Sunday, July 25, 2010

Two-Century-Old Post-Mortem

Simón Bolívar on his deathbed.
Almost two centuries ago, did one South American revolutionary hero kill his rival?

And does it matter anymore?

Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez thinks so, and that's why he had Simon Bolivar's body dug up last week for a very post-post-post-post-mortem to determine how he died.

Simón Bolívar, a murder victim?
Establishment history has it that Bolivar died in 1830 from tuberculosis, in the Colombian city of Santa Marta on his way to Europe for treatment. Recently, a U.S. academic concluded that Bolivar might have been poisoned with arsenic - but that he most likely ingested the poison in the day's contaminated water or as a 'medicine.'

Santander, a killer?
Bolivar's great ally and later rival was Fransisco de Paula Santander, born in Cucuta, Colombia. The two fought side-by-side, but in later life developed great animosities. Bolivar warned against United States influence, while Santander signed free trade agreements with the U.S. Santander was also a man of law, whereas at the end of his life Bolívar wanted to establish a sort of monarchy in the 'Gran Colombia,' in which rulers for life would designate their succesors. Santander rebelled against that idea. The tale does have shades of Brutus and Caesar.

And the history holds surprising parallels to current political tensions between leftist, anti-U.S. Venezuela and conservative, pro-U.S. Colombia. Bolivar was born in present-day Caracas, Venezuela and died in today's Colombia. Santander was born and died in Colombia. Bolivar also warned against the U.S.'s influence, while Santander embraced relations with the giant to the north. In recent years, the Venezuelan and Colombian governments have taken similar attitudes.

But there is precious little evidence that Bolívar was murdered, much less by Santander, who went on to become president of Colombia after it separated from present-day Venezuela and Ecuador. And, even if Venezuelan scientists were able to show that Bolívar was murdered, how much difference would it make almost two centuries later? Venezuela has an astronomical murder rate, a shrinking economy and lots of other problems. Doesn't Pres. Chavez have more important things to focus on?

If things to true to form in Venezuela, where a possible motive and being politically incorrect are sufficient for presumption of guilt, then Santander will be convicted en absentia.

This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

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