Venezuela: Simón Bolívar and the Bolivarian Republic
The Canaima National Park in southeastern Venezuela is home to an incredible waterfall with a creek bed made entirely of a large slab of red jasper rock. Curiously, part of the jasper was used to erect a statue of Simon Bolívar – the renowned and much adored Venezuelan military and political leader – which now lies in the centre of Santa Elena. Simon Bolívar played a pivotal role in Hispanic America’s struggle for independence from the Spanish empire, and is regarded as a hero, a revolutionary and a liberator in South America, in particular in Venezuela. He plays a pivotal role in today’s political scene, as the founding father and icon of Chávez’s political ideals.
A wealthy Creole landowner, at the age of 14 Bolivar commenced his military career and developed an ardent passion for military strategy which he was later to deploy in the war of independence; but it was his witnessing the coronation of Napoleon in Paris a few years later which touched him more profoundly, wishing to thereafter emulate and attain such glory for his native Venezuelans.
In 1813 Bolívar won several naval battles against the Spanish fleet with the aid of the British and the new republic of Haiti. Six years later, he proclaimed the Republic of Gran Colombia, an independent nation composed of the current territories of Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. In 1921, he liberated Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia but following a number of internal disputes and power vacuums over the successive years, Gran Colombia crumbled. In an attempt to keep the nation together as a single entity, Bolívar called for a constitutional convention. It became evident to Bolívar that his dream of a federation giving power to the individual had succumbed to outside pressures, thus leading him to attempt to implement a more centralist government in Gran Colombia. He gave himself power to remain president for life. This move cost him dearly, as he was met with much opposition at the Convention of Oceana; pro-Bolivar delegates withdrew from the Convention, leaving it without a quorum.
In a bid to reestablish his authority and as a means to reunite his beloved Gran Colombia, on 27th August 1828 Bolívar proclaimed himself dictator. The creation of a Bolivarian dictatorship caused widespread panic and increased dissatisfaction even amongst the conservatives, who systematically refused to remain subservient to Colombia. In 1930, Bolívar resigned from his presidency, intending to seek exile in Europe. José Antonio Páez was subsequently appointed provisional president. Bolívar never returned to Venezuela. The government of his native country forbade him to return to his homeland, and shortly after, in 1930, he died of tuberculosis.
Despite Bolívar’s tragic last few years, he remains a symbol of hope in Venezuela, evident not only in the official name of the country, La República Bolivariana (The Bolivarian Republic), but also in the currency, the bolívar fuerte. The revolutionary ideals of Chávez’s socialist government are founded upon Boliívar’s original ideals, those of a unified territory upholding and recognizing the rights of the individual. Indeed, Chávez sees himself as a second liberator and saviour who will bring prosperity and peace to his country.
So infatuated is Chávez by Bolívar, that in July 2010 the independence hero’s remains were exhumed for DNA testing to make sure these were authentic and to ascertain the cause of his death. Chávez suspects Bolívar was murdered and did not die of tuberculosis.