Laws are like spider-webs which, if anything small falls into them they ensnare it, but large things break through and escape. — Solon of Athens

Simon Bolivar: His Life and His Work - Guillermo Sherwell




Bolivar's Expedition and New Exile


He Goes to Guayana



(1815–1817)


While in Jamaica, Bolivar was as active as he had been in Venezuela. While he used his pen to teach the world the meaning of the South American Revolution, and to try and obtain friends for the cause of freedom, he worked actively in the Island and in other parts of the West Indies to organize an expedition to the continent.

In this work he was very greatly helped by Luis Brion,—a wealthy merchant of Curacao,—who sacrificed practically all of his private fortune in helping the cause of Liberty.

The influence exercised by the Holy Alliance on the governments of Europe had some effect on the authorities of Jamaica, who hindered the assembling of munitions of war by Bolivar. He then decided to go to the Republic of Haiti, after having escaped almost by a miracle, an assassin who, believing that he was asleep in a hammock where he usually rested, stabbed to death a man occupying Bolivar's customary place. The assassin was a slave set free by Bolivar.

On his way to Haiti he learned of the surrender of Cartagena. The President of Haiti, Alexander Pétion, received Bolivar in a most friendly way, and gave him very substantial assistance in the preparations for his expedition to the continent. The men who had succeeded in escaping from Cartagena were also well received by Pétion, and treated in a most hospitable manner. Among them many were personal enemies of Bolivar. None the less, Bolivar was elected supreme head of the expedition, and the refugees from Cartagena followed him in his new undertaking, with Marino as Major General of the Army and Brion as Admiral. About 250 persons constituted the party, but they carried enough ammunition to arm six thousand men, whom they hoped to gather together on the continent. Once more Bolivar seemed to undertake the impossible, but, as ever, he had full confidence in the ultimate triumph of liberty. The proportion of his enemies to his followers was 100 to 1. Public opinion was still against him, but he was still the same man who, at that time more than any other, had become a symbol—the symbol of America's freedom.

Bolivar made his way to the Island of Margarita, where the Spanish commander had systematically carried on a work of destruction of wealth and humiliation of families.

In November of 1815, Arismendi, the man who had submitted to Morillo, again proclaimed independence in the Island and started to fight with no better arms than clubs and farm implements. The Governor determined to destroy the population of the Island, even allowing his anger to fall on Arismendi's own wife,—but Arismendi continued fighting and, knowing his attitude, Bolivar decided to come to Margarita before touching the continent. On that island Bolivar reorganized the government of the Republic in its third period and was again proclaimed Supreme Chief of the Republic, while Marino was designated Second Chief. Then Bolivar called for the election of deputies and proclaimed that he would stop the War to Death, provided the Spaniards would also stop waging war in a ruthless way. The Captain General answered by offering 10,000 pesos for the head of either Bolivar, Bermudez, Marino, Piar, Brion or Arismendi. From Margarita the undaunted Libertador went to the continent, landing in Carupano, from which place he sent Marino to fight in the east, in the land of his old victories, where he was well known; and organized a military school to prepare officers, and worked with his usual activity in the organization of the army, while a popular assembly gathered in the city and again accepted Bolivar as Supreme Chief.

Marino and Piar, the latter fostering the ambitions of the former, started again to act against the orders of the Libertador. Several partial defeats made the condition of the insurgents so critical that Bolivar made up his mind to leave the east and commence operations in the west, as he had previously done. On July 6, he and his men landed in Ocumare de la Costa, a port north of Valencia, proclaimed the cessation of the War to Death, and offered pardon to all those who surrendered, even though they were Spaniards. He also proclaimed the freedom of all slaves, thereby fulfilling a promise made to President Pétion of Haiti.

"Henceforward," he said, "in Venezuela, there will be only one class of men: all will be citizens."

From there Brion was sent to do as much damage as possible to the Spanish sea trade, and he also received a commission to get in touch with the government of Washington, and with the patriots of Mexico. The royalists organized a strong veteran army and attacked Bolivar, who, with his inexperienced soldiers, could not resist, and had to leave Ocumare. One of his followers, called MacGregor, who had been sent with some men by Bolivar into the interior of the country, decided to go and join the guerrillas who were fighting the royalists in the interior; and his daring movement was crowned with success, for he and his men advanced through the plains, fighting the royalists, or dodging them when they were too numerous to be fought. In that way they covered a distance of over four hundred miles, at last joining the forces fighting near the Orinoco. Again deprived of his prestige, Bolivar was deposed and Marino and Bermudez were elected first and second chiefs. Bolivar had to return to Haiti. His deposition was not well received by the chiefs of the guerrillas, who were fighting the royalists in the interior. Bolivar—undaunted as ever—thought only of organizing an expedition to assist those who were fighting in Venezuela. Pétion once more rendered him substantial aid. He was invited to go to Mexico and help in the War of Independence of New Spain, but he declined, and instead continued to make preparations to go back to fight for his country.

The different commanders had obtained some partial successes, but they soon recognized the necessity of Bolivar's leadership, and sent Arismendi to Port-au-Prince to ask him to return. Admiral Brion also besought him to go back to Venezuela. At the end of December Bolivar reached Margarita Island with some Venezuelan exiles. Once there, he issued a proclamation convoking an assembly, for his paramount desire was to have the military power subordinated to the civil government.

On January 1, 1817, Bolivar once more set foot on the continent, this time never to leave it. The lessons learned through failures had been well learned, and new plans were taking shape in his mind. He was thinking of the freedom of all America, not only of Venezuela, and started plans for the freedom of New Granada and Peru: all this when he had no soldiers to command, except 400 men under Arismendi, to which 300 were added by conscription. He advanced towards Caracas, but was defeated, and had to return to Barcelona, leaving all his war provisions in the hands of the enemy. He then had 600 men, and he knew that an army of over 5,000 royalists was advancing against the city. At first he thought of resisting the enemy, counting on the help of Marino, who was at that time in the South, and who, in fact, hastened to the rescue. Marino and Bermudez entered Barcelona and Bolivar received them with joy. Nevertheless, he understood that he could not stay in that city. It was clear that the best method of resistance would consist in attacking the royalists from different and unexpected angles. He concluded that he must leave Barcelona and go to the Orinoco Valley and the Province of Guayana (Venezuelan Guiana). Several of his officers opposed the idea so strongly that at last Bolivar was induced to leave some men to protect the city and send the rest to Guayana, under the command of Marino. The men left in Barcelona were sacrificed by the royalists. In April Bolivar crossed the Orinoco and afterwards met Piar, who was besieging the City of Angostura, the most important position of Guayana. Piar had been fighting in that section with some success since the end of 1816.

The inconstancy of Marino showed itself once more, although in this instance his conduct was opposed by Bermudez and other officers. He did not give opportune help to Barcelona, and tried to foster his own ambitions instead of collaborating with Bolivar. Without the support of Marino and with Barcelona lost, Bolivar found himself in a very difficult situation, counting more on his own genius than on human help. Morillo, master of Nueva Granada, had come from Santa Fé and destroyed most of the insurgent forces existing in the western part of Venezuela. He had received more reinforcements from Spain. Bolivar, nevertheless, continued his work with his all powerful faith, trying to have his dreams proved true by the effort of his will. "We shall conquer them and we shall free America," he used to say. The greatest support that Bolivar found at that time was that of General Piar's troops.

In order to supplant Bolivar, Marino convoked a congress, which proved to be a farce, having but ten members. Marino solemnly resigned his place of second in command of the army and also resigned on behalf of Bolivar, without the slightest authorization from his chief. The "congress" appointed Marino supreme chief of the army and decided to establish the capital of the republic in Margarita. The other heads of the army refused to recognize the usurper, and many of them, among whom the foremost was Colonel Antonio José Sucre, went to Guayana to join the legitimate commander. Marino himself at last abruptly dissolved the congress. Bolivar, with his usual prudence, did not show that he noticed the attitude of his second, and praised General Piar for his triumphs, knowing, nevertheless, by that time, that he could not count on the personal loyalty of the latter.

While attending to the operations of the siege Bolivar did not neglect his usual administrative work. He organized a system of military justice so as to avoid the arbitrariness of the military chieftains and, being aware that Piar had tried to foster the disloyalty of Marino, he endeavored to convince him of his folly, and said very plainly that unless these machinations were stopped, great evils must be expected.

Admiral Brion came with his boats to the Orinoco in order to help in the siege of Angostura. When he arrived in the river, the royalists of Angostura decided to abandon the city, which fell into the hands of the independents, Bermudez being the first to occupy it. Bolivar found himself for the first time behind his enemy and was ready to fight against his foes in the position that his foes had held in the past. He obtained, besides, great resources in cattle and horses, and it seemed possible that he might obtain the cooperation of the plainsmen of the Apure Valley, the old followers of Boves, now followers of José Antonio Paez, a lover of personal liberty and a sworn foe of the Spanish regime.