|Too tall a pedestal for Bolívar?|
Bolívar was unquestionably a great hero. He led the revolution which freed much of South America
|Do they deserve to be heroes?|
But Bolívar was also a man with imperfections and contradictions, which have been generally sanitized from history (Bolívar's womanizing is an exception, but that's also admired in Latin culture).
In a corner of the Museo Nacional, which is full of Bolívar busts, portraits and quotes, there's a small exhibition calling into question the prefection of the Great Man.
|Naval hero José Prudencio Padilla |
was executed by Bolívar's supporters.
According to what seems to be history's official version, Padilla opposed Bolívar and apparently betrayed him and even participated in a conspiracy to assassinate El Libertador.
But today Padilla's opposition to Bolívar looks like a principled stand against a man who wanted to make himself into president for life. In that, Padilla was allied with fellow revolutionary hero and Colombian president Francisco de Paula Santander, who famously told Colombians that 'The law will give you freedom.' While Bolívar advocated a centralized government with a strong president - himself - Padilla and Santander supported a system with a strong Congress and powers vested in the provinces.
|Mariano Montilla supported Bolívar against |
the 'threat' of race mixing. He sent
Padilla to prison for 'fomenting
In 1828, shortly after Bolívar escaped an asassination attempt, Padilla was arrested and executed by Bolívar's forces.
Bolívar apparently recognized his error and repented for his treatment of Padilla, writing in a letter that same year "...what most torments me is the just clamor by with which...Padilla's people will complain. They will say with great justice that I have not been weak but in favor of that infamous white man..."
By then, of course, it was too late.
I wonder what Venezuela's mixed-race Pres. Hugo Chávez, who worhsipped Bolívar, thot about this. Rather, I bet, he conveniently ignored it.
Racism isn't the only one of Bolívar's flaws which has been generally forgotten. He also ordered acts which we'd consider severe war crimes, but back then were likely accepted as a normal part of war.
|Letter by Bolívar: 'I have not been weak, |
but in favor of that infamous white man...'
All these were men of their time and it's not fair to evaluate them by today's standards. But neither do their deserve sanctification.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours