Sunday, January 25, 2015


The plurinational state of Bolivia owes its existence to the great liberator, El Libertador Simon Bolivar, model for every left-wing revolutionary since, including Giuseppe Garibaldi and Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin, Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega, Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez, Pol Pot and Chairman Mao…

Bolivar's full name, incidentally, was Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco, a good aristocratic name for a true man of the people. He was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on July 24, 1783, an auspicious year in the history of liberation struggles - it was in February of that year that the American War of Independence from Britain came to an end with the Treaty of Paris, though in April the Russians annexed the Crimea, bringing its independence to an end, and in July the Treaty of Georgievsk did the same for Georgia. Bolivar's family were Basques, so perhaps the struggle for independence, liberation and ethnic acknowledgement was in his genes. His parents died when he was young, bequeathing him the considerable fortune of their gold and copper mines, which he used initially to travel and study and indeed marry in Europe, returning to Venezuela in 1803, where his wife, María Teresa Rodríguez del Toro y Alaysa, caught yellow fever and died. In Europe once again, Bolivar learned what there was to learn about revolution at the elbows of Napoleon - disciples learn at their mentor's feet, but rich aristocrats like Bolivar sit by their mentors at the banqueting table, and sip wine as well as wisdom - then took his evangelism back to Venezuela in 1807, where he joined the "patriot army" (the Spanish called it a "rebel group"); a wonderful irony this, for Napoleon had conquered Spain in the meanwhile, and appointed his brother Joseph Bonaparte as King of Spain, including all its colonies, including Venezuela, including Caracas, including therefore his protégé Bolivar. The patriots briefly captured Caracas in 1810 and declared independence, sending Bolivar back to Europe as their official ambassador; his one and only success there was an agreement by the British to remain neutral in the liberation struggle in South America.

The Spanish in the meanwhile recaptured Caracas, and it was as the leader of the patriot army that Bolivar returned home on May 14, 1813, to inaugurate the "Compana Admirable", the "Admirable Campaign", establish the second Venezuelan Republic, seize Bogota, then suffer defeat and flee to Jamaica where he wrote the famous "Letter From Jamaica", his utopian vision of a single South American Republic on the English Parliamentary model, save only that an elected President-for-life would serve in place of an unelected monarchy-for-ever. Though it was unstated, it was also perfectly self-evident that Bolivar intended himself as the first to fill that equivocal role. He almost achieved it too, bringing an army from Haiti in 1816, conquering New Granada in 1819, defeating the Spaniards in Boyar the same year, liberating the territory of Colombia too, from where he returned to Angostura to lead the Congress that organized the original territory of Colombia, and becoming its first President on December 17, 1819. President, not Dictator. Even when Gran Colombia was established in 1821, including most of what is now Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador in its territory, even then he continued to be named President. Only after the Spanish army had been crushed at Carabobo in Venezuela on June 24, 1821, which is to say, only after Napoleon's South American aspirations had been crushed, which is to say, only after Bolivar had taken everything he had learned at Napoleon's elbow, and practiced it himself, and proven that the student was superior to the master, only when the student was ready to stop taking notes, and to start delivering his own lectures, only then did he choose the title Dictator, in this case, in 1824, Dictator of Peru - and how the concept of Dictator rests alongside the democratic Jamaican Letter concept of President is actually quite easy to explain, though it requires the United States model to do so. The American President looks after home affairs, and has a Secretary of State to deal with foreign matters. A secretary is a person who types letters, memos, diary entries and other administrative notes, and is not expected to make them up himself or herself, but rather to stenograph what the President dictates. Dictator is thus an entirely innocuous synonym for President.

Napoleon, in casual mode, planning what to dictate next to his secretary
The country named Bolivia, both by him and for him, was founded in 1825, though really it was Upper Peru. Bolivar had practised this nice little narcissism once already, renaming Angostura as Ciudad Bolivar when he brought his army from Haiti in 1816. It is an interesting sideline of history to note that few dictators, despots, tyrants, autocrats or other messianic liberators of their people provided Bolivar with precedents for this naming of countries after themselves, and few have followed his example, though it would be easy enough to imagine Zimbabwe, which after all was once named Rhodesia for Cecil Rhodes, as Mugabia, or Britain as Cromwellia, or Russia, using the French of course as the Czars always preferred to do, as Maison des Putins, and I do hope I am spelling that incorrectly. But I am also digressing.

Bolivar's dream of a single Central American state, ruled by him as Dictator, but under the pretence of Liberator, did not meet the sort of universal approbation that he thought his wealth could purchase and his army impose, and the last years of his life are a tale of of assassination attempts, of internal struggles as small countries within Gran Colombia sought independence, of resignations that were really just grand sulks in the Churchillian and Ben Gurionesque manner, designed to have the people insist that he come back, of threats to go into exile that he clearly never intended to carry out, and finally defeat, not by human enemies but from tuberculosis, on December 17th 1830, at the age of 47, which was five years less than his mentor Napoleon managed.

Bolivar's legacy is similar to Napoleon's in many ways, and not only the customary paradigm of the megalomaniacal liberator who tyrannises in the name of freedom, and engages in brutal and murderous wars in order to bring his vision of peace and the sanctity of human life to fruition. Napoleon's "Edicts of Tolerance" were intended to free every race and class of Europe, to establish universal equality under the banner of Justice and Freedom; so too Bolivar in Central America. The constitution, which he drew up for Bolivia, remains his most important political achievement, but also his greatest failure, and this precisely because it established, and continues to endorse, the myth of Bolivar, sanctified in monuments, the names of cities, streets, plazas, museums, schools, even countries (Venezuela is properly "The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" and its currency is the bolívar fuerte; Bolivia uses the bolivian). To speak the name Bolivar today is to invoke the struggle for liberation against tyranny - and yet Bolivar was an aristocrat himself, who became a Dictator, and the model of endlessly repeated and endlessly failed dictatorship, across South America and across the world, owes much to the example of Simon Bolivar. Ask any South American what Bolivar achieved, and they will tell you that he liberated the north-western part of South America from Spanish rule. But no, he didn't. He liberated the north-western part of South America from Napoleonic rule, one megalomaniac competing with the other; and in the wake of the deaths of both of them Spanish predominance immediately returned to Central America, and Spanish predominance continues to this day throughout Central America, with an aboriginal underclass that belies Bolivar's utopist dream, Spanish as the universal language, Spanish history functioning as Central American history, and endless would-be Bolivar's emerging from military and civilian ranks to establish their own versions of the Dictatorship. Bolivar may have carried Adam Smith's 'The Wealth of Nations' with him, alongside Voltaire's 'Letters' and, when he was writing the Bolivian Constitution, Montesquieu's 'Spirit of the Law's, but the ultimate prophet of the people's liberation, Karl Marx, later decried Bolivar as "a falsifier, deserter, conspirator, liar, coward, and looter...a false liberator who merely sought to preserve the power of the old Creole nobility to which he belonged".


As to Bolivia itself, the country is quite ridiculously rich in mineral and energy resources, and yet manages to be one of South America's poorest countries, though the wealthy urban elites, mostly of Spanish ancestry, who run both political and the economic life of the country, don’t seem to have noticed that the rest of their compatriots are low-income subsistence farmers, miners, small traders or artisans. This may be because two-thirds of them are indigenous, which is only counted as human if they vote for you, clean your swimming-pool for you, or work as starvation-wage nannies for the spoiled brat princes and princesses who are your children. This began to change in January 2009, when President Morales presented a new constitution that actually gives rights to the indigenes – guess what, Morales is himself an indigene, the first in Bolivia’s history to achieve high office. Three years earlier he nationalised all energy production, which did not go down well with the foreign corporations, but did with his own electorate. Free trade is not an option in Bolivia, and most of the economy is controlled by the government. Its two closest allies are Cuba and Venezuela, which makes it surprising that the US have not yet intervened. Bolivia also has the largest coca crop in the world, though the government is trying to eradicate this in exchange for US aid (a better form of intervention than the usual guns and drones). Given the parlous state of the economy, and the dire levels of poverty, it may seem odd to state that the Bolivian economy suffered terrible reverses in the 2008 global crash – nevertheless, it did.

Marks For: 3

Marks Against: 9

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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