José Prudencio Padilla, better known as Almirante Padilla (Admiral Padilla), is one of those personalities with a unique life history. Born in Riohacha in 1778 as a son of a black constructor of canoes and a Wayuu woman, José Prudencio joined the Spanish Royal Navy with 14 years. He served on the warship San Juan Nepomuceno. In 1805 he participated in the battle of Trafalgar where he was taken prisoner by the English. After his release in 1808, José Prudencio returned to Spain and later to Cartagena, Colombia.
In 1811 he joined the independence movement. Under the command of Simon Bolivar, José Prudencio helps to free Cartagena from a besiege of the Spaniards. He fought several more battles and got promoted. In 1823 he led the navy of Simon Bolivar into the Battle of Lake Maracaibo where he defeated the Spanish Royal Navy. Some say it was the last decisive victory against the Spaniards since it prevented an invasion.
In 1828 Padilla got accused of conspiracy against Simon Bolivar. He got executed at Plaza Bolivar, Bogota. A short time after his death, Admiral Padilla got rehabilitated.
Admiral Padilla is probably the most shiny person in the history of La Guajira. The navy shool of Cartagena Escuela Naval de Cadetes “Almirante Padilla” is named after him. Also the airport the airport of Riohacha is called after the city’s probably most famous son. There is also a Colombian battleship with the name Almirante Padilla. The main square of Riohacha also has a statue of José Prudencio. Outside of La Guajira the history of the Admiral is less remembered.
There is an awesome documentary series about Colombia’s forgotten heroes on Youtube. One episode is about Almirante Padia – unfortunately only in Spanish: