Simón Bolívar – Leavings and Returns – Extra History – #3


As the Jesus, Maria y San Jose pulled away from the shores of Venezuela, one man stood on deck, looking back. He was a grimmer man – a harder man than the youth full of verve who, a handful of years earlier, had stumbled onto the shores of London. His wealth was gone, his power was gone, but his dreams were yet his. He vowed to return to those shores. And then… turned away. (cue dramatic music) *Music Intro* (well its better than nothing) His defeat has given him a new vision. A new idea of what Liberation must look like. He no longer thinks of Venezuela alone, he now thinks of all of Latin America. He realizes that no one nation is enough to fight off the might of Spain, even declining and corrupt as it is. Liberty would have to come to all nations – or none. He has become pragmatic. If this was gonna work, Latin America couldn’t just be a loose federation, as the fledgling United States had become after its revolution. They would need to be a strong, centralized power. They would need strong leadership with an Executive who could act swiftly and decisively to pull the people together and deflect any Spanish threat. But before he could act on any of this he had to get himself back into the action. He was stuck in Curacao a small island held by the British off the coast of Venezuela, and he was penniless. The Spanish had confiscated all of his property. His mines, his lands, his slaves, all gone. He had bought his way into this revolution; how was he to continue without those funds? He was able to borrow a small amount from a merchant, just enough to hire a boat and equip a small band of men to sail for New Grenada, where he had heard the Revolution was still alive. And the revolution he found there was indeed alive. But it was fractured. Different groups vying for power in different regions, the whole country splintered. He had work to do. He rapidly won the admiration of their nominal President, and he and his band were commissioned to fight in the New Granada Rebellion. The local commanders, however, were none too eager to see this foreign revolutionary, (one who had just handed his former commander to the Spanish.) They sent him off to garrison a small town. But this time he would do more than merely dream of glory: he wrote. Spreading his ideas to the world. He socialized, gaining the support of the local elite, and he walked among the people, Gaining the support of the poor, the indigent, the downtrodden. His small band of seventy quickly grew to two hundred. Then he saw an opportunity: A group of royalists had occupied a position on a nearby river, cutting off revolutionary forces. He wrote the command to ask permission to dislodge them. His request was denied. He went anyway. His men built small boats and they paddled up the river. He sent one man ahead to offer the enemy garrison commander (a garrison which numbered five hundred, by the way), an opportunity to surrender. The man just laughed and turned this envoy away. Then Bolivar’s men came around the bend and leapt out of their boats, guns blazing. The garrison scattered in terror, leaving behind a large cache of weapons and munitions. Bolivar turned to the people of the occupied town and exhorted them to join his cause. And again, his ranks grew. Over the next fifteen days he waged a lightning campaign. His men were like phantoms; they moved faster than anybody expected, and they always approached from ways thought impassable: thick jungle, pestilential swamps Each time they struck, a new town fell, and with each town, his small force grew more towards becoming an army. At the end of those fifteen days, he had liberated five hundred kilometers of vital riverway. And changed the course of the Grenadan fight for independence. But his conquests had taken him right to the border of Venezuela, and his mind -again- began to turn to liberating his homeland. After a couple more brilliant victories, And the final assurance of liberating Grenada, He began to march towards his suffering nation. For in Venezuela, the reprisals of the Spanish had been swift and brutal. Bolivar may have had the connections to escape, But most weren’t so lucky. Mass executions, rapine, And plunder were rampant. Not even children were spared. But most of the Grenadans didn’t want to fight to liberate another country. So with 5 hundred ill, under supplied and under trained troops, Bolivar once again crossed into his homeland Through guile, Surprise, And fear, He rapidly won another string of victories, Swelling his ranks once again. But Bolívar’s earlier losses had changed him. He was a sterner man, a grimmer man and he would meet the Spanish atrocity for atrocity. Soon after entering Venezuela, he declared, “Our vengeance shall rival Spanish ferocity. Our goodwill is at last exhausted.” And, since our oppressors compel us to mortal warfare, They shall disappear from America, and our lands shall be purged of the monsters that infest it.” “Our hate shall be inexorable, and our war to the death.” And he decreed a death sentence for all Spaniards who did not turn against Spain. It galvanized revolutionaries and drove republicans to his cause, but it also laid the groundwork for a legacy of blood. Still, his lightening campaign dashed Spanish resistance at Merida, Trujillo, Baravisimeto, and Valencia, but soon, less than a year he had slipped off in disgrace, he was returning to Caracas, the conquering hero. He was celebrated in the streets. He had liberated Venezuela. But the work was not yet done. The Spanish still had a holdout 100 miles away, slave risings had risen up against the white-led rebellion, and, as would prove worst of all, the Legion of Hell had declared for the Spanish cause. And their name BARELY does them justice. They were the brutal horsemen of the plains. Owing no loyalty to anyone, living in the saddle like Mongols, and holding life, both their own, and those they faced, cheap. They were a nightmare that stalked Venezuela. Armed with fire hardened spears, rather than any modern weaponry, they would show up at a town, run down the men as they fled, rape the women, and play cruel games or they would impale the children on their lances, leaving the infants there as a gruesome totem for when they rode into battle. And they neither gave nor expected quarter. When they would fight the Republican troops, they would throw themselves at them in mounted waves, overwhelming their firearms with sheer mass and ferocity. And when they won, not a man was spared. And so now, Bolívar’s proclamation this would be a war to the death, had truly come to be. But instead of it being a war to the death with the Spanish, it was a war to the death with his own people, becoming a civil war spilling out on racial lines. Because his troops, too, slaughtered their prisoners, and murder any of the Legion of Hell that would fall into their hands, often dismembering them and leaving pieces on spikes for all to see. In the midst of all this, any pretense to Republicanism disappeared, as Bolívar centralized all power in himself. Meanwhile, atrocities continued to mount. Spaniards wore the ears of the dead as trophies, the Legion left whole villages with nothing but ghosts, and he himself, ordered a thousand prisoners, not even POWs, decapitated one by one. And with each passing day, his hold was slipping. Every victory in the field was offset by the fact the Legion and the slave uprisings could recruit men far faster than he could, as the vast mixed race and black population saw an opportunity to attack those who had oppressed them. The economy was in tatters, and couldn’t supply his army, or even build new guns. And every victory came at a cost in irreplaceable men. Soon he was putting 12 year olds under arms. Venezuela was awash in blood, and attrition & time took their toll. On June 15, 1814, waves of horsemen crashed through Republican lines at La Puerta, a critical pass. A month later, they were in Caracas. Panic filled the streets, people fled, run down by horsemen as they tried to get away. Bolívar escaped, and rallied his troops to one more time, put up a desperate last stand. But by now, the forces he had been using to bottle up the Spanish, had been siphoned off, and the Spanish Loyalist forces had been able to re-coalesce. In the final battle, heavily outnumbered, Bolívar’s forces sold themselves dearely, but it would not be enough. And so, the Second Republic collapsed. Not from the might of the Spanish, but from the weight of its own internal divisions. And, for the second time, Bolívar found himself on a boat, sailing to New Granada, looking back at a republic that might have been… (cue dramatic music)

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