An Address of Bolívar at the Congress of Angostura
Simón Bolívar (1783 – 1830) was born a creole (a white man born in the colonies) and a member of the wealthy Venezuelan planter class. Bolívar became a leading figure in the movement for the independence of the Spanish colonies in Latin America; he was not just a soldier or “El Libertador” of new nations (Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama) but also a prominent political thinker who drafted constitutions and orders and wrote about many social issues. Bolívar made this address (speech) at the Congress of Angostura (today Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela) during the wars of independence of Colombia and Venezuela. He uses many metaphors and flowery language rather than getting right to the point. What Enlightenment ideas does Bolívar use in this excerpt? What should be the “bases” of a republican government?
bequeaths: gives as an inheritance
relics: remains of a dead body, figuratively, remains of a dead system
obliterate: wipe out
contagion: infectious disease
despotism: rule by a tyrant, in this case, Spain
proscription: prohibition by law
eloquent: well written or spoken
profusion: great amount
In the opening speech of the Congress he had summoned to Angostura on February 15, 1819, Bolívar laid the foundations for the establishment of a democratically governed autonomous republic. The Enlightenment ideas (and bases of republican government) are sovereignty of the people, division of powers, civil liberty, and the abolition of slavery, monarchy, and privileged classes. Bolívar’s dream was for the liberated countries to form a Latin American confederation called Gran Columbia, but prolonged war and social conflict led to the creation of smaller countries with local identities.
The most perfect system of government is the one that produces the greatest possible happiness, the highest level of social security, and the greatest degree of political stability. Based on the laws enacted by the first congress, we have the right to expect that happiness will be the legacy Venezuela bequeaths her citizens. … The relics of Spanish domination will be with us for many years before we manage to obliterate them: The contagion of despotism pervades our atmosphere, and neither the flames of war nor the details of our wholesome laws have succeeded in purifying the air we breathe. Our hands are now free, but our hearts still suffer the pangs of servitude. Man, said Homer, when he loses his freedom, loses half his spirit.
A republican government has always been, still is, and must ever be Venezuela’s choice. Its bases must be the sovereignty of the people, the division of powers, civil liberty, the proscription against slavery, the abolition of monarchy and privileged classes. There is no other way to say it: We need equality in order to reconstitute the race of men, political opinions, and public customs. Then, casting our gaze out over the vast terrain still left for us to traverse, let us fix our attention on the dangers we must avoid. …
Passing from ancient to modern times, we find England and France arousing the admiration of all nations and offering eloquent lessons on every aspect of government. The accomplishment of these two great peoples shines forth like a radiant meteor, inundating the world with such a profusion of political lights that today every thinking person understands the difference between man’s rights and man’s responsibilities and what it is that constitutes the virtues and vices of governments.