Simón Bolívar

Simón Bolívar was a soldier, statesman, political philosopher, and the liberator of Venezuela, Columbia, Equador, Perú, and Bolivia. You should read about Bolívar and Spanish America's independence movements in your textbook before examing this web site. If you are an Emory student, you may refer to the Britannica Online under the section Information Gateway in Euclid for a brief review of Bolívar's colorful and heroic life. Once in Britannica Online, search "Simon Bolivar".

After his initial attempts to oust Spain from Venezuela and Columbia had failed, Bolívar fled to the English island of Jamaica in 1815. There he wrote his famous "Jamaica Letter," in which he outlined his vision of the most practical form of government for Spanish America. When you read the letter, please keep the following questions in mind:

  • How does Bolívar depict Spain and its relationship to its colonies? Was Bolívar confident that Spanish America would prevail in its struggle for independence? Why was Spanish American independence so important to Bolívar?

  • How does Bolívar use history to explain Spanish America of the early 1800s?

  • According to Bolívar, what difficulties stood in the way of liberal and republican institutions in Spanish America?

  • Did Bolívar favor a federal system of government or a strong centralized government?

  • Some historians believe that rise of modern nationalism began in the early nineteenth century, the time of Bolívar's adult life. Think about the nationalistic language and argumentation Bolívar uses in his letter. How might such nationalistic language have differed from that used by those championing the Spanish empire in America over the last three centuries?

Please view the paintings of Bolívar below. In the first painting, does the artist Gil de Castro accurately portray Bolívar's confidence and determination? In the second painting, notice how Tito Salas glorifies Bolívar's leadership in battle. Bolívar is much venerated by Latin American countries today, but this was not always the case. Soon after the wars of independence his native country of Venezuela exiled him, and Columbia soon thereafter overthrew his rule. He died in route to exile. In the last painting, which José María Espinosa sketched in the same year as Bolívar's death, notice how dejected and exhausted El Libertador looked. Although a brilliant military leader, El Libertador was decisively less effective as a politician.


La Batalla de Araure

Bolivar in 1830