Juan José Flores

Juan José Flores (1801-1864) was a South American general and the first president of Ecuador. He dominated Ecuadorian political life for 2 decades.

Juan José Flores was born in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, on June 19, 1801, the illegitimate son of a rich Spanish merchant and Rita Flores. His father returned to Europe, and young Flores grew up in great poverty. He worked for a while in a Spanish military hospital and at the age of 14 enlisted in the army. When, as a sergeant, he was taken prisoner on Oct. 31, 1817, he joined the patriot army of Simón Bolívar. For his role in the victory of Carabobo (1821) Bolívar promoted Flores to lieutenant colonel. By 1824 he was a colonel and governor of the province of Pasto.

Soon after, Flores was appointed intendant of Quito. He retained this position until 1830, extending his authority over all of present-day Ecuador. As second in command under Gen. Antonio José de Sucre, he took part in the battle of Tarqui (Feb. 27, 1829), in which an invading Peruvian army was defeated. Flores was then promoted to general of division.


President of Ecuador

Left without rivals in Ecuador, where his position was strengthened by his marriage to a member of the aristocracy, Doña Mercedes Jijón, Flores convoked an assembly in Quito, which on May 13, 1830, declared the independence of Ecuador. A few months later, at the age of 29, he was elected its president for a 4-year term.

The first presidency of Flores was marked by his efforts to organize the republic. He was able to maintain himself with the backing of his Venezuelan troops and with the political support of the majority of the ruling class. However, a Liberal revolt broke out in Quito while Flores was on the coast facing an invasion by revolutionaries. The leader of the latter, Vicente Rocafuerte, fell into his hands. Showing his great political acumen and considering the important social connections of his prisoner in Guayaquil, Flores offered him the presidency. Rocafuerte accepted, and with the coastal region solidly under his control, Flores defeated the revolutionaries of Quito at Miñarica on Jan. 18, 1835.

During Rocafuerte's presidency Flores remained commander in chief of the army. He succeeded him for a second term in 1839, Rocafuerte moving to the politically very important post of governor of Guayaquil. Rocafuerte expected to continue alternating with Flores in the presidency, but the general decided to get himself reelected in 1843. A widespread revolt inspired by Rocafuerte forced a confrontation, and unable to reestablish his authority over the country, Flores signed an agreement with his opponents which guaranteed the safety of his family, his property, and his rank while in exile.


Exile and Return

Flores went to Europe, but when the new government rescinded the agreement, the general organized an expedition with the financial backing of the queen mother of Spain. The plan failed when the English government embargoed his ships. Flores then returned to his native country and spent several years in various Spanish American countries. An attempted invasion of Ecuador in 1852 was defeated by his erstwhile protégé Gen. José María Urbina.

In 1860 a Peruvian invasion of Ecuador led to civil war. The faction headed by Gabriel García Moreno—an admirer of Rocafuerte who began his political career as one of the most violent enemies of Flores—recalled the general to command its troops. Flores returned, took over the command, and ended the war on Sept. 24, 1860.

Flores then presided over the Constituent Convention of 1861, which legalized the García Moreno regime. The unwise foreign policy of the new president led to war with Colombia (New Granada), which ended with the defeat of Flores at Guaspud on Dec. 6, 1863. The following year he was back in Guayaquil, facing an invasion by former president Urbina. Seriously ill, Flores sallied forth against the revolutionaries and defeated them. He died on board the steamer that was carrying him back to Guayaquil on Oct. 1, 1864.


Further Reading on Juan José Flores

Discussions of Flores are in Lilo Linke, Ecuador: Country of Contrasts (3d ed. 1960), and George I. Blanksten, Ecuador: Constitutions and Caudillos (1964). See also Hubert Clinton Herring, A History of Latin America from the Beginnings to the Present (1955; 3d ed. 1968), and James Fred Rippy, Latin America: A Modern History (1958; rev. ed. 1968).