Daily Archives: 21 February 2022

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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