Portrait of Juana Azurduy de Padilla

Portrait of Juana Azurduy de Padilla

Juana Azurduy de Padilla (c.1780—1862 CE) was a Bolivian guerrilla commander. She was born in Chuquisaca, a town located in the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata, which is now Sucre, Bolivia. She was “Mestizo”, which meant she was half Spanish, and half indigenous. Growing up, she was fluent in Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara, the latter two being her native indigenous languages. When both of her parents died, leaving her an orphan, she was sent to a convent in 1792. At age 17 she was expelled, as she was far too rebellious for their liking. In the year 1805 she married Manuel Padilla, a man who also believed in the rights of indigenous peoples.

Starting in 1809, there began to be uprisings fighting for South American independence from Spain. Azurduy and her husband raised an army and joined the fight for independence. From 1809—1825, they fought using guerrilla style tactics. They were immensely successful throughout this period. On March 8, 1816, they were able to capture the Cerro Rico mountain. This was a major blow against the Spanish, as it was the main source for Spanish silver. Later, Azurduy led a cavalry charge, and was able to capture the enemy flag. This feat earned her the office of Lieutenant Colonel in the rebel armies. In November of 1816, she received quite an emotional and physical blow when her husband died trying to save her life. Later, she led a counter-attack to try and recover his body, but it is unknown if she was successful.

In 1818 she left for Northern Argentina, where she served under the general there. She was given the position of Commander of the Patriotic Northern Army of the Revolutionary Government of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata (whew). She established an insurrection zone, and forced the Spanish to withdraw from the area. At her peak, she commanded 6,000 men. She even fought while pregnant, leaving the battlefield for a time to give birth to her daughter, and then returning to fight some more.

After the military, she returned to her home town and died in 1862. She died poor and forgotten, but was remembered nearly a century later as a hero. In 2009, she was posthumously awarded the rank of General in Argentina.