre”.
In his Memoirs (Vol. II, pp. 261-4), published with hindsight while he was back to England due to health issues, Miller gives an account of the incapacity of the South American new governments to manage the money they borrowed from investors through their agents in London, which is as follows: “South America (thanks to the colonial system of Spain) does not abound at first sight in many public-spirited and honest men of superior talent; but such are not entirely wanting, although the governments do not always avail of their services. Some of the patriot agents did not become the poorer by a residence in Europe, and others of them were (perhaps wrongfully) supposed to have lost sight of the interests of their own country, in the assiduous cultivation of acquaintances in a certain house in the City where the gentlemen who frequent it are not suspected to be more indifferent to the fascinating charms of making a rapid fortune than the grosser part of the world in general. Not that some of the successive governments could very well accuse their agents of malversation, without feeling a twitch of conscience at home, inasmuch as the instalments remitted were not at all times fairly expended […] The damning sin of the new governments has been, the not being proof against the tempting facilities of borrowing money. Instead of increasing their debts, they ought to have paid off a part, if not the whole, of those already contracted. We can assert with confidence that, as far as relates to Peru, Chile, and Buenos Ayres, the revenue, honestly expended, would have been more than sufficient to meet every exigency. […] If any additional evidence were required to show the capacity of Peru to fulfil her engagements, satisfactory proofs might be adduced from the administration of the departments of Puno and Potosi in the unsettled year of 1825” – that is to say, the year in which Miller, the narrator of this memoir, was in charge as General President of these departments. This account sheds new light on the plan that Miller introduces to de Sucre with his letter, which the latter totally endorsed by transcribing and forwarding it to Peru’s Head of Treasury, and sounds as a sort of justification for suggesting three years earlier to borrow money from foreign investors through the Peruvian agent in London in order to put together 400 tons of quicksilver. Miller landed on England’s shores in early 1826 in order to receive treatment for his bad medical condition, taking leave from duty only 6 months after his arrival at Potosí. He handed over the authority to carry out his major plan for the region to General Urdiminea, the newly appointed governor for the Departamento de Potosí. However, in the light of the enormous state debt accumulated by Peru in those years, which Miller illustrates even in greater detail in the passage quoted below, one can assert that his suggestion to loan money to buy many tons of quicksilver did not result at all in the positive outcome that he surely wished for Peru and Bolivia when he first presented his forward-looking plan, though financially risky, to de Sucre and Minister Unanue. Miller’s account goes on using harsh words on Peru, adding fuel to the fire and, perhaps, trying to defend his position from any possible accusation or attribution of responsibility: “The loan-debt of Peru may be stated, in round numbers, at one million five hundred thousand pounds sterling. The government of that country now says: ‘Although we have not received perhaps half the amount we ought to have received, and although we have been imposed upon by contractors, and by our agents (for whose errors we hold ourselves responsible), we nevertheless consider ourselves bound in honour to acknowledge the debt; and this is all we can do until we recover from the effects of a war which has crippled the country.’ The pernicious policy of Colombia and Peru, in keeping up standing armies in time of peace, so contrary to the spirit and principles of liberty which each professes, is, after want of integrity in some of the public servants, the great cause of the inability to make remittances for the payment of the dividends.” These passages from his Memoirs are of great help in providing the context and the bitter aftermath of Miller’s mining plan, which ended up with an unwished scenario, that is, with Peru worsening its already huge state debt.
This letter may well be unpublished. No trace of it is found in De mi propria mano (Caracas, Biblioteca Ayacucho, 2009), which is a collection of de Sucre’s most significant letters. However, letter no. 144 in this collection is dated May 26, just two days before de Sucre wrote this letter. It addresses the members of the Council of La Paz on the imminent arrival of Bolívar and on the Gran Mariscal de Sucre’s prominent plans for the future of the area, among which there is the development of the mining sector and the establishment of a “tribunal de minería” to foster the decaying industry: “yo deseo presentarle todos los proyectos de útiles establecimientos en ese país y los medios de realizarlos. Entre otros pienso que los más importantes son […] de un tribunal de minería que dé un giro rápido a este importante trabajo del departamento…” This letter is further proof that it was the priority of both Miller and de Sucre, and probably of the junta of the Ejercito Libertador, Bolívar in primis, to foster the mining sector as they all knew how profitable was to get the mines to work for the benefit of the country.
An extremely important historical source, which further corroborates Guillermo Ovando-Sanz’s study on the British interests in Potosí, and stands as one of the earliest evidences to the connections and networking which allowed the later development of the mining sector in Bolivia after the Spaniards fled the region and foreign capitals started to flood in. Furthermore, it provides an interesting numerical figure about the amount of quicksilver yearly used in the Potosí area for extracting silver during the first years of the Republic of Bolivia.
References:
OVANDO-SANZ, Guillermo. “British Interests in Potosi, 1825-1828; Unpublished Documents from the Archivio de Potosi”, in The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Feb., 1965), Duke University Press, pp. 64-87
DELANEY, Robert W..”General Miller and the Confederación Perú-Boliviana”, in The Americas, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Jan., 1962), Cambridge University Press, pp. 213-242 (30 pages)
PLATT, Tristan. “Producción, tecnología y trabajo en la Rivera de Potosí durante la República temprana” in El Siglo XIX en Bolivia y América Latina, Lima, Institut français d’études andines, 1997, pp. 395-435
LANE, Chris. Potosí: The Silver City That Changed the World. Oakland, University of California Press, 2019.
FLEMING, David. MILLER, William (1795-1861), in PILLSBURY, Joanne (Ed.), Guide to Documentary Sources for Andean Studies, 1530-1900, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 2008, Vol. III (M-Z), pp. 424-26

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