Ecuador National Day – the “Grito” of Quito

August 10

flag_ecuador

Today is Ecuador’s National Day, and the event it celebrates is considered the first cry for independence in Latin America. It took place in Quito, Ecuador, on August 10, 1809.

South America’s “Primer Grito de la Independencia” (first shout for independence) was ironically a show of fidelity to Spain. On the other side of the Atlantic, Napoleon of France had invaded Spain and installed his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne in 1808.

When the news spread to South America, the criollos (Spanish descendants born in the New World) initially called for independence as a show of support. On August 10, 1809, they declared their unity behind the former King Ferdinand of Spain and they refused to recognize the legitimacy of officials appointed by the Bonaparte government. Over the next several years, several similar “gritos” would be issued by Latin American assemblies all the way from Mexico to Argentina.

But when the Spanish regained control of their own country, and turned their attention back to South America, the criollos who had been fighting for their freedom had no intention of turning back.

Independence however would be a long time coming. The Wars of Independence from Spain raged throughout South America for over a decade.

With support from the armies of Simón Bolivar and José de San Martín, Ecuador’s national hero Antonio José de Sucre eventually liberated the Quito region from Spanish forces in 1822. The final Battle of Pichincha, fought atop the slopes of a towering volcano overlooking Quito, took place on May 24 of that year.

Antonio José de Sucre

In the end, the long struggle worked out, and all told, the Ecuadorians would get not just one, but four annual holidays out of the War of Independence: today’s holiday, Independence of Guayaquil (October 9, 1820), Independence of Cuenca (November 3, 1820), and the Battle of Pichincha (May 24, 1822).

Even though the region was liberated, Ecuador’s own independence as a sovereign nation wouldn’t come for another eight years, during which Quito and the surrounding provinces were considered part of Bolivar’s “Gran Colombia.” The three southern provinces of Gran Colombia became “Ecuador”—so named because it straddles the equator—in 1830.

Independence – Argentina

July 9

In the two decades between 1804 and 1824 the Spain lost an area of land in Latin America nearly 20 times its own size.

One of Spain’s largest provinces was Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata, which encompassed what is now Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The Rio de la Plata (River of Silver) is the widest estuary in the world, forming the border between Argentina and Uruguay. Like the river, Argentina itself is named for the precious metal once so prevalent on its shores. Tierra Argentina is Latin for “Land of Silver”.

As Spain pushed French invaders out of its own borders, liberadores Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín sought to do the same to the Spanish in South America.Bolívar fought the Spanish in the north of the continent while San Martín gathered and led the rebel armies in the south. Between 1813 and 1824 SanMartín’s armies repelled royalist forces from Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador. He became known as the liberator of Chile, the Protector of Peru, and the national hero of Argentina, which honors him with his own holiday on August 17, the anniversary of his death.

San Martin crosses the Andes
San Martin crosses the Andes

Argentina’s national day doesn’t celebrate one of San Martín’s decisive battles, but the adoption of the 1816 Acta de Independencia by the Congress at Tucuman. After Napoleon’s exile to Elba in 1814, the Spanish were able to turn their full attention to the rebelling colonies overseas. In the Spring of 1816 representatives from towns throughout the Rio de la Plata gathered in San Miguel de Tucuman to discuss their political fate. Tucuman in Northern Argentina was chosen for its central location and also to downplay the resentment other territories felt toward the centralist, urban Buenos Aires. The Congress met in the home of the Bazan family, now the Casa Historica de la Independencia museum.

Casa de Tucuman
Casa de Tuchman

The Congress was unable to come up with a satisfactory answer for what form a future government would take. But on July 9, when the question of Independence arose…

“At once, animated by a holy love of justice, each and every delegate successively announced his spontaneous decision in favor of the independence of the country, signing in consequence the following declaration.

“We, the representatives of the United Provinces of South America, assembled in a general congress, invoking the God who presides over the universe, in the name and by the authority of the people whom we represent, and proclaiming to heaven and to all nations and peoples of the earth the justice of our intentions, declare solemnly to the world that the unanimous wish of these provinces is to sever the oppressive bonds which connect them with the kings of Spain, to recover the rights of which were deprived, and to assume the exalted position of a nation free and independent of Ferdinand VII, of his successors and of the metropolis of Spain.

San Martín pledged to support the Acta de Independencia the following month. He marched his troops over the Andes, joined forces with the Chileans, and defeated the Spanish forces there in 1818, effectively ending Spanish occupation in the southern half of South America.

Statehood Day – Croatia & Slovenia

June 25


Like a family of members forced to live under one roof through most of the 20th century, the states that made up Yugoslavia had little in common but rivalries. Forged in the wake of World War I, the country was initially known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, as it was later called, was dismantled after the Nazi invasion of 1941.

The country rose from the ashes of World War II as Democratic Federal Yugoslavia. Then as Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. (The Democratic thing didn’t work out too well.) Yugoslavia—the union of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia & Herzegovina—held together during the post-War period largely due to the iron will of one man, Josep Tito, the country’s president from 1953 to 1980.

Tito didn’t get along with Stalin. Because Yugoslavia’s Socialist revolution wasn’t thrust upon it by the Soviet Union, but was home-grown, Yugoslavia’s Communist Party wasn’t dependent upon the Soviets. They didn’t look at Stalin as a national hero. Relations with the Soviets soured after Yugoslavia refused to compromise its independence and merge with Bulgaria, as the Soviet Union requested. And throughout the Cold War, Yugoslavia remained neutral.

In 1980 President Tito’s death left a power vacuum that would never be filled. In the late 80’s, ethnic tensions broke out in Kosovo and across the separate states.

Tensions came to a head in June 1991 when, following a Croatian referendum, Croatia and Slovenia announced their intentions to break away from the union. Both states declared their independence on June 25th of that year. Though Slovenia’s declaration met with some violence, Croatia’s erupted into a full scale war. The former Yugoslavia became the site of one of the bloodiest European conflicts since the end of the World War II.

Today—June 25—Croatia and Slovenia, the Yugoslav fraternal twins, celebrate their birthdays.

Azerbaijan – and other names I have gone by

May 28

Azerbaijanis have been celebrating May 28 as Independence Day for the past 90 years–with a brief intermission during that whole 70-year Soviet occupation thing.

After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 Azerbaijan joined ranks with Armenia and Georgia to form the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. Faced with the reality that no one could remember their quindeci-syllabic name, the trio split the following year, and Azerbaijan became the independent nation we know today.

For two years.

Then in 1920 the Bolshevik Red Army overthrew the Islamic world’s first democratic republic. Vaporizing the autonomy of the newborn Azerbaijani Parliament, the Bolsheviks also sadistically cursed Azerbaijan (together with Georgia and Armenia) with the name “the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic”. Even the Soviets had to admit the cruelty of this name, and shortened it (slightly) to the Azerbaijan SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic) in the 1930s.

During the 23 months Azerbaijan had been an independent democratic republic, it granted women’s suffrage–preceding the U.S. and U.K.–and gave women equal political rights as men.

In January 1990 Soviet troops killed 132 demonstrators in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. The following year during the turmoil of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Azerbaijan formerly declared its re-independence. One of its first acts as was to chose to celebrate the May 28–the date of its 1918 proclamation of independence–as its Republic Day.

The first years of the country’s independence were marred by the ongoing Nogorno-Karabakh War, a territorial war with neighboring Armenia. Atrocities ran deep on both sides; in 1992 the Armenian army allegedly killed over 600 Azerbaijanis in the town of Khojaly. All told, approximately 10,000 Azerbaijanis were killed in the war between 1988 and 1994, and nearly 30,000 were wounded.

93% of Azerbaijan’s 8 million people are Muslim. Freedom of religion is written into the Constitution.

Timor of the Rising Sun

O mundo é dos audazes. Timor triunfará!

— Jorge Heiter

East Timor (now Timor-Leste) is the eastern half of a small island–conveniently named ‘Timor’–southeast of Indonesia. ‘Timor’ actually means East, or Rising Sun, so technically it’s ‘East East’.

Timor-Leste is one of two Catholic countries in Asia, the other being the Philippines; and the only Asian country where Portuguese is a second language.

For over 400 years the Portuguese ruled East Timor as a colony, until a 1975 coup d’etat in Portugal ushered in an era of de-colonialization. With a destabilized government, fighting broke out between two Timorese political parties, one of which allied themselves with Indonesia. (Indonesia occupied the western half of Timor.) The other party, FRETILIN, unilaterally declared East Timor an independent nation on November 28, 1975.

That independence was short lived.

The following week the Indonesian military, under President Suharto, began one of the most brutal, and one of the most ignored, invasions and occupations of the second half of the 20th century.

The United Nations condemned the invasion, but took no further action. Indonesia justified the invasion by claiming that the artificial border that split the island was the result of European imperialism and political oppression. (The Dutch had once occupied West Timor.)

Constancio was a young boy at the time of the invasion. Like many others, he and his family fled to the jungle, where he witnessed friends and family die from illness and starvation. All the while the Indonesian air force continued bombing from above. After several months he was captured and interred in a make-shift concentration camp that was worse than the mountainous jungle.

“There were thousands of people in a small area that was infested by mosquitoes and with no running water, no food. At least 15 people died every day.”

The island was effectively cut off from the rest of the world; it is estimated that of a population of 700,000, up to 100,000 Timorese died in the first 5 years of occupation.

After being released, Constancio became a servant to an Indonesian police officer in Dili. He gained entrance to a private school and became active in a students’ movement for an independent East Timor.

In 1991 Constancio helped organize a demonstration protesting the murder of Sebastiao Gomes, a 22 year-old killed in a church the month before. As over 3,000 unarmed demonstrators converged on the cemetery where Gomes was buried, Indonesian troops opened fire using American-made M16s. He recalled…

“We didn’t think they would open fire with United Nations observers and journalists being there.

Over 250 Timorese were killed; 200 more ‘disappeared’ in the following military crackdown. What separated the massacre of Santa Cruz from previous atrocities was that it was documented by Australian media, one of the few events on the otherwise isolated island to be so. The massacre at Santa Cruz became a rallying point for supporters of Timorese independence.

With a little less luck, Constancio might have been one of the disappeared, but he was tipped off by an inside friend who warned him not to go home that night when the secret police were waiting for him.

Constancio escaped to the western half of the island with the aid of friends, false papers, and money to bribe an Indonesian official to issue him a passport to Singapore.

He never took a moment of his freedom for granted. Traveling to Portugal and the U.S., he spread awareness of the situation in East Timor. In 1993 he matriculated to Brown University and he continued speaking across the U.S. about his life, the East Timor people, and the horrors he had seen.

In 1996, two of his countrymen Jose Ramos-Horta and Bishop Ximenes Belo, won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts at ending the violence in East Timor, bringing international attention to the fate of the small island.

In the late 1990s the determination of Timorese like Pinto, Ramos-Horta, and Ximenes Belo, as well Australian journalists like Allan Naird, met with help from an unlikely source. The crash of the Asian markets in 1997 destabilized Indonesia, and the ensuing recession forced President Suharto to call an end to his 30-year reign in May 1998. Dependent on foreign support during the financial crisis, the new President gave in to the international community’s demands for an election in East Timor.

On August 30, 1999, East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia. But even after the election, paramilitary groups continued attacks on unarmed civilians in an attempt to provoke widespread violence and justify the need for Indonesian peacekeepers. Despite provocation, the Timorese kept their side of the peace.

Under international pressure, the last Indonesian troops left East Timor on October 31, 1999.

On this day in 2002 Timor-Leste became the first newly-independent nation of the 21st century.

Timor Com Dor e Com Amor

Flight from East Timor: Student works from Brown base toward freedom for his homeland – Richard Morin

East Timor and the International Community – Heike Krieger

The Future of East Timor

The Path out of Poverty

Instability Sours Timor Celebration

I have come a long way, but East Timor has come further

Turkey – Youth and Sports Day

May 19

Four of Turkey’s national holidays stem from the Turkish War for Independence (1919-1923). Youth and Sports Day commemorates the beginning of the Turkish War for Independence on May 19, 1919.

*  *  *

After World War I, the Ottoman Empire found itself under the influence of Western powers. Sultan Mehmed VI appointed Mustafa Kemal, a general and hero of WWI, to oversee demobilization of army divisions. However, concerned about foreign dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, Mustafa Kemal took a ferry from Istanbul to Samsun on the main Turkish peninsula on May 19, 1919 to rally support for a unified, independent Turkey. His landing is considered the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence.

In Ankara the following year, Mustafa Kemal convened the first Turkish Grand National Assembly. In 1921 and 1922 he defeated the Greek army at the battles of Sakarya and Dumlupinar, and he refused to sign any treaty that undermined Turkish sovereignty. The Treaty of Lausanne recognized Turkey’s independence in 1923 and Mustafa Kemal became the country’s first president in October of that year. He remained in power until his death in 1938.

Mustafa Kemal established Youth and Sports Day during his presidency; however, since his death, Turks have observed it more as “Commemoration of Ataturk.”

Ataturk is Mustafa Kemal’s honorary title. It means “Father of the Turks.”

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Basra, 1924
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Basra, 1924

Independence Day – Paraguay

May 15

Today, May 15, is Paraguay’s Independence Day.

The Rio Paraguay winds across 1500 miles of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Its both the source and outlet for the Pantanal wetlands, the largest tropical wetlands in the world, and, due to its Amazonian neighbor, one of the most overlooked.

The river divides Paraguay in half, giving the country it’s name and its lifeblood. Paraguay is a landlocked country, one of only two in South America. Like the Pantanal wetlands, Paraguay has been overlooked by the world in favor of its larger and more accessible neighbors like Brazil, Peru, and Argentina.

The first European to reach the Paraguay River (and live to tell the tale) was Alejo Garcia. After being shipwrecked on the coast of Brazil he lived for 8 years with a tribe who told him of a great “White King” out West on a mountain of silver. Garcia traveled inland to what is now Paraguay, where he recruited 2000 Guarani to fight who would turn out to be the Incas. They stole vast amounts of gold and silver from the Empire, but Garcia was killed on the way back to Brazil.

Word of the city of silver and gold intrigued the Spanish, who initially took interest in Paraguay as a centerpoint of their South American empire. But interest in the area around Asuncion soon waned in favor of Lima and Buenos Aires.

“Madrid preferred to avoid the intricacies and the expense of governing and defending a remote colony that had shown early promise but ultimately proved to have dubious value.”

Map of Paraguay

The settlers elected the Basque Domingo Martinez de Irala governor of the colony. Irala was considered a humane leader and a tough governor, who gained the respect of both the natives and the colonists. But he conceded to settlers’ demands for the parceling of land and conscripted Indian labor to the settlers, a system which eventually degenerated into near-slavery conditions.

Elsewhere in South America this system yielded profits for the Spanish government. But Paraguay was not a farming society like Peru. The Guarani were hunter/gatherers, not farmers.

Friction increased between the descendants of the settlers and the Spanish government. Spain’s economic policies and consistent downgrading of Paraguay’s importance deepened the colony’s impoverishment. In 1617 when the colony was split into two–Asuncion and Buenos Aires–Paraguay lost control of the throughway to the Atlantic via the Rio de la Plata.

There was also friction between the landowning Mestizos and the Jesuit missionaries. For 150 years the Jesuits organized the Indians to block the attempts at forced labor. In the 1720s the Paraguayans rebelled against pro-Jesuit Spanish leaders, and the Jesuits were eventually expelled.

To the Paraguayans, the final blow came in 1776 when Spain officially put Paraguay under control of Buenos Aires and Argentina.

The Napoleonic Wars hit Spain hard in 1808. Spain lost the ability to control its colonies, and in 1810 Argentina overthrew the Spanish government in Buenos Aires. The Paraguayans followed suit on May 14, 1811 with a coup that overthrew the Spanish governor and affirmed the separation between Paraguay and Argentina.

The following day the new government elected its first president, 45 year-old Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia.

Cultures of the World: Paraguay

Paraguay: Independence and Dictatorship

Paraguay Chooses Between Firsts

South American Travels, by Henry Stephens, 1915

Independence Day – Israel

May 9, 2011

And the Lord said to him: this is the land that I promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob in these words: I will give it to your descendants.I have allowed you with your own eyes to see it, but you will not pass into it.

—Deuteronomy 34:4

Today marks the 60th anniversary (in the Jewish calendar) of the signing of Israel’s Declaration of independence. The document speaks for itself.

Declaration of Israel’s Independence 1948

ERETZ-ISRAEL [The Land of Israel] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people remained faithful to it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma’pilim and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.

In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.

This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.

The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people – the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe – was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations.

Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.

In the Second World War, the Jewish community of this country contributed its full share to the struggle of the freedom- and peace-loving nations against the forces of Nazi wickedness and, by the blood of its soldiers and its war effort, gained the right to be reckoned among the peoples who founded the United Nations.

On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.

This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.

Accordingly we, members of the People’s Council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist Movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.

Issued at Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948 – 5th of Iyar, 5708

Temple Mount. Photo by David Shankbone