He is one of the Black heroes of colonial Latin America who overcame the burden of being Black in white spaces and demanded freedom and change. Antonio Ruiz, otherwise known as Falucho, was an Afro-Argentine soldier (second corporal) who died for his country. He became a national hero of Argentina’s Independence War against Spain, fighting in José de San Martín’s army.
According to historians (or some would say legend), he was born a slave somewhere in Africa. He served in the Regiment of the River Plate and died while defending the colors of the revolutionary flag, which later became the Argentine flag, against traitors during a revolt at the fort of El Callao, Peru, on February 6, 1824. There were orders to raise the Spanish flag but Ruiz refused and chose to be shot by the traitors while crying out with his last breath, Viva Buenos Aires! (Long live Buenos Aires!), according to sources.
Politician and historian Bartolomé Miter captured Ruiz’s story for the first time in May 1857. According to his story, Falucho was a black soldier who died on February 7, 1824, during the uprising in Callao (Peru), “when non-commissioned officers and soldiers mutinied due to late payment of wages, which led to the recovery of the site by the Spanish army.”
Miter continued that “in these circumstances, Falucho sacrificed himself for the honor of the ‘Argentine pavilion’ by breaking his rifle and shouting on his knees in front of the traitors ‘Long live Buenos Aires!’, for which he was immediately shot (Mitre, 1906, pp. 34- 36) .”
According to Miter, Ruiz told the soldiers who ordered him to raise the Spanish flag that “being a revolutionary is not evil, I prefer to be a revolutionary rather than a traitor!”
“And taking his rifle by the barrel, smashed against the flagstick, giving back to more grief. The executors of the betrayal seized Falucho immediately and shot four rounds at point blank on his chest and head. Before falling mortally wounded on the ground, Falucho cried Viva Buenos Aires!,” Miter said.
By the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century, Ruiz had become one of the most honored military heroes by the people of Argentina. In 1897, a statue of him was erected in Buenos Aires. The Argentines celebrated several holidays at his feet and his statue attracted scores of foreigners to Buenos Aires. Editor Robert Abbott wrote of the statue in the Chicago Defender in 1923:
“The black martyr of Argentina. An imposing statue (…) commemorates the heroic acts of the famous black man, Filucho [sic] (…). It is the only memorial of its kind in the western world erected to one of our Breed by a national government. Every year between 50,000 and 75,000 schoolchildren gather at the foot of the monument with representatives of church and state to pay homage to this great martyr…”
Despite making the news in Buenos Aires and beyond, people soon forgot about Ruiz and his heroism during the second half of the 20th century. Today, not many Argentines know his name or story. Some historians have also raised doubts about his identity. Nevertheless, the fact that there is a Black hero in a country that often regards itself and its people as “White-Europeans” is compelling, some scholars have said.
Historical records indicate that Africans landed in the Rio de la Plata region of Argentina to work in plantations and as domestic servants. They then spread to other parts of the country between the 18th and 19th centuries. However, over the years, the population of Africans in Argentina has reduced and there are a few theories about that. One theory states that most Africans died in the Paraguayan war of 1865 between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance, which include Uruguay, the Empire of Brazil and Argentina. It is said that most Africans were signed up for the deadly war, leading to their large-scale deaths.
The other theory is that the seventh president of Argentina, Domingo Sarmiento, carried out a massive genocide of Africans in Argentina. Apparently, between 1868 and 1874, Sarmiento put in place oppressive policies that saw the death of many blacks, gauchos (people of Spanish descent) and native Argentinians. Some of these included forcing black people into the military, forcing them to live in poor neighborhoods without adequate health structures and carrying out mass executions.
Black people were largely forgotten and ignored so much that the Argentine government did not include them in the 1895 national census. another theory states that Argentina focused more on whitening the country by bringing in white immigrants from Europe, thanks to the Constitution of 1853. This was compounded by the emigration of black people to Uruguay and Brazil, where they felt more welcome.