Peter V. N. Henderson
Ecuador’s Gabriel García Moreno was one of the preeminent South American conservative politicians of the early national period. His historical notoriety rests in large measure on two seemingly contradictory elements of his administration. First, despite his fervid defense of the prerogatives of the Catholic Church, he embraced a modernization project inspired by liberal notions of progress. Second, his embrace of the Catholic faith flew in the face of the 19th century’s liberal anticlerical tendencies. Hence, nearly all biographies of García Moreno paint him as a villain or a saint. His state formation project transformed the historic relationship between the state and the Catholic Church, making the Catholic faith and the Church an instrument of state formation. Simultaneously, he sought to modernize the country by promoting the construction of roads, a railroad, and telegraph lines that would overcome the topography of the Andes Mountains and unify the country physically. Within Ecuador, debate about his ideas and actions continues to ignite storms of controversy and passionate rhetoric even today.