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Category: Military

272. álvaro barros

In 1866—several years before the Campaña del Desierto—Álvaro Barros went to command one of the fortified outposts on the frontlines between the indigenous population & what was considered national territory. His new settlement founded a year later near the fortress became known as Olavarría, established friendly relations with local tribes & began moderate agricultural activity.

Barros left Olavarría when his replacement arrived in 1868 but maintained active in both the military & politics. After Roca pushed the frontlines as far south as the Río Negro, all newly acquired territory in Patagonia needed to be officially incorporated into the central government. Roca named Barros Governor of Patagonia in 1878, & he reported to Roca directly… not to the Ministry of the Interior.

Two years later the final boundary was set between the Province of Buenos Aires & Patagonia at the outlet of the Río Negro. To make the separation clearer, Barros decided to move the regional capital to the area only the southern side of the river. Viedma is now considered the oldest settlement in Patagonia.

As co-founder of the land auction firm Bravo Barros y Cía, Álvaro managed to control real estate development in Patagonia & earned a lot of prestige & power at the same time. The company even auctioned off land in Buenos Aires:

Álvaro Barros, Recoleta Cemetery

Other relatives of Álvaro helped develop train lines to deliver agricultural goods for export & connect remote regions of the south to the port of Buenos Aires:

Horacio Barros, Recoleta Cemetery

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265. comodoro rivadavia

Comodoro Rivadavia, Recoleta Cemetery

One of six grandchildren of President Bernardino Rivadavia, Martín began his military career at the age of 13. Training in Buenos Aires, Rivadavia managed to see a bit of action during the war with Paraguay in the 1860s but had a change of heart on his return home. Rivadavia left the Army & enlisted in the Navy. At the time, the Argentine military formed a single, combined unit with both Army & Navy reporting to the same commanding officers.

Rivadavia’s first naval assignment involved a patrol of Patagonia against incursions from Chile, following the expedition by Comodoro Luis Py. He rose in rank quickly, & in 1888 Rivadavia was given command of the corvette “La Argentina” which lead the first training mission for new cadets. The next command for Rivadavia was the cruiser “25 de Mayo” & he took the ship to Europe in 1892, representing Argentina during celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the voyage of Columbus.

In 1896, Rivadavia received the rank of Commodore & was put in charge of the armed forces. After the separation of the military, President Roca appointed Rivadavia as Minister of the Navy & entrusted him to command a voyage to Patagonia so Roca could improve strained relations with his Chilean counterpart. [Photo below courtesy of HISTARMAR]:

Roca & Martín Rivadavia, onboard Belgrano

In gratitude for Rivadavia’s service during this historic mission, obligatory military service in the Navy was granted prior to that in the Army obtained a few years later by Pablo Riccheri:

Comodoro Rivadavia, Recoleta Cemetery

In 1901, Rivadavia had a severe fall, breaking two ribs in the process & suffering a lot of internal damage. Surgery failed to improve his condition & Rivadavia died at the age of 49. At the time of Rivadavia’s death, President Roca had sent his Vice-President Norberto Quirno Costa to Patagonia for the official foundation of a coastal town. They decided to name the new settlement Comodoro Rivadavia in remembrance of Martín, who was often present in the region. Today, Comodoro Rivadavia is the largest city in Patagonia with production/export of petroleum & natural gas driving regional growth.

Whether due to the effects of time, carelessness or deliberate vandalism (although rare in Recoleta Cemetery), the glass panes behind the wrought-iron doors to the vault have been broken. Someone covered Rivadavia’s casket with a sheet of plastic for protection, but the condition of the vault today hardly reflects the service given by one of Argentina’s military best… and who would leave a shoe inside??

Comodoro Rivadavia, Recoleta Cemetery

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262. francisco javier muñiz ◊

Francisco Muñiz, Recoleta Cemetery

Born in 1795 in what are now the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires, Francisco Javier Muñiz dedicated his life to serving Argentina & became one of its first internationally acclaimed scientists.

Muñiz was only 12 years old when the British invaded for the second time in 1807. Although technically too young to fight, he defended the city & received a bullet wound in his left leg… this seemed to foreshadow a lifelong involvement with the military. He opted to study medicine at the age of 19 when Cosme Argerich opened the Instituto Médico-Militar in 1814 to train surgeons for military service. Muñiz remained under the tutelage of Argerich until transferring to the medical school at the newly-created University of Buenos Aires in 1822.

His first major assignment came under Coronel Juan Lavalle in early campaigns to take territory from the indigenous population. Muñiz did more than lead the medical unit; he studied customs of the indigenous people & made his first forays in natural history. The 1826 war with Brazil took Muñiz to foreign lands where he was ordered by General Alvear to accompany Lavalle’s troops once again. Lavalle took a bullet in the leg, & Muñiz was fortunately there to save him. Returning to Argentina, Muñiz received multiple honors.

Francisco Muñiz, Recoleta Cemetery

In 1828 Muñiz married & settled down in Luján, just west of Buenos Aires. Better for his health & given the opportunity to engage in scientific study, Muñiz put to practice everything he had learned while on the battlefield. His most significant contribution to Argentina was being the first to use cowpox serum as a vaccination against smallpox. In fact, Muñiz experimented at the same time as Edward Jenner… his results granted Muñiz membership in the Royal Jennerian Society.

Francisco Muñiz, Recoleta Cemetery

Living in Luján also gave Muñiz time to pursue his other great interest: paleontology. During his first service with Lavalle, Muñiz discovered remains of a glyptodont… the first ever recovered. A 10,000 year-old version of today’s armadillo, glyptodonts resembled a mix between a beaver & a turtle & some were as big as a Volkswagen Beetle. Similar fossils have been uncovered in Buenos Aires while building new subway stations. Displays can be found on the D Line (Juramento) & on the B Line (Tronador):

Glyptodont fossil, Subte, Juramento station

Unfortunately Muñiz did not publicly document his discovery & a French explorer 13 years later took credit for finding a new species. Undeterred, Muñiz received praise for sending 11 boxes of fossil specimens to Paris & even corresponded occasionally with Charles Darwin. Darwin wrote to Muñiz in 1847:

Your pamphlet on the scarlet fever I will present to the Royal College of Surgeons. I cannot adequately say how much I admire your continued zeal, situated as you are without means of pursuing your scientific studies and without people to sympathise with you, for the advancement of natural history; I trust that the pleasure of your pursuits affords you some reward for your exertions.

Francisco Muñiz, Recoleta Cemetery

Muñiz eventually returned to Buenos Aires where he directed the medical school & served as a member in both houses of Congress until the start of the War of the Triple Alliance. Even though he was 70 years old, Muñiz offered to go to the front lines. When refused, he disguised himself as a peasant, took surgical equipment & went anyway. Muñiz remained in northern Argentina fighting a cholera epidemic until his wife passed away in 1868.

Francisco Muñiz, Recoleta Cemetery

Returning once again to Buenos Aires, Muñiz officially retired but decided to come to the rescue once again when a massive outbreak of yellow fever hit the city in 1871. Catching yellow fever himself, Muñiz became one of the 14,000 casualties. After his death, the private collection of Muñiz became the foundation of the Museum of Natural Sciences located in Parque Centenario in the neighborhood of Caballito:

Museo de Ciencias Naturales, Caballito

The crypt became a National Historic Monument in 1946. The enormous sculpture of a woman holding the rod of Asclepius in one hand & a sword in the other (medicine + military) was Ettore Ximenez—the same Roman sculptor responsible for Manuel Belgrano’s tomb in the patio of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo:

Francisco Muñiz, Recoleta Cemetery

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260. domingo matheu

Domingo Matheu, Recoleta Cemetery

Born near Barcelona in 1765, Matheu piloted vessels in his youth after training in the Spanish Navy. He later formed a partnership with his brother after obtaining permission from the crown to engage in colonial trade. It was the start of a venture which would change his life. Matheu permanently moved to Buenos Aires in 1793 after several trips to the area.

As one of the major businessmen in city, Matheu also became influential in politics. He used his military training to defend Buenos Aires against the British during the 1806 & 1807 invasions & was one of the most involved citizens during the May Revolution against Spain.

Whether Matheu identified strongly with his new home or was mainly considering business opportunities is unclear, but he effectively betrayed his homeland by becoming a member of the Primera Junta in 1810 at the age of 44. During the absence of the President while on a trip to reorganize the Northern Army, Matheu made decisions on his behalf. Although not officially named President of the Primera Junta, Matheu ruled the new nation for several months.

Domingo Matheu, Recoleta Cemetery

The participation of Matheu in the early days of Argentina is often hidden behind more recognized names such as Moreno, Saavedra, & Belgrano. Besides performing civic duties, Matheu’s most important contribution during that time was financial. Wealthy & generous, Matheu helped fund the creation of expeditions which eventually persuaded regions of modern-day Uruguay, Paraguay & Bolivia to join the independence movement.

After the dissolution of the Junta in 1811, Matheu donated additional funds for the army & manufactured rifles for Argentina during most of the war with Spain. He passed away in 1831 & was buried in an oddly off-center spot in Recoleta Cemetery. Barely visible these days, the simple inscription reads:

Domingo Matheu
Procer de la Revolución de Mayo
Vocal de la Primera Junta
Fallecido el 28 de marzo de 1831
La Patria agradecida

The tomb became a National Historic Monument in 1946.

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245. dellepiane

Antonio Dellepiane, Recoleta Cemetery

Lots of Dellepiane tombs are scattered through the cemetery, but this vault holds two of the most important family members. Antonio Dellepiane chose not to practice law after graduating with honors & much praise in 1892. Instead, he focused on education in criminology. As first professor of the newly-established Sociology department at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Antonio traveled to Europe to bring back the latest theories & teachings to Argentina.

Several books & faculty positions later, Antonio excelled in another field: history. In the early 1920s, he was named Director of the Museo Histórico Nacional & used his position to write several historical biographies. With access to original documentation, Antonio discovered the lives of two important women, María Sánchez de Thompson & Carmen Nóbrega de Avellaneda (wife of President Nicolás Avellaneda). He passed away in 1939 & a plaque was donated by master sculptor Rogelio Yrurtia on the first anniversary of his death:

Antonio Dellepiane, Recoleta Cemetery

During the 1919 Semana Trágica, Lieutenant General Luis J. Dellepiane restored order to Buenos Aires after a metalworkers’ union strike spiraled out of control. He had previously been in charge of the city’s police force after the 1909 assassination of Ramón Falcón & remained in that position until 1912. By 1919, Luis had assumed command of the Second Division of the Argentine army stationed in Campo de Mayo. Luis marched his troops into Buenos Aires to engage striking workers at the request of the Minister of War. Violence continued & almost 1,000 people died in the most violent social uprising ever seen in the city.

Luis would later be appointed Minister of War during Hipólito Yrigoyen’s second term & resigned when fellow general José Félix Uriburu ousted the President in 1930. Oddly enough, Luis also studied to be a civil engineer & did the first geodetic studies of Argentina. Only two plaques commemorate Luis, none of which mention his role in the Semana Trágica:

Luis J. Dellepiane, Recoleta Cemetery

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242. guerreros del paraguay ◊

Guerreros del Paraguay, Recoleta Cemetery

This pantheon is unique since Recoleta Cemetery does not officially commemorate national events & has very few group memorials… it’s more of a family place. The war with Paraguay ended in 1870, but the architectural style of the pantheon contains elements of Art Nouveau (popular at the beginning of the 20th century). A trip to the Archivo General de la Nación solved the dilemma. One archived photo records the site dedication in 1913:

Guerreros del Paraguay, Recoleta Cemetery

A large statue of Argentina as female warrior (note the coat-of-arms on her breastplate) offers a branch of laurel in a gesture of peace:

Guerreros del Paraguay, Recoleta Cemetery

Paraguay & Argentina declared independence around the same time. Stuck in the middle of South America without an exit to either ocean & no chance to develop overseas trade, Paraguay depended on its neighbors for imported European goods. As its only control mechanism, Paraguay introduced strict laws with heavy taxation & managed to earn a small fortune. Never a democracy in its early years, leadership passed from grandfather to father to son. In the 1860s (50 years after independence), Francisco Solano López was in charge. Historians still aren’t quite sure what to make of him or what really started the war, but it went very wrong for Paraguay.

Uruguay had already been created as a buffer zone between Brazil & Argentina. Both countries continued to meddle in the new nation’s affairs, & in the 1860s civil war was about to break out in Uruguay. Brazil & Argentina loosely supported one side while Paraguay supported the other. López asked permission to cross Argentine territory with troops to backup his friends in Uruguay. Argentina refused. López went ahead with his plans, attacking Brazil & occupying part of Argentina. He had gathered the largest army in Latin America, amounting from 30,000 to 80,000 troops depending on which account you read. His neighbors were no match with just a few thousand men each. López had the best odds.

Uruguay, Argentina & Brazil decided to join forces to beat López & formed the Triple Alliance. These nations’ flags decorate the top of the mausoleum, actual flags covered in plastic are inside, & repeated again on the interior stained glass:

Guerreros del Paraguay, Recoleta Cemetery

Guerreros del Paraguay, Recoleta Cemetery

The 5-year war was extremely violent & eventually devasted Paraguay. They had more manpower but also out-of-date equipment & no supplies. Historical figures vary wildly, but using conservative numbers at least half of the population Paraguay was killed. In terms of gender, only 1/10 of the male population survived. When the fighting was over, López & his followers were executed & Paraguay was forced to surrender half of its territory; one chunk going to Brazil & the other to Argentina, today known as the Province of Formosa.

Revisionist historians have spent decades analyzing the facts. Was López really so arrogant to think he could defend Uruguay’s interests as well as obtain an outlet to the Atlantic Ocean? Maybe not. Someone else financed the war: England. One theory claims that since England didn’t have a steady supply of cotton from the US thanks to an equally horrible civil war at the same time, they looked elsewhere. Paraguay produces lots of cotton & perhaps the UK took that into consideration when loaning Brazil & Argentina extravagant amounts of money to fund the war. Two statues of armed soldiers remind visitors of the men who fought in one of the most horrific & often forgotten wars of Latin American history:

Guerreros del Paraguay, Recoleta Cemetery

Guerreros del Paraguay, Recoleta Cemetery

The pantheon became a National Historic Monument in 1983.

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