Feliz Cumpleaños, Colombia! Today is the bicentennial of Colombia’s liberation from Spain, and what better date to remind ourselves to safeguard our history—because otherwise Hugo Chavez will hijack the reputation and historical relevance of Simon Bolivar. The Venezuelan president has already appropriated the tidbits about Bolivar that fit his Bolivarian Revolution—primarily, the fact that EVERYBODY knows Bolivar won the independence of Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama and Peru from Spain, and Spain back then was the imperialist power to rebel against. In some parts of South America, El Libertador Simon Bolivar is akin to Jesus. Chavez says he will pick up where Bolivar left off and outrun the Americans, today’s imperialist “monster,” out of Latin America.
And Chavez signs off such declarations with, “Patria, Socialista o Muerte. Venceremos!” I wonder how Bolivar would have reacted to have his name tied to socialism.
Chavez has recently created a state-funded forensics laboratory and its first case is exhuming Bolivar’s remains. In his Twitter account, @chavezcandanga, Chavez wrote, “My God, my God … my Christ, our Christ … I confess we have cried, we have sworn. I tell them: this glorious skeleton must be Bolivar because you can feel his presence. My God.”
Makes me fume that Chavez would desecrate Bolivar’s tomb for such a circus act. It would be akin to digging through George Washington’s remains only because an overweight espresso-fueled dictator was looking to up his reputation and detract from crime, human rights violations, a mismanaged economy, and a raped judicial system.
Further, in his column, “Las Lineas de Chavez,” Chavez wrote, “Emotional with tears, was what it was like to contemplate the exhumation of the mortal remains of our Liberator … In those glorious bones, one could feel his immense fire. The fire which is us, because in us: Bolivar lives!”
Did I not tell you it was a circus act? It’s cheap theatre.
What gave Chavez an excuse for the exhumation? Dr. Paul Auwaerter, a doctor at John Hopkins, has done research to question if Bolivar died of arsenic poisoning—and not tuberculosis, as history had us believe. Historians do agree that Bolivar probably took some kind of arsenic tonic to cure his head-aches and hemorrhoids, as doctors back then recommended, and he was exposed to it through food and water.
But Chavez is wanting to rewrite this history: Because there was a power struggle between Bolivar’s generals, there were several assassination attempts on the liberator’s life, and so Chavez claims he was murdered—and Chavez says he was murdered by the Colombians!
Bolivar’s second-in-command, Francisco de Paula Santander, was, indeed, the acting ruler of Gran Colombia (which then encompassed Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama) when he was accused and sentenced to death for the attempted assassination of Bolivar on September 25, 1828, but Bolivar himself pardoned him.
Sadly, not only is Chavez accommodating history as it pleases his political ambitions, but he is using it to further an already existing rift with Colombia.
Even sadder, however, is that we should be angrier, we should be enraged—how dare Chavez use our Bolivar for his purposes!