Just as I was despairing of finding something nice to write about this week, determined to get away from political and economic gloom and doom,
I suddenly remembered the date – July 24th – the day Simon Bolivar, Liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador was born in Caracas in 1783. Ignore the fact that Bolivar is also the hero of the current monster misgoverning Venezuela, who called his Bolivarian revolution after him. Bolivar himself wouldn’t even have noticed Chavez existed if they’d lived at the same time. Bolivar wasn’t a snob but he was a “mantuano”, that is, a member of the ruling class so named because its women were the only ones in the Viceroyalty of Colombia and the rest of the Spanish Empire who were allowed to wear the traditional Spanish mantilla and peinete – veil and comb. Chavez, being of Indian descent, would probably have been working as a slave on one of Bolivar’s estates if he’d lived then.
But let’s not be vindictive. Let’s talk about the many connections between Bolivar and the British, whom he greatly admired. The British admired him back but they were just as keen to use him to split up the Spanish Empire, so they backed him to the hilt. As a result, the Americans feared Bolivar, believing he want to set up a British-style monarchy in the newly liberated territories with himself as king. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. What he wanted was an English-style parliament and system of government. Unfortunately he couldn’t infuse British pragmatism into hot Venezuelan and Latin American heads. Hence what could have been one of the greatest endeavours in all history ended in ignominy, with Bolivar, wearing a nightgown borrowed from a Spanish friend, dying of tuberculosis in Santa Martha, an obscure little town on the Colombian coast on December 17th, 1830, while he waited for a reply from the British and French governments to his request for asylum. The French arrived first, two weeks after Bolivar died. He would have been welcomed with open arms in either country.
In the meantime, the British had sent him the British Legion, soldiers they wanted out of England after the end of the Napoleonic Wars to stop them from stirring up all kinds of trouble as they tried to fit back into civilian life. However, in Venezuela they were a pretty disciplined lot but because of their presence to this day many Venezuelans resent the fact that Bolivar relied so heavily on foreign troops – the British Legion was made up of Scots, Irish and North Americans as well as Englishmen. He relied on them mainly because they had all fought in real wars and knew what they were doing, unlike the vast majority of Venezuelans who tended to run away at the first sound of gunfire. He couldn’t even trust the fearsome llaneros, the wild cowboys from the country’s great plains who only followed one man, their leader, Antonio Paez – and even he had to watch his back.
Bolivar clinched Venezuela’s independence from Spain at the Battle of Carabobo on June 24th, 1821. He had allowed the Spanish to choose the battlefield so his men were at a disadvantage from the beginning. After the Spaniards had routed his troops in less than an hour, the British Legion marched onto the field in pairs along a narrow track. They were sitting ducks for the Spanish but those who survived formed a square and proceeded to hold off all the Spanish attacks, losing 19 officers in 20 minutes.
They were 20 vital minutes for Bolivar. He rounded up his men, entered the field from the opposite side to where the Legion was hanging on in there and routed the Spaniards.
Since then only the British armed forces have been allowed to carry arms in Venezuela, as Fidel Castro learned when he visited Caracas in 1961. He arrived with dozens of armed bodyguards, to be told by then President Romulo Betancourt: “Disarm your men, only the British can carry arms here.”
I suspect Hugo Chavez wouldn’t let the British anywhere near Venezuela today!
PS:? I hate to disagree with my fellow columnist Martin Delfin, who seems to believe that Mariano Rajoy will not survive if he has to ask for a full bail-out – because “none of the leaders in Portugal, Ireland or Greece survived after their own bailout deals”. It’ll be boring but I’ll check the Constitution to see if any clause covers the current situation. Rajoy has a solid majority in Parliament and the only way to oust him would be to reduce the country to anarchy – something the Socialists and Communists are doing their best to bring about. I suspect they may not succeed – the Spanish know what happens at the end of a civil war and they don’t want to go through that again.
By Muriel Pilkington, The Local Voice