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South American liberation, Simon Bolivar’s rise to power (Fall 2012)

            Between the years of 1821 and 1831 there existed a republic that spawned four separate countries, which currently comprise the northern territory of South America. Gran Colombia was established after the Hispanic libertarian and Venezuelan military leader Simon Bolivar defeated the Spanish at Boyacá. The defeat of the Spanish and formation of Gran Colombia involved Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. During this period Panama was still territory under the Colombian nation, The creation of Gran Colombia signified more than a consolidation of power to Bolivar, it also signified the first largely independent conquest to be led by South American people’s against Royal Spanish oppression. Through many hard fought battles led in and out of Venezuela, New Granada (Colombia), and Ecuador, Bolivar finally established a large nation that was able to successfully dissent from tyrannical Spanish power. The nation of Gran Colombia was short lived; however the framework Bolivar established set the status quo for South American independence. 

            Simon Bolivar is regarded as one of the major champions for Hispanic people, and a crucial figure in establishing independent democracies within South America. Bolivar entered a military academy at a young age, as his father died when he was 3 and his mother died when he was 9. Due to his unfortunate circumstance he was placed in the care of a black slave named Hipolita who raised him in the absence of his parents, however later due to the wealth held by his family he was given the opportunity to study under great Venezuelan scholars of the time. Before going to the military academy, one instructor Simon Rodriguez had the greatest effect on him, teaching him politics, the history of his place of birth and family, and most importantly the virtue of human rights and shared liberty. Both this and his experience at the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte in Paris inspired a desire to lead his Venezuelan people to freedom against the tyrannical leadership directed by Spain.

            Bolivar’s first position of power was under the Congress of United Provinces of New Granada, and was given to him in the year 1813. This position granted him the permission to enact military engagements on behalf of the centralized government with relative freedom in strategy and scope. In this position he first led the recapturing of Merida, Venezuela followed by the liberation of Trujillo six days later on June 15th. During the following months he recaptured Caracas from the Spanish, which successfully re-established the Venezuelan republic.  During this period he created a decree, which aided in the battles against the Spanish as well as strengthened the morale of the Venezuelan people as a whole. This decree was titled Decreto de Guerra a Muerte, which translates to “The Decree of War to the Death.” This decree led to an evolution in the manner in which the war was seen and fought on both sides. Originally the war was regarded as a rebellion led by a sect of people inside Venezuela. At most the rebellion was regarded as a Venezuelan civil war but this decree transformed these beliefs to that of a full Hispanic liberation. The Venezuelan nation was not yet fully reclaimed at the time of the decree; therefore the decree had a profound effect in the political and social climate in South America. The Decreto de Guerra a Muerte certified that any atrocities or murders committed by South Americans against the Spanish would be forgiven, both those occurring after and before the declaration. It also stated that if a Spanish-born immigrant did not chose to aid the South American rebellion that they were subject to attack, imprisonment, or death. The decree created great scrutiny on the Spanish living in South America and arranged the South American belief that if a person was not actively part of the revolution, they were actively against it.  This was a counter measure enacted both as a strategic response and social response to the Spanish power. The Spanish led great massacres and pillaged much of the Venezuelan property after the fall of the first Venezuelan Republic, and Bolivar felt that their violent escalation led to the Decreto de Guerra a Muerte, rather than the decree being a first and rather extreme strike against the Spanish. Bolivar ensured that not only would the Spanish be actively punished for the drastic and violent measures used in the past, but also that the South American and Venezuelan people would not feel unable to effect or aid the cause.

            Shortly after the Venezuelan Republic was re-established, the republic also fell at the hands of inner-rebellion forces led by Jose Tomas Boves. In fear of personal safety and without reliable military resources within the nation, Bolivar fled to New Granada. While in New Granada, he was granted a position of military command within the United Provinces of New Granada. Having only been established as an independent nation for four years, the parliamentary system within New Granada was unstable, however Simon Bolivar managed to use his given military resources to recapture the Colombian capital of Bogota for the United Provinces. Having successfully recaptured many South American cities already, he set his sights on a Colombian city, which had access to the northern coast of South America among other geographical and strategic assets. The city Bolivar desired to capture after his efforts in Bogota was the coastal city of Santa Marta. Due to the relative danger and large scope of the operation Bolivar first marched to Cartagena in an attempt to garner more troops and military support from local South American liberation factions.  As promising as this undertaking seemed to be the local government did not make Bolivar’s task an easy one. The government within Cartagena did not want to become associated with the liberation at that time, partially because of the required loss of local resources and departure of high numbers of working male citizens. During Bolivar’s time in Cartagena, there were numerous political disputes over this issue and a limited number of military skirmishes. The unsettled nature of Bolivar’s time in Cartagena pushed him closer and closer to fleeing, therefore abandoning any potential attempt to capture Santa Marta. Finally military and political tensions rose to a degree that led Bolivar to flee first to Jamaica and later to Haiti. He was met in Jamaica with little safety, and no government protection thus further fled to Haiti where he became in close contact with the Haitian leader Alexander Petion. The two leaders formed a close friendship, as the newly independent nation of Haiti was in need of allies and support just as much as any liberation cause Bolivar was currently behind.

            With Haitian military backing, Bolivar proceeded to wage small liberation battles in Venezuela, however found that there was a new possible route to South American independence. In 1816, Bolivar decided he would put the independence of New Granada as first priority over the recapturing of Venezuelan cities. He intended to use the resources gained through liberating New Granada to ease the effort of liberating Venezuela.  In 1819, the Battle of Boyaca officially set New Grenada free from the Royal Spanish reign however military turmoil between the independent South American nation and the Spanish would continue for a period of time after the battle as well. The British Legion, comprised of foreign troops who volunteered to fight under Bolivar, was largely accredited with the victory in Boyaca as well as other South American forces. The battle took place in the Andes Mountains near the Teatinos River, and was one of the final pieces in Bolivar’s establishment of Gran Colombia. Bolivar used the newly independent New Granada territory as a large base of military operations, used to stage two more independence campaigns, which would run through 1821. As he had earlier intended, Bolivar used the resources gained in liberating New Granada to stage campaigns throughout Venezuela, and later Ecuador. Although after establishment Simon Bolivar found the massive republic of Gran Colombia very difficult to thoroughly control, the resolve was less about the created national entity and more historically significant due to the mass South American liberation Bolivar championed.

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