Simon Bolivar: His Life and His Work - Guillermo Sherwell

Boyaca—A Dream Comes True

Bolivar Pays His Debt to Nueva Granada


Paez was commissioned to get fresh horses with which to advance against Barinas, when Bolivar got in communication with the province of Nueva Granada—,where Santander, a very able general, had organized an army, which was fighting successfully against the royalists. Bolivar perhaps recalled his promise made to Nueva Granada before leaving Angostura, or perhaps he obeyed a long prepared plan. The fact is that he decided to do nothing less than cross the flooded plains, go to the viceroyalty, free that country from the Spanish domination and return to emancipate Venezuela. The man who could not consider himself even the equal of Morillo again dreamed of the impossible, and decided to convert it into fact.

He convoked his officers, communicated to them his plan of leaving some men to distract Morillo's attention while he, himself, should go quickly to Nueva Granada and give it freedom, and on May 25, 1819, he started to carry out his project, one perhaps more difficult than those of Hannibal and Napoleon.

He left Paez to hold the attention of the royalists, and, besides that depletion, had to suffer the loss of many of his plainsmen who refused to accompany him across the Andes. But Colonel Rook, the head of the British Legion, assured Bolivar that he would follow him "beyond Cape Horn, if necessary." After spending a month painfully wading through the flooded plains, he ascended the Andes and crossed them, in spite of inexpressible suffering. The men had lost most of their clothing in the marshes below; very few soldiers had even a pair of trousers in good condition. Leaving the torrid climate of the plains, these men had to climb up the Andes almost naked, on foot,—because they could not use their horses,—and to suffer the freezing cold of the summits. Many died, but the faith of Bolivar sustained the rest. The Liberator himself suffered all the fatigue of the road. He was worn out, but he was always going forward.

Then he began his fight with the royalists in the land of Nueva Granada. At this time he had no horses and his men had had to abandon most of the provisions and ammunition. While in these straits, he learned that a royalist army of 5,000 well disciplined men was approaching. Bolivar had three days only in which to get ready, but at the end of that short period he had arms and horses provided and his men prepared to fight. Then he attacked the enemy, at first by the system of guerrillas and later in formal battle, in which his genius succeeded in defeating the disciplined strength of his foes. On entering the emancipated cities he was received with the greatest enthusiasm and acclaimed as their liberator. New recruits joined him everywhere.

These pitched battles would receive greater mention in history were it not for the fact that another one took place almost immediately afterwards which, by its magnitude and its results, made the others sink to a secondary place. The royalists took position in a place called Boyaca. They were commanded by Barreiro, and formed the vanguard of the army of the viceroy Samano. Bolivar attacked them with an army only two-thirds their size and was victorious. Among the independents was Josť Antonio Anzoategui, a major general, who fought like a hero and succeeded in breaking the stubborn resistance of the enemy. Death spared him on the field of battle, but his glorious career ended a few days after the victory of Boyaca, following a short illness. He was thirty years old. A member of a very distinguished family, his culture was brilliant, his character was pure, his loyalty and patriotism were unsurpassed. His loss was equivalent to a great defeat. Barreiro, the commander of the royalists, fell prisoner to Bolivar's troops. This battle occurred on August 7, 1819, and was not only a complete victory for the forces of independence, but also meant practically the end of the Spanish regime in Nueva Granada.

Regarding the crossing of the Andes and the victory of Boyaca, J. E. Rodo (Uruguayan), one of the greatest thinkers of recent years, says:

"Other crossings of mountains may have been more adroit and of a more exemplary strategy; none so audacious, so heroic and legendary. Twenty-five hundred men climb the eastern slope of the range, and a smaller number of specters descends the other side; these specters are those of the men who were strong in body and soul, for the weak ones remained in the snow, in the torrents, on the heights where the air is not sufficient for human breasts. And with those specters of survivors, the victory of Boyaca was obtained."

One of the elements required for the upbuilding of Colombia—the independence of Nueva Granada, was created by the victory of Boyaca. This was by its effects the greatest triumph of Bolivar up to that moment. The Liberator advanced to Bogota and was received there in a frenzy of admiration and love.

The whole march and campaign lasted 75 days. This is the time a man would require to traverse the distance covered; but it was completed by an army, fighting against nature and man, and conquering both. Immediately after the triumph of Boyaca, Bolivar sent troops to the different sections of Nueva Granada, and felt the satisfaction of repaying this country for what she had done when she placed in his hands the army with which he first achieved the freedom of Venezuela. In Bogota, he obtained money and other very important resources with which to continue the war in Venezuela. As elsewhere, he used his marvelous . activity in the work of organization, and in conducting his armies on the field of battle. A great assembly of the most prominent men of Bogota conferred upon him the title of Liberator of Nueva Granada, and bestowed the same title on all the men composing his army, each one of whom also received a cross of honor called the Cross of Boyaca. A Vice-President of Nueva Granada was appointed, General Francisco de ^Paula Santander, the man who had organized the troops which Bolivar joined when he invaded the viceroyalty. Bolivar considered all the inhabitants as citizens of Colombia, without asking questions about their previous conduct, and issued passports to those who cared to depart.

After Boyaca, the campaigns of Bolivar were very swift, very successful and on a very different footing from his past campaigns. His enemies henceforth had to give up calling him the chieftain of rebels and bandits, and to treat him as an equal. He, however, by ;word and act showed to the world that he was not their equal, but very far their superior. After Boyaca "victory is always true, and grows, and spreads as the waters of a flood, and from peak to peak of the Andes, each mountain is a milestone of triumph."

The royalists retreated from Bogota, and Samano fled to Cartagena. As for Bolivar, he soon returned to Venezuela, leaving the business of Nueva Granada in the hands of Santander, recommending him to respect the rights of everyone, because, as he said, "Justice is the foundation of the Republic."

In Angostura, there had arisen dissensions, and opposition to the vice-president, and even to Bolivar, himself. Some wanted him to be treated as a deserter because he had undertaken the campaign of Nueva Granada without the permission of Congress; some pronounced him defeated; some declared that he was fleeing to safety. Marino, who had been called to occupy his seat in Congress, seconded by Arismendi, was the center of ill feeling against Bolivar. The vice-president was forced to resign, and Arismendi was elected in his stead. His first action was to appoint Marino head of the army of the East. The substitution of a military president for a civilian was a vicious precedent which, unfortunately, has been followed in many instances by the Spanish American countries. Arismendi proved, nevertheless, a good vice-president, and retained the cabinet appointed by Bolivar. Affairs were in this condition when news arrived of Bolivar's victory in Boyaca.

The Liberator had learned of the disturbances in Angostura on his way to Venezuela. He received also at this time the distressing news of the execution, ordered by Santander, of Barreiro and the other Spanish prisoners taken in Boyaca. Bolivar had proposed to the viceroy an exchange of prisoners, but the viceroy had not even answered Bolivar's communication. The Liberator had never agreed that the cause of freedom should be stained by the blood of prisoners, except in those very exceptional cases, already mentioned, when the 'War to Death decree was in effect. On some occasions, individual chieftains had not hesitated to commit crimes as heinous as those of the royalists. Though at times Bolivar had to ignore such actions, lest he be left alone by his followers, whenever he could prevent them, he did. He had recommended justice to Santander, who, though otherwise a distinguished officer, an able general and patriot, marred the fame he had acquired by this stupid act of cruelty, an act not to be justified even by the fact that Barreiro had ordered, without any form of law, the execution of many prisoners of war. Once, when a priest was imploring that the lives of prisoners be spared, Barreiro answered: "I am shooting them as I should shoot Bolivar were he ever to fall into my hands." Santander published a proclamation in which he tried to vindicate his conduct, but history has been just in its severity, condemning him unreservedly.

Once back in Angostura, Bolivar feigned ignorance of what had happened, and comported himself with much prudence and circumspection. Arismendi presented his resignation with words of modesty, and promises which he fulfilled thereafter. On December 14, Bolivar appeared before the Congress, and in an address gave a short report of his victory in Nueva Granada, voicing his constant aspiration for the union of Venezuela and Nueva Granada to form the republic of Colombia. He said:

"Its aspiration (that of Nueva Granada) to join its provinces to those of Venezuela is . . . unanimous. The New Granadians are entirely convinced of the enormous advantages which would result to both countries from the creation of a new republic composed of these two nations. The union of Nueva Granada and Venezuela is the only purpose I have had since my first battles; it is the wish of the citizens of both countries, and it is the guaranty of the freedom of South America. . . . It behooves your wisdom to decree this great social act and to establish the principles of the pact on which this great republic is to be founded. Proclaim it before the whole world, and my services will be rewarded."

The vice-president endorsed the proposition of Bolivar with eloquent words, incidentally praising the victorious general and his troops. Among the persons who came to compliment him was an old foe named Mariano Montilla, a colonel in the army. Bolivar knew well how to discover real qualifications even in the hearts of his enemies, and he availed himself of this opportunity to establish strong bonds of friendship between himself and his former foe. He gave Montilla full powers to go to Cartagena, still in the hands of the Spaniards, with instructions to take it. Montilla proved worthy of Bolivar's trust. After fourteen months' siege, he captured Cartagena, as we shall see later.

On the 17th of December, 1819, Congress decreed the creation of Colombia by the union of Venezuela, Nueva Granada and Quito into a single republic. Bolivar was then elected president. Don Antonio Zea was elected vice-president for Venezuela, and Santander for Nueva Granada (also called Cundinamarca). No vice-president was elected for Quito. The organization of Quito was deferred until the army of freedom should enter that city.

The dream of Bolivar had come true again, and his prophecy made in Jamaica in 1815 had become a reality.