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Biography of Simon Bolivar

Liberator of South America


Biography of Simon Bolivar

Manuela Sáenz

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The Liberation of Ecuador

Bolívar was bogged down by political duties, so he sent an army south under the command of his best general, Antonio José de Sucre. Sucre's army moved into present-day Ecuador, liberating towns and cities as it went. On May 24, 1822, Sucre squared off against the largest royalist force in Ecuador: they fought on the muddy slopes of Pichincha Volcano, within sight of Quito. The Battle of Pichincha was a great victory for Sucre and the patriots, who forever drove the Spanish from Ecuador.

The Liberation of Peru and the Creation of Bolivia

Bolívar left Santander in charge of Gran Colombia and headed south to meet up with Sucre. On July 26-27, Bolivar met with José de San Martín, liberator of Argentina, in Guayaquil. It was decided there that Bolívar would lead the charge into Peru, the last royalist stronghold on the continent. On August 6, 1824, Bolivar and Sucre defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Junin. On December 9 Sucre dealt the royalists another harsh blow at the Battle of Ayacucho, basically destroying the last royalist army in Peru. The next year, also on August 6, the Congress of Upper Peru created the nation of Bolivia, naming it after Bolivar and confirming him as President.

Bolívar had driven the Spanish out of northern and western South America and now ruled over the present-day nations of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Panama. It was his dream to unite them all, creating one unified nation. It was not to be.

Dissolution of Gran Colombia

Santander had angered Bolivar by refusing to send troops and supplies during the liberation of Ecuador and Peru, and Bolivar dismissed him when he returned to Gran Colombia. By then, however, the republic was beginning to fall apart. Regional leaders had been consolidating their power in Bolivar's absence. In Venezuela, José Antonio Páez, a hero of Independence, constantly threatened secession. In Colombia, Santander still had his followers who felt that he was the best man to lead the nation. In Ecuador, Juan José Flores was trying to pry the nation away from Gran Colombia.

Bolívar was forced to seize power and accept dictatorship in order to control the unwieldy republic. The nations were divided among his supporters and his detractors: in the streets, people burned him in effigy as a tyrant. Civil War was a constant threat. His enemies tried to assassinate him on September 25, 1828 and nearly managed to do so: only the intervention of his lover, Manuela Saenz, saved him.

Death of Simon Bolivar

As the Republic of Gran Colombia fell around him, his health deteriorated as his tuberculosis worsened. In April of 1830, disillusioned, ill and bitter, he resigned the Presidency and set off to go into exile in Europe. Even as he left, his successors fought over the pieces of his Empire and his allies fought to get him reinstated. As he and his entourage slowly made their way to the coast, he still dreamed of unifying South America into one great nation. It was not to be: he finally succumbed to tuberculosis on December 17, 1830.

Simon Bolivar's Personal Life

Bolívar was a natural leader and a man of great energy. He was very competitive, often challenging his officers to contests of swimming or horsemanship (and usually winning). He could stay up all night playing cards or drinking and singing with his men, who were fanatically loyal to him. He married once early in life, but his wife died shortly thereafter. He was a notorious womanizer who took dozens if not hundreds of lovers to his bed over the years. He cared greatly for appearances: he loved nothing more than making grand entrances into cities he had liberated and could spend hours grooming himself. He used cologne heavily: some claim he could use a whole bottle in one day.

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