Stories of South America - E. C. Brooks


The first war for independence, begun in Venezuela under the leadership of Francisco Miranda, was suddenly brought to an end upon the downfall of that patriot. Even his young lieutenant, Simon Bolivar, who had tried to calm the crowd during the confusion caused by the earthquake, made peace with the government and sought refuge in the island of Curacao for fear that Spain might reconsider and punish him for his part in the rebellion.

Simon Bolivar was an extraordinary man. He was born in the city of Caracas, Venezuela, on July 24, 1783—about five years after the birth of San Martin. He was the son of a noble family. His father and mother were Spanish people of great prominence. He was left an orphan at an early age, his father dying when he was only three years of age and his mother three years later. He was heir to a vast estate with hundreds of slaves. At the age of fourteen he was sent to Spain to be educated, as was the custom of wealthy Spaniards in South America. After finishing his education, he married at the age of nineteen the daughter of a Venezuela nobleman and returned to Caracas. His bride was just sixteen years old. Three years later she died, leaving no heir. Thus bereaved, Bolivar was living a retired life on his plantation when the insurrection in Venezuela broke out.

He took no part in the movement at first, but finally accepted a commission to London in behalf of the new government. While in London he became acquainted with General Miranda and joined a secret society, the purpose of which was to work for the liberation of Spanish America. Soon afterward he returned with Miranda to Venezuela. He then entered with much enthusiasm into the war for independence, serving under Miranda until the latter was captured and sent a prisoner to Spain.

On the island of Curacao, Bolivar laid his plans to lead an expedition against the royalists of his native country. The other provinces of northern South America had followed the lead of Venezuela and Argentina and were attempting to overthrow Spanish rule. Thus, it was not difficult to secure adherents to his standard. The people of Venezuela were cowed by the sufferings resulting from their political calamities. A reign of terror had broken out; many persons fled to the mountains, and even the unexplored parts of the country, where misery caused them to cry aloud for vengeance.

Bolivar quietly slipped back into Venezuela and, organizing these fugitives, began a descent upon Caracas. His march through the country was a triumph. Everywhere the people flocked to him. Victory after victory crushed the royalist forces, and, on August 4, 1813, Bolivar entered Caracas in state. When he reached the outskirts of the city, he was placed in a triumphal car drawn by twelve young ladies dressed in white and ribboned with the national colors—all of them selected from the first families of Caracas. He was hailed by the people as "The Liberator," the title he ever afterward preferred to wear.

The patriot government was so grateful to him for his brilliant victories that it proclaimed him "Dictator of the West," and gave him almost absolute power. People everywhere crowned him with honors. When he appeared in the streets, the women strewed his path with flowers. Prison doors were thrown open, and pale and emaciated convicts came forth to breathe pure air for the first time in years.

The oppressed classes hated the Spaniards with such intensity that some of the rebel leaders planned "to massacre the accursed race of European Spaniards." As a result, an order was issued for the slaying of all royalists, and the atrocities that followed were heartrending. This is an illustration of the extremes to which a people will go when justice has been violated for generations.

The royalists, in the meantime, were very active. They organized the cowboys of the plains, called llaneros—wonderful horsemen and fierce fighters. When these rough-riders were thoroughly equipped, Bolivar's army could not resist them. He went out to meet them, but was beaten in battle after battle. He had to leave Caracas and flee for his own life, followed by a great horde of refugees who feared the consequences of rebellion.

Many royalists had been killed as a result of the order of the patriot government. Now that the royalists were on top they retaliated in another horrible massacre. All Venezuela was again in the hands of the Spaniards except the little island of Margarita. In the meantime Bolivar had fled to New Granada, as Colombia was then called, to seek help for Venezuela or to join the patriots of that province in their campaign. New Granada was at that time a confederacy composed of several provinces.

Bolivar, now without a force of his own, was one of a number of soldiers who fled from Venezuela and entered the service of the patriots in New Granada. His fame had already preceded him, and his appearance was hailed with enthusiasm. He was placed at the head of a force to reduce Bogota, which had rebelled against the patriot government. In December, 1814, Bogota, the capital of the confederated provinces was taken by him.

Bolivar had rendered such signal service that he was named "Captain-General of the Confederacy." It was his dream to see all South America united in a single federal government corresponding to the United States of America. Therefore, the title, Captain-General of the Confederacy, pleased him greatly.

Few men have enjoyed such great triumphs and suffered such fatal reverses in quick succession as Simon Bolivar. While riding a wave of popular favor, he prepared an expedition against the Spanish stronghold of Cartegena. In the attempt, in May, 1815, he was wholly unsuccessful. Whereupon he resigned his command and withdrew to the island of Jamaica.

Simon Bolivar's enthusiasm for independence took strong hold on all who came in contact with him. This was the principal source of his power. As a general, he never planned his battles with care and skill, but acted on impulse. This accounts for his quick successes and his equally sudden failures. Bolivar knew better, perhaps, than anyone else the temper of the South Americans. No honor was too great for a leader who guided them to success and no blame too severe for one who failed. This fact doubtless accounts for Bolivar's many hasty resignations and frequent flights. He was a typical South American, though he added genius to his native emotionalism.

While in Jamaica, Bolivar published his ideas as to the future organization of South America. He now advocated the independence of each colony. It was his belief, though, that New Granada should be united with Venezuela and the union called Colombia.

Bolivar was the most powerful man in northern South America. So influential was he that the royalists were exceedingly anxious to capture or kill him. On one occasion a slave was employed to murder him. Fortunately for the Liberator, he did not spend the night at his usual place and the assassin killed another in his stead.

It was Bolivar's great desire to return to Venezuela and arouse the people again. Consequently, he left Jamaica. and, going to Santo Domingo, secured arms and ammunition; on July 5, 1816, he landed once more in his native country. But his countrymen no longer believed in him. They did not think him a wise leader, remembering only his failures. Indeed, the people actually jeered at him, and he returned to Santo Domingo with a crushed spirit.

Unquestionably, Bolivar is not to be compared with San Martin as a military chieftain. But he was a great patriot. No adversity was so great as to crush him permanently. Few men could rise above misfortune more quickly than he, and he was almost without an equal in his ability to organize discordant elements.

Even after his own people rejected him, he made a second attempt to arouse the country but failed. He led still another expedition, but was routed so completely that he fled into the woods and wandered about almost without companions. The handful with him accused him of leading them astray and being the cause of their misfortunes.



Notwithstanding the gloomy outlook, Bolivar returned to New Granada and issued a new proclamation declaring that "The day of America has come. No human power can stay the course of nature guided by Providence. Before the sun has again run his annual course, altars to liberty will arise throughout your land."

Bolivar's proclamation and his determination to break the power of Spain in the north attracted the attention of the patriots throughout South America; San Martin wrote him, urging him to keep up his spirit. Governor O'Higgins of Chile proclaimed him the champion of liberty in the North.

These cheering messages came when Bolivar was deeply disheartened. In fact most men would have given up the fight, but he had a will of steel. His own countrymen were again turning to him as their real leader. By degrees a part of Venezuela was wrested from royalist control, and in February, 1819, Bolivar was a second time elected to command the patriot army.

He was profiting by the experience of San Martin, who was the best tactician and drill-master on the continent. In these respects Bolivar had been weak. Henceforth, he took more pains to discipline his soldiers and prepare for war, and New Granada began to appreciate his power over men. Bolivar now planned to unite his forces with those of the neighboring republic and crush the Spanish army.

The forces from New Granada and Venezuela were brought together at Boyaca, where, on August 7, 1819, a great battle was fought. This time General Bolivar had prepared for the struggle. He spared no pains. On the day of the battle the patriots were equipped and ready, and the royalists were completely crushed. The victory was as famous in the North as the victory of Maipo in the South.

When Bolivar entered Bogota the municipality gave him a triumphal reception. A cross of honor and a crown of laurel were presented to him. A picture of liberty supported by the great Liberator was set up in the council chamber, and it was declared that the anniversary of his famous victory should be celebrated forever.

Bolivar now carried out the first of his plans in uniting New Granada and a part of Venezuela. On December 17, 1819, the new nation formally adopted the title of "The Confederacy of Colombia," in honor of Christopher Columbus. A few years later Panama declared its independence of Spain and announced its decision to join Colombia.

The Spanish power was at last broken in the North. Only a part of Venezuela remained in the hands of the Spaniards. Turning upon the royalists in Venezuela, Bolivar met them in a decisive battle at Carabobo and completely crushed them. He was now able to enter Caracas; the people hailed him anew as their savior. Venezuela agreed to the proposed union of Colombia and Venezuela, and Bolivar, on August 30, 1821, was elected president of the "Greater Colombia."

At this time there were two outstanding figures in South America, San Martin and Bolivar. The former had just been made Protector of Peru, and he was occupying the palace of the Spaniards in the ancient City of the Kings. He was the most powerful man in the South.

Simon Bolivar was the president of Colombia. No man in the North was so powerful. Between Colombia and Peru lay the province of Quito, the present republic of Ecuador. At first it had been a part of the viceroyalty of Peru, but in 1718 the king of Spain attached it to the viceroyalty of New Granada, now Colombia.

Bolivar was anxious to march his forces into Ecuador and attach it to the republic of Colombia, of which he was president. Already parts of Ecuador had declared their independence, but a formidable Spanish army still held most of this territory. Such was the situation in 1822 when the two great leaders, one from the North, the other from the South, were free to render Quito aid in overthrowing Spanish rule in the province that lay between them.

Bolivar was exceedingly anxious to move into Ecuador. He notified San Martin of his purpose and asked him to lend some help. The latter complied with his request. As a result, Quito surrendered to Bolivar in June, 1822.

When the patriots of Ecuador learned, however, that Bolivar intended to annex their province to Colombia, they were distressed and appealed to San Martin to aid them in maintaining their separate independence. San Martin wrote Bolivar to let the people decide for themselves. At the same time he notified the leaders in Guayaquil that he would come to their assistance if necessary. The two great generals had never met. Would Ecuador be the cause of future trouble between them?

The Liberator of the North and the Protector of the South had already disagreed as to the policy to be pursued with reference to this newly-liberated province. It was finally agreed that they should meet at Guayaquil and together, face to face, decide not only the fate of Guayaquil but perhaps that of all South America as well.

San Martin knew that it would be a fatal mistake for Bolivar and himself to become enemies. He greatly needed Bolivar's assistance in Peru. His only thought was for peace and harmony and the independence of South America. Bolivar knew that San Martin was the most skillful general in South America. He recognized that his own power over men was such that an interview might settle all difficulties and enable him to carry out his plans.

In the meantime the people awaited with keenest interest the outcome of the interview.