- Fernanda Paul
- BBC News World
Of all the life options that a Chilean girl of humble origins like Candelaria Pérez had, being an informant and a war soldier was probably one of the most difficult to imagine.
But, against all odds, this woman ended up fighting for her country nothing more and nothing less than in the Battle of Yungay, which marked the end of the war against the Peru-Bolivian Confederation (1836-1839).
Her fascinating story is a mixture of courage and good coincidences, which make Chile remember her as one of its great heroines to this day.
In Peru and Bolivia, however, it is not widely known. According to the Peruvian historian Cristóbal Aljovin, there is no memory of her in his country. The same was told to BBC Mundo by Marilú Soux, a Bolivian historian.
Next, we will tell you how a woman without education or contacts was able to gain space in a world dominated by Chilean military men and elite, and end up fighting for her country with rifle in hand and alongside her companions.
Candelaria Pérez was born in 1810 in the Chilean capital, Santiago, in the neighborhood The Chimba, populated mainly by indigenous people dedicated to the serfdom of the city and artisans.
He grew up in a poor family and did not have access to education. I did not know read and write.
Thus, from a very young age, she was forced to work. Although little is known about his youth, according to Luis Ignacio Silva in “La Sargento Candelaria Pérez” (1904) —one of the few works that exist on her—, “when she was very young she moved from Santiago to the city of Valparaíso as a servant of a wealthy house “.
But in 1833, her luck began to change when a Dutch family decided to take her as a maid to their home on the central coast of Peru, Callao.
There he managed to become financially independent. With his few savings, he set up a small food establishment called “La fonda de la chilena”, where he received his customers with good wine and traditional music.
It was then that the hostilities of the war against the Peru-Bolivian Confederation began, an ambitious project that united the nascent republics of Peru and Bolivia (although for a very short time).
The La Paz general Andres de Santa Cruz He was one of the main defenders and promoters of this Peruvian-Bolivian union.
The war began in 1836 and pitted the Confederacy with the forces of the Restorative Coalition (or United Restoration Army), made up of Peruvian soldiers opposed to the Santa Cruz project (and who had been exiled to Chile), and the support of the armies of Chile and Argentina.
Being in Callao and in an area that became the center of the confrontations, Candelaria Pérez took advantage of the opportunity and offered to pass on information to the Restorative Coalition. This is how she became a key informant for the Chilean Navy in Peru.
According to Luis Ignacio Silva in “La Sargento Candelaria Pérez”, the woman “embarked day by day, disguised as a sailor, and went to the Chilean ships bringing interesting news to our sailors about the maneuvers operated on land.”
The historian and academic from the University of Chile, Maria Elisa Fernandez, explains that, to be an informant, the contacts she had in Peru were key.
“She had many Peruvian friends so she knew many things. In addition, the life he had in Callao allowed him to get to know the area, which was totally unknown to Chilean soldiers. Then I could tell them what the territory was like and how many troops there were, “he explains to BBC Mundo.
However, soon after Candelaria Pérez was discovered. Her business was looted by the Peruvian army and she was sent to jail, where she was supposed to be shot.
After the Chilean-backed coalition won the Guide Cover Battle, which was fought on the outskirts of Lima, Candelaria Pérez was released.
But with the anger and resentment accumulated during her period as a prisoner, the woman decided to take revenge and that is how she decided to officially join the Chilean army.
It was not easy, as it was not customary for women to participate in war. But, according to the investigation of Luis Ignacio Silva, who was head of the Chilean restorative expedition, General Manuel Bulnes, he took “appreciation and sympathy.”
Thus, in 1838, she was finally admitted to one of the army’s battalions, called Carampangue.
There, they ordered, it would be bartender and nurse, so that it would be in charge of the care, feeding and health of the combatants.
But, true to his fierce personality, Pérez wanted something more; I wanted to be part of those fighters.
This is how, thanks to his knowledge of Peruvian territory, he began to actively participate in the armed conflict. His contribution was valuable because he could guide the rest of the soldiers and integrate the advance groups.
In addition, she served as a messenger between General Bulnes and Commander Roberto Simpson, of the Chilean Navy.
Battle of Yungay
According to Memoria Chilena —a research center based on the collections of the National Library of Chile—, “on the battlefield Candelaria Pérez was a fearless and brave woman, she demonstrated great military skills, and fought in the front ranks.”
He particularly distinguished himself in the Battle of Yungay, carried out on January 20, 1839, which ended the war against the Confederacy, after the restorers won.
On that occasion, Candelaria participated in the taking of the hill Bread of sugar, climbing with rifle in hand and haranguing his companions, who upon seeing such an enthusiastic woman in battle armed themselves with greater courage to attack.
“The entire army, which witnessed Candelaria’s personal bravery in the famous episode of Pan de Azúcar, acclaimed her with enthusiasm, affection and veneration,” reads the work of Luis Ignacio Silva.
In recognition of her services, General Bulnes endowed her with the rank of Sergeant and, later, the Chilean government promoted it to the rank of Second lieutenant.
“In November 1839, the Chilean Army was received in Santiago by a crowd that applauded its triumph. Sergeant Candelaria Pérez received strong applause for its exceptional nature,” documents the Chilean Memory organization.
Miseries and abandonment
However, this popularity did not last his entire life.
During the decades after the war, Candelaria Pérez lived a lonely life and penuaries in the economic.
“She received a pension because of her contribution to the country, but it was meager and she barely had enough to pay the rent for a room. The Convent of La Merced provided her with food,” says Memoria Chilena.
In addition to poverty, he suffered severe pain and paralysis. According to the investigation of Luis Ignacio Silva, “lThe last twenty years of his life were a permanent way of the cross of misery and abandonment “.
Finally, he died on March 28, 1870, and only five people attended his funeral.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.