José Félix Ribas was an independence leader in the Latin American wars against the Spanish crown. Born in Venezuela, Ribas had no military background, but was active in agitating against Spanish rule. He was also rich and was able to secure a military position when he financed his own battalion.
Ribas’s most significant military victory was the battle of La Victoria, when royalists besieged the city. Ribas, low on men, armed students from local colleges and seminaries and told them, “we cannot choose between victory or death; we must have victory!” And victory he had – the Spanish forces under Morales were defeated. Ribas gained the title “Victor over the Tyrants,” and the date of the battle is now marked as Youth Day in Venezuela, in commemoration of how Ribas armed the students.
Ribas’s career was not all glorious highs, though. At one point, he even arrested Bolívar after a defeat at Aragua de Barcelona scattered the republican forces. Bolívar fled by water, carrying the city’s church silver to the island of Margarita. Seeing Bolívar flee, and seeing an opportunity to seize a claim to Gran Colombia for himself, Ribas declared Bolívar a traitor, although he later relented.
At the Battle of Urica, Ribas was to meet his end. In a tremendous conflict, Ribas’s royalist rival Boves was killed, but Boves’s forces pressed on and won the day for the Spanish. Ribas fled but was discovered by royalists and killed. Yet despite this defeat, the death of Boves meant that many Venezuelan llaneros (cowboys turned cavalry) defected away from the Spanish side towards the charismatic republican leader Páez. As a result of Urica and La Victoria, Ribas remains a hero to the cause of Latin American independence.