Simon Bolivar: His Life and His Work - Guillermo Sherwell

Difficulties with Peru

Slander and Honors—On the Road to Calvary


The wound received by Bolivar's heart had no possible cure. His physical condition was getting worse and worse from day to day, but he had to remain in power. Serious dangers threatened the country. In Bolivia, Sucre, a victim of the conspiracy of Peruvians, had been wounded and forced to leave the country where he had been in command, but not without showing his generosity in a message to the Bolivian Congress, in which he said:

"Although through foreign instigations I carry broken the arm which in Ayacucho put an end to the war of American Independence, which destroyed the chains of Peru and gave birth to Bolivia, I am comforted, feeling in these difficult circumstances that my conscience is free of any guilt . . .. My Government has been distinguished by clemency, tolerance and kindness."

All of this was the naked truth. Peru had invaded Bolivia and had attacked Colombia. Bolivar immediately organized an expedition, under the command of General José Maria Cordova,—who distinguished himself in Ayacucho,—and he, himself, prepared to go immediately. After attending to several matters of an administrative character, he started towards the South, in spite of declining health. It was torture for him to ride on horseback. He knew that little of life remained for him, and still he was going to give his last days to the service of his country. He did not seek revenge on his enemies then in power in Peru. He only wanted to defend the integrity of Colombia against the foreign invader.

As was his custom, he tried first to settle all difficulties through negotiation. His aide-de-camp, Colonel O'Leary, was sent to offer the Liberator's friendship to Peru, but the Peruvian Government did not deign even to answer O'Leary's communication. In January, 1829, the Peruvians obtained some success; they occupied Guayaquil and other places with an army of over 8,000 men well organized, while the Colombians numbered only 6,000 men, poorly equipped, but commanded by the greatest of all South American generals after Bolivar,—Sucre, who was able to inflict two defeats on the enemy during the month of February, and, after his final victory, offered a capitulation, which was accepted by the enemy, with the stipulation that the boundaries between Peru and Colombia were to be settled by a special commission, and that neither of the contracting parties would intervene in the domestic affairs of the other. The city of Guayaquil was to be surrendered to Colombia. The Peruvian army was commanded by La Mar, head of the anti-Colombian party of Peru.

The inhabitants of Pasto had again rebelled against Colombia, but they were subdued without bloodshed. Upon receiving their submission, Bolivar went to Quito, where, after long separation, he met Sucre, and found in the loyal friendship of the Great Marshal of Ayacucho some comfort in the midst of all the bitterness which filled his soul. On that occasion, for the first time, Bolivar's facility and felicity of language failed him, and his tears were the only expression of his feelings. He received in Quito a manifesto issued by Paez regarding the murderous attempt of the 25th of September, once more protesting that he was loyal to Bolivar. Again mentioning the sword that his illustrious chief had given him, he said: "In my hands it will always be Bolivar's sword, not my own; let his will direct it and my arm will carry it."

La Mar, on trivial pretexts, did not surrender the city of Guayaquil, but undertook the reorganization and enlargement of his army. Bolivar prepared himself for new struggles, while in private he did his best to have the capitulation fulfilled. Advancing to Guayaquil, he succeeded in, recovering without a single shot the land lost by Colombia, for La Mar had become unpopular in Peru on account of this war and was deprived of his command and expelled from the country. Immediately after his banishment public feeling in Peru expressed itself freely in favor of Colombia and a friendly arrangement was very easy. La Mar died soon after in exile, forgotten by all.

In Guayaquil, Bolivar's life was in great danger because of very serious illness, and his soul was sick of the unjust attacks by his enemies. In 1815 the Duke of Manchester, governor of Jamaica, had said of him that the flame had consumed the oil, but at this time it was really true. Yet on August 31st, while barely convalescing, he plunged again into activity by issuing a famous circular asking the people to express their opinions freely on the form of government and on the constitution to be adopted by the next constitutional congress. After recovering from that illness he went to Quito, where he worked in the reorganization of the southern departments, and at the end of October he left for Bogota.

Then another man added his bit to the work of Bolivar's enemies. Cordova, tempted by ambition, and believing in the necessity for the separation of New Granada from Venezuela, claimed that, since Bolivar was getting old and had very few days to live, he should be deprived of the command. He tried to form a combination with Paez, Marino and others. Bolivar knew of his actions and talked to him in an attempt to win back his friendship. He thought that so distinguished a general would hesitate much before smirching his glory with ingratitude; but at the bottom of his heart this wound, added to the others he had received, pushed him a little farther towards his premature end. Cordova finally raised the flag of insurrection, based on the Constitution of Cucuta, calling Bolivar the tyrant of the country. He and his improvised army were destroyed by O'Leary, and he was fatally wounded on the field of battle. He was young, rich and endowed with great powers of attraction; he was brave and clever, and his disloyalty and insurrection form one of the saddest episodes of this part of the history of America.

It may have been of some comfort to Bolivar that at that time a special envoy from France went to Bogota to express the esteem of his country for the great man of the South. Addressing the Council of Ministers, the French envoy, Bresson, voiced the hope of seeing Bolivar soon, and of

"expressing to him verbally to what extent Simon Bolivar's name is honored among us. France admires in him not only that intrepidity and celerity in enterprise, that vision and that constancy which are the qualifications of a great general, but pays homage to his virtue and to his political talent, which are guaranty of independence and order—the essentials of the freedom of the country, which has placed her destiny in his hands."

Europe was unanimous in her admiration for Bolivar. In England they also had the highest opinion of the American hero.

"It is impossible," wrote the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Dudley, in March, 1828, to Campbell, British Chargé d'Affaires in Colombia, "to have observed the events which have occurred in Colombia and its neighboring provinces since their separation from the mother country, without being convinced that the merits and services of General Bolivar entitle him to the gratitude of his fellow-citizens, and to the esteem of foreign nations."

But this general feeling also gave foundation to slanderous affirmations that Bolivar wanted to make himself king. We have seen how untrue this was. Bolivar had no other ambition than the freedom and the union of his country,—Colombia, the child of his genius. For himself, he wanted only to keep his honor untarnished and to pass his last days as a simple citizen.

During his stay in the South, the Council of Ministers started to work for a monarchy. A letter was sent to him, not speaking openly of the monarchical question, but dwelling on the restless condition of the population and the need of preparing for the future. In answer, Bolivar expressed his agreement and, knowing that he could not live much longer, said that in order to avoid civil war with its terrible results, which he expected to occur within ten years, it would be advisable to divide the country by legal and peaceable means. He declared that he considered the stability of the government impossible because of the hostility between Venezuela and Nueva Granada. He pronounced himself against a foreign monarch and said that, as for himself, he took it for granted that it was understood that he was tired of serving and of suffering ingratitude and attempts against his own life. He still insisted that, "in case no other solution seems feasible, the best way out of the difficulty would be a president for life, and a hereditary senate," as he had proposed in Guayana. In a letter to O'Leary, he wrote:

"I cannot conceive of even the possibility of establishing a kingdom in a country which is constitutionally democratic because the lowest and most numerous classes of the people want it to be so, with an indisputable right, since legal equality is indispensable where there is physical inequality, in order to correct to a certain extent the injustice of nature. Besides, who can be a king in Colombia? Nobody, for no foreign prince would accept a throne surrounded by danger and misery, and the generals would consider it humiliating to subordinate themselves to a comrade, and resign the supreme authority forever."

He wrote that the idea of monarchy was chimerical, and that it should be discussed no more. In another letter he expressed his decision to relinquish power, whether Congress met or not.

Bolivar arrived in Bogota on the 15th of January, 1830, and on the 20th Congress began its work under the presidency of Sucre. With the inauguration of the Congress, Bolivar considered that his public duties had ended, and in that sense he published an eloquent proclamation, which closed with this supreme appeal:

"Fellow citizens, listen to my last words, at the end of my political career. In the name of Colombia, I beg you, I pray you, always to remain united so that you may not become the murderers of your country and your own murderers."

In this proclamation he mentioned the fact that a crown had been offered to him more than once, and that he had rejected the offers with the indignation befitting a strong republican. In his message to the Congress, he offered to obey any person elected to occupy his place and to support him with his sword and all his strength.

"The Republic will be happy," he said, "if, on accepting my resignation, you appoint as President a citizen loved by the country. She would succumb if you insisted that I command her. . . . Beginning to-day I am nothing but a citizen, armed for the defense of my country. and for the obedience to her government. My public functions have ended forever. I deliver unto you the supreme authority which the will of the country conferred upon me."

The circular issued by Bolivar from Guayaquil on the 5Ist of August had been received by Paez, who circulated it in Venezuela, and organized demonstrations asking for the separation of Venezuela from Colombia. As the union of Colombia had been Bolivar's greatest conception, he was attacked, and in Valencia his ostracism was demanded. Paez was asked to prevent his entering Venezuelan territory. Wherever Paez exercised any influence, Bolivar's authority was denounced, and Paez was asked to assume the highest authority of the country. Bolivar was insulted by the press of his own nation, which called him a tyrant and a hypocrite, and insisted on his banishment. At last Paez declared himself openly. He went to Caracas, approved the rebellion of the capital against Bolivar, broke with him, declared Venezuela a sovereign state, appointed a cabinet and convoked a congress to meet in Valencia. He asked the people for subsidies for the war against Bolivar, and at the same time wrote a letter to the Libertador warning him not to oppose the will of the Venezuelans, who were ready, he said, to deliver themselves to the Spaniards rather than to Bolivar.

The Congress of Colombia had asked Bolivar to remain in command, to suppress anarchy, and to fulfil his promise that he would exercise power until the constitution had been proclaimed and magistrates duly elected. Bolivar accepted provisionally, and immediately tried to obtain a friendly compromise with Venezuela. He wanted to have a personal interview with Paez, but Paez declined. He had unsheathed the sword Bolivar had given him, and the one he had sworn to carry according to the will of the Libertador. The Congress of Colombia appointed a constitutional committee, and Bolivar proposed that a peace mission be sent to Venezuela to make known the intentions of the national representation, and to show the basis of the constitution, in order to destroy any suspicions which might have been conceived in Venezuela regarding this document. The mission was appointed, one of its members being the illustrious General Sucre, President of the Congress, another, its Vice-President. The Commissioners were asked to inform the Venezuelan people that the future constitution was to be entirely republican, that the Congress hoped to obtain a friendly agreement with Venezuela, and that the Congress was firmly decided to preserve the principles of integrity of the Republic and unity of the government in the new constitution; that all dissensions were to be forgotten and that all existing differences would be settled in a friendly way. Sucre said very frankly that, considering the state of affairs in Venezuela, he did not expect favorable results. The basis of the constitution as finally adopted provided that

"The republic should be unitary according to its fundamental law; the government should be popular, representative and elected for terms of eight years; the legislative power should be divided among the Senate, the. House of Representatives and the Executive; there was to be a Council of State to help the President of the Republic, and this Council should have no responsibility except in the case of treachery; the Cabinet officers were to be responsible. Local legislatures were to be created to take care of local interests; individual rights were guaranteed."

Bolivar showed his generosity again by pardoning those who were in exile on account of the conspiracy of the 25th of September, and then asked permission of the Congress to be relieved of his duties because of ill health. Once obtaining permission, he went to a country place to recover. He was never again to exercise the executive authority of Colombia. Using his power, he appointed General Domingo Caicedo to take his place. He was a very kindly and patriotic man and the best suited to mediate between the contending parties.

The peace commission was not even received in Venezuelan territory, but had to stay on the border to meet the delegates appointed by Paez, one of whom was Marino. Claiming that Bolivar was oppressing Nueva Granada, Paez had prepared himself for a campaign, not only to support the Venezuelan Revolution but to deliver Nueva Granada from its so-called oppressor. The real cause was simply his inordinate ambition. The conferences between the two groups were fruitless, and the delegates of the Congress withdrew. Meanwhile, Paez was issuing proclamation after proclamation against Bolivar, who had to leave the country place where he was caring for his health and go to Bogota to meet the new situation. He was asked to resume the supreme command, but he knew that he was not strong enough for the task. He consulted the Ministers and some friends, but nothing was decided. Some members of the Congress wanted to elect him constitutional President; these, however, were vehemently attacked by others. Many friends deserted the Libertador, knowing perfectly well they had little to expect from a life which was rapidly nearing the end. Bolivar saw all this, learned of the intrigues of his enemies, and, convinced that the best thing he could do was to withdraw not only from power but from the country he had loved so dearly and for which he had done so much, he sent a message on the 27th of April, 183o, to the Congress, in which he reiterated his decision not to accept again the supreme power of the state.

"You must be assured," he said, "that the good of the country imposes on me the sacrifice of leaving forever the land which gave me life, in order that my presence in Colombia may not be an obstacle to the happiness of my fellow citizens."

Three days later, Congress answered, praising the patriotic disinterestedness of Bolivar and protesting that the country would always respect and venerate him, and take care that the luster of his name should pass to posterity in a manner befitting the founder of Colombian independence.