Bolívar: American Liberator

❧ Today is a Colombian holiday called the Battle of Boyacá. So in its honor, I'm posting my review of Marie Arana's Bolívar: American Liberator; which, as the title indicates, is a biography of El Libertador of much of South America (and the winner of the aforementioned battle). Though I lived in Colombia for two years, I admit to a great deal of ignorance as to who its revolutionary hero was, and even of the very nature of the nation he created, Gran Colombia.

The most striking thing about this book is the vast difference between the North and South American wars of independence. I was aghast at the savagery described in Spanish America, especially in the way the crown treated its subjects in Venezuela. I was also surprised at the way the revolutionaries sometimes responded with similar violence and oppression against those loyal to the viceroy.

I had always assumed before reading this book that the creation of Gran Colombia (a nation consisting of today's Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panamá) was a union of people who naturally belonged together, and its breakup after Bolívar's death to have been preventable. This biography, however, makes it clear that it was due solely to the liberator's sheer force of will that Gran Colombia ever existed, and that its dissolution was inevitable.

What Americans call Columbus Day, Latin Americans call Race Day (el Día de la Raza), because Columbus's arrival in the western hemisphere began the creation of a new people of combined European, indigenous American, and African descent. This biography of Bolívar describes how important this concept was to the wars of liberation, even if the "race" was somewhat idealized at times.

Finally, this biography gives an excellent overview of the connections between all the revolutions sweeping through Spanish South America during this era, especially describing the relationship between Bolívar and Argentina's San Martín, as well as how Bolívar came to be considered the liberator of both Perú and Bolivia in addition to the nations the came out of Gran Colombia.

Though I had heard about Bolívar's tendency toward dictatorship, this biography describes why that was, how it played out, and which forces opposed his political goals.

I once visited the site of the Battle of Boyacá, but with little appreciation of its significance. I'd really like to visit it again—along with other sites important to the revolutionary era. In the end, I'll probably have to settle for having read this excellent book. It's not perfect, since I did not always care for the author's language regarding women and persons of other races. Also, many facts were repeated unnecessarily in the book. But even so, Bolívar rolls a ⚄.