Skip to Navigation

Opinion and Analysis: Bolivarian Project

Hugo Chavez presents Simon Bolivar

Book Review: Hugo Chavez presents Simon Bolivar - Verso, £7.99

From his homeland in Venezuela to Bolivia, the country which bears his name, Simon Bolivar is the towering figure in the Latin American fight for independence from the Spanish Empire. Throughout history both progressive and conservative forces have claimed his legacy.

Today the government and movement led by Hugo Chavez has taken up the mantle with the self proclaimed Bolivarian revolution looking to Bolivar as its historical figurehead; claiming to continue and complete the ideas set out by Simon Bolivar in the 19th century. Despite being a figurehead in the wave of popular struggles sweeping the continent, what Bolivar stood for is less well known, especially outside Latin America. This collection of Bolivar's writings, in the Revolutions series by Verso, aims to fill in some of that knowledge.

The fact that Hugo Chavez provides the introduction to this collection highlights the significance that the legacy of Bolivar plays in Venezuelan politics. Hugo Chavez sees himself as leading a political movement that will fulfil Bolivar's dream of a united and independent Latin America free from imperialism, with the US replacing the Spanish as the imperial masters. The creation of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) as an alternative to the US led Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) can be seen within this political framework. What is less convincing in Chavez's introduction is an attempt to reinterpret Bolivar's ideas to fit within Chavez's political aims.

These include the notion that Bolivar wanted to create a multipolar global political system, something that wouldn't make sense in the already multipolar 19th century world inhabited by Bolivar which didn't resemble the world of today with the hegemonic domination of US imperialism. Another example is his pondering of the political direction of Bolivar in which he speculates that Bolivar himself was moving towards adopting socialist politics. This analysis seems more an attempt to fit Bolivar within Chavez's framework than an accurate assessment of his politics.

The letters and speeches of Simon Bolivar fit within the framework of 19th century Republican thought. At the time the world was grappling with the legacy of the French Revolution and the ascent of Napoleon as Emperor. Within this world Simon Bolivar was an important figure that aimed to transform the Spanish colonies of South America through a struggle for national liberation.

Not only was Bolivar a thinker who grappled with political philosophy stretching from antiquity to that of European republicanism, he was also a military leader who led his forces to victory against Spain and its allies. This rightly places him as a figure of inspiration in Latin America, as the continent finds itself in another struggle against US imperialism; a US imperialism which is also the legacy of Bolivar and his contemporaries' failure to create a united and independent Latin America.

This collection of texts shows a political leader that wanted to fight against the brutality, corruption and nepotism of the colonial world which favoured hereditary privilege over ability. He espoused many progressive policies from the emancipation of the slaves (initially on the condition that they would fight in his army) to an understanding that equality and justice are the basis of a political programme. He also stressed the importance of education and was well aware of the brutality and discrimination against the indigenous inhabitants.

However, his politics were also contradictory. Whilst seeing democracy as the ideal political system he thought that Latin America was not ready for even the limited democracy that could be found in Britain and the US at that time. He saw the democratic urgings of some within the liberation movement as a recipe for anarchy, chaos and eventual imperial subjugation. This is perhaps most clearly stated in his "Address to the Constituent Congress in Bolivia" where he stated his belief that the country needed to elect a president for life that would act as a benevolent insurer against the tyranny of democracy. It was these increasingly authoritarian politics and a growing suspicion of his ambitions, with some accusing him of wanting to set himself up as dictator, which would play a role in the eventual disunity of Latin America and the break up of Gran Colombia into modern day Colombia and Venezuela.

So whilst these important political documents provide a glimpse of the figure of Bolivar, a figure who is rightly seen as an inspiring figure within Latin America, they offer less in the way of a guidebook for the political struggles of today. What we are seeing in Latin America today, from Venezuela to Bolivia, is a wave of popular liberation struggles that aim to take political power from the traditional elite and put it into the hands of the people themselves. This movement needs to have confidence that it is the people themselves who have the power to reshape the world.

Comments

Thank You!

"This analysis seems more an attempt to fit Bolivar within Chavez's framework than an accurate assessment of his politics.

The letters and speeches of Simon Bolivar fit within the framework of 19th century Republican thought."

This should be shouted from the rooftops every time Chavez uses Bolivar to further his own ideology. ...or when he abuses Bolivar's memory by giving the award with his namesake to the Posada Carriles of the middle east.

Historical Perspective

Simon Bolivar was a man of action that fought imperialism of Spain and Europe successfully and liberated Latin America from dictators and tyrants. That was an impossible task made possible by this giant among men. Hugo Chavez is faced with another impossible task of fullfilling the Gran Colombia Plan of Bolivar that would integrate all of Latin and South America into a united confederation of nations that form an independent trading block with it's own security and banking systems. This presents a direct threat to the globalization plans of USA, Canada, and Europe which depend on cheap labor and cheap oil to outsource their product manufacturing while maintaining low priced duty free imports to satisfy the internal consumer engine in USA. The USA has been ruled by the Bush and Clinton mafias for the past 20 years with disastrous consequences resulting in excesses of debt causing the global depression. Hugo Chavez has stopped globalization in Latin America with his ALBA plan and countered the CNN / FOX / WALL STREET propaganda with Telesur and diversification of media owned only by the elite. Now new peace bases should counter the two pronged attack by THE HILLARY and Obama (inventor of the ObamaGMmobile) that has launched a military coup in Honduras and occupied 7 military bases in Colombia.