The thousands of people who rush by every week on their way to the mayor’s reception room at City Hall have no clue that the man sculpted in bronze, and looking on from the left at every person passing by — José de San Martín — is to Latin America what George Washington is to all of us.
They are the exceptional military leaders that faced the fire power of the European kings, the most powerful rulers on earth at that time, and managed to defeat them, presiding over ragtag armies whose revolutionary troops were in the Americas, in the 18th and 19th Century wars of liberation.
These commanders in chief had equivalent deep civilian principles that — once the war was won, the new republics were founded, and they were catapulted to the top of new pyramid of political power — gallantly stepped down from it, on their own, out of scruples rarely found in political leaders.
Their voluntary departure from executive office — one going to his home in Virginia, the other to a village in France — elevates their stature in history and in the memory of all the people of the Americas.
After attaining the rank of captain in the colonial army in Europe, José de San Martín sailed for America attracted by a calling he couldn’t resist.
“I cannot help but be an accidental instrument of justice and agent of destiny,” he wrote in one point of his military campaign that took him from Buenos Aires, all the way to the North, and then East to today’s Chile, crossing in a mighty and daring march over the Andes, and then sailing through sea to liberate, further North, the nation we know today as Perú.
Only Simón Bolivar could match his military genius: with a comparable long military campaign, thousands of miles long, Bolivar rode his horse from his native Venezuela all the way to Bolivia, liberating Colombia and Ecuador on the way.
While Bolivar held on to power, and briefly gave himself the title of “dictator” of the nations he liberated, San Martín, like Washington, quickly took off his military uniform — the grueling task of war completed with diligence and honor— to enjoy again the simpler life of an ordinary citizen.