Juan Benigno Vela

Juan Benigno Vela

Juan Benigno Vela Hervas (Ambato, July 9, 1843 – Ambato, February 24, 1920) was an Ecuadorian politician, lawyer, journalist, educator, writer and poet. He earned his law degree from the Central University of Ecuador. Since the age of 33 he was completely blind. He founded the newspapers El Combate, La Idea, La Candela, El Argos and El Pelayo. He was an opponent of the conservative governments of Presidents Gabriel García Moreno and General Ignacio de Veintemilla. For his beliefs he was several times persecuted, imprisoned or exiled. From 1912-1919 he was a senator during the governments of Presidents Leónidas Plaza (1901-1905, 1912-1916) and Alfredo Baquerizo Moreno (1916-1920). He is remembered as a consistent advocate for human rights and freedom in Ecuador.

The Three Juans of Ambato

Juan Benigno Vela’s (1843-1920) legacy merges with Juan Montalvo (1832-1889) and Juan León Mera (1832-1894), collectively recognized as the Three Juans of Ambato, whose combined influence significantly molded Ecuador’s cultural and political landscape, resonating across generations.

Juan Montalvo, born on April 13, 1832, was a vociferous champion of liberal ideals, whose incisive critiques of authoritarianism reverberated throughout Ecuador. His seminal works, including “Las Catilinarias” and “Siete Tratados,” penned in the tumultuous year of 1889, epitomized his unwavering commitment to freedom of expression and moral rectitude. Montalvo’s untimely demise on January 17, 1889, in Paris, marked the end of a literary era characterized by fervent dissent and unwavering conviction.

In stark contrast to Montalvo’s fiery rhetoric, Juan León Mera, born in 1832, emerged as a bastion of conservatism and religious fervor. His composition of the Ecuadorian national anthem in 1865, amidst the backdrop of political upheaval, solidified his place in the pantheon of Ecuadorian cultural icons. Mera’s magnum opus, the novel “Cumandá,” published in 1877, stands as a testament to his ability to interweave romanticism with nationalistic sentiment, shaping the literary contours of his era.

Completing the triumvirate, Juan Benigno Vela, born on July 9, 1843, navigated the turbulent currents of Ecuadorian politics with unwavering conviction and steadfast liberalism. From his advocacy for liberal principles to his disillusionment with the political realities of his time, Vela’s life mirrored the tumultuous trajectory of Ecuador’s nascent republic. His passing in relative obscurity, marked by the loss of sight and hearing, symbolized the denouement of an era characterized by intellectual ferment and political upheaval.

A short video biography of Juan Benigno Vela


Monument of Juan Benigno Vela in Ambato, Ecuador
Monument of Juan Benigno Vela in Ambato, Ecuador
Museum of Juan Benigno Vela in Ambato, Ecuador
Museum of Juan Benigno Vela in Ambato, Ecuador
Juan Benigno Vela Wax Statue
Wax statue of Juan Benigno Vela at the museum that bears his name.

Juan Benigno Vela’s Role in Ecuador’s Magna Carta of 1906

Juan Benigno Vela played a pivotal role in crafting the Magna Carta of Ecuador in 1906, a historic document that ushered in numerous advancements for the nation and its people. This charter, often referred to as the Constitution of 1906, marked a profound moment in Ecuadorian history. It solidified the complete separation of church and state and championed the fundamental right to education, establishing a system of secular, public, and compulsory schooling at the primary level. Moreover, it barred religious leaders from holding legislative office, ensuring a clear divide between spiritual and political realms.

Furthermore, the Magna Carta extended official protection to indigenous communities, shielding them from exploitation and abuse. It also fostered the growth of arts and sciences, while bolstering the nation’s military strength. Embodying the values of democracy, the document enshrined the cherished right to freedom of speech, allowing individuals to express themselves without fear of persecution. However, it also held individuals accountable for defamation and slander, even when disseminated through the press.

Juan Benigno Vela’s tireless advocacy and unwavering dedication to reform were instrumental in shaping the Magna Carta. His relentless efforts paved the way for the freedoms enjoyed by Ecuadorians today, leaving an indelible mark on the nation’s history and collective conscience.

Jobs and posts

  • Member of the Literary Society
  • School Inspector of the Province of Tungurahua
  • Rector of the Bolívar National School
  • Member of the Cantonal Council of Ambato
  • Patriotic Board of Tungurahua
  • Civil and Military Chief of Tungurahua
  • Governor of Tungurahua
  • Deputy to the Constituent Assembly
  • Senator of Tungurahua

Important dates

  • 1878 – Founded the newspaper El Espectador.
  • 1891 – His wife died.
  • 1893 – He was elected councilor and presided over the Council.
  • 1898 – His daughter María died and he was elected Deputy Senator of Tungurahua.
  • 1901 – Supported the candidacy of Leónidas Plaza against that of Manuel Antonio Franco.
  • 1911 – Mediated before Congress for the constitutional order not to be violated
  • 1912 – 1919 -He was a senator and strongman of the Governments of Plaza and Baquerizo.


Juan Benigno Vela died on February 24, 1920 due to the typhus plague and was buried in the Municipal Cemetery of La Merced de Ambato.


The following is a selection of poems by Juan Benigno Vela, one of Ecuador’s most influential writers and political figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I have chosen to translate these particular works as they showcase Vela’s unwavering commitment to his ideals, his deep love for his family, and his resilience in the face of adversity. Written during his imprisonment, these poems serve as a testament to Vela’s steadfast devotion to his loved ones, his country, and his principles.



Guayaquil Artístico,
Issue No. 66, April 30, 1903.

Translated into English by Richard Gabela on 4/9/2024

Blind I am, yet in bliss
my soul dwells in its agony,
for the radiant light
embodies life, future, and sustenance
anxiously awaited in the darkness.

Light of my eyes, cherished
partner in my destiny;
a perpetually burning lamp
guiding the way
through life’s voyage.

Absent your love, Mercedes, observe,
life would transform into a loathsome burden,
harsh and unforgiving.
Perhaps, unjustly, I might blame
the Divine Providence.

When a storm of misfortune envelops
and shakes my heart, and vehemently
agitates the enduring suffering,
of my tempestuous existence.

Ah! Mercedes, your pure love
and the grandeur of your love,
like an enchanting spell, lift me up,
and I imbibe serenity in big draughts.


Guayaquil Artístico,
Guayaquil, Nº 66, abril 30, 1903.

Ciego soy, pero dichoso
vive mi alma en su tormento,
porque la luz esplendorosa
vida, porvenir y aliento
en la tubería debe ansiosa.

Luz de mis ojos, querida
compañera en mi destino;
lámpara siempre encendida
para alumbrar el camino
en el viaje de la vida.

Sin tu amor, Mercedes mira,
una carga la existencia
odiosa, cruel me sería.
Y acaso a la Providencia
sin razón yo acusaría.

Cuando la rodea tormenta
del infortunio conmueve
mi corazón, y violenta
el largo sufrir remueve,
de mi vida turbulenta.

!Ah! Mercedes, tu amor puro
y la grandeza de tu alma,
como un mágico conjuro
me levantan, y la calma
a grandes tragos apuro.

!Ah! Mercedes, tu amor puro
y la grandeza de tu alma,
como un mágico conjuro
me levantan, y la calma
a grandes tragos apuro.



Quito Prison, December 21, 1884

Translated into English by Richard Gabela on 4/9/2024

My mind always dwells with you,
my heart consistently beats for you,
God and you alleviate my suffering,
you, the children of my soul.

My life is devoted to you, for you I endure;
I aim to bequeath you an unblemished name,
for capricious fate has stingily
denied me other riches.

I hope that time, and the stern annals of history,
should they ever mention my obscure name,
oh, let them never claim that any adversity
rendered me unworthy.

Let them recount that my soul, in noble strife,
fought always for the beloved people’s cause,
seeking enlightenment, freedom, advancement,
a beacon for the spirit.

Let them declare that my disdain for tyrants was
greater in my heart than any other passion;
that I valiantly opposed tyranny,
never yielding to cowardice.

Let them assert that for my beloved Homeland,
I scornfully spurned petty favors;
that even in poverty, I maintained
my nobility and pride.

When you speak my name,
children of my soul, do so with pride;
I have been a victim, yet not deemed guilty,
merely a miserable blind man.


Cárcel de Quito, 21 de diciembre de 1884

Siempre mi mente con vosotros vive,
siempre mi pecho por vosotros late,
Dios y vosotros consoláis mis penas,
hijos de mi alma.

Vuestra es mi vida, por vosotros sufro;
quiero mi nombre transmitiros limpio,
ya que otros bienes, caprichosa suerte
niégame avara.

Quiero que el tiempo, la severa historia
si es que se ocupan de mi oscuro nombre,
oh! nunca digan que revés alguno
hízome indigno.

Digan que mi alma en generosa lucha,
siempre en defensa del amado pueblo,
luz demandaba, libertad, progreso,
luz para el alma.

Digan que el odio a los tiranos pudo
más en mi pecho que pasión alguna;
que al despotismo combatí animoso,
nunca cobarde.

Digan que siempre por la Patria mía
ruines favores rechacé indignado;
que en la pobreza conservarme pude
noble y altivo.

Cuando vosotros repitáis mi nombre,
hijos de mi alma, con orgullo sea;
víctima he sido, pero no culpado
mísero ciego.



Dec. 30, 1884

Translated into English by Richard Gabela on 4/9/2024

I yearn for life, for beyond death lies something noble,
A calling to uplift, a magnanimous purpose;
Destined are we to leave our mark—
Heroic, transcendent, magnificent.

To perish in pursuit of truth’s resplendent victory
Is the dream that infuses my existence with purpose,
A perpetual aspiration that consumes me.

Indeed, to die thus, leaving nothing behind,
Neither a light, nor an effort, nor a memory,
Devoid of that which could elevate me from oblivion
And enshrine me within the annals of history;

Oh! To fulfill the destinies ordained by God’s profound mysteries
Is not mere existence; it is life’s true essence;
To live is to embrace progress,
To challenge oppression and champion righteousness.

What care have I for exile and imprisonment,
For poverty, disillusionment, and torment,
If through these trials my soul finds refinement,
And my intellect gains liberation, pristine and pure?

Struggle, sacrifice, and dedication—
These are the demands our nation places upon us,
To prevail in the darkness where truth’s light
Is banned, its radiance concealed.

I shall join the fray: my modest contributions
Dedicated to the pursuit of a glorious ideal;
As long as Freedom reigns, I shall greet death with joy…
Blessed be the peacefulness that follows from the grave.


Dic. 30 1884

Quiero vivir, porque a la tumba hay algo
De noble que elevar, de generoso;
Hay que dejar detrás alguna huella
De heroico, de sublime, de grandioso.

Morir por la verdad y por el triunfo
De una idea brillante y redentora,
Es un sueño que halaga mi existencia,
La eterna aspiración que me devora.

Pero morir así sin dejar nada,
Ni una luz, ni un esfuerzo, una memoria,
Algo que me levante del olvido
Y me traslade al libro de la historia;

Oh! No es morir cumpliendo los destinos
Que Dios en sus arcanos nos confía:
Vivir, es combatir por el progreso,
Vivir, es combatir la tiranía.

¿Qué me importan destierros y prisiones,
Pobreza, desengaños y tormentos,
Si mi alma es esa escuela se acrisola
Y es más libre, más puro el pensamiento?

Luchas, abnegación y sacrificios,
De nosotros la Patria necesita,
Para triunfar aquí donde no irradia
La luz de la verdad que está proscrita.

Yo lucharé: mis débiles esfuerzos
Son del partido de una gran idea;
Triunfe la Libertad, muérame entonces…
Del sepulcro la paz, bendita sea.



The Panopticon, October 1887.

Translated into English by Richard Gabela on 4/9/2024

Love your mother, my son,
with a love so profound,
that she may be in this world
your devotion, your passion.

Seek your daily sustenance
with the sweat that dignifies;
he who works is uplifted
and spared from infamy.

Correct diligently
and temper your passions;
practice virtuous deeds,
let no shadow linger on your conscience.

Above all, bless His name
day and night;
God is light, wisdom,
all goodness for humanity.

In adversity, show courage
and nobility,
for if you bow your head
dishonor will befall you.

Ask for no favors from any government,
my beloved son;
he who begs is already compromised
and his disgrace will be lasting.

May honesty always guide
your youth,
along with modesty and purity
and respect for virtue.

Let the tenderest compassion
reside in your heart;
and demonstrate your commitment to truth
in every circumstance.

Embrace lofty ideals,
those that elevate your mind;
and never bow your head
to trivial notions.

Let infamy and vice
find no refuge in your heart,
be just, and go forth calmly
in your sacrifices.

If you possess enlightenment, proudly
illuminate the people with it,
and you will see your brother emerge
triumphant from the shadows.

Weep with the unfortunate,
be compassionate and merciful;
and extend your hand discreetly
to those in need.

The greater your independence
and labor provide,
the clearer the conscience
of your soul becomes.

Never cease for a moment
to enlighten your understanding;
study as if parched,
with unyielding diligence.

From an early age, observe
your faults; through this practice
they will find remedy,
which later will prove futile.

Strive to preserve
your honor untarnished;
he who once disgraces himself
will not rise again.

He who, with Roman fortitude,
rejects oppression,
is noble; while those who succumb
rightly inspire revulsion.

Respect the law, until
despotism prevails no longer;
if it emerges, discern for yourself
what is truly righteous.

Be liberal, as I urge,
but always honest and sincere;
in politics, vacillation
reveals smallness of character.

Do not forsake your work and freedom
for positions of power;
do not emulate those who revel
in frivolity.

Speak the truth even when
faced with seemingly insurmountable adversity;
the just man fears
only the stain of wrongdoing.

As one who knows the world
through bitter experience, my son,
I impart these words of wisdom
to ensure your happiness in life.


El Panóptico, Octubre de 1887.

Ama a tu madre, hijo mío,
con un amor tan profundo,
que ella sea en este mundo
tu culto, tu desvarío.

Búscate el diario sustento
con el sudor que ennoblece;
quien trabaja se enaltece
y de infamias se halla exento.

Corrige con diligencia
y modera tus pasiones;
practica buenas acciones,
no haya sombra en tu conciencia.

Dios ante todo, su nombre
bendícelo noche y día;
Dios es luz, sabiduría,
todo bondad para el hombre.

En las desgracias, valor
has de mostrar y grandeza,
pues si inclinas la cabeza
te va encima el deshonor.

Favor a ningún gobierno
pedirás, hijo querido;
el que pide es ya un vendido
y su baldón será eterno.

Guía de tu juventud
sean siempre la franqueza,
la modestia y la pureza
y el respeto a la virtud.

Habite en tu corazón
la más tierna caridad;
y tu amor a la verdad
pruébalo en toda ocasión.

Ideas, las encumbradas,
Las que engrandezcan tu mente;
y nunca inclines tu frente
ante ideas apocadas.

Jamás en tu pecho asilo
tengan la infamia y el vicio,
sé justo, y al sacrificio
por serlo, vete tranquilo.

Luz, si la tienes, ufano
al pueblo con ella alumbra
y verás de la penumbra
surgir triunfante a tu hermano.

Llora con el desgraciado,
sé compasivo y clemente;
y tu mano ocultamente
extiende al necesitado.

Mientras más independencia
y trabajo te depara,
conocerás que se aclara
el cristal de tu conciencia.

No descanses un instante
de ilustrar tu entendimiento;
estudia como un sediento,
con agonía incesante.

Observa desde temprano
tus faltas; por este medio
tendrán ellas su remedio,
que más tarde será en vano.

Pon tu monta en conservar
ilesa, límpida tu honra;
el que una vez se deshonra,
no se vuelve a levantar.

Quien con romana entereza
no rechaza la opresión,
es traidor; y con razón
asco inspira su bajeza.

Respeta la ley, en tanto
que no impere el despotismo;
si éste surge, ve tú mismo
lo que en el caso es más santo.

Sé liberal, yo te mando,
pero honrado y muy genuino;
en política es mezquino
quien se presenta oscilando.

Tu trabajo y libertad
no dejes por los empleos;
no imites a esos pigmeos
que se hartan de liviandad.

Verdad di aunque infinito
parezca el mal que te viene;
el varón justo no tiene
más que temor al delito.

Yo que por dura experiencia
conozco el mundo, hijo mío,
estos consejos te envío
que harán feliz tu existencia.

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