Simon Bolivar: His Life and His Work - Guillermo Sherwell

The Second Battle of Carabobo

Bolivar's Disinterestedness—American Unity


Sucre had been placed by Bolivar in command of the army of the South, with instructions to go to Guayaquil,—a section which was not covered by the armistice,—in order to negotiate its incorporation with Colombia. San Martin desired to have the province of Quito form part of Peru, and there is no ground for believing that he did so without sound and patriotic reasons. Bolivar, on his part, insisted that Quito and Guayaquil should belong to Colombia. Sucre had a very delicate mission, for he represented a man totally opposite in ideas to San Martin, although inspired by the same lofty motives and with the same noble purpose of freedom. Sucre went by sea to Guayaquil and prevented its invasion by the royalists, who had Quito in their possession.

Meanwhile, new commissioners came from Spain to undertake peace negotiations. On that occasion Bolivar wrote a very courteous letter to Latorre; and in a private communication he sent these friendly words to him:

"I feel happy, my dear General, at seeing you at the head of my enemies, for nobody can do less harm and more good than you. You are destined to heal the wounds of your new country. You came to fight against it, and you are going to protect it. You have always shown yourself as a noble foe; be also the most faithful friend."

He also sent commissioners to Spain with a very polite and cordial letter to Ferdinand VII, so as to do his best to obtain the freedom of Colombia and its acceptance by Spain, avoiding, if possible, further fighting.

Maracaibo, which, as we have seen, had always been a royalist city, also decided to break with Spain; on this occasion, Latorre thought that Bolivar had broken the armistice, a thing that Bolivar denied, for he had not intervened in the movement, although he was ready to support the city in its labors towards freedom. He was willing to submit the decision of the question to arbitration, but Latorre did not acquiesce. Bolivar then notified him that hostilities were resumed. He was convinced that the Spanish Government never thought seriously of granting peace to the former colonies through accepting their independence. He immediately concentrated his forces, organized an expedition against Maracaibo, called the cavalry, ordered invasion of the province of Caracas, obtained incorporation of Paez and his plainsmen, and advanced towards the enemy. On opening the campaign, he published a proclamation offering pardon to the Spaniards and promising to send them to their country, and in all respects to obey the treaty on regularization of warfare. He also ordered his soldiers to obey the stipulations of that treaty.

"The Government," he said, "imposes on you the strict duty of being more merciful than brave. Any one who may infringe on any of the articles on the regulation of war will be punished with death. Even when our foes would break them, we must fulfil them, so that Colombia's glory may not be stained with blood."

It must not be forgotten that these enemies of Bolivar were very different from the murderers commanded by Yanez or Boves.

The new Colombian Congress convened in the city of Rosario de Cucuta. Bolivar, as usual on such occasions, submitted his resignation in order to leave the Congress free to give the command to whomever it might select. Among the members of the Congress there were some men openly hostile to Bolivar, and in his communication he not only presented the usual reasons for resigning, but also stated frankly that he was tired of hearing himself called tyrant by his enemies. The Congress answered very cordially, asking him to remain in his position and assuring him of the gratitude of the Assembly for his valor and constancy.

Knowing that Latorre had advanced to Araure, the General moved with his army towards the town of San Carlos, where he received some reinforcements. As other independent commanders were harassing Latorre at different points, the Spaniard had to send some of his troops to repel these attacks, and so was forced to weaken his own army. Then he placed himself on the plain of Carabobo, where Bolivar, in 1814, had defeated the royalists commanded by Cagigal and Ceballos. There he was attacked by Bolivar on June 24, 1821. At eleven o'clock in the morning the battle began, and it developed with the swiftness of lightning. In an hour the royalist army was destroyed, not without great losses to the independents. In one hour not only the royalist army was defeated, but the Spanish domination in Venezuela had come to an end. In this battle, a very decisive role was played by the British legion, and by the brave llaneros  commanded by Paez.

As the battle of Boyaca practically secured the independence of Nueva Granada, the battle of Carabobo secured the independence of Venezuela. Boyaca and Carabobo were up to that moment the greatest titles of glory for Bolivar, but his work was not completed, and America had still more and brighter glory in store for him. He, in his vigorous style, described the battle in a communication to the Congress, in which he said, among other things:

"Yesterday the political birth of the Republic of Colombia was confirmed by a splendid victory."

Then he praised Paez, whom he immediately promoted to the rank of full General of the Army, and paid last homage to General Cedeno, who died in action,—

"none braver than he, none more obedient to the Government . . . He died in the middle of the battle, in the heroic manner in which the life of the brave of Colombia deserves to end . . .

"The Republic suffers an equal pain in the death of the most daring Colonel Plaza, who, filled with unparalleled enthusiasm, threw himself against an enemy battalion to conquer it. Colonel Plaza deserves the tears of Colombia . The Spanish army had over 6,000 picked men. This army does not exist any more; 400 of the enemy's men entered Puerto Cabello to-day."

The struggle for Venezuelan independence opened on April 19, 1810, in Caracas, and closed on June 24, 1821, at Carabobo.

The Congress decreed the highest honors to the conquerors of Carabobo, ordered a day of public rejoicing throughout the whole country, and set the following day for the funerals of all those who had fallen on the field of battle.

After the battle of Carabobo, Venezuela was divided into three military districts, which were placed under the command respectively of Marino, Paez and Bermudez, who had also been promoted to the rank of general. In this way, Bolivar tried to satisfy the ambitions of his officers, who, in more than one respect, considered their conquests as private property. This was especially true of Paez. The Liberator had to be very careful in dealing with them, constantly impelled by the fear that through peace their restlessness would become a danger to the stability of the country. Bolivar summarized the situation when he exclaimed:

"I am more afraid of peace than of war!"

His attention was then turned to the campaign of the South. He had been informed that San Martin was inclined to deal with the royalists, and he wanted to hasten there to avoid any such compromise. At this time he learned that the independence of Mexico was a fact, and he became impatient to finish the emancipation of Colombia by means of the freedom of the Isthmus of Panama, which he used to call the "carrier of the universe."

Upon the organization of Colombia, as a result of the union of Nueva Granada and Venezuela, Bolivar was made president, and in that capacity he signed the constitution of 1821. In his communication to the Congress of Rosario de Cucuta, he reiterated his desire to resign the command. On this occasion, his declaration could not be more emphatic.

"A man like me is a dangerous citizen in a popular government. He is an immediate threat to the national sovereignty. I want to be a citizen in order to secure my own freedom and the freedom of everybody else. I prefer the title of citizen to that of Liberator, because the latter comes from war and the former comes from the law. Change, I beg you, all my titles for that of good citizen."

Of course, no one would think of accepting his resignation at a moment when his genius was most needed for the organization of the country.

We have mentioned very often the resignation of the Liberator from his command, and the invariable nonacceptance of it. Some enemies of Bolivar have declared that he never resigned in earnest, and have gone so far as to pronounce him an ambitious man who wanted all glory and power in Colombia and South America. The declarations made by Bolivar were made before the whole world. He had gained sufficient glory to be termed a great man, even though he left the army. If his resignation had been accepted, it is absolutely certain that he would have abandoned the power in order to keep untainted his reputation as a warrior, as an organizer, and as a self-sacrificing patriot. At that time he was praised by the North American press, as well as by men in every part of the world. The press of the United States opposed his resignation, considering it premature. General Foy said:

"Bolivar, born a subject, freeing a world, and dying as a citizen, shall be for America a redeeming divinity, and in history the noblest example of greatness to which a man can arrive."

The Archbishop of Malines, Monsignor de Pradt, said:

"The morality of the world, weakened with so many examples of violence, baseness, ambition, covetousness and hypocrisy, was in need of a stimulus like Bolivar, whose moderation and whose unheard-of abnegation in the full possession of power have rendered ambition hateful. The example of this great, virtuous man may serve as a general purification, strong enough to disinfect society."

The author of this monograph has been very keen to find all papers and documents in which appears disparaging criticism of the life of Bolivar. He declares that he has never found one which is not invalidated by reasons of personal interest, political antagonism or prejudice. Bolivar's life was always consistent with his words. He was a man of power. Whenever occasion demanded it, he became a real dictator. At times necessity made him rather weak in dealing with the stormy elements of his own party, and only in exceptional circumstances, as in the sad case of General Piar did he rise to the plane of severity in letting justice take its course. A careful study of the life of Bolivar has produced a great change in the mind of the author of this work. He has come to realize that he was studying not merely the life and deeds of a great American, or even of a great man among all men, but the history of one of those exceptional beings selected by God to perform the highest missions and to teach great lessons. The student, upon leaving the subject, feels the same reverence experienced upon leaving a sacred place, where the spirit has been under the influence of the supernatural. Bolivar's ambition was the legitimate desire for glory, but he never wanted that power which consists in the oppression of fellowmen and the acquisition of wealth.

We have seen that General Sucre had gone by sea to Guayaquil, while Bolivar decided to go by land to Quito. He considered this campaign as decisive, but while he was making his preparations, he did not neglect the diplomatic relations of his country, the organization of finance nor the domestic service. He continued to dream of the unity of America. He never succeeded in attaining it, but that dream was the star to which he had hitched his chariot. He had been in communication with the statesmen of Argentina and Chile, and, as we have seen, in his proclamation sent to the inhabitants of Nueva Granada he expressed a desire that the motto of America should be "Unity in South America." He sent one plenipotentiary to Mexico, and another to Peru, Chile and Argentina. In his instructions to the latter he said the following words, which sound today, a century later, as though they had been uttered yesterday:

"I repeat that of all I have expressed, there is nothing of so much importance at this moment as the formation of a league truly American. But this confederation must not be formed simply on the principles of an ordinary alliance for attack and for defense; it must be closer than the one lately formed in Europe against the freedom of the people.

"It is necessary that our society be a society of sister nations, divided for the time being in the exercise of their sovereignty, on account of the course of human events, but united, strong and powerful, in order to support each other against aggressions of foreign powers.

"It is indispensable that you should incessantly urge the necessity to establish immediately the foundations of an amphictyonic body or assembly of plenipotentiaries to promote the common interests of the American states, to settle the differences which may arise in the future between peoples which have the same habits and the same customs, and which, through the lack of such a sacred institution, may perhaps kindle deplorable wars, such as those which have destroyed other regions less fortunate."

In the projected treaty carried by the same representative, the following appears:

"Both contracting parties guarantee to each other the integrity of their respective territories, as constituted before the present war, keeping the boundaries possessed at that time by each captaincy general or viceroyalty of those who now have resumed the exercise of their sovereignty, unless in a legal way two or more of them have agreed to form a single body or nation, as has happened with the old captaincy general of Venezuela and the kingdom of Nueva Granada, which now form the Republic of Colombia."

Similar instructions were given to the representative sent to Mexico.

The treaty arranged with Peru was similar to another entered into afterwards with Chile. In both documents it was stipulated: that an assembly should be organized with representatives of the different countries; that all the governments of America, or of that part of America which had belonged to Spain, should be invited to enter into that union, league, or perpetual confederation; that the assembly of plenipotentiaries should be entrusted with the work of laying the foundation for, and of establishing, the closer relations which should exist among all of those states; and that this assembly should "serve them as a council in great conflicts, as a point of contact in the common dangers, as faithful interpreter of their public treaties when difficulties occur, and as an arbitral judge and conciliator in their disputes and differences." In this way, two great principles were sanctioned by Bolivar: the principle of uti-possidetis  and the principle of arbitration, which was proclaimed in America, for the first time, by Bolivar as president of Colombia.

Before leaving for the campaign of the South, the Libertador Presidente received the good news of Cartagena's fall into the hands of Montilla after fourteen months of siege, and of the insurrection of Panama, which became independent and formed the eighth department of Colombia.

The importance of the independence of Panama cannot be exaggerated. Bolivar wisely deemed it of greatest moment, and what has occurred during the twentieth century has proved that Bolivar was absolutely right in his judgment.