Known as the “liberator,” Simon Bolivar played such a monumental role in the liberating of South American countries from Spanish rule. Throughout the course of his whole life, he was able to free almost all of northern South America, and at this point, he was known as “El Liberator.” When studying South American independence efforts, it is physically impossible to bypass Simon Bolivar because of his prevalence in all countries. He was able to weave himself into the independence efforts of many countries, including Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. He was able to free these countries through a multitude of ways and had significant effects on these countries, even to the extent that he is still revered as “El Libertador” today.
One of the most powerful political figures in existence, Simon Bolivar was born into a wealthy creole family on July 24, 1783. Unfortunately, three years later his dad died, and shortly after that his mother also died. His uncle took him in and exposed Bolivar to many enlightenment ideas stemming from that of Voltaire and Rousseau. At the young age of 16, Bolivar was sent to Spain to complete his education and on the way, he stopped and was able to take in all of the excitement from the French and American Revolutions. Within 3 months, his wife died and never remarried. He was blessed with immense charm, a persuasive personality and confidence along with great leadership, and intelligence. Being familiar with Enlightenment ideas allowed him to vow in 1805, that he would free his homeland from Spanish rule. Six years later, in July, the congress saw Bolivar’s vision, and in response to it declared independence (Skidmore 30).
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As historians all know, the creoles were the first people to physically start the revolution. This was due to many reasons, the first being that the peninsular had ultimate dominion over the creoles. Being born in America was looked upon as a bad thing, and being born on the Iberian peninsula was a plus. Being born on Spanish soil, amidst Europe, automatically placed that person over the creoles, even though the creoles were their children in America. The distance between the two grew as the intendant system was installed. This made the peninsulares royal officers, giving them more power because they were associated with the king of Spain. They were able to report all affairs to the king, and this intendant system placed in by the Bourbons really put a wrinkle on the creoles. It took power away from them and added more hatred toward the monarch and peninsulares (Chasteen 87).
Another reason why his creole background would contribute to his role in independence would be the questioning of hegemony. Hegemony is being contented with the social bracket you are in. Mestizoes, mulattoes, indigenous, and African slaves didn’t have any problems with this, but the creoles did. They were sick of the fact that they couldn’t move up in the social ladder, and that they were stuck being second in line. With hegemony came a sort of domination that made people be content with where they were in society (Chasteen 66). However, now the rulers weren’t legitimate, meaning that they didn’t have the general consent to rule because of the Napoleonic wars. These wars forced the king off of the Spanish rule, them abdicating, and putting Napoleon’s family members on the throne. Napoleon placed his brother Joe on the throne in Spain and the Spaniards weren’t too thrilled about this move, because they were Spanish and they felt as if they wanted a Spaniard to represent them.
This also ties into the idea of the Junta in the colony, which doesn’t really represent the people there, but rather the ones in Spain because the overwhelming majority of the people there were peninsulares (Bolivar (Cartagena Manifesto)). This made the creoles even more livid because everything was just against them. They had no representation, they were sick of where they were in society, and they wanted the “Americans” to be able to rule in Latin America. Who is to blame the creoles for starting the independence efforts but everyone for their own oppression? Much of this discontent and acting out are seen in his Jamaica Letter and Cartagena Manifesto. Bolivar wrote his Jamaica letter on September 6, 1815. It shows concern about the instability in Europe, the oppression the colonists have been put under, and in general just resentment towards Spain. “The hatred that the Peninsula has inspired us is greater than the ocean between us.”
This line sums up the mutual feeling of the colonists. He proceeds with another quote that is also rather important to his argument. “The habit of obedience; a community of interest, of understanding, of religion; mutual goodwill; a tender regard for the birthplace and good name of our forefathers…” Spain has tied herself into affairs that the colonists feel as if they shouldn’t be part of. They aren’t living in the colonies, why should they rule us; tell us what to do, comment on our every whim? He proceeds in saying how he will eventually get revenge and starts alluding to Enlightenment thinkers to try to show the freedoms the colonists want (Bolivar (Jamaica Letter)).
In Cartegena Manifesto, Bolivar also speaks out about something near and dear to his heart. “Contrary to raise strong and disciplined troops, the government sought the installation of soldiers and other bureaucrats to defend against the interests of a republic that sought fortification, contributed to the depletion of public funds.” This direct quote truly exemplifies the oppression that Latin Americans have undergone. They have sabotaged any chance for change in Latin America and tried to just make them feel crappy about where they are in life. They want to oppress the colonists into submission, to the extent that they won’t act out. This just makes the colonists want to act out more, to fight for their rights that they deserve. Another direct quote also highlights this: “Beyond this, the most weakened the republic was adopted by the federal system, which according to the maximum exaggerated human rights promoted anarchy.” All of the coercion just made the colonists burst (Bolivar).
Bolivar used many methods to come to the conclusion of independence. Using his education, he was able to lead the military very efficiently. One reason for Bolivar being the more effective revolutionary was his military prowess. Since Bolivar was born into the upper class he was able to experience things that many others couldn’t and so he was able to rally up everyone in an attempt to bring his vision of independence together. For a fight for independence to be a successful one, there must be the ability to put aside your own beliefs in order to unite others that have the same views. This is very well put in a quote, “But white, upper-class generals like Bolivar could not win independence without the support of Latin America’s nonwhite majority” (Adams, 92). Bolivar amalgamated Creole and indigenous populations (llaneros) in a fight against the Spanish together. His convincing personality derives from his early enlightenment ideologies taught by Rodriguez. The men he led respected Bolivar and he respected his men (Adams 31-33).
Having respect and not being pompous are two key factors in being well-liked; Bolivar had a great personality that was able to get everyone on board for independence and had great leadership abilities that kept everyone on track. Bolivar has had a lasting impression on Latin America and he is to thank for their independence. Most of the European-controlled Latin American countries gained their independence. The colonies were free now, and prior to this, they were under the oppression of arbitrarily ruling monarchs. Also, many new countries were formed within a generation out of the old provinces that the Europeans owned. Bolivar worked quickly and was able to just have everyone filled with some sort of excitement to be free and to work together for a just cause.
However, these countries experienced much confusion after their independence and went through years of invasions and internal conflicts. This is the only downside of the independence efforts. Since they were self-reliant, they couldn’t depend on anyone else to bail them out of economic hardship and had to pay for all of the wars that they had fought. Simon Bolivar is a legend in Latin America. He is still revered today as one of the main reasons why they are in existence. When referring to him outside of Latin America, it might take a minute to figure out who he is, but when in Latin America they are truly passionate about all that he has done for them.
- Adams, Jerome R. Liberators and Patriots of Latin America. Jefferson: Mcfarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1991.
- Bolivar, Simon. “Cartagena Manifesto.” 12 Dec. 1812.
- Bolivar, Simon. “Jamaica Letter.” 6 Sept. 1815.
- Chasteen, John. C. Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America. W.W. Norton and Company Inc. 2006. Print.
- Skidmore, Thomas & Peter H. Smith. Modern Latin America. 5th ed. Oxford, 2001.