Sunday, 20 September 2015

Out Of Their Trees : Colombian Genes

Today I’m looking at the ancestry of a member of the lgbt community from the Hispanic world as part of my celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month in the US which began last week. His name is Virgilio Barco Isakson (b.1965), pictured below.
Virgilio is the co-founder and board president of Colombia Diversa, an lgbt rights organisation. His immediate ancestry couldn’t be more illustrious. He father was Virgilio Barco Vargas (1921-1997) who was President of Colombia from 1986 to 1990, in between being Colombia to the USA and the UK. His mother is of mixed USA/Scandinavian blood.

At the time of writing Colombia has the most out lgbt politicians currently in office in South and Central America. They are 2 Ministers of State, a Senator and a member of Congress.

President Barco’s term of office was dominated by his battle against the drug lords, leading to much violence and murder. Controversially, he negotiated peace talks with leftist guerrillas. But, on the whole, his presidency is seen as one of the most liberal the country has seen, and he gave back land to indigenous communities.

Virgilio Barco Isakson is President Barco’s only son. Most of his ancestry is centred around the city of Cúcuta in north-eastern Colombia near the border with Venezuela. A large portion of the lands covered by Cúcuta was given to the municipal council by Virgilio’s great-great-grandfather in the 1850s. His name was Juan Manuel Atalaya y Pizano (1784-1860). In fact he was very generous to his adopted home town (he was Spanish by birth and emigrated to Colombia in 1815), that one of the barrios, the municipal districts of Cúcuta, is named after him. Juan’s wife, however, was of a long Colombian bloodline and she tragically died of injuries she sustained during the earthquake of 1875 which virtually destroyed Cúcuta.

Juan Atalaya y Pizano’s grand-daughter married the first Virgilio Barco (1858-1922), a general, our Virgilio Barco Isakson’s great-grandfather. General Barco was perhaps not the philanthropist that Juan Atalaya was, as he was a leading figure in the exploitation of the oil reserves and destruction of much of the rain forest. However, he was also a councillor in Cúcuta and established a medical foundation.

The ruling Hispanic dynasties of South America create a complex web of family relationships that means Virgilio Barco Isakson is related to most of the presidential families of the South American republics. Several of these dynasties feature prominently in Virgilio’s ancestry, mainly though his father’s mother who was born Julia Dúran Dúran (yes, it is a real name and not a 1980s pop group). Through both of her parents Julia is descended from the Rueda family several times.

The Rueda family arrived in Colombia around the year 1589. They were a Jewish family, and Cristóbal de Rueda González (1569-1610), a merchant, was the founder of the Colombian dynasty. The family settled in San Gil in the Santander province. As with most European invaders into the new World they established large plantations by taking land from local indigenous communities and making slaves of some of them.

One of Virgilio Barco Isakson’s ancestors through the Rueda family was the Conquistador Bartholomé Hernández Herreño (1502-1558). He and one of his sons met their deaths on the points of poisoned arrows shot by indigenous warriors in one of the many battles.

Herreño’s grandson was a Catholic priest. He had an illicit relationship with a woman called Beatriz who was half-Spanish, half-indigenous. Through this liaison Virgilio has native South American blood. It is very likely that he has more through other unresearched lines.

Another Conquistador ancestor was Pedro Gómez de Orozco (1517-1601), called “El Viejo”. He too attacked indigenous tribes and was struck by a poisoned arrow. Unlike Herreño he survived, though he was crippled for the rest of his life.

El Viejo’s great-grandson, also called Pedro Gómez de Orozco, married the aristocratic Doña Ana de Gorraiz Beaumont y Dega, a member of a noble Spanish family descended from Luis II de Beaumont, 2nd Count of Lerin (1430-1508) and his wife Doña Leona de Aragón. Leona was an illegitimate daughter of King Juan II of Aragon (1358-1479), while Luis’s mother was an illegitimate daughter of King Carlos III of Navarre (1361-1426). So, Virgilio Barco Isakson has royal Spanish blood in his veins as well as that of native South American tribes. Added to his North American, Scandinavian and Jewish blood this gives Virgilio Barco Isakson, as the name of his lgbt organisation suggests, a diverse heritage.

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