|By José María Espinosa Prieto, 1855|
Today we travel to New Granada to hear the tale of a Colombian seamstress turned spy. Known as La Pola, the life of Policarpa Salavarrieta was short and her death was brutal, but her memory lives on today, lauded as a heroine of independence. On the anniversary of her execution, I tell the story of those final moments and who she came to stand before the firing squad.
Salavarrieta was already involved in revolutionary politics when she came to live in Bogotá, the stronghold of the Spanish Royalists. Here she took up residence in the home of resistance leader, Andrea Ricaurte y Lozano, supposedly in the role of a housemaid. She worked as a seamstress within the households of the royalist ruling families, gathering intelligence from under their very noses.
It seems crushingly inevitable that Salavarrieta's ongoing revolutionary operations in Bogotá could not continue undisturbed and so it would prove to be the case. When the authorities captured some of her contacts, they soon unravelled the complex web of information that their prisoners shared and the information led them right to Salavarrieta's door.
La Pola was arrested in November 1817 and, after a cursory trial on 10th November, she and her associates were found guilty of treason. The date of their execution by firing squad was set for just four days later, at nine o'clock in the morning.
If Salavarrieta felt any fear she showed none and on the morning of her death, left her cell bound for what became the Bolívar Square, where she would face the firing squad. She refused to pray with the priests who were charged with accompanying her and instead cursed and shouted at her Spanish guards as they went along, telling them that the days of their rule over her nation were numbered.
Upon reaching the square, Salavarrieta was led up onto the scaffold and told to turn her back to the firing squad, in the accepted manner for the execution of traitors. Keeping up her furious rhetoric she did so and when told to kneel, she refused. Instead La Pola stood before the squad and when the order came to fire she turned, facing her executors head on with a cry of, "I have courage to suffer this death and a thousand more. Do not forget my example!".
La Pola's remains were handed over to her brothers, who were Augustinian friars, and they buried her in the church of San Agustín, her short, Revolutionary life finally at an end.