Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Liberators of Spanish America: Canning House History Series, 24 April 2013

Peru SimonBolivar01 full

On Wednesday evening 24 April I gave a lecture entitled 'The Liberators of Spanish America' as part of the Canning House History Series.

Liberators: Bolívar, Santander, San Martín, Hidalgo, Iturbide, Cochrane, Sucre, Santa Cruz, et al: the men who are renowned for liberating Spanish America from Spanish colonial rule at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and who have cities, avenues, countries and plazas named after them, not to mention universities, museums, shops, currencies, buses and so one. But who were they? What or who did they liberate, and who from? What did people think of them at the time? How do we people remember them today – as heroes, as patriotic martyrs or as self-aggrandising egotists who grabbed the glory for themselves and hung on to power at the expense of their fellow countrymen and women? 

In the lecture I argued that there were no 'good guys' in the wars of independence. The complicated mesh of loyalties, identities, armed forces, egos, ambitions, promises, betrayals and myths meant that the only individuals who emerged with positive reputations were either those who died tragically young, or those who managed to control the production of the histories that emerged after independence. 

Indeed, I suggested, given the major advances in the historiography of independence in the past couple of decades, and historians' understandings of the long-term processes and social changes that underpinned the period - might it not be better to dispense with the term 'liberators' once and for all? 

There were some excellent questions from the audience afterwards. Some of them were: Why did Brazil remain united while Spanish America fragmented after independence? Did Bolivar threaten to kill San Martin at their Guayaquil interview in 1822? How accurate is the portrayal of Bolivar in Evelio Rosero's magnificent novel La carroza de Bolivar (2011)? Was Bolivar a British stooge? Would Bolivar have been a Chavista or opposition supporter in today's Venezuela? We would have needed an entire lecture series to answer those properly: my answers were (in brief): The Continuing Relative Legitimacy of Empire as opposed to Republic; We don't know; Very Good, though obviously quite one-sided; No; and, in such an unlikely, hypothetical situation as Bolivar returning to Venezuelan political life in 2013, I can't imagine him following anyone else at all, regardless of their political affiliations.

No comments:

Post a Comment