July 5


Simón Bolívar, the Spaniard who was no more Spanish than Marx and Freud were Jewish, the Liberator of South America who wasn't really a South American despite being born in Caracas, but rather a Frenchman manqué (he studied law in Madrid but trained for his destiny in Paris during the Revolution) today Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad de Bolívar y Palacios achieved his first triumph, the declaration of independence of Venezuela.

Liberator, or dictator - the words are not synonyms, though they are often used interchangeably. When they realised what freedom and independence actually entailed, the Venezuelans drove the Liberator out, and resisted all his endeavours to return. When Venezuela proved indomitable, he invented the new nation of Colombia, an expansion of the original Colombia which incorporated conquered Venezuela and New Granada, with Ecuador added later, and briefly Peru, whose northern territories were given the honour of bearing his name into posterity: Bolivia.

Was this simply the dream of an ambitious man to found and govern his own empire? Or is Bolívar the prototype of another kind of individual, the one who, belonging to no nation, has to invent the symbol of himself so that others may make a nation or an institution of it, and thereby imbue him with importance, not through his sense of belonging, but through theirs?

Bolívar is remembered as a hero, yet plainly the man, like most despots and dictators, was far more Super Id than he was Super Ego, though there was no shortage of Ego either.

He learned Revolution in Paris, but in fact he didn't reach Paris until well after the Terror had bedded in; perhaps this clouded his understanding, and like so many before and after he mistook the one for the other. Born in 1783, he was not yet a teenager when the French gave up their Republican ideals for what became a prefiguration of both the Bolívaran and the Communist empires. I believe he chose the month of July, and specifically the 5th July, on the one hand as an act of ostentatious symbolism, on the other as a declaration, less of independence than intent, but also as an act of nostalgia for his Paris youth.

To begin the liberation of South America on the date immediately following that of North America places that moment at an interesting point of linear history. But the future history of that line is unpredictable, and now, if you look it up in an almanac, yes, it is still in situ where he placed it, but for we who come afterwards and can look back, there are also the pages that now follow it: the storming of the Bastille on the 14th, the shooting of the Tsar and all his family on the 16th, the guillotining of Charlotte Corday on the 17th, the burning of Rome and the publication of Mein Kampf on the 18th, and one of the great modern nationalist uprisings on the 26th, when El Liberador of the Arabs, Gamil Abdul Nasser, overthrew the yoke of Christian Capitalist Imperialism and declared the Suez Canal Egyptian. Plus ça change, or however you might say that in Bolívaran Spanish (nás ça cambio possibly?)...

See also my fuller account of his life and politics on the Bolivia page of The World Hourglass, and a reference and a picture of the London plaque under June 24 of this blog-book. The page on Venezuela in TheWorldHourglass may shortly be in need of further updating. The illustration at the top of the page shows the youthful Bolívar, in Haiti; the one on the right is the head of the statue in London's Belgrave Square (downloaded from the Internet because, on the day that I went to take my own photo, there was an anti-Maduro march in progress, and someone had hung a placard round his neck that read "Maduro Murderer"; so I didn't take the photograph)

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