Rafael Reyes Prieto (1849-1921) was Chief of Staff of the Colombian National Army and President of Colombia (1904-1909).
Rafael Reyes was born in Santa Rosa de Viterbo, Boyaca, Colombia on December 5, 1849. Hi died in Bogota on February 18, 1921.
Reyes only completed his elementary education. From an early age he dedicated himself to commercial activities with his brothers, mainly in the trade of Peruvian bark or cinchona. As a young adult, he explored the Amazon jungle in search for a direct communication with Brazil and finding ways to develpe the Amazonia.
Reyes, after his renown expeditions to the Amazon jungle, enlists in the army. He joins the forces of General Eliseo Payan, and participates in the war against the revolutionary forces that had tried to overturn the government of Rafael Nunez in 1885. He is decorated for his heroic performance in the battle field, and president Nunez appoints him as Chief of Staff of the Army.
Later, in 1895, Reyes he leads new military actions as General Commander of the Northern Army and obtains victories in the battles of Enciso and La Tribuna, on March 15. When he returns to Bogota he is received with a victory parade and president Miguel Antonio Caro honors him with the highest military honor, the Commanding Batton of Mariscal Sucre. The people cheer and applaud him and, poets write odes and poems to honor his military success.
With the enormous prestige that Reyes was enjoying after his successful military campaign of 1895 in the North, it seemed obvious that we would be nominated by his party to run for president in 1900. But it did not happen. He would have to wait until four year later.
By 1904, Colombia was still hurting from the events of the civil "War of The Thousand Days and the loss of the Panama Canal. The conservative party presented two presidential tickets, one with Rafael Reyes for president and Ramon Gonzalez Valencia as vice-president, and the other with Joaquin Velez for president and Alfredo Vasquez Cobo. The liberal party abstained from this election. The results of the election were too close and challenges were brought to court. The Electoral Court proclaimed Reyes as President and he was inaugurated on August 7, 1904.
The mottos of President Reyes administration were: peace, harmony and work and less politics and more administration. His first regulations were aimed at restoring peace and order. In a reconciliatory gesture towards the liberals, he offered them to share positions in his cabinet. The fact that Reyes had been away from the country during the years of civil war (1899-1902) gave him much credulity in the eyes of both parties.
Reyes was a professional administrator and social reformer, more than a politician. He sponsored the law to protect the rights of minority social groups; established the Ministry of Public Works; completed the Central Highway and the Ferrocarril de Girardot; built el Capitolio (the building of Congress or Capitol Hill); created a modern Escuela Militar (Military Academy) with the assistance of highly qualified Chilean officers; restored diplomatic relations with Venezuela; implemented legislation to stabilize the currency and in 1905 created the Banco Central (central bank).
The administration of Reyes, thanks to the treaty of Averbury-Holguin, was able to restructure the nations foreign debt. As a result of this treaty, Reyes obtained substantial foreign aid and secured significant international loans to finance his plans of public works and infrastructure. His administration was very protectionist, fomented the industries of textiles and sugar. He expanded the operation of oil refineries, and the manufacturing of paper, glass and steel. Reyes also encouraged and promoted the growing of banana, coffee and cotton.
President Reyes, on December 12, 1904, received a letter from the Speaker of the House of Representative, Dionisio Arango, by which the President is informed that the House cannot carry on with its constitutional duties because of a permanent lack of quorum. Thus, President Reyes, under the authority granted to him by the Constitution, closed Congress. He convened a General Constitutional Assembly, integrated by members of both parties (conservative and liberal). The Assembly convened in Bogota on January 1, 1905, and its most significant pieces of legislation were: to reform and modernize the Constitution; extended the presidential term to 10 years, from January 1, 1905 to December 31, 1914; suppressed the vice-presidency; and suppressed the Council of State.
The State of Panama had seceded from Colombia on November 3, 1903, during the administration of President Jose Manuel Marroquin. The Panamanian troops, aided by military advisers and troops from the United States of America, had declared their independence. This action was supported by President Theodore Roosevelt, who had expressed interest in building an interoceanic canal in this strategic region. There had been a treaty between Colombia and United States of America, called the Tomas Herran-John Hay, signed on January 12, 1903, by which the United States would finance, direct and supervise the construction of the canal.
Some members of the conservative party showed contempt for the way president Reyes had offered reconciliation toward the liberal party, mainly after the civil War of the Thousand Days. On February 10, 1906, during his daily morning coach drive through the neighborhoods of Bogota with his wife and daughter, they were victims of an assassination attempt. The attempt took place in the neighborhood of Barrocolorado. Fortunately, the first family escaped alive and unhurt. A few weeks later, the perpetrators and master minds of the assassination attempt were apprehended, tried and executed in the same place where the assassination attempt took place.
Due to the separation of Panama from Colombia, the relationship between Colombia and the United States of America were very tense and had deteriorated to a very low point. President Reyes, a true diplomat, had pushed towards a treaty of reconciliation to restore diplomatic relations. On January 9, 1909, his administration signed this treaty through his Secretary of State Enrique Cortez, between Colombia, Panama and the United States of America. In part, the treaty had a provision by which the United States would pay substantial monetary funds in compensation and restitution to Colombia for the loss of the Panamanian territory.
Reyes presented the 1909 treaty for ratification to the National Assembly. The Colombian people were outraged and infuriated by the terms of the treat and took to the streets in violent demonstrations. The Assembly rejected the treaty arguing that neither the President nor the Assembly had constitutional authority to sign or ratify said treaty, but only Congress could do it. Thus, Reyes convenes Congress on June 20, 1909, and he resigns as President. General Jorge Holguin assumes the presidency as Interim President, pending new elections, and General Reyes travels to Spain.
Reyes in Sao Paulo in the New York Times
Rafael Reyes at Flickr
External link in Spanish
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