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Simon Bolivar (1783-1830): “Slavery is the worst human indignity”.

Biography of a leader who freed Latin America from Spanish colonial power

Before Simon Bolivar freed all of Latin America in 1826 from Spanish colonialism, many revolutions in this continent preceded him and few were successful.

Already Independent Haiti re-armed and supported two expeditionary attempts by Simon Bolivar.  The second landing in Venezuela secured the success of the revolution.

Toussaint L’ Ouverture (1743-1803) was a Haitian mulatto who became a general in the French army during Napoleon; he was sent to the island of Haiti/Dominican to dislodge the Spanish troops.   He did the job and then revolted against the French troops in the island to free the slaves and install an autonomous regime.   He sent Napoleon a respectful letter in 1801 declaring a new Constitution to Haiti and the wish to stay part of French protectorate.

The constitution written by Toussaint stated that f

1. “there cannot exist slaves on the territory of Haiti”;

2. “slavery is abolished and all men, regardless of color of skin, are born, live, and die free men”;

3. “Any man is admissible to all kinds of jobs and employment”; and

4. “The constitution guarantees liberty and security to all citizens”.

Napoleon responded to the letter by dispatching an expeditionary force.  Toussaint was made prisoner and died in a prison in the Jura region in France.

In 1802, a lieutenant to Toussaint, Jean-Jacque Dessalines defeated the French troops in “La Verriere” and was appointed Emperor to the Haiti Empire.  The new constitution of 1805 stated that

1. “The people living in the island decided to live in a free State, sovereign, and independent of any foreign powers”;

2. “Slavery is abolished and no white individual will be permitted to own properties as master”; and

3. “Every citizen will be called Black regardless of the color of his skin and will enjoy the same equal citizenship rights”.  That was the first time that Negro or “negritude” was advanced as a culture.

In 1801, local militants in Guadeloupe pressured the French General Lacross to return to France because he discriminated against colored officers in the army. Louis Delgres (1766-1802) led an insurrection in the island of Guadeloupe but refrained to go on the offensive to keep peace with France. The declaration of emancipation stated:

“Citizens of Guadeloupe; we are revolting as one people regardless of color of our skin.  Resistance to oppression is a natural right. Even divinity cannot be offended that we are defending a rightful cause: justice and humanity to all.  We will refrain to soil our cause by crimes.  Our forces are to defend your life, properties, and children by all means.  And you, posterity! Accord us a tear to our miseries and we will die satisfied”

As Bolivar was born in the valley of Aragua (Venezuela), Spain was controlling south America with the exception of Brazil that was a Portuguese colony.

In the 15th century, the Pope of Rome mediated between the two monarchs of Portugal and Spain and divided the world into two parts for colonization: West and East. Brazil was within the Easter part to belong to Portugal that started colonizing the world 50 years before Christopher Columbus discovered Americas at the sold of the Spanish monarchs.

Spain divided south America into four regions headed by viceroys appointed by the monarch:  New Spain (current Mexico), New Grenada (Colombia, Equator, Panama, and Venezuela), Peru, and Rio Plata (Argentina and Uruguay).

Up north, the same year Bolivar was born, 13 colonies of the USA won their independence.

In 1789, Joachim Jose Da Siva Javier demands the independence of Brazil.  The French Revolution has started. Bolivar, the fourth new-born is breast-fed by the slave Hipolita.

In 1792, Bolivar is orphaned at the age of nine:  His mother died of tuberculosis.  His uncle appoints Simon Carreno (a freemason) to educate him for two years, before Bolivar is sent to the academy preparing Spanish officers; he graduates at the age of 15 as Lieutenant of the white volunteer militias in Aragua:  His father was colonel before he died. Bolivar’s uncle sent him on a long trip to Europe in 1799.  Bolivar witnesses the poor conditions of rural Spain but is impressed by Paris and Napoleon and starts to appreciating Republican regimes.

Bolivar returns to Madrid and fall in love with Maria Theresa; they got married in 1802.  He is 19 and she is 21.  They reach Caracas in 1803.

Simon decided for a settled life-style, as his father, and take care of the vast plantation.  History changed when his wife died of fever 4 months later.  Bolivar is back to Europe.  He meets the geographer Alexander of Humboldt who had crisscrossed south America and explored the Andes mountain chains.  Humboldt told Bolivar that south America is ripe for independence and what it lacks is a leader.  Bolivar had the privilege of assisting to the coronation of Napoleon as Emperor in 1804.

Bolivar is in Italy with his former preceptor Carreno.  The anecdote goes that while on the Palatine Hill in Rome Bolivar swore: “On my honor, I will never find rest until the Spanish chains are broken in Venezuela“.  Carreno inducts Bolivar a freemason at the Scottish loge in Paris in 1805.

In 1806, England financed a revolt in Venezuela as the French troops of Napoleon occupied Spain:  It is a failure. Bolivar reached Charleston in 1807 and visits the battle fields and discovered the “rational liberty”.  In 1810, independence revolts starts in Mexico by two priests Hidalgo and Morelos as well as in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and the port of Cartagena in (Columbia).

In 1811, Bolivar urges the “Supreme Junta” to declare the independence of Venezuela and pronounced this speech in front of the national congress: “We are discussing what should have been decided long time ago.  Are you suggesting that we have to wait for the political outcome in Spain?  Why should we care if Spain sells its slaves in Venezuela to Bonaparte or retain them for its own profit since we have decided to be free?”  Venezuela became the first Spanish province to declare independence in south America.

By 1812, Spanish loyal to the monarchy recapture Venezuela.  Bolivar flee to the island of Curacao under the control of the Netherlands and manages to borrow money for another attempt from Cartagena.  He crosses the Andes with 573 armed men and captured the village of Merida, the first village in Venezuela .  His small troop increases; he tells the peasants: “The nation is the common land to all who were born and live in, regardless of caste, race, or religion.” It is June 23, 1813 and Bolivar, 30 of age, enters Caracas as the Liberator.

By September 1814, Bolivar is again taking the road to exile.He is badly received in Cartagena, and in Jamaica; he ends up in independent Haiti under president Alexander Petion who supports and arms Bolivar for another come back.  The expedition fails.  Unexpectedly, Petion supports and finances another campaign writing to Bolivar: “You failed: it happens in life to the better men.  Something tells me that this time around you will succeed.”

Things began to move faster in 1816.

The monarch of Portugal recognizes the autonomy of Brazil and the first university is founded.  General Jose de San Martin liberate Argentina and Uruguay and then march on to Chili and rescues the insurrection of general O’Higgins.

Chili is liberated in 1818.  San Martin advances to Peru and is liberated and then toward Equator.  Bolivar will meet San Martin in Guayalquil (Equator) in 1822.  San Martin is 45 of age and receives a dispatch informing that his wife is very ill. San Martin renounce all his functions as president of Argentine and as commander of a conquering army to be close to his ailing wife.  That is strength of character: refusing glory and power to be able to closely support his immediate family.

In 1817, Bolivar is re-conquering parts of Venezuela and consolidating his hold; he declares during a congress for writing a constitution: “It is far more difficult to maintaining the stability of acquired liberty than enduring the weight of tyranny.  It is the people who generally carry dictators to power.

Bolivar would admit: “Convoking the congress gave me more reputation than all my previous services: The surest way of pleasing people is to convene them to participating at the glory of the commander.

Bolivar appoints general Santander vice-president of Venezuela and marches on to Bogota (Columbia) and stays there for a year till 1820.  He liberates Equator and advance to rescue the independence forces of Peru.  The US is already worried of the European alliances to dividing Canada and south America; President James Monroe proclaims that any European interventions in the Americas would be considered as a declaration of enmity toward the USA.

In 1826, all south America is liberated and Bolivar is the man of the year in Europe and the USA.  He tried to convene a congress in Panama for a constitution to a federated south America but the US made sure to torpedo the convention.

Bolivar had his text ready: First,the constitution is for all the countries, including Mexico,  Argentina, Brazil, and Chili. Second, right to vote is not solely based on owning property but also on education and honorable conduct. Third, the supreme magistrate is for life and the vice magistrate is hereditary.  Fourth, a legislative branch divided in three chambers, one of the chambers the senate is constituted for the purpose of election crisis when politicians works for re-election instead of catering for the interest of the people. Fifth, the total abolition of slavery. Sixth, separation of State from religions; and Seventh, liberty of religious beliefs.

In 1830, Bolivar realizes that the federation of south America is not for any time soon and renounces all his power and functions.  He said: “Learn from nature:  Nature is an infallible master for mankind; nature will tell you the necessary laws. You will find your guide in the identity of our country from the Andes to the Orinoco River.

Bolivar is readying to embark to Europe when he is told that his most faithful general Sucre was assassinated.  Bolivar lost all hopes and died in the village of Santa Marta.

The body of Bolivar was repatriated to Caracas in 1842; the head was missing!

Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969): Vietnamese

Many famous nationalist leaders were not nationalist by choice.

For example, the Algerian prince Abdel Kader (1808-1882) was not destined to lead the first popular revolt against the new colonial power of France:  Abdel Kader was a mystic, Sufi, had done the pilgrimage to Mecca as a teenager with his father, and was deeply religious. The leaders of the  tribes elected him to be their Caliph at the age of 24 in order to lead the war against the French troops. After two decades of wars and over 100,000 of French troops amassed to quell the revolt with atrocious mass massacres, and no external support by the Ottoman Empire or any European monarchs, Abdel Kader surrendered and later became the staunchest supporter of France:  He worked hard to rally the Egyptians and clerics to the cause of the project of the Suez canal undertaken by the French government.

Another case is of Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) who reluctantly lead the revolution to freeing all south America from Spanish colonialism in 1826. At 19, he married a Spanish girl (from Madrid), two years older than him, and he was deeply in love and decided to lead a normal life, like his dad did on his vast plantations.  Suddenly, Simon’s wife died four months later from fever and everything changed in his life.  He returned to Europe, Spain and France, on another long trip before he decided to return to Caracas (Venezuela).

Ho Chi Minh or “source of light“, one of the many aliases he used in his clandestine life, was born Nguyen Sinh Cung in Annam or north Vietnam; France was already the colonial power of the current Far East Asian States of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

Ho Chi Minh didn’t finish his high school in 1909 for lack of finance and his father, a low civil servant at the French administration, was fired for alcohol abuse.  France had change the Vietnamese ideograms into Latin characters called “quoc ngu“.  In 1905, Japan had defeated Russia and the Vietnamese were flocking to Japan for education. Ho Chi Minh decided to go west and boarded a French merchant cargo; he worked in the merchant marine for two years as cabin boy and kitchen helper.

In China of 1912, Sun Yat Sen forced the emperor to abdicate.  Ho Chi Minh is in Marseille (France) in 1913; he is refused the application to attend the Colonial school forming administrators to France.  WWI starts and 92,000 Vietnamese are enlisted in this western war as replacement to French workers in factories and digging trenches.  Ho Chi Minh refuses to participate; he wrote to his Vietnamese mentor in France: “Destiny is reserving us surprises.  Within 4 months destiny of Asia will change.  The hell with those who decided to fight.  We have to wait calmly for the war to end.”

In 1916, Ho Chi Minh is in London and acquiring technical skills in electricity and mechanics.  The “Annamite patriots” are in Versailles in 1919 demanding to be freed from France colonialism.  Ho Chi Minh understood that independence will be earned by violent means and join the French communist party, recently adhering to the Comintern organized by Lenin in the new Russia Bolshevik regime. Ho Chi Minh  wrote: “ I like and respected Lenin because he was a great patriot who liberated his compatriots.”

Thus, Minh sided with the Lenin faction at the 3rd French International that gathered in Tour in 1919; he spoke saying: “The future of socialism is by allying to nationalist forces and taking greater interest in freeing colonized nations that are marching irresistibly toward independence.”

He is suffering famine in Paris but he publishes articles in French communist papers.  From Moscow of 1923, Dimitri Manouilski, commissar of agriculture in Ukraine, summons Ho Chi Minh to attend 18 months at the new communist university, designed to training members in clandestine activities. Ho Chi Minh is then a member of the Peasant International executive bureau, the Krestintern and attends the 5th International Congress in Moscow and sides with Stalin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev against Trotsky (chief of the Red Army who was for an International revolution.)

In 1925, Ho is sent to Canton (China) to train and teach 300 Vietnamese communist refugees, among them is the future Prime Minister Pham Van Dong.  The Chinese communists, lead by Zhu Enlai, Mao Tse tong, and Wang Jingwei enter Shanghai before their ally the nationalists of Tchang Kai-check who foment a massacre against the communists inside the city and expels them.  Moscow is no longer supporting the Chinese Nationalists and Ho is recalled to Moscow.  Ho is sent to Bruxelles, Berlin, and Paris. In 1929, Ho reaches Thailand from Vladivostok and unites various small Vietnamese communist parties into one and appoints Tran Phu as secretary-general.

Ho suffers jails in Thailand and China for more than a year and manages to reach Moscow after crossing 7,500 kilometers that lasted 6 months.  Mao Tse Tong is firmly established in the Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. By 1933, Stalin started the purge: 30,000 army officers will be executed along with the communist leaders.  Ho is feeling the heat and obtains the permission to Joining Mao’s forces and met with a young Vietnamese historian Vo Nguyen Giap (the military mastermind in defeating the US forces in 1973).

In Vietnam of 1940, the Japanese sealed a deal with the French army faction allied to Vichy and are controlling all the air bases and the ports. Ho returns to North Vietnam and settles in a grotto, having carried a typewriter while crossing the frontiers; he eventually forms the Viet Minh and organizes the peasants.  Ho is actively contacting agents for arms and support.  Ironically, only the US comes to the rescue, supposedly to defeating the Japanese in Far East Asia after japan bombarded Pearl Harbor (Hawaii) in December 1941.

The leader of the Trotskyist communist faction, Ta Thu Thau, infiltrated to the north from his bases in south Vietnam; the Viet Minh captured him several times and was released by orders of Ho Chi Minh.  To making a long story short, Ho’s priority was a unified front in the north and decided to eliminate Ta Thu Thau saying: “He was a great patriot and we are crying him.  However, whoever does not follow the line I traced will be broken down.”   Ho tried hard to finding a peaceful resolution with the French and attended the conference in Fontainebleau during 1946 and spent several months revisiting cities and meeting old friends.

By 1951, Ho is receiving arms and financial resources from both China and Russia while the French troops are supplied by the USA. Ho finally defeats the 12,000 French army in Dien Bien Phu in 1954.  In 1955,  France abandons all of Vietnam to the US in order to focus its military resources against the Algerian national resistance.

Ho is now establishing the Viet Cong guerrilla and army to fighting the US troops in south Vietnam.  He died in 1969 as his emissary Le Duc Tho started the peace conference in Paris with Henry Kissinger.  The US will vacate Vietnam in 1973.  Ho Chi Minh spoke fluently four foreign languages: Chinese, French, English, and Russian.  The Chinese ancient philosopher Confucius was Ho’s spiritual master.

Note:  This topic was mainly extracted from the French book “Lighthouses” by Jacques Attali




February 2023

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