Juan José Flores, Founder of the Republic
Juan José Flores was Ecuador’s first president and is remembered today as “The Founder of the Republic”. Although born in Venezuela in the year 1800, Flores spent most of his life in the service of Ecuador and was instrumental in both the attainment and maintenance of the country’s independence in an era in which national borders were far from being set in stone.
A soldier at the age of 15 and a full-fledged general at 29, Flores was acclaimed Ecuador’s president shortly after the new nation broke away from the disintegrating federation known as Gran Colombia. Ecuador’s independence was no sure thing – Flores faced opposition from within the country from those who opposed independence and also from the armies of Colombia, who invaded Ecuador in 1832 and 1834. Flores finally defeated the Colombians in January of 1835 in a crucial battle near the Ecuadorian town of Ambato. Flores resigned his office before the 1835 election, allowing Vicente Rocafuerte to become the next president.
A benevolent authoritarian for the most part, Flores was re-elected president in 1839. With Ecuador secure from foreign attack and the internal rebellions crushed, Flores set about establishing Ecuador’s social and political infrastructure, with political power centered on the capitol city of Quito. He was re-elected in 1843, although he had to fine tune the country’s constitution somewhat to allow him to serve a third term. By 1845, however, Flores had seemingly worn out his welcome with Ecuadorian politicians who wanted their chance at the reigns of power. A rebellion led by Rocafuerte finally succeeded in driving Flores from office, and he left Ecuador for Paris where he lived until 1860 when tumultuous events in Ecuador caused him to return, this time leading the army of Gabriel García Moreno.
Juan José Flores died at sea in 1864 of uremia, a fatal condition caused by kidney failure. He was survived by his wife, Mercedes Jijón Vivanco, whom he had married in 1824, and by several of their 12 children. One of those children was Antonio Flores, who himself became president of Ecuador in 1888. The elder Flores is remembered as a liberator, reformer and patriot who firmly established Ecuador as a viable and vital nation following the turmoil of the revolutionary age.