Juana Ramirez was a national heroine and reputable freedom fighter who was nicknamed “La Avanzadora” (The Advancer) for her radical opposition and bravery against colonial rule in Venezuela. She is sometimes referred to as the Harriet Tubman of Venezuela.
Juana Ramirez was born on January 12, 1790, in Chaguaramal, Mongas State, Venezuela. She was the daughter of an African woman named Guadalupe who was made captive in Africa and transported to Venezuela to work for the Rojas family plantation. Juana’s father is said to be Andres Rojas. As a child, she was given to Doña Teresa Ramírez de Valderrama, from whom she received her surname. When she freed herself from the Rojas family plantation due to severe working conditions, she stayed with Teresa Ramirez de Valderrama who gave Juana care and her last name. Her escape also resulted from wanting to rescue other captives in similar distress. As a young woman, Ramirez worked as a laundress in Maturin, but that didn’t stop her from equipping herself with the revolutionary happenings at the time especially the political upheavals in France, North America, and Haiti.
In 1810, Ramirez bonded with her father, who had become a familiar face in opposing the Spanish rule of Venezuela by then. The following year Venezuelans declared their independence from Spain but were challenged by loyalists and Spanish military forces. Juana began organizing a combat group of women to fight on the frontlines against Spanish soldiers who wanted to reclaim Venezuela as a colony. She was in charge of “The Battery of Women,” an artillery unit comprising 100 women. To date, this is recorded as Juana’s most notable achievement. The artillery of women fought in many battles in Maturin, a northern city of Venezuela. Revered for her fearlessness in battle, Ramirez and her troops were known to attack the enemy and resupply rebel forces with weapons, ammunition, and other war materials. The women fought in many battles in Maturin, a northern city in Venezuela.
On May 25, 1813, the Battle of Alto de los Godos was fought against General Domingo de Monteverde who led the royalist army. Ramirez directed her squad to charge at the Spanish invaders. Amid combat, the heroine picked up a dead Spanish officer’s sword and, through gun smoke and a hail of bullets, held it aloft as she continued charging ahead toward the front line, earning her the moniker “The Advancer.” Although the odds were stacked against the Battery of Women, they won the battle and decimated the Royalist army thanks to Ramirez’s indefatigability. This battle successfully landed them their independence. In the aftermath of the battle, her all-female unit buried the dead and found safe quarters to attend to the wounded, children, and the elderly. They also refurbished their cannons and continued to spy on the enemy.
Juana Ramirez died in 1856 and was buried near her hometown of Chaguaramal. In current times, she is a role model to Venezuelan women and a symbol of persistence and courage to the nation and world. These sentiments are reflected in her recent and bountiful honours. A monument, “Juana La Avanzadora,” was erected in her honour in Maturin, Venezuela. In 2015, she was recognized by the President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, as the next historic figure to be put into the Venezuelan Pantheon. Her remains were taken from her original resting place in the eastern Venezuelan state of Guarico to the National Pantheon in Caracas, Venezuela, making her the first black woman to receive this honour. Juana is an inspiration to the Venezuelan women of the working class who symbolize her as an example of perseverance. Her story deflated the age-old idea that Venezuela’s most impactful citizens are wealthy, light-skinned citizens.
Many Venezuelans dub Juana Ramirez as the “Tubman of Venezuela.”