Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Man of Might and Mercy

Magnet # 245:  Uruguayan Home

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  The Schulz Family

Today, Uruguay celebrates one of the most important dates in its history, when revolutionary fighters won the highly important Battle of Las Piedras in 1811.  Although they had not yet gained independence from the Spanish, the revolutionaries had received an important boost in morale that would keep them fighting until they won it.  The victory was so great that the Battle of Las Piedras Day is still an official holiday in the country.

The Spanish were the first Europeans to reach what would become Uruguay, but because it didn't have the gold and other resources that existed in other parts of South America, they pretty much left the area alone.  But when the Portuguese who established the first settlement there, they suddenly became interested in the territory again, creating Montevideo to try to curb Portuguese expansion.  Eventually, the two nations began to fight for control of the area and Portugal was driven out.  So when the settlers decided to rise up for their independence, they would face Spain.  By then, most of the natives had been killed off or driven away by the Europeans, so the colonists living there were mainly from Europe.  And it was Jose Gervasio Artigas who stepped up to lead the revolutionaries.  He was born to a wealthy family of landowners in Montevideo and grew up to be a talented rider and shooter, even smuggling for a little while before turning to more honest pursuits guarding the border at Brazil. At first, he fought on the side of the Spanish and was even captured during a battle.  But when his countrymen rose up to fight the Spanish, Artigas appealed to the Government of Buenos Aires and was given a force of 180 fighters.  He soon gained control of the revolution, commanding a force of over one thousand to victory at the Battle of Las Piedras.  And even though his nephew was killed in the conflict, Artigas still chose to treat the wounded and prisoners of war humanely, proclaiming his famous line "Clemencia para los vencidos," or mercy on the vanquished.  Although victory over the Spanish would be achieved, the Portguese would later become a threat, capturing Artigas and sending him into exile.  It's believed he stayed a soldier to the end, demanding to be placed in a saddle on his horse when he was dying in 1850. And although he was gone, the memory of his bravery and leadership continued to inspire the citizens of Uruguay.

Uruguay is now one of the most one of the most developed countries in South America as well as one of the least corrupt. Most of its citizens are of European descent, from both the original settlers of centuries ago and more recent immigrants. In fact, Montevideo, the capital, almost resembles Western Europe more than South America. Thus, there are also a great variety of Mediterranean cuisines there including Spanish, Italian, French, and even German. And the country has no official religion and a complete freedom of worship. All in all, it's a pretty nice place to visit or live in Latin America. And they owe a great deal to Artigas and the men he led - in fact, he's the national hero of Uruguay.  Unlike other historical figures in the country, he's not tied to a political party that makes him unpopular with a fair amount of the population.  There are all sorts of places named in is honor, images of him on display, and his birthday is even celebrated on June 19.  When his country needed a hero, Arigas rose to the task and even if he didn't completely gain their independence, he inspired his countrymen to keep fighting and to show mercy to their enemies after victory was achieved.

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