A map of Gran Colombia showing the 12 departments created in 1824 and territories disputed with neighboring countries.

A map of Gran Colombia showing the 12 departments created in 1824 and territories disputed with neighboring countries.

Simon Bolivar and the Spanish Revolutions

What role did Simon Bolivar play in the history of Latin America's independence from Spain?

Simon Bolivar lived a short but comprehensive life. History records his extraordinary versatility. He was a revolutionary who freed six countries, an intellectual who argued the problems of national liberation, a general who fought a war of unremitting violence. He inspired extremes of devotion and detestation. Many Spanish Americans wanted him to be their dictator, their king; but some denounced him as a traitor, and others tried to assassinate him. Subsequent generations completed the apotheosis, and continued the controversy. He has a country, a city, and a currency named after him; he is honoured throughout the Americas in hundreds of statues and streets; his life is the subject of endless writings. To liberal historians he was a fighter against tyranny. Marxists interpret him as the leader of a bourgeois revolution. Modern revolutionaries see him as a reformist who secured political change but left the colonial heritage of his continent virtually intact. There are others who question the very importance of his career and reject the cult of the hero. For them the meaning of liberation is to be found in the study of economic structures, social groups, and the international conjuncture, not in heroic deeds or the lives of liberators. Yet the history of Spanish American independence is incomprehensible without Bolivar. So universal was his career that he intervened at every level of the revolution, in most of its phases, and in many parts of the continent. He was moreover an exceptionally complex man, this liberator who scorned liberalism, soldier who disparaged militarism, republican who admired monarchy. To study Bolivar is to study a rare and original character, whose mind and will were no less factors in historical change than were the economic and social structures of the time.

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