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Gabino Gainza

Gabino or Gavino Gainza y Fernandez de Medrano was a Spanish military officer and politician in Spain's American colonies. During the Latin American wars of independence, he initially fought on the royalist side, in Chile. Later, in Guatemala, he supported independence and became the first president of a united Central America extending from Soconusco (in Chiapas) through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Military career

He arrived in Peru in 1783 as a Spanish military officer. There he participated in the repression of the indigenous rebellion headed by Tupac Amaru. Afterwards he was transferred to Guayaquil as a colonel in charge of the fleet of gunboats in the port. In Guayaquil in 1799 he married Gregoria Rocafuerte, the sister of the future Ecuadoran patriot and president Vicente Rocafuerte. He was 46, she was 20.

His military career continued without any setbacks. He was honored in 1792 with a knighthood in the Order of St. John. He was a confident of several Peruvian viceroys. He was promoted to brigadier and given command of the Battalion Infante Don Calres in Lima in 1811.

Royalist chief in the war in Chile

In January 1814 he was sent to Chile by Viceroy Jose Fernando de Abascal y Sousa as captain general of the kingdom and commanding general of the royalist forces. He replaced Juan Francisco Sanchez, a captain who led the royalist forces in Chillan after the death of Brigadier Antonio Pareja.

The instructions of Viceroy Abascal were to revive the war against the Chilean insurgents, which had fallen into a state of inactivity. Gainza embarked from El Callao at the head of a force of 125 chosen men. This was augmented by the addition of 700 militiamen from Chiloe, after the arrival in Chile.

The landing of Gainza in Arauco on January 31, 1814 could not be prevented by the troops of Bernardo O'Higgins, commander of the insurgents in this sector. In Arauco on February 3, 1814 he met with numerous Mapuches and obtained promises of their support and recognition of old treaties with the crown, as well as the promise of Toqui (War Chief) Manil to supply 6,000 soldiers.

Gainza was also able to add the forces of Chillan to his command.

One of his columns, commanded by Ildefonso de Elorriaga, took Talca on March 3, 1814. In this action a small, isolated unit of patriots was massacred. This incident, together with the heroic death of the commander of the insurgents, Colonel Carlos Spano, provoked a political crisis in Santiago. The Superior Governing Council presided over by Agustin Eyzaguirre had abandoned Talca only a few days before, moving towards the capital with nearly all the royalist forces of Talca as their escort. One result of this embarrassing situation was the fall of the Council. Francisco de la Lastra took control of the government as Supreme Director.

The following day (March 4), Gainza received another stroke of luck from one of his militia units, commanded by Clemente Latano. This unit took prisoner Jose Miguel Carrera and Luis Carrera, old chiefs of the patriot army.

The successes of the royalist side had political repercussions among the insurgents. However, the outcome of the campaign became less certain with time. Neither side could achieve a decisive victory. Gainza and his officers were alternately victorious and defeated in the following actions:

The Battle of Cuchacucha

The Battle of Gamero

The Battle of El Quilo

The Battle of El Membrillar

The Battle of Cancha Rayada

The Battle of Guajardo

The Battle of Rio Claro

The Battle of Quechereguas

At the conclusion of the last action, on April 5, 1814, both armies were exhausted and in terrible logistic conditions. After three months of operations under Gainza's command, the royalists had increased the territory under their control, taking Talcahuano and Concepcion, but the royalist force had been seriously weakened.

Because of this, the arrival of English Commodore James Hillyar with instructions from Viceroy Abascal to negotiate with the rebels was considered opportune. After negotiations, Gainza signed the Treaty of Lircay, committing himself to leave the Province of Concepcion. In exchange he obtained promises of loyalty to Ferdinand VII on the part of the patriot envoys, Bernardo O'Higgins and Juan Mackenna.

Everything indicated that the treaty was nothing else except a way in which both sides could obtain a truce. Gainza did not abandon his positions by the agreed date, nor did the rebels live up to the agreement.

Nevertheless, Viceroy Abascal was infuriated when he read the text of the Treaty of Lircay. He removed Gainza from command, replacing him with Mariano Osorio. Not content with that, he had Gainza court martialed in Lima, accused of exceeding his orders.

Regaining prestige

Gainza had to wait under guard for the conclusion of the court martial in Lima. In 1816 he was acquitted, but his reputation in the army was seriously damaged. Therefore he moved to Quito, under the jurisdiction of the viceroy of New Granada.

At the beginning of 1820 Gainza, further separated from superiors who distrusted him, obtained the position of general subinspector of the forces in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico) and the position of captain general of Guatemala, with its five provinces: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The new viceroy of Peru, Joaquin de la Pezuela, protested against this appointment, arguing that Gainza was sympathetic to the rebels. The acting captain general of Guatemala, Carlos de Urrutia y Montoya, also protested, claiming that Gainza's advanced age (67) made him unfit for the position.

Declaration of independence of Guatemala

Gainza obtained the new position in spite of the opposition of Urrutia (who had suppressed a rebellion in August 1820). He assumed governmental power on March 9, 1821.

In August 1821 Mexico achieved its independence, under the rule of Emperor Agustin de Iturbide. Guatemala was technically a dependency of Mexico (New Spain). Gainza adapted to the new situation by openly joining the independence side. On September 15, 1821, in the city hall of Guatemala City, the Kingdom of Guatemala was declared independent of Spain. On that day Gainza was one of the signers of the Act of Independence of Central America.

The city government decided that their act would have to be ratified by a national congress, to be inaugurated on March 1, 1822. Until that occurred, the royal officials, political, military and administrative, were to remain in their positions. In this way, Gainza became, de facto, the first head of state of the independent nation of Central America (Gefe politico in the words of the Act of Independence).

The annexation to Mexico

However, there was one important point that the Act of Independence of September 15 did not address — the relation of the Kingdom of Guatemala to the recently created Mexican Empire.

On October 29, 1821, Mexican Emperor Iturbide sent Gainza a message inviting Guatemala to form part of the Empire. Earlier he had written to encourage the Central Americans to send delegates to the constituent congress scheduled to meet in Mexico City. But the new letter ended with the announcement of a more concrete political reality — a large Mexican army had been sent to the border with Guatemala.

Gainza answered a month later, on December 3, 1821, that it was necessary to consult with various city governments in order to respond to the invitation. He concluded his answer with the words "I hope that Your Excellency will suspend your decisions and stop the advance of your army until the arrival of my answer, which I will send by mail on January 3, 1822."

Two days after that date, Gainza was able to send his response, although it was not complete. Thirty-two city governments accepted annexation; 104 accepted with conditions; 2 opposed the plan; and another 21 felt that the question could be decided only by the congress scheduled to meet in March.

This last group was correct; although Gainza's plan to consult the city governments bought some time, it was a clear violation of Article 2 of the Act of Independence: "Congress must decide the point of absolute general independence and fixm, in case of agreement, the form of government and the fundamental law of governance."

In addition, suspicions arose about the count. The secretary of the consultative junta that advised Gainza, Mariano Galvez, was accused of having manipulated the results to favor annexation.

But it was also true that many towns joined the Empire on their own initiative, jumping over the chain of command that included Guatemala City. There was much pressure to adopt this decision. Gainza and the Consultative Provisional Junta thus declared the union of the Kingdom of Guatemala to the Mexican Empire in an act signed January 5, 1822 in Guatemala City.

The consequences included:

On January 11, 1822, El Salvador denounced the annexation as illegitimate and declared itself in rebellion, and under the direction of Jose Matias Delgado and Manuel Jose Arce it prepared for armed resistance.

On January 23, 1822, Iturbide named Gainza provisional captain general of Guatemala.

On February 25, 1822, Gainza ordered an oath of adhesion to the Mexican Empire.

On March 30, 1822, Iturbide gave Gainza the title of lieutenant general of the Kingdom and offered him the position of governor of a province of the Empire or of Nueva Galicia, as a reward for his services. He also made him a knight of the Grand Cross of the Imperial Order of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Gainza asked for the dispatch of the Mexican troops already at the border (600 men under the command of Vicente Filisola) to Central America.

On June 12, 1822 Filisola's troops arrived in Guatemala City.

On June 23, 1822, by order of Iturbide, Gainza turned over power to Filisola and left the country for Mexico.

The conclusion

As far as is known, Iturbide did not fulfill his promises to Gainza. The old soldier did not receive the government of a single island. All that is known is that he died in dire poverty in Mexico City around the year 1829.

His widow returned to Guayaquil, with his numerous decorations and an agreement of the city government of Guatemala City that granted her husband a military pension of 10,000 pesos for life annually from 1821, but there is no record that these payments were made.


This article is a free translation of the article Gabino Gainza in the Spanish Wikipedia.

Hector Gaitan A., Los Presidentes de Guatemala. Artemis & Edinter, Guatemala 1992, ISBN 84-89452-25-3.

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