This rebel from Cauca was a guerrilla fighter, merchant, pioneer, internationalist and the best sample of Colombian radical liberals of the XIX Century. Personal friend of enormous leaders in Latin America such as Antonio Maceo and Eloy Alfaro, volunteer combatant in the Independence War of Cuba and martyr for the freedom of Colombia, the name and legacy of Rosas is still unknown for most of his compatriots.
Avelino was born in Dolores, Cauca, Republic of Nueva Granada in 1856. He took part of a brilliant generation of young Caucans who joined the Liberal Party and embraced the ideals of freedom and Latin American unity. From his early days, our hero joined the military life in diverse experiences of radical liberal uprisings and civil wars.
In 1876, as a prominent soldier, he fought with the Liberal Army in the campaign of Cauca, the mythic battle of Los Chancos and the final campaign of Manizales.
After 1877, during a brief period of peace, Rosas became a merchant and established his residence and business in Cali. He was a pioneer of photography and an explorer of the Central Mountain Range. In parallel, he joined the Colombian Guard as sergeant and fought in the uprising against the government of the moderate Modesto Garcés, ascending to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In 1885, Rosas fought with 400 combatants in Cauca against the government of Rafael Núñez, but was defeated by the central army. After the disarray of the radical faction of liberalism, Avelino started a conspiracy with his comrades from the whole country. Clandestinely, the heads of the radical liberals reunited in Bogotá on March 1887. Rosas was elected president of the undercover Liberal Board and began working in a new uprising plan, but the repression of the Núñez regime forced him to exile.
In 1890 Avelino Rosas was involved in the Venezuelan liberal overthrowing of the general Raimundo Andueza. His criticism towards the new president, Joaquín Crespo, took Rosas to a new exile in Curazao. From this island, a new radical liberal uprising is planned against the conservative government of Miguel Antonio Caro in Colombia, successor of Núñez. The new plan failed, increasing the discontent of Rosas whom was in the radical direction from the exile.
In October 1895, Avelino Rosas received in Curazao a letter from his friend, General Antonio Maceo, inviting him to join the Liberator Army of Cuba. Rosas arrived to Cuba on March 15th of 1896 as a brigadier general and under the command of Major General Calixto García. He was a faithful follower of the teachings of Maceo in the context of the irregular war.
By 1896 he was a prominent commander of the artillery batallion of Camagüey. As a division general, Rosas commanded the Matanzas campaign in 1897. In 1898 he fought the American occupation troops in Santiago. His courage earned him the name of “The Lion of Cauca” by the Cuban patriots. In 1898, having differences with the Cuban leadership and as an opponent to the American intervention, Avelino left Cuba with the aim of join the liberal guerrillas in the Colombian Thousand Days War.
Commanding cavalry troops, Rosas entered Colombia through the Venezuelan border and leaded a successful campaign from Casanare to Huila. In Támara he printed the first edition of the Maceo Code, the Cuban guerrilla warfare handbook. In Tolima, his troops were defeated and Rosas began a mythic odyssey as an undercover runaway. The conservatives captured him in Santa Rosa de Cabal, but he escaped in Buga with a group of war prisoners. Dressed up as an indigent, Rosas entered Cali, clandestinely reorganized a guerrilla group and began a military campaign in Pavas and San Juan River, moving towards the Pacific Coast. Defeated and isolated, he escaped by sea to Ecuador in 1901, where his friend general Eloy Alfaro was the new president.
Regrouping with other Colombian liberal exiles in Ecuador, Rosas planned a new incursion into Cauca to continue the guerrilla war, counting with the solidarity of the Alfaro government. By these days, his disagreements with higher ranked liberal rebels started, such as: Benjamín Herrera, Rafael Uribe Uribe and Gabriel Vargas Santos. Rosas argued for liberal irregular war, using the guerrilla warfare tactic, but the liberal direction insisted in a regular war.
Commanding a battalion of rebels, Rosas crossed the Colombian border in 1901 and started a military campaign in Ipiales. On September 20, his troops were defeated in Puerres by the fanatic conservative troops of the general Gustavo Guerrero. Avelino Rosas was killed defenseless and his corpse was shown in public by the reactionary forces.
During the Liberal Republic, in 1932, the hometown of The Lion of Cauca was renamed as Rosas. In 1957, the Cuban post service emitted a commemorative stamp in his honor. A recent historical novel by the Colombian writer Rafael Baena, “La guerra perdida del indio Lorenzo”, recreates the liberal uprising and the diffusion of the Maceo Code. Beyond this, the adventures and achievements of this rebel are still unknown. Our task, as a revolutionaries, is not let his memory die.
Some information about Avelino Rosas:
- A biography by Leonidas Arango Loboguerrero: http://www.banrepcultural.org/revista-48
- An article by Luis Hernández Serrano on Maceo Code and Avelino Rosas: http://www.juventudrebelde.cu/cuba/2012-12-06/el-guerrillero-es-un-general-de-si-mismo/
- An interesting article by Jaddiel Díaz on popular music in the XIX century Cuban troops, includes a curious photography of an Avelino Rosas camp in 1898: https://issuu.com/publicacionesfaciso/docs/revista_historia_critica_no_57