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Manuel de Bernardo Alvarez del Casal

Manuel de Bernardo Alvarez del Casal was an influential Criollo figure in New Granada at the time of the independence movement. He occupied several important positions in the rebel government. He was also the uncle of Antonio Narino, forerunner of independence. He served as president of the rebel State of Cundinamarca in 1814.


Alvarez' father, Bernardo Alvarez, was a lawyer of the Royal Council of Castile before he was named prosecutor of the Royal Audiencia of Bogota. He arrived in Bogota with his family in 1736. Manuel was born there a few years later.

His sister Catalina married Vicente Narino y Vasquez, the accountant for Bogota. Their son, Antonio Narino y Alvarez del Casal, is considered the forerunner of Colombian independence.

Alvarez studied jurisprudence and the humanities at the Colegio de San Bartolome from 1762 to 1768. In the latter year he received a doctorate in theology and humanities and became a professor of civil and ecclesiastical law. He was admitted to practice law before the Audiencia.

Also in 1768 he married Josefa Lozano de Peralta, fourth daughter of the first Marques de San Jorge. This marriage allied him not only with the Marques's family, one of the richest in the capital, but also with many other rich and influential families of the colony.

From 1768 until the Cry of Independence on July 20, 1810, Alvarez worked for the Spanish administration in Bogota as an accountant in various departments. Beginning in 1789 he was a member of the city council of Bogota. On August 11, 1793 his father-in-law, Jorge Miguel Lozano, was arrested and imprisoned in Cartagena, where he died. The following year his nephew Narino published a Spanish translation of Rights of Man and was also arrested.

The Cry of Independence

At the time of the Cry of Independence in 1810, Alvarez was a member of the city council, and in that capacity he signed the Declaration of Independence. He became part of the Supreme Governing Junta, presided over by Jose Miguel Pey de Andrade, and on July 26 Alvarez signed the document withdrawing recognition from the Council of Regency in Spain. He was named to the treasury section of the Junta, and also began editing the periodical Aviso al Publico (Warning to the Public).

He used these two positions (member of the Junta and editor of the newspaper) to agitate for the release of his nephew, who was still a prisoner in Cartagena. In spite of much opposition, Narino was released, and arrived back in the capital on December 8, 1810.

The Supreme Congress

The Junta was made up of relatives and in-laws of the Marques de San Jorge, but it exercised control only in the capital of the viceroyalty. An opposition movement developed in Tunja under the guidance of Camilo Torres y Tenorio, who pressed for a federal system of government. On November 6, 1810, a Supreme Congress of the six provinces was summoned to resolve these differences. Delegates were Andres Rosillo of El Socorro, Camilo Torres of Pamplona, Ignacio Herrera of Novita, Leon Armero of Mariquita, Manuel Campos of Neiva and Alvarez of Bogota. Alvarez was named president.

The Congress assembled on December 22, and on Alvarez' nomination chose Narino as secretary, but it made little progress in adopting a form of government. It was soon replaced by a constituent congress, which created the State of Cundinamarca with Jorge Tadeo Lozano de Peralta, brother-in-law of Alvarez, as its first president .

The State of Cundinamarca

Alvarez and Narino now joined together to defend the centralist system and to press for the resignation of Lozano, using the periodical La Bagatela to state their case. Lozano did resign, and Narino assumed the presidency. Shortly thereafter he became dictator .

Nevertheless, Narino was unable to consolidate power throughout the viceroyalty. Tunja continued in strong opposition. On October 4, 1812 in Villa de Leiva, a federalist congress met. Alvarez was one of two delegates from Cundinamarca. He so ardently defended the centralist positions of his nephew, that the congress ordered both delegates from Cundinamarca imprisoned.

Meanwhile, two generals ordered by Narino to arrest opponents of his centralist system, instead defected to the federalists. Together with Camilo Torres they attacked Bogota on January 9, 1813. The attack was repulsed. On July 16, 1813, the constituent congress, with Alvarez continuing as president, declared Cundinamarca unconditionally independent of Spain and under no sovereignty but that of God and the people.

During this turmoil, a Spanish force under Juan Samano invaded the territory from the south. Narino resigned the dictatorship to take personal control of the defense of the insurgency, leaving his uncle Alvarez in charge of the government . Narino left the capital on September 21, 1814, with the hope of taking Quito, and perhaps even Lima, from the Spanish. However he was soon defeated and taken prisoner himself.

The federalists now organized a new offensive against Cundinamarca, this time with the aid of Venezuelan Colonel Simon Bolivar. Alvarez refused to submit to the United Provinces or to make a deal with the Tunja opposition or with Bolivar. Bolivar attacked the city, which fell on December 11, 1814. Alvarez turned over power, asking only for guarantees of safety for Spanish and Criollo supporters of the regency. Thereafter he retired to private life.

Arrest and execution

On May 26, 1816, the Spanish under Pablo Morillo reconquered the city of Bogota, and Morillo set up a tribunal to judge the Criollos who had participated in the insurrection. Alvarez and other members of his extended family were arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. Alvarez's sentence was carried out on September 10, 1816, in Parque de Santander in Bogota.


Abella, Arturo, El florero de Llorente. Bogota, Antares, 1960.

Ibanez, Pedro Maria, "Manuel Bernardo Alvarez", in Boletin de Historia y Antiguedades (Aug. 1903).

Mendoza Veles, Jorge, Gobernantes de La Nueva Granada. Sintesis biograficas. Bogota, Minerva, 1951.

Otero Munoz, Gustavo, Hombres y ciudades. Bogota, Ministerio de Educacion, 1948.

Riva, Raimundo, "Manuel Bernardo Alvarez", in Boletin de Historia y Antiguedades (Aug.-Sept. 1916).

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