Liberating Northern South America

After his disastrous early failure, Bolívar succeeded in seizing power in Caracas, only to lose it again. After exile in the Caribbean, Bolívar turned his attention to Colombia and the war for independence there. Before liberating Venezuela, his troops crossed the towering Andes and drove the Spanish from Colombia in 1821. He eventually succeeded in liberating Venezuela with the help of British volunteers and the rugged horsemen of the Venezuelan plains. The Liberator created the new nation of Gran Colombia, composed of Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. With his trusted lieutenant, José Antonio Sucre, he marched into Ecuador in 1822 and completed the liberation of northern South America.

The liberation of Venezuela and the rest of northern South America proved to be a bloody and drawn out struggle that would last more than a decade.

A. With the imprisonment and eventual death of Miranda, Simón Bolívar assumed the mantle of the leader of the independence movement.

  1. From the impetuous and naive protégé of Miranda in 1810, Bolívar had learned from his failures and developed the strength and leadership he would need to succeed.
  2. He had an almost superhuman energy and endurance.
  3. He wrote letters and manifestos in a volume that now seems staggering for a man who was constantly at war and on the move.
  4. And he became completely ruthless in pursuit of his cause, one that he completely identified with himself.

B. From his exile in the Caribbean, Bolívar decided to join the struggle for independence in Colombia.

  1. Modern Colombia was known as New Granada before independence.
  2. Like many other colonial cities, Bogotá had a junta, organized by Creoles in July 1810.
  3. One of the strongest voices in Colombia was that of Antonio Nariño, who had published a translation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen years earlier.
  4. A loose confederation known as the United Provinces fought the loyalists with little success.
  5. In Colombia, Bolívar composed his Cartagena Manifesto.
  6. In one of the first epic battles, Bolívar led his men through northeastern New Granada, through jungles and the seemingly impassable mountains of the Cordillera Oriental.

C. In this new Venezuelan campaign, Bolívar engaged in a bloody and brutal “war to the death” with Spanish loyalists.

  1. The Spanish General Monteverde had waged a war without mercy, and Bolívar now returned the favor.
  2. With several thousand men, Bolívar swept down from western Venezuela.
  3. Bolívar was acclaimed the Liberator in October 1813 and dictator in January 1814.
  4. In fact, the greatest scourge of Bolívar was not the Spanish, but the cowboys and horsemen (known as the llaneros, or “plainsmen” in Spanish) of the southern part of the country in the Orinoco River basin.
  5. The Spanish forces under Miranda’s old army friend, Juan Manuel Cagigal, and the lancers of Boves were too much for the rebels.
  6. This became one of the Liberator’s darkest moments.

D. Bolívar did not tarry long in Curaçao before returning to New Granada.

  1. Compared to the complex racial politics of Venezuela, New Granada was simpler.
  2. In December 1814, allied with a variety of patriot forces, Bolívar took control of Bogotá, the old capital of the viceroyalty of New Granada.
  3. With his departure, the Spanish arrived and reestablished control of Venezuela and New Granada.

From the Caribbean, Bolívar set out once again to liberate Venezuela.

A. He would first have to spend two years cooling his heels in Kingston, Jamaica, and Haiti.

  1. When he arrived in Kingston, he was penniless.
  2. While in Jamaica, he wrote and published his most famous document, known as the Jamaica Letter.

B. Several events converged to produce success in the final stages of the war for the liberation of Venezuela from 1817–1820.

  1. Bolívar received help from key people and places, including Haiti and thousands of volunteers from Great Britain.
  2. He forged a crucial alliance with José Antonio Páez, the charismatic leader of the llaneros, the tough cowboy horsemen of the Venezuelan plains.
  3. Páez and Bolívar made a pivotal decision: to concentrate their forces in the more isolated Orinoco River basin and to gain control of the countryside before moving on Caracas.

C. In one of the most dramatic and brilliant moves of the revolutionary era, Bolívar marched from eastern Venezuela into the mountains of Colombia, liberating it from Spanish rule.

  1. Moving from tropical lowland jungles up over mountains and through snowy mountain valleys above 10,000 feet, his army of several thousand suffered bitterly.
  2. On August 7, 1819, they defeated the Spanish on the plains near Bogotá at Boyacá.

In 1819, Bolívar began the final stage in the liberation of northern South America.

A. At the congress convened at Angostura, he now called for the formation of a new nation that would combine Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador.

  1. The Congress proclaimed the creation of the new nation in December 1819.
  2. At the same time, a liberal uprising in Spain weakened the monarchy and Spain’s ability to continue the struggle in Spanish America.
  3. Bolívar defeated the Spanish forces at the battle of Carabobo on June 24, 1821, effectively achieving Venezuelan independence.

B. Bolívar now turned his attention to Ecuador.

  1. Sending his close friend José Antonio Sucre with a large army by sea to Guayaquil, Bolívar headed through the mountains of southern Colombia.
  2. Sucre won a decisive battle at Pichincha, fought at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, near Quito on May 24, 1822.
  3. The victories of Sucre and Bolívar in southern New Granada and Ecuador had completed the struggle that had begun more than a decade before with the declaration of Venezuelan independence.

Return to The Age of Revolution in the Americas

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