Home / General / Erik Visits an (Non)-American Grave, Part 1,561

Erik Visits an (Non)-American Grave, Part 1,561


This is the grave of Gabriel Garcia Moreno.

Born in 1821 in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Moreno was the next generation of the elite in a brand new nation. His father was a Spanish-born nobleman and his mother came from a super elite background from those already in Ecuador. They decided to stick it out after the nation won its independence from Spain. The father died when Moreno was young and his mother, who was a very intense Catholic, raised him in that classic Catholic atmosphere of guilt and sin. He embodied that. He nearly became a priest, but his friends convinced him to go a secular route instead. He was already interested in politics, so perhaps it didn’t take that much convincing, but he had already taken minor orders and received his tonsure by this time (the tonsure is the unquestioned champion of worst hair style in human history), so it’s not as if he wasn’t serious. He went to law school and completed it in 1844. His staunch conservatism made it hard for him to advance in a nation headed by liberals, so he went to Europe in 1849 to see the after effects of the 1848 revolutions, which he hated. His studies there then became one of repressing radicals.

Moreno returned to Ecuador in 1851 and immediately became a leader of the opposition to the liberals. He was a monarchist personally and hoped the French would come in and establish a monarchy in the Andes. But given that the French had other interests (including invading Mexico a few years later), he was elected to the Senate and took on the liberals head on.

Now, we need a second to discuss the contours of 19th century politics in many Latin American nations. Basically, there were liberals and there were conservatives, which sorta tracks with today’s contemporary U.S. politics, but not really. Both sides generally were not very interested in democracy or popular representation. The battles were effectively over the role of the Church in public life. For liberals, the Church was a constant problem. It held tons of land, it had reactionary sway over the people, it didn’t pay taxes. It needed to be tamed. For conservatives, the Church was what guaranteed order. This had variations across the region, but this is good enough of a generality for us here.

Moreno was 100% on the side who believed that the liberals were monsters who hated God. Now, the liberals in Ecuador definitely were as anti-democracy as the conservatives, but the economic side of this mattered too, which is that liberals tended to be more like the classic version of the Republican Party in the U.S.–pro-growth, pro-business. Conservatives were more nostalgic and backward-looking. Another way to explain liberals of this era to Americans if that if they know anything about Mexico, the dictator Porfirio Diaz was the perfect example of a liberal. And you know how not great that was for human liberty. Point being, there aren’t any good guys in these politics from the perspective of the 21st century, just different ways of sucking.

Anyway, like much of Latin America, Ecuadoran politics were a mess in the 19th century, with civil wars and power grabs all too common. At the very least, Moreno had a reputation of being somewhat above all of this and with personal integrity. So after a civil war in the late 1850s and early 1860s, in 1861, Moreno was selected to be president of the nation. He served a four year term and stepped aside. His successor was soon tossed out and so Moreno ran for president again in 1869 and served a six year term, until 1875.

Moreno’s main agenda was to tie the nation closer to Christianity. He had the Constitution revised in 1869 to make Catholicism the official state religion, which is the exact kind of thing that the liberals hated. He attended mass every day and made sure everyone knew about it. He effectively wanted the nation to follow anything the Pope did and when the Papacy lost the Papal States, he was the only ruler in the world who protested the fact. In 1871, he had the entire nation consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of the major devotions of the Church and one that is not exactly something that an entire nation does. But under Moreno it was.

In 1869, Moreno founded an official Conservative Party. Outside of supporting the Church, Moreno didn’t really have much in the way of political beliefs. He was generally a pro-business guy, making him somewhat more tolerable to the liberals. He also supported universal literacy, which was definitely not a normal Conservative position since literacy was something that Protestants did, what with their heresies and whatnot.

Time for a story about this. I was in Bolivia back in 2008 on a long, intense trip. And let me tell, if you want an intense travel experience, Bolivia is the nation for you because even compared to Honduras and Nicaragua, it is underdeveloped. I mean, the main highways aren’t even paved, or weren’t then and taking a bus in the middle of the night when you get the back seat and then you nap and hit a pot hole and get thrown in the air and land with the arm of the seat jammed right into your kidney is a memorable experience. Well, anyway, I was in a church. Bolivian Catholicism, like Ecuadoran, is pretty bloody. Like, the symbols, paintings, icons, etc., are just drenched with blood, torture scenes from Hell, etc. So in this church, the paintings showed various bloody scenes. One was of a Protestant being tortured by the depths of Hell. You knew he was a Protestant because he had a book and a pen. The message to whoever attended that church was that reading was going to send you to heresy and Hell. Amazing stuff. I think I laughed out loud.

Well, Moreno tying the nation so close to the church was not going to sit well with the entire nation. Liberals began rallying opposition. Moreno’s development of a secret police to arrest his opponents also contributed to this. They decided to assassinate him and did so on the steps of the national palace just days after he was elected to another term of office in 1875. Of course his followers blamed freemasonry, one of the hobby horses of the conservatives. Moreno was 53 years old.

Gabriel Garcia Moreno is buried in the Quito Metropolitan Cathedral, Quito, Ecuador. I didn’t have any graves on my agenda when I traveled to Ecuador last summer, but if you are just going to force them on me, I will take the picture and write the post.

If you would like this series to visit other Latin American presidents, feel free to donate to cover the required expenses here. If any are buried on the Mexican coast, even better. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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