Monthly Archives: February 2022

Talking Peace with Chivalry, 1820

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 255-256:

So it was that the archenemies of one of the bloodiest episodes of South American history met on a muddy road, far from the medullas of political power. They approached one another from opposite directions, their paths as contrary as their essential natures: Bolívar had come from a long line of aristocrats and wore his pedigree lightly; Morillo, born into a family of peasants, had become Count of Cartagena in the course of an illustrious career. Bolívar was confident, spontaneous, as only the wellborn can be; Morillo was shrewd and deliberate, having scrapped for every honor he had been awarded. Into that historic moment, Bolívar rode a strong mule, was accompanied by a handful of men, and was dressed in the garb of a humble soldier. Morillo, on the other hand, set out on a magnificent horse, was clad in a uniform bespangled with decorations, and accompanied by fifty of his best officers and a full regiment of hussars. As they rode over the bare hills in the damp chill of a November morning, they might have glimpsed the sparkling expanse of Lake Maracaibo in the distance. If they had glanced south, they would have seen the splendid peaks of the cordillera. Weary of war, anxious about their own capacities to execute it, they came to that crossroad with high and not dissimilar hopes.

Morillo was first to arrive, and when he appeared at the appointed place he was soon met by Bolívar’s aide Daniel O’Leary, who announced that the Liberator was on his way. As they perched on their horses, peering expectantly down the road, the general asked what kind of escort would accompany the president of the republic. O’Leary replied that Bolívar’s retinue amounted to no more than twelve patriot officers and the three Spanish commissioners who had negotiated the armistice in Trujillo. Morillo was taken aback. “Well,” he finally managed, “I thought my escort too small for this venture, but I see that my old enemy has outdone me in chivalry. I’ll order my hussars to withdraw.” He did so immediately. The Liberator’s modest party soon appeared on the crest of the hill that overlooked Santa Ana, and Morillo moved forward to meet it. As the two neared one another, General Morillo wanted to know which of the horsemen was Bolívar. When O’Leary pointed him out, the Spaniard exclaimed, “What? That little man in the blue jacket and sergeant’s cap; the one riding the mule?” But no sooner had he said it than Bolívar was before him. The generals dismounted and embraced each other heartily. Their words were cordial, warm—filled with the kind of respect and admiration only the most serious rivals can have for one another. They headed to the private house Morillo had commandeered for the occasion, and sat down with their officers for a celebratory lunch.

For all the enmity that had passed between them, the two leaders were instantly companionable, with much to discuss. Morillo had fought in the Battle of Trafalgar only days after Bolívar had trekked to Rome as a young man and made his spirited vow on the heights of Monte Sacro. Morillo had served under the Duke of Wellington, the brother of Richard Wellesley, whose help Bolívar had solicited when the revolution was but an idea, with much blood yet to be shed. There were innumerable toasts made to the end of hostilities and the future of Spanish American understanding. “To the victories of Boyacá!” one Spanish colonel sang out. “To Colombians and Spaniards,” General La Torre added, “may they march side by side all the way to hell against the despots and the tyrants!” The men spoke of sacrifices, of heroism, of the past ten years of their lives, which had been steeped in the dark business of war.

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Napoleonic War Surplus in Venezuela

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 216-217, 220:

THE ORINOCO WAS BUSTLING with outsiders. Admiral Brion, who was living in one of the lavish mansions on the waterfront, was overseeing a veritable whirl of activity along the river. … War supplies, too, were suddenly becoming plentiful. In June, a British ship delivered clothing and supplies for ten thousand men; days later, Brion himself brought in a valuable cargo of arms. By the end of July, a large ship had sailed in from London, followed by a brig from New York, bearing enough muskets, pistols, gunpowder, swords, and saddles to outfit an entire army. Bolívar purchased any and all such supplies, paying for them however he could—with mules, fruit, tobacco, livestock. “Arms have been my constant concern,” Bolívar had written to Luis López Méndez, his agent in London, but now they were flowing to him in abundance. So much so that at times there was no need for the equipment. One shipment arrived with fine leather saddles for Páez’s cavalry—saddles his wild horsemen would never use. The remnants of Wellington’s war with Napoleon, nevertheless, were beginning to put Bolívar’s troops at striking advantage. Within a few months, he had stored away fifty thousand stands of arms.

Wellington’s victory had provided something else to the republic: regiments of seasoned war veterans. As irony would have it, British soldiers who had fought alongside General Morillo’s officers in Spain were now enlisting to fight against them in Venezuela. The two years that followed the Battle of Waterloo saw a vast reduction in the size of the British army. In April of 1817, the London Times reported that half a million ex-soldiers were coming home to Britain’s greater population of 25 million. In good times, this would have been difficult enough; but these were not good times—England and Ireland had suffered famine, riots, rampant unemployment—and soldiers were returning to almost certain poverty. When Bolívar’s London agent López Méndez announced he wanted to recruit experienced soldiers to fight in the revolution, he found himself flooded with applicants.

Bolívar … allowed any of the foreigners appalled by the conditions of his post to leave without reprisals or recriminations. The ones who remained would prove to be an invaluable infusion of grit and dedication. Within a month, he would be sending for more. Within five years, fifty-three ships would bring more than six thousand volunteers from Britain and Ireland to serve in South America; 5,300 actually arrived. The ones who made it up the Orinoco to the plains quickly learned that making war in that faraway terrain was no easy way to earn money. Their contributions made a great difference to the revolution in that precise moment in history. Bolívar was convinced of it. He was known to say that the real Liberator of Spanish America was his recruiting agent in London, Luis López Méndez.

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A Year Without Summer, 1816

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 181-182:

Eighteen sixteen was the year without a summer. As Lord Byron put it, the bright sun had vanished and stars wandered “darkling in the eternal space.” The colossal eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia on April 10, 1815—the largest volcanic event in recorded history—had traveled the globe to spew a fine ash over Europe and the Americas. A year later, the earth’s atmosphere was so saturated with sulfur that brilliant sunsets inflamed the English skies, torrential rains washed away European crops, and a persistent gloom hung over North America. At the time, few imagined that a single geologic event in a remote location could affect the entire globe, and yet there was so much evidence of a freak imbalance: stinging frosts carpeted Pennsylvania in the middle of summer, killing the livestock; in Germany, harvests failed, causing a crippling famine; a typhus epidemic swept through the Mediterranean. There were surprising ramifications. Food riots gripped England and Ireland; Luddites torched textile factories with renewed frenzy. In a dark castle in rain-pelted Switzerland, Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein. In northern Europe, J. M. W. Turner was so stunned by the fiery skies that he recorded them in magnificent canvases for years to come. In France, rampant disease prompted a new age of medical discovery. And in the Caribbean, where Bolívar prepared to relaunch his revolution, a perfect calm preceded the hurricane season, which arrived a month sooner than usual, tossing the sea with singular fury.

Eighteen sixteen also became the revolution’s cruelest year. There were wholesale beheadings, hangings, firing squads—all in the name of “pacification.” General Morillo had installed draconian laws to rid Venezuela—Spain’s most defiant colony—of revolutionaries once and for all. The royalists arrested suspects in rural backwaters and relocated them to heavily defended towns, where they could be overseen. Anyone found wandering the countryside was a candidate for the gallows. Morillo’s men burned crops, purged the forests of fruit trees, killed farm animals, impounded horses, and executed any blacksmith capable of forging a lance’s head or any other weapon. Royalist commanders exacted taxes and punitive fines, making themselves rich and powerful in the process. Patriots, on the other hand, were stripped of whatever property they had.

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Bolivar’s 1815 Letter from Jamaica

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 175-177:

One of Bolívar’s many writings during that time was an astonishingly prescient letter addressed to an Englishman in Jamaica who expressed interest in his struggle for independence. More than a friendly missive, this was a masterful tour d’horizon. Clearly Bolívar meant it to enjoy wide dissemination. Written in vibrant prose and reflecting a profound grasp of the legacy of colonialism, the letter was read at first only by the small English circle for whom it was intended. It would take more than a dozen years to be retranslated into Spanish. But the letter served as a blueprint for Bolívar’s political thought, and its ideas would emerge in countless documents during those formative days.

The “Letter from Jamaica” declared unequivocally that the bond between America and Spain had been severed forevermore: it could never be repaired. Although the “wicked stepmother” was laboring mightily to reapply her chains, it was too late. The colonies had tasted freedom. “Our hatred for Spain,” he declared, “is vaster than the sea between us.”

In turns a paean to the inexpressible beauty of the continent and a shriek of fury at its despoliation, Bolívar’s letter is a brilliant distillation of Latin America’s political reality. His people, he explains, are neither Indian nor pardos nor European, but an entirely new race, for which European models of government are patently unsuitable. Monarchies, to these Americans, were abhorrent by definition; and democracy—Philadelphia style—inappropriate for a population cowed and infantilized by three hundred years of slavery. “As long as we do not have the political virtues that distinguish our brothers of the north,” he argued, “a democratic system, far from rescuing us, can only bring us ruin. . . . We are a region plagued by vices learned from Spain, which, through history, has been a mistress of cruelty, ambition, meanness, and greed.” Most important to the welfare of these fledgling republics, Bolívar insisted, was a firm executive who employed wisdom, dispensed justice, and ruled benevolently for life. His America needed a strong, centralized government—one that addressed the people’s wretched condition, not a perfectly conceptualized, theoretical model dreamed up by idealists on some far-flung shore.

But the “Letter from Jamaica” was more than mere propaganda; it was inspired prophecy. In it, Bolívar predicted that revolution-torn Mexico would opt for a temporary monarchy, which indeed it did. He pictured the loose confederation of nations that later became Central America. Given Panama’s “magnificent position between two mighty seas,” he imagined a canal. For Argentina, he foresaw military dictatorships; for Chile, “the blessings that flow from the just and gentle laws of a republic.” For Peru, he predicted a limbo in which privileged whites would not tolerate a genuine democracy, colored masses would not tolerate a ruling aristocracy, and the constant threat of rebellion was never far from hand. All these would come to pass. In some countries, one could even say, Bolívar’s visions still hold.

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Civil War Butchery in Venezuela, 1813

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 151-154:

A British traveler in the service of Spain now noted a marked change in Caracas. Spaniards were being dragged to the dungeons, made to surrender their wealth to patriot coffers. The unwilling were taken to the marketplace and shot. Not outright, but limb by limb, so that onlookers could watch them wriggle as musicians struck up lively airs. These spectacles caused such merriment that the multitude, provoked to an obscene frenzy, would finally cry, “Kill him!” and the executioner would end the victim’s suffering with a final bullet to the brain. A Spaniard in agony had become a source of amusement, a ready carousel of laughs.

Outside Caracas patriots hardly fared better. The “Legions of Hell”—hordes of wild and truculent plainsmen—rode out of the barren llanos to punish anyone who dared call himself a rebel. Leading these colored troops was the fearsome José Tomás Boves. A Spanish sailor from Asturias, Boves had been arrested at sea for smuggling, sent to the dungeons of Puerto Cabello, then exiled to the Venezuelan prairie, where he fell in with marauding cowboys. He was fair-haired, strong-shouldered, with an enormous head, piercing blue eyes, and a pronounced sadistic streak. Loved by his feral cohort with a passion verging on worship, he led them to unimaginable violence. As Bolívar’s aide Daniel O’Leary later wrote, “Of all the monsters produced by the revolution . . . Boves was the worst.” He was a barbarian of epic proportions, an Attila for the Americas. Recruited by Monteverde but beholden to no one, Boves raised a formidable army of black, pardo, and mestizo llaneros by promising them open plunder, rich booty, and a chance to exterminate the Creole class.

The llaneros were accomplished horsemen, well trained in the art of warfare. They needed few worldly goods, rode bareback, covered their nakedness with loincloths. They consumed only meat, which they strapped to their horses’ flanks and cured by the sweat of the racing animals. They made tents from hides, slept on earth, reveled in hardship. They lived on the open prairie, which was parched by heat, impassable in the rains. Their weapon of choice was a long lance of alvarico palm, hardened to a sharp point in the campfire. They were accustomed to making rapid raids, swimming on horseback through rampant floods, the sum of their earthly possessions in leather pouches balanced on their heads or clenched between their teeth. They could ride at a gallop, like the armies of Genghis Khan, dangling from the side of a horse, so that their bodies were rendered invisible, untouchable, their killing lances straight and sure against a baffled enemy. In war, they had little to lose or gain, no allegiance to politics. They were rustlers and hated the ruling class, which to them meant the Creoles; they fought for the abolition of laws against their kind, which the Spaniards had promised; and they believed in the principles of harsh justice, in which a calculus of bloodshed prevailed.

EVEN AS DECEMBER CAME AND went—even as Spain crept out from under Napoleon and Ferdinand resumed his teetering throne—the butchery in Venezuela continued. It is altogether possible that the Spanish nation, emerging from its long night of terror, had little idea of the carnage that consumed its colonies. For Bolívar, a war to the death was a retaliatory measure; he had believed it would unite Americans against foreigners. The result was quite the opposite: Americans turned against Americans—Venezuelans took up weapons against their neighbors—and the revolution became a racial conflict, a full-fledged civil war.

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Revolutionaries vs. Royalists in Venezuela

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. pp. 102-104:

Although the framers of the new republic claimed the establishment of a full democracy, it soon became clear that democracy would have a different face in Venezuela. Only citizens who owned property would have the right to vote; others would merely have the right to “enjoy the benefits of the law without participating in its establishment.” Bolívar was dismayed. Miranda, who originally had envisioned a unified America under the rule of a hereditary Inca, was equally distressed, but their views were largely ignored as congress set out to fashion a constitution. Miranda and Bolívar may have disagreed on some points—Bolívar wanted all Spaniards expelled, while Miranda was willing to let them stay—but they agreed completely on the notion that the new republic would need, more than anything, a united purpose and a strong central government to deliver it. Congress, on the other hand, favored a loose federation of states that would preserve old ruling factions, and it set out to write a constitution that would ensure that existing class structures prevailed. The result was anything but egalitarian. The military remained segregated (even the black militias were to be headed by whites); the slave trade was suspended, but slave owners could keep the slaves they had; and although pardos were told they were now free from “civil degradation,” they were given no ballot and no franchise in the future of the republic. The constitution, in short, handed all power to rich whites, and it fooled no one.

Almost immediately, Spain’s agents, including the Church, moved to take advantage of the injustices. The archbishop of Caracas directed his priests to educate blacks and pardos about the racial discrimination inherent in the new laws. Royalists traveled up and down the coast trying to provoke a slave insurrection. It didn’t take long for their strategy to work. Slaves, outraged that they they had been cheated of their promised freedom, rose up against their Creole masters, raiding their country estates, massacring whole families, burning fields, and demolishing property. As whites recoiled in horror, the black counterrevolutionary ranks only swelled, drunk now with newfound power.

In Maracaibo, Coro, and Guayana—a vast swath that reached from the agriculturally rich west to the eastern savannas—the poor and exploited pledged undying devotion to King Ferdinand. Cacao fields languished in the sun, mines went neglected, and the economy began a dangerous downward spiral. On July 19, 1811, a violent uprising erupted in the city of Valencia, less than a hundred miles from the capital. Congress decided to send the Marquis del Toro and his troops to quell it, but neither the congress nor del Toro himself had much faith they could accomplish their mission. Just months before, the junta had directed the marquis to put down a royalist disturbance in Coro, and the old nobleman, more comfortable in a salon than on a field of battle, had proceeded to correspond politely with the leaders of the port city he was supposed to besiege. Eventually, when diplomacy failed, he had set out over two hundred miles of desert road with defective ammunition and a few obsolete cannons, borne on the backs of slaves. Only one in ten of his soldiers carried a gun. When they arrived, the Spaniards simply sprayed them with grapeshot, and the general and his troops turned and fled for their lives.

Much the same happened in Valencia. No sooner did the marquis’s army attack than the royalists countered with a superior force and the marquis lost his nerve. It became patently clear to the republicans in Caracas that the only real soldier in their midst was Miranda; they offered him the post of commander and called on him to lead a larger expedition. Miranda agreed on the bizarre condition that the eager young Bolívar, who fully expected to march at his side, be given some pretext and removed from his post as commanding officer of the militia of Aragua.

It is difficult to say what in Bolívar had irritated Miranda more—his inexperience, his brash confidence, his loyalty to the marquis, perhaps even his brilliance—but it was a firm stipulation and Miranda was in dead earnest. Members of congress were surprised, even taken aback by the general’s demand. They asked why he had such a bad opinion of Bolívar, to which he replied, “Because he is a dangerous young man.”

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Simon Bolivar Meets the Pope

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle p. 65:

In the elegant bustle of the Humboldt villa in Rome, however, the diplomat Wilhelm von Humboldt introduced Bolívar to Antonio Vargas Laguna, Spain’s ambassador to the Holy See. Vargas would later be imprisoned for his harsh and principled views of Napoleon, but in those early and heady days of 1805, when tolerance was the rule and France was perceived to be a progressive force in the world, the candid ambassador was a highly respected presence. In a fit of generosity, he offered to take Bolívar to the Vatican to meet Pope Pius VII.

Perhaps Vargas thought he had prepared his young guest adequately when he told him that a visitor to the pope should be ready to kiss his sandal and pay deference to papal symbols. But the ambassador was rudely surprised by the scene that unfolded under his supervision. When they were ushered into the papal offices and Bolívar was expected to step forward, kneel, and kiss the cross on the pontiff’s sandal, he refused to do it. Vargas was taken aback, visibly flustered. The pope, seeing the diplomat’s embarrassment, tried to make light of it. “Let the young Indian do as he pleases,” he murmured. He extended a hand and Bolívar took it and kissed his ring. The pope then asked him a question about the Indies and Bolívar answered it to his satisfaction, after which the audience was over and the pope moved on to someone else. As they were leaving the Vatican, Vargas scolded the young man for not following the proper etiquette, to which Bolívar had the sharp retort, “The Pope must have little respect for the highest symbol of Christianity if he wears it on his sandals, whereas the proudest kings of Christendom affix it to their crowns.”

It is hard to know what was more irksome to Bolívar at that moment: being expected to kiss a shoe or being rebuked by a Spaniard. He had been away from Spain’s sphere of influence for almost a year now and the distance had been clarifying. He had—as Alexander von Humboldt would come to realize many years later—a deep-seated hatred for Spain. It had started as a natural Mantuano [white Creole elite] response and had grown in the few months he had spent in Venezuela as a married landowner, struggling to manage his properties. It had grown again in France, where he had seen the exuberance of a nation rid of its Bourbon king.

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Spanish Repression in the Americas

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 25-28:

FOR TWO HUNDRED YEARS, FROM the mid-1500s through the mid-1700s, the world that Spain had made had struggled against fiscal failure. The empire whose motto had once been a rousing Plus Ultra! had glutted world markets with silver, thwarted the economic growth of its colonies, and brought itself more than once to the brink of financial ruin. Nowhere was Spain’s misguided fiscal strategy more evident than in the streets of Caracas in the late 1700s, where a deep rage against the madre patria was on the rise.

The case of the Spanish American colonies had no precedent in modern history: a vital colonial economy was being forced, at times by violent means, to kowtow to an underdeveloped mother country. The principal—as Montesquieu had predicted a half century before—was now slave to the accessory. Even as England burst into the industrial age, Spain made no attempt to develop factories; it ignored the road to modernization and stuck stubbornly to its primitive, agricultural roots. But the Bourbon kings and their courts could not ignore the pressures of the day: Spain’s population was burgeoning; its infrastructure, tottering; there was a pressing need to increase the imperial revenue. Rather than try something new, the Spanish kings decided to hold on firmly to what they had.

At midnight on April 1, 1767, all Jesuit priests were expelled from Spanish America. Five thousand clerics, most of them American-born, were marched to the coast, put on ships, and deported to Europe, giving the crown unfettered reign over education as well as over the widespread property of the Church’s missions. King Carlos IV made it very clear that he did not consider learning advisable for America: Spain would be better off, and its subjects easier to manage, if it kept its colonies in ignorance. Absolute rule had always been the hallmark of Spanish colonialism. From the outset, each viceroy and captain-general had reported directly to the Spanish court, making the king the supreme overseer of American resources. Under his auspices, Spain had wrung vast quantities of gold and silver from the New World and sold them in Europe as raw material. It controlled the entire world supply of cocoa and rerouted it to points around the globe from storehouses in Cádiz. It had done much the same with copper, indigo, sugar, pearls, emeralds, cotton, wool, tomatoes, potatoes, and leather. To prevent the colonies from trading these goods themselves, it imposed an onerous system of domination. All foreign contact was forbidden. Contraband was punishable by death. Movement between the colonies was closely monitored. But as the years of colonial rule wore on, oversight had grown lax. The war that had flared between Britain and Spain in 1779 had crippled Spanish commerce, prompting a lively contraband trade. A traffic of forbidden books flourished. It was said that all Caracas was awash in smuggled goods. To put a stop to this, Spain moved to overhaul its laws, impose harsher ones, and forbid Americans even the most basic freedoms.

The Tribunal of the Inquisition, imposed in 1480 by Ferdinand and Isabel to keep a firm hold on empire, was given more power. Its laws, which called for penalties of death or torture, were diligently enforced. Books or newspapers could not be published or sold without the permission of Spain’s Council of the Indies. Colonials were barred from owning printing presses. The implementation of every document, the approval of every venture, the mailing of every letter was a long, costly affair that required government approval. No foreigners, not even Spaniards, could visit the colonies without permission from the king. All non-Spanish ships in American waters were deemed enemy craft and attacked.

Spain also fiercely suppressed American entrepreneurship. Only the Spanish-born were allowed to own stores or sell goods in the streets. No American was permitted to plant grapes, own vineyards, grow tobacco, make spirits, or propagate olive trees—Spain brooked no competition. It earned $60 million a year, after all (the equivalent of almost a billion today), by selling goods back to its colonies.

But, in a bizarre act of self-immolation, Spain enforced strict regulations on its colonies’ productivity and initiative. Creoles were subject to punishing taxes; Indians or mestizos could labor only in menial trades; black slaves could work only in the fields, or as domestics in houses. No American was allowed to own a mine; nor could he work a vein of ore without reporting it to colonial authorities. Factories were forbidden, unless they were registered sugar mills. Basque businesses controlled all the shipping. Manufacturing was rigorously banned, although Spain had no competing manufacturing industry. Most galling of all, the revenue raised from the new, exorbitantly high taxes—a profit of $46 million a year—was not used to improve conditions in the colonies. The money was shipped back, in its entirety, to Spain.

Americans balked at this. “Nature has separated us from Spain by immense seas,” exiled Peruvian Jesuit Viscardo y Guzmán wrote in 1791. “A son who found himself at such a distance would be a fool, if, in managing his own affairs, he constantly awaited the decision of his father.” It was as potent a commentary on the inherent flaws of colonialism as Thomas Jefferson’s “A Summary View of the Rights of British America.”

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Home Country Hegemony in Spain’s Colonies

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 18-20:

AS DON JUAN VICENTE [Bolivar, Simon’s father] SETTLED into his new life, he began to be alarmed by Spain’s dominion over it. For fifty years he had been a loyal subject of the king, a trusted judge, governor, and military commander, but by 1776, just as the British colonies declared their independence, Don Juan, too, was dreaming of insurrection. He had good reason to. Spain’s Bourbon regime, which had high ambitions, had decided to impose a strict rule over its colonies. It put into place a number of anti-Creole laws that had a direct effect on Don Juan Vicente’s businesses. First, Venezuela was separated from the viceroyalty of New Granada, a sprawling region that originally reached from the Pacific to the Atlantic over the northern territories of South America; next, an intendant was installed in Caracas to administer economic affairs, and a captain-general to rule over political and military matters. With a direct umbilical to Madrid now, Venezuela began to suffer tighter restrictions on its ranches, mines, and plantations. The Council of the Indies, which governed the Americas from Madrid and Seville, strengthened its hold. Taxes were increased. A ubiquitous imperial presence was felt in all transactions. The Guipuzcoana Company, a powerful Basque corporation that monopolized imports and exports, was reaping great profits on every sale.

If Don Juan Vicente feared the impact of these new regulations, he saw that the blow would be more than financial. Creoles were being squeezed out of government roles. Throughout the Spanish Americas, from California to Buenos Aires, Spain began appointing only peninsulares—those born in Spain or the Canary Islands—to offices that decided important affairs. This was a sweeping, ultimately radicalizing change, reversing a culture of trust between Creoles and Spaniards that had been nurtured for more than two hundred years. In Italy, an exiled Peruvian Jesuit priest, Juan Pablo Viscardo y Guzmán, wrote angrily that it was tantamount to declaring Americans “incapable of filling, even in our own countries, places which, in the strictest right, belong to us.”

The most infuriating aspect of this for Creoles such as Don Juan Vicente was that the peninsulares being assigned the highest positions were often inferior in education and pedigree. This was similar to a sentiment held for years in British America. Both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin had registered strong objections to preferences given to British-born subjects when it was clear that the American-born were far more skilled. In the Spanish colonies, the new emissaries of the crown were largely members of Spain’s middle class: merchants or midlevel functionaries with little sophistication. As they took over the most coveted seats of power, their inadequacies were not lost on Creoles who now had to step aside. In Spain, not everyone was blind to the implications. A Bourbon minister mused that colonial subjects in the Indies might have learned to live without freedoms, but once they acquired them as a right, they weren’t going to stand by idly as they were taken away. Whether or not the court in Madrid understood the ramifications, Spain had drawn a line in the sand. Its colonial strategy shifted from consensus to confrontation, from collaboration to coercion; and to ensure its grip on the enormous wealth that America represented, it put a firm clamp on its laws.

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Comparing Simon Bolivar to George Washington

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 4-6:

As Bolívar’s fame grew, he became known as the George Washington of South America. There were good reasons why. Both came from wealthy and influential families. Both were ardent defenders of freedom. Both were heroic in war, but apprehensive about marshaling the peace. Both resisted efforts to make them kings. Both claimed to want to return to private lives, but were called instead to shape governments. Both were accused of undue ambition.

There the similarities end. Bolívar’s military action lasted twice as long as Washington’s. The territory he covered was seven times as large and spanned an astonishing geographic diversity: from crocodile-infested jungles to the snowcapped reaches of the Andes. Moreover, unlike Washington’s war, Bolívar’s could not have been won without the aid of black and Indian troops; his success in rallying all races to the patriot cause became a turning point in the war for independence. It is fair to say that he led both a revolution and a civil war.

But perhaps what distinguishes these men above all can be seen most clearly in their written work. Washington’s words were measured, august, dignified—the product of a cautious and deliberate mind. Bolívar’s speeches and correspondence, on the other hand, were fiery, passionate. They represent some of the greatest writing in Latin American letters. Although much was produced in haste—on battlefields, on the run—the prose is at once lyrical and stately, clever but historically grounded, electric yet deeply wise. It is no exaggeration to say that Bolívar’s revolution changed the Spanish language, for his words marked the dawn of a new literary age. The old, dusty Castilian of his time, with its ornate flourishes and cumbersome locutions, in his remarkable voice and pen became another language entirely—urgent, vibrant, and young.

There is yet another important difference. Unlike Washington’s glory, Bolívar’s did not last unto the grave. In time, the politics in the countries Bolívar created grew ever more fractious, his detractors ever more vehement. Eventually, he came to believe that Latin Americans were not ready for a truly democratic government: abject, ignorant, suspicious, they did not understand how to govern themselves, having been systematically deprived of that experience by their Spanish oppressors. What they needed, in his eyes, was a strong hand, a strict executive. He began making unilateral decisions. He installed a dictator in Venezuela; he announced to Bolivia that it would have a president for life.

By the time he was forty-one, his wisdom began to be doubted by functionaries in every republic he had freed and founded. His deputies—jealous and wary of his extraordinary power—declared they no longer supported his dream of a unified Latin America. Regionalisms emerged, followed by border squabbles, civil wars, and, in Bolívar’s own halls, cloak-and-dagger betrayals. Trumped at last, he had no choice but to renounce command. His forty-seventh—and final—year ended in poverty, illness, and exile. Having given away the sum total of his personal fortune to the revolution, he died a poor and ravaged man. Few heroes in history have been dealt so much honor, so much power—and so much ingratitude.

But on the afternoon of August 10, 1819, as he stood at the viceroy’s splendid desk in the palace in Santa Fe de Bogotá, there was no limit to the possibilities of Bolívar’s America. The Spanish despot had left the room in such alarm that he had neglected to take the bag of gold on his table. Indeed, as Bolívar lay claim to the hoard of pesos left behind in the viceregal treasury, he understood that the tide had finally turned: his revolution stood to inherit all the abandoned riches of a waning empire. It would also inherit a whirlwind of political and social chaos. In a matter of a few years, Spain’s three-century yoke on the Americas would be sundered and the truly difficult journey toward freedom would begin.

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