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Simon Bolivar: Many of them...
A basic aim of WAIS is to get people to understand the viewpoint of others on history, current events, and thus personalities. When I founded Bolivar House at Stanford in the 40s, I named it after Simon Bolivar since, as a great admirer of parliamentary government, he seemed like an icon during a period when much of Latin America was run by dictators. Bolivar House became a refuge for intellectuals who were fleeing from them. I regularly gave courses in Spanish and English on Bolivar.
I quickly found out that things are not as simple as I thought. I once traveled up the Magdalena in a stern-wheeler (they no longer run). In the dining room I was seated with a Colombian who was probably a businessman. Almost he first question to me was "Are you a partisan of Bolivar or Santander?" Utterly confused, I said "Santander." He looked pleased, and we had a pleasant conversation. I then realized that, Bolivar being the hero of the Conservatives and Santander of the Liberals, he was a Liberal and did not wish to carry on Colombia's eternal civil war at the dining table.
Bolivar the conservative appeared again in Quito, where I was traveling around with the president of the Bolivar Society of Ecuador. In the main square there was a demonstration of young radicals who were invoking the name of Bolivar as their inspiration. My host said angrily: "Those youngsters! They want to change it all!" Shades of Bolivar!
I ran into the Spanish Bolivar when my Oxford mentor, the great Salvador de Madariaga wrote his book on him. Madariaga, a very Spanish liberal, had already written the first two books of his trilogy. In the first he tried to prove that Columbus was a Spanish Jew. In the second, he defended Hernán Cortés as the creator of Mexico, not as the historic villain he is depicted as in most Mexican histories (they is changing).
When Madariaga announced that he was preparing a book on Simon Bolivar, Venezuelans were thrilled. They received him with great hospitality. When the book appeared, they were enraged. Madariaga depicted Bolivar a hero but as a failure who admitted that he had made a mistake in destroying the great Spanish Empire. Madariaga was now the target of volleys of se. The Venezuelan Academy wanted to know why England allowed a man like him to live there. I wrote a review which was more favorable than most, but not sufficiently so to appease the wounded Madariaga. He accused me of treason, We later made up.
Now we have Bolivar the caudillo, the hero of Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. Once an admirer of George Washington, Bolivar became anti-U-S. and dreamed of uniting Latin America in an anti-American bloc. That is the dream of Chávez and of his friend Fidel Castro. In Colombia Castro has a much larger claque than Chavez
Will the real Simón Bolívar please stand up?
Ronald Hilton - 10/04/00