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Simon Bolivar: His Life and His Work - Guillermo Sherwell




Piar's Death and Victory of Calabozo


Second Defeat at La Puerta and Submission of Paez



(1817–1818)


Morillo, who had lost a great part of his army and his prestige trying to conquer the Island of Margarita, was obliged to withdraw when he discovered that Bolivar had become master of Guayana. The two leaders were soon again confronting each other on the mainland.

Bolivar, who had always been conciliatory towards his personal enemies and who had tried to make friends with all the chieftains, had been constantly preaching union among all the elements fighting for independence. He had, however, met with slight success, and a moment came when he realized that he must use strong measures in order to have discipline in his army. Piar tried to induce certain officers to establish a council for the purpose of curtailing the authority of Bolivar. The Liberator tried persuasion, but failed. Piar decided to leave the army. He pretended to be sick and, offering to go to one of the islands of the Caribbean, requested leave of absence, which was granted.

Once having obtained his leave of absence, he became Bolivar's open foe; he remained in Venezuela and came back to Angostura, where he intrigued with other chieftains, and tried to get the support of Bermudez to deprive Bolivar of his command. Peaceful means failing again to win over Piar, Bolivar ordered his apprehension. Piar fled to Marino, and began enlisting soldiers to resist. He enjoyed great prestige; he had been a distinguished general and in bravery, daring, skill and personal magnetism, no one surpassed him. Bolivar referred with his officers and, after being assured of the support of all, he ordered the apprehension of Piar, who was abandoned by his own followers and fell into the hands of Bolivar s agents.

Piar was court-martialed and was sentenced to death. Bolivar confirmed the sentence and Piar died with the same bravery and serenity he had shown on the field of battle. Bolivar deplored the fate of the valiant general, but with this action succeeded in obtaining a greater measure of respect and obedience from the army than he had been able to secure with his former leniency.

As a measure of justice and wisdom, Bolivar, on the 3rd of September, 1817, decreed the distribution of national wealth among the officers and soldiers of the Republic as a reward for their services. A council of state was established, and the General rendered to it an account of his work and presented an exposition of the state of the national affairs. In his address he explained the division of the powers of the state, and freely praised all the generals of the insurgent army, mentioning General Paez, the chieftain of the llaneros  (plainsmen), who was the terror of the royalists and whose support was becoming of paramount importance to the Liberator. He declared that Angostura was to be the provisional capital of Venezuela until the city of Caracas could be retaken from the royalists. Then he divided the administration into three sections,—state and finance, war and navy, and interior and justice,—putting in each the man best prepared for the position.

In order to carry out his decision to advance against Caracas, he first made sure that he could count on the assistance of Paez. The latter agreed to fight in combination with Bolivar on condition that he would be absolutely independent and have full power in the territory under his command. Paez was one of . the most remarkable characters of the revolution of independence and the early years of Venezuela. He was a young man when he came in touch with Bolivar,—strong, attractive, every inch a warrior, who lived with his plainsmen just as they lived, living with, and caring for, his horse as the others did, eating the same food as they did, and fighting whenever a chance presented itself. He was ignorant. He was opposed to discipline and his men knew none,—they followed him because of his prestige and because he was one of them, but better than any of them. His men were the same kind Boves had commanded, and as Boves was terrible with his horsemen, so was Paez, with the exception that Paez fought for the cause of liberty and did not stain his life with the monstrosities of the Spanish chieftain. His name was respected in the southwestern part of Venezuela, and he was ready to fight against the army of Morillo when he received the message of Bolivar.

Morillo concentrated his army in Calabozo, the center of the plains, intending to attack Paez in Apure, and other patriots who operated to the south under Zaraza. Bolivar sent General Pedro Leon Torres to support the latter, but they were defeated in the bloody battle of La Hogaza.

Bolivar began his movement to join Paez, full of confidence in spite of the check at La Hogaza. It was now 1818. He was wont to say "This year will see the end of the Spanish power in Venezuela." His faith had more foundation than during his exile and the earlier expeditions, when, with a handful of men, he had started to fight against the great armies organized by the Spanish government. Public opinion was now beginning to swing towards him; he had Paez and his plainsmen on his side and he counted on the great resources of Guayana.

His activity was astonishing. In a month and a half, he and his men traveled 900 miles to join Paez. As they advanced, his forces were being disciplined, organized, strengthened and made ready to fight. Owing to his personal prestige, and his unbelievable daring, Paez was of inestimable value. On one occasion he promised Bolivar to have boats at a certain place so that the army could cross the Apure River. When Bolivar arrived at the point in question with the army, he found that there were no boats ready. When Paez was questioned by the Libertador, he replied:

"Oh, yes, sir, I am counting on the boats."

"But where are they?" Bolivar asked.

"The enemy has them," said Paez, indicating some royalists' launches and canoes across the river.

While Bolivar was wondering what Paez meant by that, the latter called fifty of his men and with them jumped into the river with their unsaddled horses, swam through it, defeated the enemy, and brought the boats across. Bolivar's forces were then able to pass. Immediately the armies of independence advanced to Calabozo, with such swiftness that Morillo knew of their advance only when they had arrived. The Spaniards were utterly defeated and Morillo himself barely escaped falling prisoner. Bolivar could have advanced and finished the destruction of the royalist army, but Paez and other officers were opposed to this course, and the commander-in-chief had to yield.

Soon after this, Bolivar was again in La Victoria, between Valencia and Caracas, having occupied the rich valley of Aragua, in which he had lived as a young man of wealth, and had passed years of suffering. He immediately sent proclamations ordering all men able to fight to present themselves with arms and horses for the service of the Republic. He called on those who had been slaves to defend their own freedom, and urged the manufacture and repair of arms. His position was by no means secure. Morillo was in Valencia, and don Miguel de Latorre, the victor of La Hogaza, was in Caracas. A triumph of Morillo over some patriots near Valencia forced the Liberator to retreat in haste from La Victoria. When Morillo learned of his retreat, he immediately went on with his persecution and at last met the independent army in a place called La Puerta, where, on March 15, 1818, he inflicted on Bolivar perhaps the greatest of his defeats, although at great loss to himself, and suffering severe wounds. The Spanish authorities thought that Bolivar would never recover from this disaster, but soon the undaunted Liberator was again fighting the royal forces.

The defeat of La Puerta was so costly to the royalists that they did not dare to occupy the position. It was considered so important, however, for the cause of Spain that Morillo was rewarded with the title of Marquis of La Puerta. Morillo waited for reinforcements to be sent to him by the Spanish commander of Caracas, Latorre; and Bolivar, who never despaired, immediately got ready for new struggles. He summoned Paez to his aid and prepared for the defense of Calabozo, so that when Latorre arrived he found a well organized army under command of the Liberator. He withdrew, and Bolivar followed him, fighting an indecisive battle.

Convinced that he could not at that time occupy Caracas, Bolivar decided to consolidate his position in the West, and sent his troops towards the city of San Carlos, while he worked actively in Calabozo, and elsewhere through his lieutenants, to increase his army. Then he went to join Paez, was surprised and defeated on his way, being in imminent danger himself. Furthermore, through a partial defeat of Paez and disasters of other officers, by the end of May the insurgent forces were almost totally destroyed. Morales, of bloody reputation, had taken Calabozo; and, in the East, fate was against the independents, where the weakness of Marino had caused the loss of Cumana. In other sections, the troops had rebelled against the authority of Bolivar, and had begun to fight in the same desultory way as before. All this was not sufficient to shake the constancy and faith of Bolivar. He addressed a letter to Pueyrredon, Supreme Director of the Provinces of the River Plata, using these lofty words:

"Venezuela is now in mourning, but tomorrow, covered with laurels, she will have extinguished the last of the tyrants who now desecrate her soil. Then she will invite you to a single association, so that our motto may be 'Unity in South America.' All Americans should have one country."

Back in Angostura, with his unflinching courage, he went on reviving his army and reorganizing the supreme government, which had been in the hands of the Council of State during his absence. He appointed secretaries of the cabinet and established a weekly paper to spread the new principles of the government. He again entrusted Marino with the command of the province of Cumani, took the necessary steps to suppress the symptoms of indiscipline in the army, and initiated several military operations. Again, when his means were more limited, his thoughts covered a greater field. He seemed unable to assure the liberty of Venezuela, yet he was thinking of giving freedom to Nueva Granada. He sent a proclamation to its inhabitants and directed one of his generals to invade it. He said:

"The day of America has arrived, and no human power can stop the course of nature, guided by the hand of Providence. Join your efforts to those of your 'brethren. Venezuela goes with me to free you, as you in the past with me gave freedom to Venezuela . . . . The sun will not end the course of its present period without seeing altars dedicated to liberty throughout your territory."

This promise came true.

Before undertaking this great task, he convoked a national assembly for January 1, 1819. In his long proclamation summoning the representatives of the people he again made a summary of the work already done, and asked the people to select the best citizens for the places, without regard to the fact that they might or might not have been in the army of freedom.

"For my part," he stated, "I renounce forever the authority you have conferred upon me, and, while the fearful Venezuelan war lasts, I shall accept none save that of a simple soldier. The first day of peace will be the last of my command."

Venezuela had lost the best of her blood; she was nothing better than a heap of ruins, and yet, she was preparing for new and greater undertakings.

After publishing the proclamation, he started for Cumana. Learning that Marino had been defeated, he sent him to Barcelona, and returned to Angostura to organize new armies. Spain, he knew, was trying to obtain the help of the other nations of Europe to regain possession of her American colonies. He felt it expedient, therefore, once more to manifest to the world the attitude of Venezuela regarding her new relations with the mother country. He published a decree on November 20, 1818, reaffirming the principles of independence proclaimed on July 5, 1811. This decree was published and translated into three languages, to be distributed all over the world. After stating the reasons for its publication, he emphatically declared that Venezuela was free and did not contemplate further dealings with Spain, nor was she ever to deal with Spain except as her equal, in peace and in war, as is done reciprocally by all countries. He concluded with the following words, which represent clearly his character and that of his followers:

"The Republic of Venezuela declares that from April 19, 1810, she has been fighting for her rights; that she has shed most of her sons' blood, that she has sacrificed her youth, all her pleasures, and all that is dear and sacred to men, in order to regain her sovereign rights and in order to keep them in their integrity, as Divine Providence granted them to her; the Venezuelan people have decided to bury themselves in the ruins of their country if Spain, Europe and the world insist on subjecting them to the Spanish yoke."

Immediately afterwards, Bolivar had to go to the West, where Paez had been proclaimed supreme director of the republic by some dissenters. Bolivar talked with Paez in private, induced him to return to obedience and submission, and promoted him to major general in command of the independent cavalry. The Liberator then returned to install the national congress and to make preparations for the liberation of Nueva Granada.