Friday, 28 September 2012

Full transcript, with photos, of 'Britain and the Independence of the Bolivarian Republics' event at Canning House, London, 05/09/2012

[Welcome from Dr. John Hughes, former H.M. ambassador to Venezuela]:
It is a pleasure to welcome you all here, on behalf of Canning House, to this important event discussing and debating the role Great Britain played in the independence of the Bolivarian Republics two hundred years ago. Canning House is the most appropriate venue for this type of discussion, as it was Foreign Secretary George Canning MP would famously ‘called the new world into existence’ when he declared Britain’s recognition of the South American republics. I hand now you over to the organiser of today's event, Dr. Matthew Brown of the University of Bristol.

[Matthew Brown, MB]
Thank you all for coming, it is wonderful to see so many people here. I would like to thank Canning House for hosting us, and the University of Bristol Engagement and Impact Development Fund, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, without whose support this event could not have taken place. The event has two parts. In the first, which is about to begin, we have three historians who will present their cutting-edge research on this subject. In the second, ambassadors and public historians will lead us all in a round-table discussion of how we might commemorate these events and individuals of two centuries ago. 
When I first thought of organising this event, three names came immediately to mind as to the best historians working on this subject. I am delighted that they were all able to travel, from Canada, Venezuela and Colombia respectively, to join us today. They are Dr Karen Racine, of the University of Guelph, Dr. Edgardo Mondolfi Gudat of the Universidad Metropolitana in Caracas, and Dr Daniel Gutierrez Ardila of the Universidad Externado de Colombia, in Bogota. 

Before handing over to them, however, I will first talk a little about the state of research on the topic of Britain’s involvement in the Independence-period in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. 

[I have already posted my paper, 'The Wreck of the Indian' on this blog – see 'The Wreck of the Indian, December 1817' ].

MB] I now have the pleasure to hand you over to Dr Karen Racine
Spanish Americans in London in the Independence-Era

[Karen Racine]: 

Although the French and American Revolutions are reflexively assumed to be the inspiration for Spanish American independence movements, a stronger case can be made for the argument that the region’s patriot leaders derived their most important cultural model, their animating energy, and their major material support from Great Britain. Between the years 1808-1830, over seventy independence-era leaders of the first rank lived and worked together in London, including: 
Francisco de Miranda, Bernardo O’Higgins, Simón Bolívar, Andrés Bello, José de San Martín, Fray Servando Teresa de Mier, Lucas Alamán, Agustín de Iturbide, Bernardino Rivadavia, Manuel Belgrano, Vicente Rocafuerte, Juan Germán Roscio, Mariano Montilla, Francisco de Paula Santander, Antonio José de Irisarri, youthful members of the Aycinena and García Granados families of Guatemala, José de la Riva Agüero, Bernardo Monteagudo, José Joaquín de Olmedo, and Mariano Egaña.  

Other important patriot leaders, including José Cecilio del Valle, Juan Egaña and Carlos María Bustamante remained in America but sent their works to be published in London and carried on a purposeful correspondence with famous British figures such as abolitionist William Wilberforce, prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, utilitarian philosophers Jeremy Bentham and James Mill, scientist Humphrey Davy and vaccination proponent Edward Jenner.  These conscious, practical, personal choices tell us much about the kind of cultural model the Spanish American independence leaders admired, and the sorts of future countries they wanted to cultivate for themselves.

[Note – because Dr Racine’s paper was extracted from her forthcoming book Spanish Americans in London, we are unable to publish the text here. Sorry!]

[MB] Thank you. I am now delighted to hand over the lectern to Dr Edgardo Mondolfi, who will talk to you on the subject of the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1819.

[Edgardo Mondolfi]
NE EXEUNT REGNO (“No one is entitled to leave the realm”): Some observations regarding the “Enlistment Act” of 1819 passed by Parliament in order to avoid the recruitment of British volunteers to the Spanish Main

What did the “Enlistment Act” of 1819 mean in order to restrain the flow of British volunteers to Spanish America? In view of the number of recruits that were able to cross the Atlantic since late 1817, would such provision have any effect at all? Would it be truly binding or on the contrary, as some Historians argue, it consisted on a “vague”, “late” and “toothless” piece of legislation promoted by the British Government? In practical terms, was such Law able to impose effective restrains on British subjects willing to join forces with the Spanish American Insurgents?  These are the kind of questions posed by this Paper which aims to explore what the clandestine passage overseas meant in view of the existing writ known traditionally  as “Ne exeunt regno”. According to such writ, no man was in liberty to put to sea at his pleasure against the King´s Charters, much less if the aim was to participate in an irregular warfare which was taking place in the dominions of an allied nation as Spain was still meant to be well beyond the downfall of Napoleon in 1815. So far as such recruitment was being implemented in British soil, the Enlistment Act must be seen, without doubt, as an additional effort by the British Government to avoid further breaches of its alliance with Ferdinand VII’s regime.  

However, the stretch imposed by the ancient Laws of the Realm was the occasion for repeated demands by some members of the House of Commons to repeal Lord Liverpool’s intention to reinforce such a writ by passing a Bill known as the “Enlistment Act” aimed at putting an end to the clandestine recruitment of British subjects bound for South America.          

[Note – As Dr Mondolfi’s paper is currently under review for publication in an academic journal, we can’t publish the full text here yet. Sorry!]

[MB] Thanks Edgardo. Finally, I now give you Daniel Gutiérrez Ardila (who spoke in Spanish; translation by Aris da Silva and Ana Suarez Vidal of the University of Bristol).

[Daniel Gútierrez Ardila]: 
Leandro Miranda: publicist and diplomat (1824-1832)

One of the sons of the revolutionary Francisco de Miranda served the Republic of Colombia as journalist and diplomat. Aa a publicist, he founded and assured for three years (1821-1827) the edition of El Constitucional, one of the best weekly magazines of its time. Subsequently, between the month of September 1830 and the first days of 1832, Leandro Miranda worked as the representative of the Colombian government in London.
His mission coincided with the death rattles and the disintegration of the Republic, so it can be said that he had the fortune to personify a dying political entity. As the mission was also developed in the middle of the revolutionary moment that shook Europe and put an end to the Restoration period, Miranda found himself in the paradoxical position of being a republican diplomat that witnessed at the same time the end of the Holy Alliance and the fading of his own country. The rest of my paper will analyze these two facets of the public life of Leandro Miranda regarding the Republic of Colombia, making the effort to establish links that allow the better understanding of the agony and death of such State.

[Note – you’ve guessed it. As Dr. Gutierrez’s paper is currently under review for publication in an academic journal, we can’t publish the full text here. Sorry!]

Debate after the First Session

[MB] Thank you to all three of you. We now have half an hour for questions and comments from the floor.

[Questionner 1]: asked if the government could have stopped the half-pay of mercenaries  to stop them going. [A note here on the transcription: as our audio recording didn’t capture the exact words of each questioner in the hall, I have provided a passive transcription based on my extensive notes. I have identified questioners where I have been able. If, upon reading this, you recognise that I have mis-represented you, please let me know and I will amend! If you recognise your question, and want me to insert you name, please let me know too! Thanks, MB]
[MB]: Yes, this did happen, though it could take years and years so it was not a great deterrent. But it did cause a lot of strife for Thomas Manby, who settled in Bogota.
[Questionner 2]: asked if the British government in the 1810s and 1820s had been duplicitous, as so ever in British history, by using the Foreign Enlistment Act to maintain the alliance with Spain? He observed that the Royal Navy was very active in the region, and noted that Bolivar received helped from the Royal Navy. He asked what help did other British representatives provide.
[EMG]: responded that no, Britain was careful and pragmatic, but not duplicitous. The Foreign Enlistment Act was a genuine attempt to support its Spanish ally.

[Questionner 3]: asked Karen Racine to elaborate more on the borrowing of ideals and institutions that she had discussed in her paper. She suggested that these encounters, rather than the battles or supposed ‘adventurers’ beloved of military history, might be more worthy of celebration and commemoration.

[Questionner 4]: asked whether there were more British subjects (especially Irishmen) on the Spanish, Royalist side in the wars of independence, such as the case of an Arbuthnot who became known as Albernoz. He noted some parallels with the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, where recent scholarship has uncovered lots of Irish involvement on the Nationalist side.

[Dr Graciela Rogers, University of Oxford] interjected from the floor, noting that she has studied the British subjects who fought for Spain, drawing links with veterans of the Peninsular War. She suggested that Arburthnot was not a representative case, and argued that looking at the wider Atlantic and transnational context can help to understand the phenomenon. [Her doctoral thesis is soon to be published as British Liberators in the Age of Napoleon: British Volunteers under the Spanish Flag in the Peninsular War]

[Questionner 5]: asked whether some of the ideas of independence were in some degree British, or if other European cultures were more important?
[KR] responded saying that yes, there were a mixture of influences at play, though as she argued in the Hispanic American Historical Review, the British was the most important.[2]

Questionner 6 [Natalia Sobrevilla Perea]: asked Daniel Gutiérrez if Leandro Miranda was a hybrid character with multiple identities? And, what happened next to him after the end of Gran Colombia?
[DG] responded saying that yes, precisely, Leandro Miranda was a hybrid character, acting as a channel both ways between British and Colombian cultures. He later returned to Venezuela, where he was one of the first ever bank directors. Very little information survives relating to him, so he would be a frustrating character of whom to write a biography.

[Questionner 7] [Catherine Davies]: noted that it was important to remember that British investment in the Royal Navy and in the Peninsular War was great. Britain was not being duplicitous at all, rather it was seeking to protect those interests and resources. She reminded us of the importance of British supplying of Cadiz when it was under siege from the French, and the role of Wellington and his forces in the Spanish war of independence. She cautioned other speakers against being too hard on British policy. 
She reminded us that during 1820-23 there was a Liberal government in Spain, which Britain was keen to support, and yet after 1823 Britain did not intervene in Spain, despite all the exiles it received in London from both Spain and Spanish America. Britain was in a bit of a quandary, but it is inaccurate to describe it as being duplicitous.

[Questionner 8]: asked about the role of freemasons, in addition to the links between British and Latin American institutions and press in the independence-era, as described in both Karen Racine and Daniel Gutierrez’s paper.
[DG] responded that archival materials are hard to come by for the independence-era, but it seems clear from the 1840s that Leandro Miranda was a freemason.
[KR] responded that she had researched in the Freemasons’ Hall archive, and although there are some papers, there is not enough evidence to suggest that freemasonry was of more than cultural, leisure value, in this period.
[MB] thanked everyone for their papers and questions, and looked forward to the next session, when the subject would be opened out from the historical material, to present-day relations.

[2] Karen Racine, ‘This England, This Now’: British Cultural Influence in Spanish America in the Independence-Era’, Hispanic American Historical Review, 2010,

Round-table Panel Discussion, 4pm

[Matthew Brown, chairing]: 

With this round-table discussion I hope that we can provide an opportunity for ideas to surface that might take flight over the next few years, as we move towards the bicentenaries of the 1819 Battle of Boyacá (in Colombia), the 1821 Battle of Carabobo (in Venezuela), and the 1822 Battle of Pichincha (in Ecuador). All those battles featured the participation of important British and Irish figures on the winning sides. Do we/they need more statues, roads named after them or commemorative plaques? Or should we be thinking in terms of continuing the impressive waves of historical studies that have recently emerged, of investigating this historical encounter in greater depth, curating new exhibitions and commissioning public lectures? Or perhaps great cultural events, popular celebrations, or military march-pasts? Is there a role for battlefield tourism, or a space for shared research or cultural projects? Or would contemporary political or economic gestures be a more fitting commemoration of the efforts and sacrifices of volunteers/mercenaries/adventurers two centuries ago?

We have four extremely distinguished speakers, who I am delighted to introduce to you in turn. Professor Inés Quintero of the Universidad Central de Venezuela, His Excellency Mauricio Rodríguez Múnera, ambassador of the Republic of Colombia to the UK, His Excellency Samuel Moncada, ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the UK, and Dr Natalia Sobrevilla Perea, of the University of Kent. I have asked each of them to talk for a maximum of ten minutes on the subject of Britain’s influence in the independence of the Bolivarian Republics, after which we will have around an hour for comments and observations from the floor.

[Inés Quintero]

One week before his death, 10 December 1830, Simon Bolivar, wrote his will. In the ninth clause established what would be the destiny of all his documents: “I order to burn the documents that are held by Mr. Pavageau”.
What documents was Simon Bolivar talking about? It was, no more no less, his personal archive: all the documents that, since the first years of his involvement in the Independence, he had accumulated for two decades.
All these documents, hundreds of thousands of originals, organized and kept in 10 chests, were deposited in Cartagena in hands of the French merchant Juan Bautista Pavageau, who had instructions from Bolivar to send them over to Paris, when he had fixed residence in that city, the place where he thought about retiring for the rest of his days.

Simon Bolivar had to be in a special emotional state to take this decision. The murder of Antonio Jose de Sucre in June 1830 had been a fatal blow. The open and generalized reaction against his presence in the leadership of the Colombian government, the reaction to his dictatorship, the end of his ambitions for political predominance in the different parts of the Republic of Colombia by the press, in pamphlets and wall posters, and finally, the definitive liquidation of the unity of Gran Colombia and his resignation from power, all definitely influenced his emotional state. He was alone, condemned, insulted and loathed by his own country. In the middle of all that horror, he decided to condemn to flames the only thing that remained of his public life: his documents, the whole archive.
Luckily, also in his last will, he named his executors: his executors were the ones that took the decision of ignoring the ninth clause of the will, ordering the French merchant Pavageau to send the 10 chests from Cartagena to Jamaica to avoid its disappearance or destruction. When the documents arrived in Jamaica, the Irish General Daniel Florencio O’Leary would have a leading role in the preservation, extension and creation of the initial core of what we nowadays know as the Archivo del Libertador. O’Leary was an aide-de-camp and a close collaborator of Simon Bolivar since he arrived to Venezuela en 1818; to the point that years before Bolivar’s death he was given the task of writing Bolivar’s biography. So when they received the chests with the documents of El Libertador, O’Leary himself and Juan Francisco Martin, one of the executors, decided to divide the archive in three parts: one of the parts was kept by the Irish General with the documents corresponding to the years 1819-1839, with the aim of completing the deceased’s order.  
Another part was sent to Pedro Briceño Mendez, also a close collaborator of Bolivar, and married to one of Bolivar’s nieces; and the third part remained with Juan Francisco Martin.
O’Leary, while he continued with his occupations, he kept this important documentary legacy, which he is responsible of enriching, extending and organizing until the day of his death in 1854. O’Leary himself wrote to Bolivar’s allies and closest collaborators so that they would send documents, relations, correspondence; he even visited the Spanish General Pablo Morillo, who gave him documentation that he had about the war. He also wrote an extensive description of the events of the Independence and Bolivar’s involvement in the development of the war. When he died, this important documentary collection remained in Bogota, in hands of his eldest son Simon Bolivar O’Leary.
During the second mandate of Antonio Guzman Blanco, in the late nineteenth century, O’Leary’s eldest son, named Simon Bolivar O’Leary, wrote a letter to President Guzman Blanco, dated 16 August 1879, offering the Venezuelan State his father’s archive. Then, he travelled to Venezuela with a bulky archive. He translated the text of O’Leary’s narration, that was mainly written in English and he also did the proof reading and controlled the edition that started to be printed in the year 1879 and concluded the printing of the 32 volumes nine years later, in 1888 with the title Memorias del general O’Leary. They were erroneously named as there are only two volumes of memorias (memories) called Narraciones, and another volume that corresponds to the Appendix, the rest of the collection concerns the documents of the Libertador.
In 1883, precisely, on the first centenary of Bolivar’s birth, an important impasse happened. The President Guzman ordered the incineration of the printed sheets of the third volume of the Appendix of the Narración de O’Leary because it contained information that, according to him, affected the memory of the Father of the nation. That volume didn’t see the light, at that time, due to the intemperance and arbitrariness of the so-called Ilustre Americano. But, as this happened when the Libertador was already dead, those who were responsible for burning the papers did not complete the task adequately, and in 1914, they were found in Valencia, concluding, at that time, the editing process of the censured volume by Guzman.
However, O’Leary’s originals, since 1883, because of an agreement between the descendants and Guzman’s government, remained in the possession of the Venezuelan State, starting the foundations of what, subsequently, would be the Archivo del Libertador. The other sections, after different, long and eventful journeys, finally, arrived in Venezuela in different times during the twentieth century and they were put together with the documents that the Irish General had, zealously, kept.
This group of documents gathered the epistolary exchange sustained by Bolivar with allies and enemies; with Pablo Morillo, Jose Antonio Paez, Francisco de Paula Santander, Antonio Jose de Sucre, Fernando Peñalver, Juan German Roscio, Rafael Revenga; and many other military and civilian figures of the Independence process, not only from Venezuela and Nueva Granada, but also from the provinces of Rio de la Plata, Peru, Charcas, Quito, Guayaquil and other parts of the world as England, United States and France.
The collection includes official documents of different kinds, manifestos, proclamations, edicts, forms and manuscripts, as for example: El reglamento electoral para la reunión del Congreso en Angostura (the electoral regulation for the meeting of the Angostura’s Congress); el tratado de Armisticio firmado en 1820 (the Armistice Treaty signed in 1820); los bandos de Morillo (Morillo’s edicts), la ley de Secuestro de 1819 (the Kidnapping Law of 1819); notices of war, reports, speeches, the succinct summary of his biography about Antonio José de Sucre, and more.
All types of official documents, then, but also personal, private letters, affectionate, familiar, loving, from women… The letters sent to Manuela Saenz, and the ones from Manuela to him; the letters from other women such as the ones from Garaicoa de Guayaquil; or the letters that he and his sister Maria Antonia Bolivar wrote to each other; about family matters, properties. Or, the valuation files of some of his confiscated belongings by the authorities of the monarchy in 1816…

Countless documents, in which had been registered, the political details, military, administrative of the historical process which he was singular and fundamental figure, and where the most dissimilar documentary and testimonial evidences of the political atmosphere of that time, economic circumstances, social routines, distressed circumstances, intrigues, disagreements, confrontations, passions, hopes and affection were found.
All this documentation, after going back to Venezuela, was held by the Academia Nacional de la Historia (ANH), guarded by Vicente Lecuna, at first, then it was sent to La Casa Natal del Libertador. In 1997 all this documentation was declared by the UNESCO in the Registro de la Memoria del Mundo. Two years later, the documents were relocated to the ANH, an institution that was in charge of its restoration and conservation until, a controversial presidential decree ordered its transfer to the Archivo General de la Nacion in 2010, in the framework of the bicentenary commemorations (13 April 2010, Decree Number 7375) [1]
The bicentenaries, were without any doubt, the right occasion, not only for meetings like today’s to happen, in which we can discuss the presence of the British legionnaires in our Independence; a topic that has different views, encountered, and for sure, they will always exist, as many other aspects of our stories that, in the framework of the commemorations permitted renewed views, open debates, broadening of prospects, restorations of testimonies, exchange of opinions. At the same time, the bicentenaries have been favorable occasions for the patriotic reiterations, the repetition of commonplaces, eulogy of the heroes and the disparagement of enemies, for the elaboration of political speeches, ideological, as seen in the official rhetoric.
Regarding the Archivo del Libertador, just reviewed, we have to point out that it was precisely, an Irish General, one of the founders of such a great and unavoidable documentary collection, and secondly, celebrate that precisely, in the framework of the bicentenaries commemorations on the initiative of the Academia Nacional de la Historia and of the Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas of the University of Simon Bolivar, we digitalized and completely automated this important documentary collection: more than 99,500 images, which can be consulted, in the original, through a search system that facilitates its localization and revision.

For the first time in history, the Archivo del Libertador, can be consulted, without charge, in the websites of la Academia Nacional de Historia de Venezuela- and the Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas Bolivarium of the University Simon Bolivar – and on la página web de la Universidad Simón Bolívar.

Although the initiative of the ANH and the Bolivarium coincided with the commemoration of the first bicentenary, in the 5 July 1811, its relevance goes beyond the commemorative milestone, with attention to the historical magnitude of this huge effort that allowed to maintain forever, the richest and most important originals of the documentary heritage about the life and trajectory of Simon Bolivar and the processes of independence in Latin America guaranteeing its protection and preservation of any mutilation, disappearance or intervention. This is the best gift that we could give to mankind, from Venezuela, in its 200 years of republican life.


[1] Considering:
That the universal thought of Simon Bolivar “El Libertador y de “Generalísimo” Francisco de Miranda, precursors of our Independence, represent the ideological base of the Bolivarian Revolution, and as a consequence, its archive contains the fundamental documentation of its revolutionary legacy that liberates the nations of America and the World. 
That the documents and the historical archives of the Nations, must be opened to the government’s institutions that truly develop its functions with the aim of rescuing the historical memory of the fights for the Venezuelan freedom, which had been hidden by public factors against the revolutionary process.

That is the obligation of the Revolutionary Government to guarantee to protection, the preservation, the enrichment and restoration of the cultural heritage, as well as, the historical memory of the Nation, bearing in mind that it is of public use to keep safe, to preserve and to study the documents and historical archives of the Republic.
It has been ordered to transfer it to the Archivo General de la Nacion.

[MB]: Thank you Ines. [Thanks also to my University of Bristol colleagues Aris da Silva and Ana Suarez Vidal, who provided the English translation]

We now pass over to Ambassador Rodriguez.

[Mauricio Rodríguez]: 

Good afternoon. Dear Dr Brown, thank you very much for your kind invitation to this interesting seminar at Canning House. The history of the role of Great Britain in the independence wars in northern South America is fascinating. In recent years I have been reading more and more about the participation of thousands of British men in the battles for freedom which took place in Colombia and I am particularly impressed in the key role played by Colonel James Rooke. 

Two years ago, as part of our commemoration of the bicentenary of Colombia’s independence in the United Kingdom, the Colombian embassy requested five distinguished British scholars, including Dr Brown, to write essays with their views in this role. You have received or you will receive a copy of this document at the end of today’s seminar copy of this document, Great Britain and the Independence of Colombia. But since I am not an expert in these historical matters, I agreed with Dr Brown that I will not talk about the past of the relations between Great Britain and Colombia. Instead I will briefly share with you my opinions about the nature of what I believe should be the future of these relations. A future that we have been building with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, other ministries in parliament, the business and financial communities, scientific, academic and cultural institutions through a wonderful teamwork that is already producing very good results.

What does Colombia need? What do we want from the UK? And what can Colombia offer to the UK?

In summary, these are the top five concrete contributions that we expect from Great Britain:

First, political support to the social prosperity agenda of Colombia with particular emphasis on the well being of the most deprived communities in my country, which includes the very important peace process that was officially launched by President Santos last night. for which Prime Minister David Cameron gave great support in a statement released this morning.

Second, the ratification of the free trade agreement between the European Union and Colombia that we hope will be approved by the European parliament late next month and then by the British parliament. This treaty which I have studied extensively in the past few years will benefit the economies of both nations. They are excellent opportunities for large, medium and small enterprises on both sides of the Atlantic to increase substantially the trade and investment flows. We have the common objective to double trade between our countries in the next three years and I personally have no doubt that we will surpass this goal.

Third, that deepening and diversification of the relations between British and Colombian academia. I am convinced that British universities such as the University of Bristol are the best in the world and I want to link more and more professors, researchers, students and managers with their Colombian counterparts so that in my country we can increase as soon and as much as possible the quality of our higher education.

Fourth, your technical know-how and experience to strengthen our young and weak institutions in particular in the areas of justice, health, infrastructure and innovation.

And fifth, British investment. The UK is already the second largest foreign investor in Colombia with a stock of $20 billion but there is plenty of room in many sectors for further investments. Investment as a percentage of GDP in Colombia has increased from 12% to almost 30% in the past decade, but to be able to have the really high sustained growth rate which we need to eradicate extreme poverty, ideally this ratio should be about 40%.

Now, what does Colombia have to offer to the UK? There are in my opinion five top potential contributions that we can make to the UK and to our bilateral relations.

First, Colombia is the most bio-diverse nation per square kilometre in the planet this gives the UK the opportunity to work together with Colombia in the protection of this unique natural endowment and the discovery of many wonders that scientists believe will be found in the 331 eco-systems of my country. Second, a very attractive emerging economy, one of the global top performers in the coming years, according to the experts, with 46 million potential consumers of many more British products and services. We want and we can increase substantially our imports from the UK and welcome very much investment from the UK in Colombia.

Third, our fabulous culture, which is now starting to be known in the rest of the world, a culture that has many contributions to make to global happiness through our music and other artistic manifestations and our traditions, our wisdom and creativity of our indigenous communities, our food and our superb landscape which of course has played a crucial role in creating our cultural expressions.

Fourth, Colombia can be and has been a very good ally for the UK in international matters. In Latin America and the rest of the world defending and promoting democracy, free markets, human rights, the rule of law and that multi-lateral solution to complex problems for mankind such as climate change, extreme poverty, violence and drugs. An example of this alliance has been the very good team work that Colombia and the UK have done in the United Nations Security Council in the past two years.

Last, a voracious appetite for learning. Colombians are very keen to learn, we love to study and there are many fields in which we need and we want to expand our expertise and the UK has an enormous wealth of knowledge that is your greatest asset.

Thank you very much.  [Applause]

[MB]: Thank you very much ambassador. Listening to your talk, with the ambassador of Venezuela sat beside you, I was reminded that in the recent London 2012 Olympic games, both Colombia and Venezuela won fantastic gold medals, in BMX racing and in fencing respectively. That was a close draw, and I am sure that Ambassador Moncada will now keep exactly and precisely to time as his Colombian counterpart has done.  Ambassador Moncada.

[Samuel Moncada]: 

Thank you very much. I am going to be not quick, but I do intend to make the most of my ten minutes. When Matthew invited me to this meeting, he asked me to talk exactly about the subject of British influence on the independence of the Bolivarian Republics in South America. That’s what I am going to talk about, because I am a historian, and because I love this subject.

When I came in I heard an expert, sitting at the back [Professor Catherine Davies, University of Nottingham], she was talking about Britain’s position on independence in South America. I am sure she knows more than me about it, but anyway I am going to touch this subject from my point of view.

I think there are two important British influences in the South American Independences – for there are several independences, not just one Independence. They can be divided, just for convenience, into two main subjects. The first is the position of the United Kingdom’s government regarding the independence of South America. The second is the influence of the British people in South America, what they actually did on the ground in the battles for Independence. They are connected subjects, but they are not the same. They are related, but they are not subordinated one to the other. I mean, of course the British people in Latin America were to some degree a consequence of the British government’s position regarding Latin America, but they were they were not directed by the British government. They were absolutely independent from government control, and many of them even became Venezuelans and Colombians, by serving in the army and coming to think of themselves as Venezuelans and Colombians. So it is interesting to point out these differences and see how they are remembered on each side.

First: the British position. I think it is fair to say that the British government position regarding the independence of the South American colonies was the ruthless, ruthless, following of national self interest. I mean, the British were as any nation just trying to pursue their own benefits. They looked to expand their own power over other inferior powers, and you can see that competition within the context of the imperial wars and the whole world. Particularly in the Atlantic and Latin America there were the Spaniards and Portuguese, of course, but also the French, the Dutch (by the way the Dutch - nobody talks about them! but in regards to Venzuela they were very important because of Curacao, which changed hands several times during the war of independence, and was linked to the Venezuelan port of Coro, which was very important for the war of independence in Venezuela). Anyway, there was great imperial competition: the Spaniards, the French, the Dutch and the British on the European side, and then the former British colonies, the United States, on the American side of the Atlantic, and all of them were expanding or fighting for expansion, or fighting (in the case of the Spaniards) to preserve their power.

You could say that, just for the matter of understanding this process, the British position had three different stages or phases.

The first stage consists of the whole eighteenth century, up until 1808. During this time the British were just acting like any other imperial power: land grabbing, fighting for territory and markets. That’s what they did when they took Trinidad, and when they took Jamaica in the seventeenth century, and even when they attempted to take Buenos Aires in 1806. There are firsthand accounts of when the British thought they had won in 1806, and where they thought they had taken Buenos Aires, and they planned to move on to take Chile, Mexico, Peru etc, etc, etc. The British thought that that was the right decision, to undermine the Spaniards by grabbing and snatching the Spanish colonies. Nevertheless they weren’t able to do that because more or less at that same time, in 1807 and 1808, Napoleon invaded Spain and Spain was suddenly on the side of the British to fight against the French. You could also say that the most important British contribution to the South American Independences was in fact back at the victory of the naval Battle of Trafalgar, when the Royal Navy destroyed entirely the French and Spanish fleet, and left Spain without any means to counter attack the revolutionary wars in the Americas.

In General Simon Bolivar’s letter, written in Jamaica in 1815, he asked ‘How are we going to obey a crown or kingdom which has no means to subdue or wage war against us in South America, they have no ships nor canons, no weapons, so it is ridiculous to accept the power of a kingdom that has been destroyed’.[1]

The second most important European contribution to the independence of Latin America was the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. When France overran Spain it created a headless empire for there was no recognised king. Even though Francisco de Miranda and many others were asking the British to organise an invasion of Spanish colonies in the Americas long before the Napoleonic invasion, when Napoleon invaded Spain it became obvious that it was the right time to do something about it.

The third most important contribution to the Independence of the Spanish South American colonies was precisely the implosion within the Spanish empire itself. By this I mean the stubbornness – some people say the stupidity - of the Spanish monarchs Charles IV and Ferdinand VII. They made gigantic errors in international policy and then struggled with their own contradictions between liberals and absolutists, and between pro-French and pro-Spanish factions. It is interesting that the divisions within Spain were replicated in Hispanic America, there was a symmetry to it. You couldn’t define the War of Independence in South America, as it was so complex. It was in many ways a civil war. You could say that civil war was occurring at exactly the same time in Spain in their War of Independence. Later, the turbulence and turmoil of Latin America after the independence wars lasted the rest of the 19th century, you could see them replicated again in Spain during the rest of the 19th century: I mean, the fractures, the conflicts that generated independence went on long after the end of the wars.

Early today I heard the phrase ‘sitting on the fence’ used to describe British neutrality towards the cause of independence. [Examining the history], I don’t see any fence-sitting, they were actively working to undermine the Spaniards before 1808. Then they supported the Spanish just to prevent the French taking over South America (when the French took Spain). Then, after 1815, they were trying to wait just to see if the South Americans could achieve independence, and then they would recognise that. Why did Britain recognise the independence of South America in 1823? For two reasons: one was the United States of America had done so in 1822, and the Americans did that because they had just finished an agreement with Spain to take over Florida, and also because they had their own ambitions in South America. The Monroe Doctrine was issued in 1823 precisely to try to stop any Europeans from intervening in the American hemisphere, it was the first manifest expression of the ‘backyard’ policy of the United States.

It is interesting to note that it was an Imperial Republic that was formed there [in the North], because Bolivar himself, at the time in South America, believed that Spain and the Americas were divided by monarchy. He saw that there would be expansion [in the North]. He thought that the republic was a system that intrinsically couldn’t propose or support imperial land grabbing, [and he observed] imperialists, republicans and expansionists.

Changing to the other side of the story for just a final minute, [it is important to note that the British expeditions to Colombia and Venezuela] were comprised by representatives of the whole range of humanity. It would be ridiculous to generalise about them, when we don’t even agree on what to call them! We call them adventurers, volunteers, mercenaries, patriots etc. In the same way that we don’t agree in the name to give them, we disagree on the sides who fought: on one side we have loyalists, royalists or monarchists. On the other side people say republicans, patriots, insurgents, independents, rebels, revolutionaries and so on. Whichever we choose signals one angle as to how we see the world.

But my point is that the British contribution to the independence on the ground – not British policy, but the British themselves – around seven thousand individuals that Matthew Brown studied thoroughly, their contribution was different. There were soldiers and also many merchants, journalists, politicians, doctors and sailors, [their contribution to independence] was immense, and particularly so in the Bolivarian republics, where they fought alongside the Venezuelans and the Colombians and the Ecuadorians all the way.

These British people sacrificed a lot – Matthew, in his book, sounds a little bit cold in his analysis of their rhetoric of sacrifice - there was actual sacrifice of thousands of lives. There are what people call nameless graves in the plains of Peru and in the mountains of Venezuela. Thousands of British people sacrificed their lives there, and many others [were not soldiers, but] they were cleaning the houses, there were drunks, corpses, there were scammers, there were all sorts of people but there were also idealists, loyalists and romantic British fighters for freedom. Many of them gave their lives, for example William Ferguson was killed in 1828 saving Bolivar from a failed attempted assassination. The Battles of Carabobo was the most important battle of independence in Venezuela [in 1821] and there was a British Legion there which was essential for the victory.

I could talk about that, and those people, a lot more, but just to finish: it would be mean-spirited, ungenerous and ungrateful not to recognise the sacrifice of the British in our wars of independence, and we are happy to do so two hundred years afterwards.

Thank you very much.


[1] MB’s note: my translation of the full text of the letter can be found in Simón Bolívar: The Bolivarian Revolution, introduced by Hugo Chavez (Verso: 2009),

[MB]: Thank you very much. I hand over now to Natalia Sobrevilla Perea.

[Natalia Sobrevilla Perea]

Thank you very much. Thank you Matthew for inviting me.

Listening to our panel, I actually have to make my apologies because I am in fact not a specialist in the Bolivarian republics but much more on the impact that Bolivar had further south. I am an expert more in the Andes, Peru, Bolivia, and I noticed the absence of the representatives from the Ecuadorian Embassy today. I imagine that they are all very busy taken up with other matters that are quite urgent.[1]
I do think that Inés Quintero’s discussion of the Bolivarian archive is very important. Someone mentioned at the beginning of the comments in the last session, what would be the best way to commemorate and celebrate. Of course, documentation! Making documentation available, I think as a historian, is one of the best possible contributions that can be made. In fact I want to thank the ambassador and the whole Venezuelan people for their generosity not just now by making the archive available to everyone in the world to be able to look at these documents, but also for their efforts with a major cultural project, the Biblioteca Ayacucho, which I think is the one of the most impressive collections, which is also online which can be consulted by everybody, everywhere. You can find all the canon of literature, travel, history, and I would invite everybody here to truly take advantage of these resources. They really are very much the history not just of Venezuela but of the whole continent.

Now onto the task of the day which is the British role in the independence of the Bolivarian republics. As I mentioned before, I am more of an expert in the British participation further south, and I would like to invite my colleagues such as Matthew and Daniel [Gutierrez] to think about how Bolivar doesn’t stop in Ecuador in 1822. He does not! He goes further south and the impact that he has in Peru is considerable. He then creates a nation called Bolivia that is not really represented today, as it is not felt [by historians] to be a traditional Bolivarian republic. Or is it? In a sense I think we need to query that term. If you look at the monument just down the road to Simon Bolivar in Belgrave Square in London, it says 'Liberator of many countries', including Peru and Bolivia.

There was a great Irish and British participation that came with Bolivar, the legions that Matthew studied, but also if we look to Peru, they encountered other British participants in these wars that had come from the other side of the Andes. The Chilean navy was very much a British navy at the time, it was men like Lord Thomas Cochrane who put it together and like Martin Guise who were the ones who were actually moving forward the whole campaign, and making it possible for them to traverse from Chile into Peru and to begin all the process there from 1819 into 1821.

There were people like William Miller, for instance, who is incredibly important in this process. He did not come with Bolivar, he came to Peru the other way. In fact, he tells in his memoirs that he was in Buenos Aries and thinking of becoming a merchant after having fought in the Peninsula wars in Spain. He had been part of the men who had fought next to Wellington. He had known many Spanish officers at the time and then he was kind of out of a job, he was in the 1812 war against the United States and he was looking for a commission, thinking of becoming a merchant in Buenos Aires. Then he ended up having an encounter with a woman who convinced him that his life was for glory. He decided to travel to Chile, and he eventually joined San Martin, and went to Peru. Miller was the creator of much of the Peruvian army and a very influential person in this whole process. He also linked up with the other Irish and British men who were coming with Bolivar. Francisco Burdett O’Connor was one of those. O’Connor was one of the ones who came with Bolivar, and in his diaries he remembered their celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Peru, how they would put together some cases of rum because they didn’t have whiskey and they just celebrated together because of their shared identity. They had this commonness, there was something about them, they were British and Irish.

There was also a mention earlier of the other Irish who had been fighting on the side of the Spanish king. In the case of Peru there is a very famous general General O’Reilly who was defeated in 1820 in a battle at Cerro Uliachin. He was so distraught on his way back to Spain that he jumped off the boat, he thought that his life was not worth living.

These were very interesting lives to learn about. When you think of the Irish involvement, you think of Bernardo O’Higgins, someone who we have also memorialised around here, who was mentioned by Karen Racine earlier today. Bernardo O’Higgins was part of that Irish connection that was always lingering in the Spanish crowd. As was said before, it wasn’t just that they were on one side but they were on both. It wasn’t just the Irish or the British, but also the French and the Germans. There are all kinds of connections here at the time that are very interesting and important. I think that we need to remember and I would very much echo the ambassador’s point and the fact that [British people] actually fought and gave a big part of their lives. Miller lost the use of one of his arms in one of the bombing attacks he received and he was a very damaged man by the end of the wars. This is just one example of many, many others of these lives that were very blighted by their participation in the wars and that’s something that we need to remember now.

How should we remember? Should we go to the battle places and re-enact the battles? Should we go and celebrate them? Should we go and think of all these people? Should we think about knowledge transfer, or something more similar to what Ines Quintero was mentioning. I think that this is an interesting thing to think about. What are the different ways in which we can remember and memorialise? Of course the ambassador of Colombia in his talk mentioned this idea of what happens in the future. One of the things that he highlighted was this idea of knowledge transfer, of communication of ideas, of information. Karen Racine mentioned earlier how these miners were being taken from Cornwall down to Peru to work on mines, and they used steam and new technologies, and how investment was the byword of the time.

One of the things that we are not remembering here too much is all the financial aspects of how these wars were fought. When we think of the independence war in North America we have to think of the fact that they were pretty much given a free cheque, they were not charged for what everything cost. That is not what happened in the Latin American, Hispanic republics. They all came to London, they all asked for money and they all got money, lots of it, lots of cash but very soon they realised that they didn’t really have much in order to pay it back. And then they had these merchants turning up, with ice skates to Rio de Janeiro, and bowler hats to Peru, thousands of hats that no one knew what to do with. Today of course you see peasants in Bolivia wearing bowler hats and it seems a bit strange.

Commercial relations were very important, [they were the background to] British participation in independence. I think the ambassador made a very important point, which is to distinguish between the British government and what the government wants [on the one hand], and of course [on the other] what individuals will do and of course the commercial issue people who are trying to find some benefit in all of this. Of course a lot of the people that ended up investing in these new republics ended up losing a lot money - the bond holders were holding bad debt, something which is very very close to us now, they were holding debt that couldn’t be sustained. Matthew in fact has studied someone who was managing to raise funds for a country that didn’t even exist - he was a British adventurer [Gregor MacGregor] who convinced people in the city of London to give him money to go to a country that he made up. It is a great story. (‘Inca, Sailor, Soldier, King’, Bulletinof Latin American Research, 2005).

In conclusion, we need to consider all these different connections. On that note, just to put the strands together, I do think that we need to think about the past and where this long-term relationship comes. It is not just from the wars of independence, but even before in the colonial period, with the Irish-Spanish connection we shouldn’t really forget. We have these men who gave a lot in battle, we have the commercial considerations, the mining issues and we have the knowledge aspect as well. We have a lot of things that we can think about and we can now talk about.


[1] A reference to the continued presence of Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy while we were talking on 5 September 2012, where he had been granted asylum.

Questions and Discussion after the round-table

Contribution 1 [Isaac Bigio]: remarked that today’s discussions have demonstrated the enduring excellent relations between Britain and Latin America, and noted that the most important manifestation of that relationship, and channel for it, is the Latin American community in the UK. One important stage-post towards the recognition of the UK’s Latin American community has been the decision by Southwark council to recognise Latin American as an ethnic category. He stated that we must all work to end the invisibility of Latin Americans in the UK. To this end, he directed everyone’s attention to the newly-instituted AMIGOS month, to be held from 7 September – 15 October every year. 

This aims to be a Latin American History month, in the same way as Black History month is so successful in promoting culture and identity and memory in the UK. He said that today’s event was a great way to get the month started, and hoped that soon, if everyone joins in, it won’t just be the Mayor of London who is interested, but also the Prime Minister, and the Queen. [see ].

[Contribution 2]: noted that the speakers who focused on looking forward were the most convincing, and that those who dwelled on the past, and sought to complicated things, were less useful. She argued that the digitisation projects as discussed by Professor Quintero were most exciting, and hoped that other projects could be found to continue such an initiative.

[MB]: remarked that the papers of Mary English, who travelled and lived in Venezuela and Colombia during the Independence-era, are held in the British Library. He is seeking funding to digitise these manuscripts and make them available to scholars across the world. Anyone interested in funding such a project should get in touch ...

[Contribution 3]: lamented that the best way to mark the bicentenaries of Britain’s involvement in independence would be to reverse the losses of the last decade. He made particular reference to the loss of the Chevening Scholarships, and to reductions enforced across the British Council operations in Latin America. He noted that it has become much more difficult for Peruvians to get visas to visit, for example. He concluded by remarking that two hundred years ago Spain was unable to operate in Latin America because of economic and political crisis, which opened the door to Great Britain, and suggested that contemporary resonances might suggest opportunities to Great Britain in the region if it were to better focus its energies and resources.

[Contribution 4]: thanked the speakers and noted that education was a key area for shared expertise. In particular, she noted the need for new educational tools and improvement on both sides of the equation.

[Contribution 5]: remarked upon the decline of the British Council, and upon the rise in United States language schools across Latin America at the expense of British language schools. This, he remarked, is a symptom of declining British influence and the hegemony of the United States in much of the region.

[Contribution 6]: [Baroness Hooper] noted that one of the principal challenges which must be overcome is that British people simply do not know enough about Latin America. She drew people’s attention to the labours of Canning House in this respect, organising events and in particular its Annual Essay Prize Competition for schools. However, she thought that more energy could be put into teaching more Spanish, in schools, institutes and universities. This is essential to maintaining good relations in the future.

Contribution 7: [Catherine Davies] continued on the theme of language teaching. She noted that the present government had inflicted severe cuts on Modern Languages in universities. She observed that the key place to start is with teaching Spanish in schools, but government policy had also undermined this. She argued that there is a vicious circle, in which there are not enough teachers of Modern Languages, and not enough students learning, despite the great demand amongst pupils to learn Spanish! This circle must be broken! She pointed to several ways forward. Colombians and Venezuelans must emulate the Brazilian universities who have made direct contact with International Offices at UK universities. We should be grateful to Santander for the great amounts they have invested in Spanish and Latin American Studies in the UK universities, and encourage other financial institutions and corporations to follow suit. Finally, there should be a greater drive to involve normal members of the Latin American community in the UK into the lives of consulates and embassies, to reach out and widen the base of the relationship.

[Contribution 8]: remarked that Colombians speak the best Spanish of anywhere in the world, and so British people should go there to study Spanish.

[Contribution 9]: commented that the British media must begin to remedy its regular and unforgivable errors regarding Latin America. He noted that yesterday (4 September 2012) the Independent mis-spelt ‘Columbia’ twice. He continued however that Latin Americans often make the mistake of conflating ‘English’ and ‘British’, let along Scottish and Welsh, and argued for better education and much watchfulness – and published corrections – on the part of ambassadors and academics. He concluded by suggested that a TV series on the subject of Britain’s interventions in the wars of independence in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador would be a an excellent step towards furthering our subject.

[Contribution 10]: took up the theme of television series. She noted that this is extremely important, and referred to a project to make a film about Policarpa Salvarietta in Colombia. She suggested that Latin American contemporary artists were another window waiting to be activated as a channel for communicating between Britain and Latin America. She concluded by noting that Latin America now suffers from not having been formally part of the empire, and so is not courted by UK cultural agencies who are anxious to work with postcolonial countries.

[Contribution 11]: remarked on the poor quality of journalism in the UK about Latin America. He referred to the numerous historical and geographical errors being made daily in reference to Julian Assange and Ecuador, even, he said, on the BBC. 
He continued by remarking the lack of access to quality TV and film across much of Latin America, and suggested that a joint film production project on the subject of Thomas Cochrane, William Miller, et al, would be an excellent idea.

[Contribution 12]: a film-maker, observed that he was half-British, half-Mexican, and had spent much time wondering which was his strongest identity. He drew people’s attention to the long campaign for recognition by Southwark Council, and the major Latin 
American cultural events which can be found in the borough, not just in shops and shopping as in around Elephant & Castle, but also the summer carnival and ongoing portrait projects. He concluded by noting that funding was particularly tight at the moment for cultural projects wanting to work at the bridge between British and Latin American cultures.

[Contribution 13]: suggested that much more Latin American history and culture should be being taught at school, and recommended that people engage with Exam Boards to get curricula to involve more Latin American subjects.

[Contribution 14]: [Enrique Rodriguez] followed up the points made earlier about TV series. He thought that something like Sharpe, or like Michael Wood’s Conquistadores, needed to be made. He had approached various individuals, but nothing had come of it. These are great stories, he said, and they need to be filmed, and to be told!

Contribution 15: [Charles Goodson-Wickes, director-general of Canning House] reminded people of the Canning House annual prize essay competition. 

He accepted that British Council representation had become limited, and urged people to make good use of Canning House in its efforts to act as a bridge between Britain and Latin America.

Contribution 16: noted that from the perspective of staff in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, this debate had been energising and stimulating. She recognised the many different ideas which had been exchanged, and thanked the organisers of the event for their efforts. She asked, how can we capture the ideas raised today so that we can take them forward?

Contribution 17: [Estefania Tello, from the Ecuadorian Embassy] apologied that the Ecuadorian ambassador had not been able to attend. She stated that Ecuador was pleased to see such an excellent event, and that she was pleased to hear such an informed discussion. She noted that Ecuador is looking for cooperation in Scientific matters with the UK, and has found the Foreign Office informative partners. She concluded by saying that education at all levels is key, that the event showed that we can all learn from history, and we should all learn more of the common histories that unite us. 

[Matthew Brown] pledged to write up the transcripts of all of these contributions, to put them onto his blog so that everyone could read them, whether they were able to be present or not. Then, he suggested that he would draw them up into an Open Letter to the new minister of state for Latin America (Hugo Swire MP), which would also go on his blog, which people could add their names to if they wished.

He then thanked everyone for their contributions, and asked the four round-table speakers to respond and /or sum up.

[Ines Quintero]: (spoke in Spanish). One of the motivations for any historian of Latin America, any historian in Latin America, is to see what magic we can employ, what resources we can find, to connect our histories with today’s societies. Education, therefore, is crucial to the tasks set before us today. It is crucial to improve education in Latin America, so that we know our own history. I welcome this opportunity to see that we are preoccupied by the same things. Would a new film fill these gaps? I don’t know – but I think that we should not neglect any strategy. All actions to improve education and knowledge transfer should be welcomed. Thank you.


[Mauricio Rodriguez]: Yes two points here. I think the British government has done a very good job in recent years in strengthening, deepening and diversifying relations between the UK and Latin America. Most of my colleagues here tonight, indeed all of the Latin American ambassadors, would agree with me to a higher or lesser degree that the Foreign Office has done an excellent job, and Secretary of State Mr William Hague and Minister for Latin America Mr Jeremy Browne have done very special efforts. Let me give you some good examples: the UK will reopen or open embassies in El Salvador and Paraguay; and they have increased personnel in Colombia. In the midst of a very tight financial situation the Foreign Office is making a very special effort and the British Council has done an excellent outstanding job in Latin America. I agree that it should have a British Council presence in many other countries because it is the best ambassador for Great Britain. The British Council is a wonderful institution. I think that there are three wonderful institutions that do a great job of promoting the UK abroad. These are the British Council, the BBC and the British universities.

What these three institutions do for Great Britain is immense and you should try to defend them and promote them as much as possible. These institutions are your best Foreign Office. Credit also to Foreign Office, in the particular case of Colombia the Foreign Office has done excellent job in the prosperity agenda I shared with you earlier. Just one example: Minister Jeremy Browne unfortunately he is leaving now, he has a new job at the Home Office [this news was announced in between our sessions on 5 September 2012] but he visited Colombia three times in eighteen months. [Today’s discussions show that] we been at a very high level, and have really diversified the agenda.

My second point, [I agree that] in relation to our media [we should discuss] how to raise the attention of media and film producers and TV producers.

I think that supposedly we Latin Americans are the most creative, imaginative, people in the world. We are very good at inspiring, persuading, convincing, seducing people with our stories, with our beautiful landscapes with our wonderful music and culture and food etc etc. Well, we have here a challenge, an opportunity. We need to go to talk to the BBC, talk to independent producers and film directors, and convince them precisely of those wonderful characters/stories to be told in the British media. I think we have to improve our selling skills because I agree that we have wonderful, wonderful stories to share with Great Britain, and those will be an important way to connect our societies, our people. We have excellent connections with top government, academia, business but we need to connect the British and Latin American citizens. And the media, like it or not, is the best route to strengthen those ties. So this is a message to us, Latin American friends, lets really be more creative in selling our stories to earn the larger space in British media that we deserve, but we will only earn that space if we are better at telling our stories.

And the last point and I think Baroness Hooper is absolutely right one here, one very good way of strengthening those ties with Latin America, British ties with Latin America, is through the teaching of Spanish. I think that we have also there a challenge to develop that point. How can we do that? What else can we do? We have to be creative and think together how to increase the number of British citizens that speak Spanish because that makes things much easier. When people have a basic knowledge of a language they will visit, and once they go to Latin America they will fall in love with Latin America. You have - all of you - probably been to Latin America or want to go to Latin America, and if you have the language skills that makes things much easier so I think that we also have to improve our ideas on how to extend the interest and attract more British citizens to learn Spanish. Thank you.


[Samuel Moncada]: Okay, well very many things have been said here about the how to increase knowledge, relationships, connections between Latin America and Britain. I have just written some notes on the debate, in particular I have written the headings language, history, universities and communities.

The Latin American community here which is growing is one of the most important ones in the sense that it is a very human, concrete, alive connection within this country and so far has not got the recognition that I think it needs. The EU is working on it but I think it there are many thousands, I don’t know how many there are =

[Interjection from audience, Isaac Bigio]: One million, including Brazilians we have one million Latin American people living in the UK.

[Samuel Moncada]: Okay, that is a really good base to work on. I don’t know how many British people are living in Latin America but I know there are tens of thousands at least. The last figure I have is that more than 200,000 British go every year to Cuba and more than that go to the Dominican Republic every single year, so at least 400,000 British travellers, tourists, are going to Latin America every year.

The media, the universities, communication and language are all important but I would also like to continue with some areas I not heard of in kind of discussions that for me are very important. He [Ambassador Rodriguez] said the BBC, British Council and British Universities which I agree totally with. But there are many other institutions, British institutions that for me at least that they deserve admiration. One of those is the NHS and the NHS is an example of a universal health service that we at least are admiring =

[Mauricio Rodriguez]: we want it too!

[Samuel Moncada]:  = we want something like that you admire, although you [British] complain about the NHS all the time but we would like something like that in Venezuela =

[Mauricio Rodriguez]: = and in Colombia!

[Samuel Moncada]: The way I see to improve Venezuela’s connection with the British, apart from the diplomacy, the government, investment, the corporations, the media, the rest of it you have to find common ground, issues where we connect now, not necessarily because we connected two hundred years ago. Because as Matthew knows after the 1830s the English, the British interest in Latin America faded and [in retrospect] the most intense period of relations between Britain and Latin America was exactly this time we’re talking about, the independence wars. After that failure there was a pick up at the end of the nineteenth century with some mining and railroads and some other oil investments in the twentieth century but there was nothing as intense as the human connection these several thousand British going [created in the 1820s]. I don’t think there has been so many British going to participate in another war apart from Latin America ever, apart from maybe the Spanish Civil War [in the 1930s] it is the only example I know of, of British people going abroad to fight for the liberation of another country. There may be another one but that is my ignorance, but it is common ground. Like, for example, the Paralympics.

[Mauricio Rodriguez]: Sports.

[Samuel Moncada]: No not sports, Paralympics. People with special needs, the way that people are treated in Latin America, the policies we are developing for people with special needs and how to compare that with the policies here in Britain [that is a common ground]. The treatment of children, the treatment of the elderly, I am talking about social policy, how we deal with poverty, how we deal with social housing. There are many, many issues that we can learn from each other that we could learn from the British but we can also teach the British.

We can learn from each other in the process I am aspiring to. But, perhaps, let’s also add a grain of disagreement, it’s something in Britain you need to correct. There are very many things that can be done [to improve British-Latin American relations], one of those things is scholarships. Many Latin Americans came to the UK to study with scholarships here, but now the scholarships are fading away. But more, there are some things that don’t need money to be improved. One of those has been touched already: the visa issue. You really want people from other countries to spend their money here? Well, you have to first take them to come and study! It is a nightmare to get visas for foreign students to study, it is a nightmare. I have to say that if I am asked by any student at this moment in time if it is good advice to come to Britain, well. 

Let me give you an example:  we have tried for more than three years to reach agreement with the London Metropolitan University to bring hundreds of students to study oil and chemicals, polymers, many things related to oil matters. And then we suddenly found last week that this University had had withdrawn the licence to get visas for foreign students. And now there are two thousand foreign students stranded, and they have paid! We have several Venezuelans in there by the way, they paid a few years of fees, they spend thousands of pounds just in maintenance, or just in fees, they are about to finish their degrees and now they have found this situation, that they have lost all their money! And the only thing they have been told is that they must pay everything and spend their time again or you are going to be deported! I mean that is ridiculous, if you carry on with that policy no one is going to come here to study, that is a mistake that has to be corrected and that doesn’t cost any money! That is good advice for you, please don’t spoil your own good industry of education which is a good one, very prestigious around the world but you will spoil it.

[Much applause]

[Natalia Sobrevilla Perea]: I cannot but agree with all those who [have just spoken]. Especially on this visa issue, indeed one of our speakers was just mentioning how difficult it is to get a visa. I myself still suffer from that fate so I think it is something that I endorse fully. I have spoken already on the audio-visual matters [so I won’t say any more now]. I think we are all ready for a glass of wine.


[Matthew Brown]: Thank you to our four speakers on this very stimulating round-table discussion, Ines Quintero, Mauricio Rodriguez, Samuel Moncada and Natalia Sobrevilla. We can continue the discussion now over a glass of something, and then online soon when the transcripts are completed. Thank you very much.


Here are some pictures of the heated though good-natured debate that followed (no transcript!)

MB: A final note. Many thanks to Sean O'Connor of Canning House, and Dr. Claire Hyland of the University of Bristol (pictured together on the left here), for making the event run so smoothly. There were lots of excellent ideas raised and discussed. 

If after reading these discussions you would now like to use the Comments section below to reflect or add further observations and suggestions, please do!