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The tragic death of General Enrique Varela

On February 5, 1987, the remains of General Enrique Varela Vidaurre (1857 – 1914) were transferred to the Crypt of the Heroes. Tarapaqueño like Ramón Castilla, a soldier by vocation, with a well-deserved reputation for being brave, he was the son of Colonel Marcelino Varela and Doña María Vidaurre. When the war with Chile broke out, Second Lieutenant Varela, who began his military career in 1874, marched to the front to bravely fight in San Francisco and Tarapacá. Wounded in combat he fell prisoner and was taken to Chile. He remained there until the end of 1882, when he was exchanged and returned to Peru, joining the ranks of Rear Admiral Lizardo Montero, in Arequipa. Already as a lieutenant he served in the Field Artillery Brigade under the orders of Colonel Pedro Ugarteche.

Enrique Varela did not accept the regime presided over by General Miguel Iglesias and followed the banners of General Andrés A. Cáceres to continue resisting the invader. After bloody and fratricidal clashes, Cáceres managed to prevail. The most important and decisive day of that contest took place in Huaripampa where the men in the red kepis spectacularly outwitted their rival’s men. There Captain Varela displayed his skills as a leader and soldier of courage. In the hard years of national reconstruction he was rising in the military ranks by virtue of his undeniable merits. He was first deputy chief and later chief of staff. Later he was appointed Inspector General of the Army and Commander General of the First Division during the conflict with Ecuador, in 1910. That same year Congress promoted him to Brigadier General.

When in 1912 his friend and countryman Guillermo Billinghurst was elected President of the Republic, General Varela began his short and ultimately tragic political career. He was part of the initial cabinet in the War and Navy portfolio. He was by then the most respectable and prestigious figure in the army. Later he held the presidency of the ministerial cabinet. From such an important position, General Enrique Varela was the main actor in the serious political crisis generated by the confrontation between the head of state and Congress. Billinghurst, counting on popular support, sought to dissolve the Chambers. The parliamentary forces and civil and military representative elements plotted until they obtained a “pronouncement” from the Lima garrison, on February 4, 1914, headed by Colonel Oscar R. Benavides.

During that busy week, General Varela had spent the night in the Santa Catalina Barracks to prevent subversive actions. At dawn on the aforementioned day, mutinous elements appointed Lieutenant Alberto Cavero to arrest General Varela in his bedroom. He was asleep when Cavero appeared along with other elements. Obviously the general should have been treated with the considerations he deserved. Visibly startled, Varela saw them enter and, since he was deaf, he did not hear the voices that told him to surrender. It was then that Corporal Neyra shot him with his rifle at close range, dying instantly. A soldier, in that moment of ferocious madness, “finished it off” by brutally beating him with the butt of his weapon. Regarding the crime, Jorge Basadre wrote: “And this illustrious military man, a relic of the war with Chile, who had been spared by the enemy’s bullets, died villainously murdered by his own subordinates in a crime that was not only frightening and cowardly, but also unnecessary.” The justice indicated as responsible for it the aforementioned Alberto Cavero and Corporal Teodomiro Neyra. The funeral of General Enrique Varela took place on February 6, 1914. His old comrades-in-arms and also the new president of the Governing Board, Colonel Oscar R. Benavides, attended the mortuary house, on Calle Gallinazos, who dragged the duel together with the family. A large crowd accompanied the remains of Varela who were buried with the flag of the Victors of Tarapacá on the coffin.

A magazine opposed to the overthrown regime commented on the general’s death with these words: “Among the victims has fallen the brave soldier whom the enemy of 1879 compared to a lion for his indomitable ferocity with which he fought in defense of the homeland. General Varela had the old concept of military discipline that was based more on adhering to men than to things, and he made the mistake of loyally accompanying Mr. Billinghurst on the lost path that he followed. The lion was wrong and has bravely paid with his life for his mistake. Peace in the tomb of the mistaken general, on which the country, despite everything, will strip the roses of memory and gratitude”.

Source: Elcomercio

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