¡Pueblo indolente! ¡Cuán distinta sería hoy vuestra suerte si conocierais el precio de la libertad! Pero no es tarde. Ved que, mujer y joven, me sobra valor para sufrir la muerte y mil muertes más. ¡No olvidéis este ejemplo!"- Policarpa Salvarrietta
"Lazy town! How different would your lot be today if you knew the price of freedom! But it is not late. Behold, a young woman, I have plenty of courage to suffer death and a thousand more deaths. Do not forget this example! "- Policarpa Salvarrietta
These are rumored to be the last words of this heroine of independence. I've been doing lots of independence heroines lately. Seems that there are a lot of these women that history has failed to acknowledge on a repetitive basis like men, such as Simon Bolívar or Augusto Sandino. I am not sure that Policarpa (also known as La Pola) is in the popular imagination of independence leaders of Latin-America as either of these men. Although Colombia does have stamps with her face on it, along with Bolívar, the name Policarpa seems to seldom come up in history textbooks. I would not have bumped into her name if it wasn't for my intensive Google binges that I sometimes go on. Policarpa, like the other independence leaders I have read on, was also born in a political context met by repression from Spanish rulers against the mestizo, creole, or other non-royalist people. Even though men and women like Policarpa came from families who descended from Spain, Policarpa was against the imperialist attitudes of the royalists and identified more with the pueblo that did not directly own property. She was to become a Colombian revolutionary executed for "high treason" by the Spanish royalists. Today, she is recognized in Colombia as one of the most progressive figures to have existed in history.
Policarpa was born on January 26, 1795 in Graduas, New Grenada in a family of nine children. Her father, Joaquín Salavarrietta was a native of Socorro, a town in Northeastern Colombia where the revolution of the communards of 1781 began. This is where the insurrection against the Spanish colonists first started and it is the first event marked as the start of the independence war. After the rebellion in Socorro, Joaquín settled with his family in Graduas where they earned a median income because of his involvement in agriculture and trading. Usually it was the Hidalgo class (Spanish nobility) in the colonies that earned a generous income (naturally since they owned property and were exempt from taxes!), but records indicate that the Salavarietta family was lucky enough to prosper from the trading routes. Graduas was known for being a major resting stop in between exports. In 1798, the family relocated to Bogota where three years later an epidemic of smallpox occurred killing Policarpa's mother, father, and two of her brothers. Realizing that the house was contaminated and the situation would worsen, the brothers and sisters split and moved to different towns. Catherine, one of the older sisters, took Policarpa and Bibiano who were still very young back to Graduas.
At age nine, she was enrolled in La Convent de Soledad where she learned to read and write, studied spanish history, learned to play the guitar, and sing. Apparently, there is no more information known about Policarpa's teen years. All that is known is that she and her siblings would travel and glean knowledge of the political situation between the Spanish royalists and the opposition. She began to work as a seamstress and some evidence suggests that she was a public school teacher at one point.
In 1810, she meets and falls in love with Sabaraín Alejo. Sabaraín Alejo would later join the revolutionary forces of Simon Bolívar against the capture of Cartegena by the Spanish general, Pablo Murillo. Pablo Murillo basically seized the town, preventing anything or anyone from going in or out. It was around this period that Policarpa became involved in politics and started a campaign against the capture of the town, organizing creoles and Spanish rebels from Graduas. Sabaraín Alejo was later sent to Bogota with the troops to begin the conspiracy against the Spanish royalists.
By 1817, Policarpa also moved to Bogota to spy on the Spanish royalists. Bogota, in contrast to Graduas which was a town notable for its diversity and the place where the rebels organized plans for the revolution, was the town of Hidalgos and thus, very hard to get in. However, Policarpa and Bibiano managed to get in with forged documents. Offering her services as a seamstress to the Hildago families, she infiltrated their houses and collected information to report back to the house of Andrea Licuarte y Lozano, the central intelligence premises for the revolution. Policarpa also visited her boyfriend who had been captured and imprisoned by the royalists.Policarpa and her brother recruited men to the revolutionary cause, increasing the number of men in the insurgency.
Apparently, two of the men who were involved in the insurgency had been arrested and apprehended by officers. The information found on them linked Policarpa to the revolutionary cause. She was accused of recruiting men from the Royal army to the cause, of transporting weapons, and of helping captured rebels escape out of Bogota. However, the officers had lacked any solid evidence for these accusations. When her boyfriend, Alejo, attempted to escape, he was caught with documents that Policarpa had transmitted to him during her visits. This gave the royalists all the ammunition needed to arrest Policarpa and sentence her to death. On November 10, Policarpa was sentenced to die by firing squad along with six other men. On the night before her execution, it is said that she cursed at the Spanish guards over and over. Seeing that she was thirsty, one of the guards offered her wine. She threw the glass back and declared, "I would not even accept a glass of water from my enemies". On November 14, she cried out to the public the quote that I have presented above before being executed.
I wish there was more information on this woman since she seems exceptionally interesting. Not to mentioned, she played the guitar! Whether or not she ever composed or recorded anything, we may never know. What I do know is that she should belong somewhere on the top of "100 most daring Latinas in history."