José Ballivián (1805-1852) was a Bolivian patriot officer in the movement for independence from Spain, defended his country from invasion from Peru, and was president of Bolivia from 1841 to 1847.
José Ballivián was born to an aristocratic Spanish family in La Paz on Nov. 30, 1805. After a routine, local education, he entered the military as a cadet in the Spanish army stationed in Bolivia (Alto Peru) during the South American revolutions for independence. By 1820 he had changed sides, and he spent the next 5 years fighting for the patriot cause under Simón Bolivar and other great war heroes. At war's end in 1825, Ballivián was a young but respected colonel.
Little is known of Ballivián after independence until he helped lead a rebellion against the confederation of Peru and Bolivia under a single executive. The revolt failed, but the confederation was dissolved during war with Chile in 1839.
In 1839 Ballivián became a presidential aspirant; when he lost, he again led an unsuccessful revolt and was forced to flee to Peru and exile. In 1841, however, when Bolivia was invaded by the Peruvian general Agustin Gamarra, who dreamed of a union of the two nations, Ballivián was back in Bolivia heading its army as a general. He defeated the superior army of Gamarra at Ingavi in November 1841.
As Bolivia's second Great Liberator, Ballivián encountered little opposition when he claimed the presidency and began his firm rule. Ballivián was one of Bolivia's best 19th-century rulers. A cultured man, he began to work toward his dream of a modern Bolivia. He had the vast, unknown eastern section of the country surveyed, mapped, and made into the new and separate department (state) of El Beni, integrating the primitive section into the nation. He surrounded himself with competent men and worked toward a broader educational system, better river transportation, an adequate seaport on the Pacific coast, and creation of a free press.
In 1843 a grateful Congress formally elected Ballivián president and ratified the constitution he had prepared. He was reelected in 1846, but unrest was growing and revolutions were breaking out all over the country. For more than a year he repressed all serious opposition, but his growing harshness prompted even more unrest until Gen. Isidro Belzu and a large part of the army revolted in mid-1847. In December, convinced of the futility of resistance, Ballivián resigned the presidency and in January fled to Peru. After several unsuccessful attempts at a comeback, Ballivián left Peru and traveled to Brazil, where he died in Rio de Janeiro on Oct. 16, 1852.
The ghastly procession of dictators who followed Ballivián seriously retarded the development of Bolivia and made the Ballivián years appear a "golden age" of progress.
There is no adequate biography of Ballivián in any language. The best treatment of the man and his rule may be found in Alcides Arguedas, Historia general de Bolivia … 1809-1921, in Spanish (1922). Ballivián's career is recounted in Robert Barton, A Short History of the Republic of Bolivia (La Paz, 2d ed. 1968). Also of value are Enrique Finot, Nueva historia de Bolivia: Ensayo de interpretación sociológia, in Spanish (1946; 3d ed. 1964), and Harold Osborne, Bolivia: A Land Divided (1954; 3d ed. 1965).