Simon Bolivar, The Liberator and Revolutionary Hero Who Freed South America
Simon Bolivar was a Venezuelan military and political leader who is remembered primarily for leading revolutions in Latin America against the Spanish Empire. Bolivar’s efforts led to the creation of Gran Colombia, which later fragmented into the modern countries of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. Additionally, Peru and Bolivia gained their independence thanks to Bolivar.
Simon Bolivar’s Early Life
Simon Bolivar, known colloquially as El Libertador, meaning ‘The Liberator’, was born on the 24 th of July 1783 in Caracas, Venezuela. He was the son of a Venezuelan aristocrat of Spanish descent and hailed from a family that had both wealth and status. Bolivar lost his parents at a young age, his father died when he was three years old and his mother six years later. As a consequence, he was raised by his uncle who hired tutors to educate the boy. One of these tutors was Simon Rodriguez, who was an admirer of the Enlightenment and introduced the young boy to the concepts of liberty and freedom.
At the age of 16, Bolivar was sent to Spain to complete his education. It was during this time that he met Maria Rodriguez, the daughter of a Spanish nobleman. The pair got married in 1802 and returned to Venezuela in the same year. A year later, Bolivar’s wife died of yellow fever and he returned to Europe in 1804.
Bolívar marries María Teresa Rodriguez del Toro in 1802. (Santy cardenas / CC BY-4.0)
This time, Bolivar went to France, and was part of Napoleon’s retinue for some time. In Paris, Bolivar met his former tutor Rodriguez, who had been forced to flee Venezuela in 1796 on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the yoke of Spanish colonial rule in Latin America. Additionally, Bolivar met the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt in the French capital.
von Humboldt had just returned from a voyage in South America and expressed to Bolivar his belief that Spain’s colonies in Latin America were ripe for independence but that he did not know who could achieve this feat. In 1805, while on Rome’s Aventine Hill with his tutor, Bolivar vowed to free Latin America from Spanish rule.
Simon Bolivar Returns to Venezuela
In 1807, Bolivar returned to Venezuela, and a year later, the independence movement in Latin America was launched. The Spanish settlers of Latin America saw Napoleon's invasion of Spain as an opportunity to sever their ties with the mother country. On the 19 th of April 1810, the Spanish viceroy was deposed, and a junta was established in Venezuela. In order to deter French designs on the country, Bolivar was sent to Great Britain to seek their support. Although he failed to achieve this, he met Francisco de Miranda, who had led a prior revolution, and convinced him to return to lead the new independence movement.
Venezuela declared its independence on the 5 th of July 1811, but this was short-lived. Spain responded by sending an army to reassert control over their rebellious colony. The Venezuelans were defeated and de Miranda, who was handed over to the Spanish, spent the rest of his life in prison. Bolivar went into exile but continued his dreams for an independent Latin America.
In late 1812, he went to New Granada, where there was a growing independence movement. He obtained 200 men and began attacking a Spanish garrison. Bolivar was victorious and more clashes ensued. As Bolivar was able to defeat the Spanish each time, his prestige and army grew.
The Liberator Simón Bolívar signing the Decree of War to Death. (Ylmer / Public Domain)
By the beginning of 1813, Bolivar had a large enough army and was ready to liberate Venezuela. Bolivar’s army, however, was smaller than that of the Spanish in Venezuela. Nevertheless, using speed and surprise, Bolivar was able to beat the Spanish and entered Caracas on the 7 th of August. The Second Republic too was short-lived, and Bolivar was forced into exile once more in 1814, following his defeat at the Battle of La Puerta.
Simon Bolivar Continues to Fight for Independence
Although defeated, Bolivar did not give up and continued his struggle for independence. In 1815, Bolivar wrote his famous ‘Letter from Jamaica’, which spoke about the struggles of Latin American independence and it was widely disseminated. In 1816, Bolivar returned to Venezuela and began his fight against the Spanish once more. In the three years that followed, there was no clear winner in the war between Bolivar and the Spanish forces.
In 1819, Bolivar planned to capture Bogota, the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada. Capturing the city would allow Bolivar to destroy the Spanish power base in the region. Although Bogota was practically undefended, Bolivar’s forces had to cross the Andes, which was considered to be an impossible feat. Still, Bolivar succeeded and took the city by surprise. At the Battle of Boyacá on the 7 th of August 1819, Bolivar was victorious and New Granada (modern day Colombia) was liberated.
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The Battle of Boyacá in the War of Independence of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama against Spain. (Petruss / Public Domain)
At the end of 1819, the Republic of Colombia (commonly referred to as Gran Colombia) was created. Most of the republic’s territory, however, was still under Spanish rule. Nevertheless, Bolivar was close to achieving victory. In Spain, a revolution broke out in 1820 that forced the king to recognize the ideals of liberalism, which discouraged Spanish action in Latin America. This allowed Bolivar to negotiate with the Spanish commander and obtained an armistice for six months. When fighting resumed, Bolivar was able to defeat the Spanish easily. After the liberation of Venezuela and Ecuador, Bolivar’s republic became a reality.
In the years that followed, Peru was liberated, as well as the region of Upper Peru, the last stronghold of the Spanish. The latter was renamed Bolivia in honor of its liberator. Incidentally, the southern part of the continent was liberated by another freedom fighter, the Argentinian Jose de San Martin. Now that Latin America was freed from Spanish rule, Bolivar envisioned a league of Latin America nations, though this did not receive the support he had hoped for. In fact, conflict soon broke among the newly-liberated nations. Civil war broke out between Venezuela and New Granada, while Ecuador was invaded by the Peruvians who wanted control of Guayaquil.
Bolivar realized that he was unable to resolve the conflicts between these nations and was in fact causing them. After an attempted assassination and failing health, Bolivar gave up all his positions in 1830. On the 10 th of December in the same year, Simon Bolivar died of tuberculosis. He is still regarded today as one of the greatest leaders of Latin America.
Bolívar's death, by Venezuelan painter Antonio Herrera Toro. (Gussgav / Public Domain)
Top image: Simón Bolívar, Liberator. Source: Antonio Marín Segovia / CC BY-SA 2.0.
By Wu Mingren
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