In 1813, two extraordinary military campaigns were launched from the Venezuelan periphery, aiming at reinstating Venezuelan independence, which had been gained in 1811 and then lost in 1812 to hands of Spanish General Domingo de Monteverde. One of those campaigns, the Admirable Campaign, was led by Venezuelan Liberator Simón Bolívar, who fought his way across the harrowing terrain of the Venezuelan Andes on his journey from Colombia to Caracas between May and August 1813.
However, less is heard of the equally exciting and impressive military campaign known as the Chacachacare Expedition, led by Santiago Mariño from the islet of Chacachacare in Trinidad. Mariño, aided by 45 men and a heroic woman, carried out a strategic operation from Trinidad that resulted in the liberation of Guiria (currently in the state of Sucre in Eastern Venezuela) on the 13th of January 1813; thus, inaugurating our Second Republic.
The Chacachacare Expedition did not lack romanticism. Indeed, it had all the ingredients needed for a riveting Netflix series.
Firstly, 45 men signed the Chacachacare Proclamation in which they swore to “conquer or die” for the liberation of Venezuela. They would go on to be known as the “Immortal Forty-Five.” Many of these men in fact such as: Juan Bautista Arismendi, José Francisco Bermúdez and Curaçao-born Manuel Piar, went on to become quite relevant in Venezuelan history years later.
However, the truth is that it took more people than just those 45 brave men to make this enterprise successful. Among those who did not sign the Proclamation but played an important role was Jean Baptiste Bideau. Originally from St. Lucia, Bideau was the right-hand man of Santiago Mariño when it came to planning and recruiting soldiers and sailors for the expedition. In addition, he provided his own schooner, “Botón de Rosa” for the cause. In 1816, Bideau would become even more relevant in Venezuelan history, for he saved the life of Liberator Simón Bolívar.
Another exceptional person in this story, who did not sign the Proclamation either, was Doña Concepción Mariño, sister of Santiago Mariño, and rightful owner of the Chacachacare estate where the whole expedition was planned and exercised. Also known as the Magnanimous Señora, Concepción Mariño could be defined in modern military terms as a Logistics Commander. She led – to the smallest detail – the acquisition of arms, military equipment and boats, as well as their inconspicuous transport from Port-of-Spain to Chacachacare, in spite of the ominous surveillance by the British authorities.
In reality, considering all the contribution and passion both by Jean Baptiste Bideau and Concepción Mariño, the “Immortal Forty-Five” should really be the “Immortal Forty-Seven.”
In his book, “The Gateway to South America,” the late Trinbagonian historian Gaylord Kelshall explains how both Santiago and Concepción, as teen-agers, were inspired by Venezuelan Generalísimo Francisco de Miranda in 1806, who they met when he journeyed to Chacachacare with his entourage to visit the siblings’ parents, right after Miranda’s failure to liberate Venezuela in Ocumare. Ever since, Santiago and Concepción made their minds to tribute their young lives to the cause of Venezuelan independence.
So far so good, but what about British authorities ruling Trinidad at the time? In 1812 and 1813, the British Government’s position towards Venezuelan independence from Spain was ambiguous to say the least. Ultimately, it all depended on the governor general who would be in charge.
During the planning and execution of the Chacachacare Expedition, which lasted three months, the Governor General of Trinidad was Hector William Munro. Although he particularly detested Venezuelan patriots operating in Trinidad, he lacked the sophistication and precision of intelligence-gathering of his predecessor, Thomas Picton. Therefore, it was fairly easy for Santiago and Concepción to deceive Munro’s schemes.
Furthermore, Santiago was particularly charismatic and likeable. Years earlier, Santiago had joined the Island’s Militia in Trinidad, where he gained many friends and established useful contacts. Such was the extent of Santiago’s popularity in the Militia that practically the whole corps was collaborating with the Chacachacare Expedition, although in disguise.
To give an idea of the extent of the network of support developed by the Mariñoses in Trinidad, it should be noted that the personal secretary of Governor Munro, Manuel Valdez, was also one of the “Immortal Forty-Five.” Add to that the input of French Republicans populating Trinidad since the establishment of Spain’s "Cédula of Population," in the late 18th Century, and you would have a further advantage for the "Chacachacare Expedition."
In her book, “Women from the Independence,” Venezuelan writer and researcher Carmen Clemente Travieso describes how in the early afternoon of January 11th, 1813, the “Immortal Forty-Five,” along with the Magnanimous Señora Concepción Mariño and servants from the Chacachacare estate, gathered to eat a delectable barbecue and to sign and read the Chacachacare Proclamation. Both actions would certainly soothe the nerves and anxieties of the warriors who had promised to either liberate Venezuela or die.
At five o’clock in the afternoon, on January 11th, 1813, the expedition led by Santiago Mariño departed from Chacachacare’s La Tinta Bay towards Guiria, sailing through the Gulf of Paria. And by three in the morning, on January 13th, Santiago Mariño had successfully landed in Guiria. Before sunrise, the “Immortal Forty-Five” had defeated a force of 300 strong Spanish soldiers led by Royalist Lieutenant Juan Gavazo.
From this moment – and until August 1813 – this contingent of Patriots sealed the liberation of Eastern Venezuela, with Guiria, Maturín, Cumaná and Barcelona as key bastions in the campaign. The triumph of Mariño combined with the equally successful Admiral Campaign of Liberator Simón Bolívar in Western Venezuela, resulting in a new Venezuelan liberation.
The strategic importance of Trinidad – particularly Chacachacare – for the independence of Venezuela 210 years ago was paramount. Nonetheless, as reflected by history, especially the history of the Mariño family, the links between Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela go way beyond the strategic aspect. It is really embedded in the culture and the common vision of both brotherly and sisterly nations.
By Venezuelan Ambassador to Trinidad
and Tobago Álvaro Sánchez Cordero