Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana

Summary
  1. Arana describes in detail Bolivar the man and how he was able to liberate a humongous area of land with a lot of racial tension, different religions and other headwinds to help found Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and free from Spanish rule
Key Takeaways
  1. Bolivar’s liberation began in Bogota, Colombia. He had to traverse swamps in Venezuela and frozen mountains in the Andes and lost over one third of his men. The revolutionists were wild-eyed, brave and brutal
  2. Bolivar was a short, 5’6 and only 130lbs but a deeply intense and charismatic man who drew people in like a magnet. He was a man of contrasts as he looked just as comfortable at a noble gala as he did on horseback, going days without food without any complaint. He was a prodigious womanizer and was famous around the world for his liberationist efforts. Bolivar lead, almost singlehandedly, the alliance and rebellion of six nations in South America which overthrew one of the world’s superpowers, Spain. These nations had over 1.5x the people of North America at that time. Bolivar had never been a soldier but was a natural leader with an audacious goal of unifying South America. For all of Bolivar’s great qualities, he was deeply stubborn, headstrong, impatient – setting the precedent for South American leaders with many flaws
  3. Bolivar became known as the George Washington of the South but in many ways his task was harder. The terrain was varied and completely untouched, there were thousands of different tribes and languages, the war took over twice as long as the American Revolution, etc. Bolivar also had a very different personality – passionate, brash to Washington’s calculated and political. Also, Bolivar’s reputation eroded as time went on due to political disputes and he came to believe that these nations weren’t ready for democracy and he increasingly became a tyrannical dictator. He died at 47 poor, alone and exiled
  4. Context in 1783 when Simon Bolivar was born in Caracas, Venezuela to one of the richest and most respected families in Venezuela – British and US sign treaty effectively ending American Revolution, Napoleon building up army, Marie Antoinette loses her child
  5. He was named after his grandfather, Simon de Bolivar, he originally came from Spain to help set up and institutionalize Venezuela – giving it its first large agricultural projects and universities but also setting the stage for enormous inequality and tension between social classes
  6. The treatment of indiginous people by Spanish settlers was horrific and eventually over one million African slaves were brought in to mitigate some of the damage done to the indiginous people. Over time, the interbreeding of Europeans, indiginous Indians and slaves created several different classes. Spanish men often had children with slaves or Indians and the Spanish crown quickly took the stance that this was alright as long as the wives were baptized. There was some doubt into Bolivar’s “purity” of race and therefore lost the aristocratic titles his father and grandfather had inherited
  7. Simon was a wild child and was essentially raised by his wet nurse as his father had died early in his life
  8. Spain became underdeveloped because it relied so tremendously on the vast amounts of wealth coming out of its colonies. However, it failed to modernize its colonies and this lead to many episodes of financial chaos within its coloneis. Also, there were heavy taxes on local people’s and often the goods produced or mined were sold back at vastly inflated prices. There were few incentives to be productive. Revolution eventually reached a tipping point and along with separation from Spain, equality amongst different classes became a central theme
  9. Bolivar was sent to Europe for his education and was exposed to Enlightenment thinking. He began the quest for independence in 1808, began with Venezuela and eventually helped establish Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivar and Peru
  10. Bolivar spent some time in Mexico City which was extremely prosperous this time and it spurred Bolivar’s imagination for grandeur and prosperity for his home
  11. While in Madrid, Simon fell in love and was engaged. He went back to Venezuela and married but his bride died within six months of their marriage. He soon returned to Europe where he was exposed to revolutionist thinking, Napoleon and doting women
  12. A man named Muranda vocalized the need for South American independence shortly before Bolivar
  13. Bolivar got great inspiration from seeing the power of freedom in America. He wanted that power and prosperity for his homeland
  14. When Napoleon occupied Spain and Portugal, bolivar and other revolutionaries took their shot
  15. The war became extremely violent and Bolivar went as far as beheading over 1,000 Spanish POW
  16. Boves turned the war for independence into a war on race. He joined people of all colors to fight for their rights. He was one of the most brutal leaders of all time, killing thousands of innocent civilians and torturing all enemies
  17. Bolivar received no help from Britain or the US but got some ships and arms from Haiti who required the end of slavery in South America for its help
  18. Bolivar faced mutiny from Bernudes, Miranda and the revolutionists from the Eastern part of Venezuela but soon earned back his right to lead
  19. Bolivar, while a great leader and soldier, was not suited for and did not enjoy governing
  20. San Martin was another great liberator from Argentina who helped liberate Peru and while relations with Bolivar were friendly on the surface, they didn’t trust each other
  21. Bolivar’s victory ranks among the greatest feats in history – covering a larger and more inhospitable terrain than even Alexander, Hannibal or Napoleon had to overcome. His victory also created a new world order, ousting the “madre patria” and her control of South America
  22. South America lacked the organization to set these newly formed and independent countries off on the right foot. Bayes, Santander and Bolivar came to ahead when trying to decide who would govern, how and whether to split up countries
  23. There was an assassination attempt at his house and although he survived, it hurt him to know his own soldiers wanted him dead
  24. The people were weary of Bolivar’s power and if he’d ever give it up. This weighed on Simon a lot and was soon anxious to hand over power
  25. Religion is so important and pervasive due to the fact that it is one of the few unifying factors South America can rally behind
  26. Bolivar died in his 40s and was considered an outcast at the time of his death. However, with time he became a signal of freedom and his efforts were widely praised for bringing together more races over a larger area of land than anybody in American history
What I got out of it
  1. Got into a bit too much detail at parts but fascinating story about Bolivar and how his personality and human flaws set a precedent for future Spanish leaders

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