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Definition: Bolívar, Simón from Philip's Encyclopedia

Latin American revolutionary leader, known as 'the Liberator'. His experience in Napoleonic Europe influenced his untiring attempts to free South America from Spanish rule. He achieved no real success until 1819, when his victory at Boyacá led to the liberation of New Granada (later Colombia) in 1821. The liberation of Venezuela (1821), Ecuador (1822), Peru (1824), and Upper Peru (1825) followed, the latter renaming itself Bolivia in his honour. Despite the removal of Spanish hegemony from the continent, his hopes of uniting South America into one confederation were dashed by rivalry between the new states.


Summary Article: Bolívar, Simón
from Encyclopedia of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency: A New Era of Modern Warfare

Birth Date: July 24, 1783

Death Date: December 17, 1830

South American revolutionary leader, general, and liberator. Born into a wealthy family in Caracus, Venezuela, on July 24, 1783, Simón Bolívar was orphaned at age six and raised by an uncle and educated by tutors. Bolívar traveled to Spain in 1799 to complete his education and there married a young Spanish noblewoman in 1802. The next year he returned with his wife to Venezuela, where she died of yellow fever. Bolívar traveled to Spain in 1804. After visiting France, he returned to Venezuela in 1807.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s removal of the Bourbons from the Spanish throne in 1808 brought upheaval to the Spanish colonies in Latin America, and Bolívar joined the Latin American movement seeking independence. Dispatched on a diplomatic mission to Britain by the Venezuelan Junta in 1810, he was unable to secure assistance and returned to Venezuela in March 1811 with Francesco Miranda, who had led an unsuccessful revolution in Venezuela in 1806. Bolívar joined the army of the new republic (declared on July 5, 1811) and commanded the fortress of Porto Cabello. But when Miranda was forced to surrender to the Spanish in July, Bolívar fled to Cartagena de Indias.

South American revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar was the most influential figure in the liberation from Spanish rule of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. (Library of Congress)

Securing a military command in New Grenada (now Colombia), Bolívar led an invasion of Venezuela in May 1813 and defeated the Spanish in six hard-fought battles, known as the Campaña Admirable. He entered Mérida on May 23 and was proclaimed El Liberador. Bolívar took Caracas (August 6) and was confirmed as El Liberador.

Civil war soon broke out. Bolívar won a series of battles but was defeated at La Puerta (June 15, 1814) and forced to flee to New Grenada. Gaining control of forces there, he liberated Bogotá only to be defeated by Spanish troops at Santa Maria and forced into exile in Jamaica in 1815. There he requested and received assistance from Haitian leader Alexandre Pétion in return for a promise to free the slaves.

Returning to Venezuela in December 1816, Bolívar fought a series of battles but was again defeated at La Puerta (March 15, 1818). Withdrawing into the Orinoco region, he raised a new force. Joined by several thousand British and Irish volunteers who were veterans of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) and linking up with other revolutionary forces, Bolívar crossed the Andes by the Pisba Pass and caught Spanish forces by surprise, winning the important Battle of Boyacá (June 11, 1819) and taking Bogatá (August 10).

On the creation in September 1821 of Gran Colombia, a federation comprising much of present-day Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador, Bolívar became its president. Victories over the Spanish in the Battle of Carabobo (June 25, 1821) and the Battle of Pichincha (May 24, 1822) consolidated his authority in Venezuela and Ecuador.

In September 1823 Bolívar arrived in Lima to raise a new army. In the Battle of Junín (August 6, 1824) he defeated Royalist forces and then departed to liberate Upper Peru, which was renamed Bolivia by its people. Bolívar wrote the new state’s constitution, which provided for a republican form of government with a strong presidency. Bolívar’s subsequent efforts to bring about Latin American unity were unsuccessful. Disheartened by the secession of Venezuela from the Gran Colombia in 1829, Bolívar, now in failing health, resigned his presidency on April 27, 1830. Intending to travel to Europe, he died near Santa Marta, Colombia, of tuberculosis on December 17, 1830.

Tenacious, bold, and resourceful, Bolívar was a great motivator of men. He was a staunch republican who favored limited government, property rights, and the rule of law. Not a brilliant tactician as a general, he was more important as an inspirational leader. Credited with having led the fight for the independence of the present nations of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Bolivia, Bolívar was disappointed in his efforts to achieve continental unity. He is today regarded as one of Latin America’s greatest heroes.

See also San Martín, José Francisco de

Further Reading
  • Bolívar, Simón. El Libertador: The Writings of Simón Bolívar. Edited by Bushnell, David . Translated by Fornoff, Frederick H. . Oxford University Press New York, 2003.
  • Lynch, John. Simón Bolívar: A Life. Yale University Press New Haven CT, 2006.
  • Masur, Gerhard. Simon Bolivar. University of New Mexico Press Albuquerque, 1948.
  • Spencer C. Tucker
    Copyright 2013 by Spencer C. Tucker

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