The General was also a master in outwitting the opponent. In 1819, he had already gained control of the Orinoco River basin with the men and munitions provided by President Petion of Haiti and installed the Congress of Angostura. To bypass the Spanish stronghold in Venezuela and defeat the smaller royalist forces in New Granada in a surprise attack, the liberating army marched across the Venezuelan lowlands flooded during the rainy season and staggered across the Andes mountains during the bitter cold winter. By 1820, he had freed Colombia. In 1821, he assured the independence of Venezuela, and in 1822, he incorporated Quito and Guayaquil into the Republic of Colombia after triumphal campaigns conducted in the high Andes mountains. He conquered Peru by the end of 1824. The final battle for the independence of South America was fought in the battle of Ayacucho in December 1824.
But Bolívar was so much more than a great military leader. He was a visionary and a man of the people. On his journeys-he rode over 54,000 miles on horseback during the struggle for liberation, more than twice the distance around the world-Bolívar had the habit of making casual stops to approach the men and women he met along the way and ask about their families, the nature of their illnesses, the condition of their businesses, what they thought about everything. He installed regional governments in every city freed from Spanish rule, which allowed citizens to participate in the new democratic state he wished to form. Bolívar believed that any democracy had to be based on justice, and he abolished slavery and gave equal rights to the native peoples from the very beginning of his campaign for liberation.
Above all, Bolívar promoted education-recognizing that only by educating everyone could the people understand and live in democracy. He established schools and colleges for men and women where people from all the different races of South America could attend, recognizing that the foreign rule of Spain had immersed the great masses of people in ignorance and tyranny. Bolívar was also for his people a great moral educator-his courage, generosity, optimism, respectfulness, and magnanimity made him beloved by millions. He gave his own money and fortune to the struggle for freedom and never accepted a salary or privileges for his work. He always claimed that the title of Liberator was his most valued treasure. Through speeches, proclamations, letters and articles written in the press he inspired the people and encouraged them in moral virtues such as sacrifice, discipline, and work. He insisted that the most valuable title anyone could aspire to was that of "good citizen" because it meant obedience to the law and concern for the good of all.
Perhaps Bolívar most singular contribution to a new vision of society was his hope for a unified South America. He strove to create a league of nations out of the freed Spanish American colonies, but in the effort to forge an indivisible brotherhood among neighboring countries he lost everything he had worked for. His one-time comrades-in-arms deserted him. He was misunderstood in the republican movement whose goals he had brought to fruition, and was accused of attempting to become emperor. He sacrificed the glory of his military victories for the sake of harmony and peace on the continent. It is exactly for attempting to unite the continent and for the personal renunciation this endeavor implied, relinquishing the highest positions any soldier could dream of- President of the unified Republic of Colombia, Dictator of Peru, President of Bolivia and Commander- in-Chief of the victorious liberating army-that he is remembered and admired to this day.
Simón Bolívar died on December 10, 1830 of pulmonary tuberculosis, abandoned, alone, and destitute. Although he was only 46 years old at the time of his death, he had the appearance of a very old man. It was as if he gave everything-all his energy, all his physical strength-to the fulfillment of his mission. He had wrested from Spain an empire five times larger than all of Europe, and had struggled for twenty years to keep it free and united. He is remembered as a man who had a deeper perception of his times than had his contemporaries, a visionary who saw the needs of an entire continent, and a man of action who moved decisively to remedy them. He failed to realize his dream of continental unity, but nourished it with his life and stamped it on the consciousness of Latin America
References and Recommended Readings
- García Márquez, Gabriel. Translated by Edith Grossman. The General in His Labyrinth . New York: A. A. Knopf. 1990.
- Prieto, Luis B. Translated by James D. Parsons. Simon Bolivar: Educator . New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1970.
- Trend, J. B. Bolívar and the Independence of Spanish America . Venezuela: Bolivarian Society of Venezuela, 1951.
- Wepman, Dennis. Simón Bolívar . New York: Chelsea Publishers, 1985.
- Worcester, E. Donald. Bolívar . Canada: Little Brown & Company, 1977.
Reprinted from Walking With Contemplation