Ramón Castilla (1797-1867) was a Peruvian military and political leader. After a distinguished military career he became president of Peru and provided his country with its first period of order, progress, and reform.
Ramón Castilla was born on Aug. 31, 1797, of mixed European-native parentage in Tarapacá (now Chile). When the wars of independence began, he joined the royalist forces in Chile and served from 1812 to 1817, when he was captured by the Argentine-Chilean patriot forces. Sent to a camp near Buenos Aires, he escaped and made his way to Peru. His royalist service continued until 1820, when, shortly after José de San Martin's liberating expedition arrived from Chile, Castilla changed sides. He served with distinction under the command of San Martín and Simón Bolívar until the war ended in 1824.
For the next 20 years Castilla moved in and out of the army, occasionally holding civilian administrative positions but more frequently commanding units supporting one or another of the military chieftains dominating Peru. In 1845 he was elected president of Peru. He served from 1845 to 1851 and in 1854 resumed the office, remaining chief executive until 1862. With his presidency the pacification of Peru began.
As president, Castilla acted with great energy, but, at the same time, his programs were characterized by moderation and prudence, usually striking a balance between liberalism and conservatism. He attracted men of all political persuasions, showing a preference for talent rather than party affiliation.
During Castilla's presidency Peru adopted its first budget and reformed its fiscal procedures. His government initiated public works projects and expanded the educational system. He emancipated the African slaves and ended the collection of the centuries-old native tribute. His government improved the armed forces and, in fact, became so thoroughly identified with military preparedness that Castilla came to be considered the creator of the national military forces.
The major shortcomings of his administrations resulted from the adoption of what proved to be poor financial policies. Although the fiscal machinery had been reorganized, his government had assumed new financial burdens without creating new and more adequate tax bases. In abolishing the tribute of the native peoples (which had formerly produced at least 10 percent of the national revenues), compensating the owners of the emancipated slaves, consolidating the internal debt, and subsidizing education, the government had greatly increased its expenditures. In its need for funds it became ever more dependent upon the revenues produced from the extraction and sale of guano, and the government borrowed heavily against future guano receipts, setting a pattern to be followed by succeeding administrations.
Castilla retired from office in 1862 but kept an active interest in national affairs. In 1864 he was exiled after he had quarreled with the new president, Juan Antonio Pezet, because he considered that the recently negotiated Vivanco-Pareja Treaty with Spain was an affront to the national honor. In 1867 Castilla headed a revolt against Pezet's successor, Mariano Ignacio Prado, but died, apparently from overexertion, on May 25 before the campaign had reached its conclusion.
While there is an extensive literature in Spanish, there is no biography of Castilla in English. His life and career are discussed in Fredrick B. Pike, Modern History of Peru (1967), and in other general histories of Peru. For a favorable contemporary view of Castilla by a well-informed Britisher see Sir Clements Markham, Travels in Peru and India (1862).