Bolivar, a veritable bolt
narrates the rise of Bolivarism in Venezuela and its spread in the rest of the emerging world of Latin America through a recently released seminal study of the life and letters of Simon Bolivar
Colour me consecrated. Coulour me Revolutionary Red. Colour me with the cobalt, crimson and gold of the original Grand Colombian banner first hoisted by Simon Jose Antonio de la Santisima Trinidad Bolivar. Better known as Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of South America was a statesman and visionary whose goal was to united South America.
The Would-be Gentleman, the 1670 comic play, Le Bourgeois gentihome, by Molière, is tantamount to a plea for propriety and modesty. The nineteenth century Venezuelan-cum-Latin American revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar personified such propriety. Yet he towered far above most men of his generation in Latin America.
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A statue of South America's Liberator Somon Bolivar, a stone throw away from the United States Embassy in Cairo's Garden City District... and now his life and letters translated into the Arabic language
The Venezuelan military and political leader of yesteryear considered all Spanish colonies in the Western Hemisphere his rightful political inheritance and his ideological playground. His mantra was "Latin America Must Unite".
I personally cannot but draw parallels with the far-reaching rallying call "Africa Must Unite" of another shackled revolutionary, my own father Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of an African nation south of the Sahara to gain independence from a European colonial power, in Ghana's case, Britain. In a sense both Bolivar and Nkrumah were hemmed down and manacled so-to-speak by Lilliputians. And, pundits will fret as the often do, that Bolivar and Nkrumah were visionaries whose dreams will never come true. Yet those critics of Bolivar and Nkrumah discover to their chagrin that the ligatures they imagine the imperialists have attached to the heroes of continental unification cannot, in retrospect, bind them ever more tightly. Like Gulliver, Bolivar and Nkrumah, or rather the very ideology they embodied, persuaded their adversaries to untie them.
The West now sees continental unification as the panacea of all the ills that have befallen Europe and smaller, economically redundant entities that can only survive as part and parcel of a larger economic unit -- the continental conception.
Bolivar was the Garibaldi of South America, except that like Nkrumah in Africa, his struggle for continental unification was cut short. Guiseppe Garibaldi, the Italian political unifier, too, championed women's rights and was an abolitionist who believed in fundamental human rights for all including the millions of African slaves he came across in Brazil -- Garibaldi actually saw himself as a universal fighter for freedom. Bolivar valiantly led the Latin America's successful struggle against the Spanish Empire. He died tragically young. There is a whodunit plot with only one plausible suspect -- imperialism.
Gustavo Periera's Simon Bolivar: Escritos Anticolonialistas, 369 pages, is a polished, palmary review of the correspondence of the pedigreed aristocrat who kicked out the Spanish colonialists from South America. The letters reveal much of Bolivar's political thinking and how he managed to achieve the germane successes in a relatively short life span. He became captain general of Venezuela and the first president of Bolivia, a feat that reinforced his status as Liberator of South America reinforcing the very notion of continental unity. Bolivar died at age of 47 in Santa Marta, Columbiam Quinta de San Pedro Algjandrino.
Translated by Adnan Abdel-Hamid Kazem, the Arabic version exhibits Kazem's scrupulous attention to detail, and a meticulous obsession to finding the correct phraseology and terminology, the very nomenclature of the ideologically loaded Spanish lingo infused in the letters and correspondence displayed in Gustavo Periera's original Spanish best-seller. Living post-Arab Spring, the reader will find many parallels between the current situation in the Arab world and Bolivar's experience in South America. An Arabic-speaking searcher for parallels across the world will appreciate this classic. South America, where the shift from military dictatorship to civilian democratic rule predated the Arab Spring by two decades, could teach us insightful lessons in this part of the world. This is a historic chance, at a momentous, well-chronicled time when the Arab world finds itself poised for dramatic change.
Bolivar hailed from noble lineage, the Bolivar aristocrats of La Puebla de Basque in the Basque Country, Spain. Yet he was the proverbial man of the people. Venezuela is currently espousing the Bolivarian ideology. Several South American countries are also flirting with the Bolivarian model. This unprecedented development in the contemporary world of Latin America raises several questions that are not directly answered by Gustavo Periera's classic.
This seminal work employs all the settings and set-up of a rising power that ingeniously utilizes the newly independent state to kick-start economic development. But it may take many years for the Bolivarian model's strength to become clear.
With the comprador capitalists of Latin America in a funk, coupled with Washington deserting them in droves, the policy-makers of Latin America no longer see capitalism as a way-station on the road to industrially advanced status.
And actually, Washington is unable to come to the assistance of the comprador capitalist and nation because the United States itself is fast losing its grip of its neighbours south of the Rio Grande. Washington's bigwigs are getting their knickers in a twist over Venezuela. The brouhaha surrounding Bolivariarism, the political ideology also practiced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is insufficiently appreciated in the Arab world, and so this translation comes at an opportune moment for leftists in the region.
Gustavo Peirera's masterpiece is a work of remarkable fecundity. First, it demonstrates the occasional doubts that Bolivar himself had that his own ideology could be properly implemented in his beloved continent, and even in his own Motherland.
Second, as an early exponent of the notion of continental unification, he abhorred the consumerist pretensions of the nouveau riche and comprador capitalist classes as much as he detested the Spanish colonialists. He galvanized the intelligentsia to his cause of continental unification thanks to his verve and nerve. Bolivar's revolution was not a storm in a glass.
Why make it simple, Bolivar's detractors, complain. Setting up shop in Africa and Latin America for a continental unifier is no easy task. And it has not got easier since the days of Kwame Nkrumah and Simon Bolivar. The latter liberated his native Venezuela as well as Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. (The very name Bolivia is derived from Bolivar and Venezuela's national currency to this day is called the bolivar.) Bolivarianism has become synonymous with popular democracy, and not just in Venezuela.
Nor does the Bolivarian model necessarily guarantee social stability. Bolivarianism only works effectively when directed by a competent state apparatus, dedicated technocrats, an organised labour force, or proletariat who owe their allegiance to a charismatic leader with an intense passion for continental unification and a patriotism than encompasses an entire continent.
Bolivar's abolitionist attitude, his conviction that slaves must be freed even though he hailed from a slave-holding family of plantation owners, endeared him to the masses in South America.
Bolivar eschewed the incessant striving for prestige and respectability by the economic, political and social elite in South America. And, so do the followers of Bolivarianism today in Venezuela and across the continent. The United Socialist Party of Venzuela was in 2007 replaced by the Fifth Republic Movement -- spearheaded by a group of leftist social activists.
So is it state capitalism in Marxist parlance or is it Socialism? Today, we have neither. Socialists cannot use the laws of the country to crush the capitalist system because they must adhere to Western-style democracy. Doctrinaire Marxists believe this is a bit unreasonable. And, this, of course, is an understatement. Since the restrictions against capitalism have no basis in the laws of the land, leftist activists in Venezuela and South America espouse Bolivarianism as a model of direct action.
The trade bloc MERCOSUR, grouping Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay -- the last mentioned country is one of South America's poorest and least developed countries -- embodies the very idea of Bolivarianism, or continental cooperation and economic amalgamation. A landlocked country in the heart of the continent, Paraguay witnessed a bloodless coup d'etat this week. The change of guard has caused much ink to flow.
Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru have associate member status in MERCOSUR. The very notion of creating an economic grouping as a stepping stone to continental unification is fast gaining ground in Latin America. However, if the southern continent follows in the footsteps of its northern former colonial masters in Europe -- blah from start to the crisis of the euro, and capitalist in orientation -- MERCOSUR will be more likely to sour fond memories of Bolivar.
Bolivar differed from leaders of the American Revolution because of his staunchly anti-slavery stance. Race-consciousness -- both Latin Americans of African origin and the indigenous Native American populations -- has made significant inroads into the decision-making process.
Bolivar was born and raised in an area that was heavily reliant on slave labour. Yet, even though South America still awaits its own Barack Obama, it does have Bolivian President Evo Morales, the first Native American democratically-elected head of state. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez himself claims to be partially of Native American origin, at any rate.
Hugo Chavez's brand of Bolivarianism is the firebrand whipping up a new South American storm, or rather winds of change.
But, back to the present. The coup in Paraguay, a grim reminder of the history of the militaristic clique's intervention in politics in Latin America, installed the 49-year-old former vice president Federico Franco as the new president of Paraguay -- a youthful, albeit less socialist-inclined, alternative.
Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, overthrown in a bloodless coup was a Bolivarianist at heart. What is relevant is how most of the continent's leaders, mostly left-leaning Bolivarianists and Socialists rallied to Lugo's cause.
"In the name of the Venezuelan people and as head of state, Venezuela does not recognise this worthless, illegal and illegitimate government that has been installed in Asuncion," Hugo Chavez proudly declared.
"Without any doubt there has been a coup d'etat in Paraguay. It is unacceptable," Argentine President Cristina Fernandez added. She like most of the democratically-elected leaders of South America is Socialist.
"We are not going to cover up these actors that infringe terrible damage on our democracies and people," Ecuador's president Rafael Correa aptly summed it up.