Bolivair's Letter from Jamaica, 1815

[adapted from Simon Bolivar, the Liberator by Guillermo A. Sherwell, part 2
  • [Bolivar arrived in Kingston in May, 1815, where he was very well received personally by the governor. But he failed to obtain any substantial help for an expedition to the mainland. Learning of the propaganda being made everywhere against the cause of independence, he once more used his pen to counteract this influence. His most important writing during his stay in Jamaica was a letter addressed on September 6, 1815, to a gentleman of the island. As he had earlier in 1812, he analyzed the causes of the patriot movement's failure and why he hoped for ultimate succcess. The "Letter of Jamaica" is counted as one of the greatest documents from the pen of Bolivar.
  • Another biographer, Felipe Larrazabál, "Vida del Libertador Simon Bolivar," Vol. I, p. 404], well described his situation: "Alone, poor, in a foreign land, when his friends had denied him and had persecuted him, and his enemies had torn him to shreds in blind rage, when everybody saw America carrying once again the yoke imposed upon her, Bolivar saw her redeemed, and from the depth of his soul he felt himself bound to this wonderful task of redemption. His spirit, animated by an unknown breath, and which had lived a superior life, saw Colombia free, Chile established, Argentina expanding, Mexico Peru liberated, the Isthmus of Panama converted into the center of communications and activities of human industry; it saw South America divided into powerful nationalities, having passed from slavery to struggle and to the conquest of her own dignity, and from the times of the sword to those of political civilization and organization of power; national units weighty in the statistics of the world by reason of their products, by their commerce, by their culture, by their wars, their alliances, their laws, their free governments; with names of their own, with famous histories, with supreme virtues. All that Bolivar saw, and of all that Bolivar wrote. Can human intelligence go any farther?"

  • First, he examines all the errors and crimes committed by the Spaniards in America, describes the partial success of the American armies and the development of the war, as well as the enormous sacrifices made for the cause of independence everywhere, from New Spain to the provinces of the River Plata and Chile. He deprecates the attitude of Europe, which does not intervene to save America from the clutches of an oppressive government, and proves that even for the good of Europe, the independence of America should be secured.]

  • "Europe itself, by reasons of wholesome policies, should have prepared and carried out the plan of American independence, not only because it is so required for the balance of the world, but because this is a legitimate and safe means of obtaining commercial posts on the other side of the ocean. . . . I consider the actual state of America as when, after the coll of the Roman Empire, each member constituted a political system in conformity with its interests and position, but with this great difference: that these scattered members reestablished the old nationalities with the alterations required by circumstances or events. But we, who scarcely keep a vestige of things of the past, and who, on the other hand, are not Indians nor Europeans, but a mixture of the legitimate owners of the country and the usurping Spaniards; in short, we, being Americans by birth and with rights equal to those of Europe, have to dispute these rights with the men of the country, and to maintain ourselves against the possession of the invaders. Thus, we find ourselves in the most extraordinary and complicated predicament."

  • "Americans, under the Spanish system now in vigor, have in society no other place than that of serfs fit for work, and, at the most, that of simple consumers; and even this is limited by absurd restrictions, such as prohibition of the cultivation of European products; the mono of certain goods in the hands of the king; the prevention of the establishment in America of factories not possessed by Spain; the exclusive privileges of trade, even regarding the necessities of life; the obstacles placed in the way of the American provinces so that they may not deal with each other, nor have understandings, nor trade. In short, do you want to know what was our lot? The fields, in which to cultivate indigo, cochineal, coffee, sugar cane, cocoa, cotton; the solitary plains, to breed cattle; the deserts, to hunt the wild beasts; the bosom of the earth, to extract gold, with which that avaricious country was never satisfied."

  • "We were never viceroys or governors except by very extraordinary reasons; archbishops and bishops, seldom; ambassadors, never; military men, only as subordinates; nobles, without privileges; lastly, we were neither magistrates nor financiers, and hardly merchants. All this we had to accept in direct opposition to our institutions.

  • "The Americans have risen suddenly and without previous preparation and without previous knowledge and, what is more deplorable, without experience in public affairs, to assume in the world the eminent dignity of legislators, magistrates, administrators of the public treasury, diplomats, generals and all the supreme and subordinate authorities which form the hierarchy of an organized state.

  • "The events of the mainland have proved that perfectly representative institutions do not agree with our character, habits, and present state of enlightenment.... So long as our fellow citizens do not acquire the talents and the political virtues which distinguish our brothers of the North, who have a system of government altogether popular in character, I am very much afraid these institutions might lead to our ruin instead of aiding us....

    Events in "heroic and hapless Venezuela," Bolívar wrote, "have moved so rapidly and the devastation has been such that it is reduced to frightful desolation and almost absolute indigence. . . . Nearly a million persons formerly dwelt in Venezuela, and it is no exaggeration to say that one out of four has succumbed either to the land, sword, hunger, plague, flight, or privation." Bolívar next turned his attention to New Spain (Mexico plus Guatemala, which then also included Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica). According to German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt's estimate, New Spain had 7,800,000 inhabitants in 1808. "Since that time, the insurrection, which has shaken virtually all of her provinces, has appreciably reduced that apparently correct figure, for over a million men have perished. . . .There the struggle continues. . . . In spite of everything, the Mexicans will be free." Puerto Rica and Cuba, with 700,000 to 800,000 souls, "are the most tranquil possessions of the Spaniards, because they are not within range of contact with the Independents. But are not the people of those islands Americans? Are they not maltreated? Do they not desire a better life?"
  • "I desire more than anybody else to see the formation in America the greatest nation in the world, not so much as to its extension and wealth as to its glory and freedom."

  • "Monsignor de Pradt has wisely divided America into fifteen or seventeen independent states, ruled by as many monarchs. I agree on the first point, for America could be divided into seventeen countries As for the second point, although it is easier to realize, it is less useful, and, consequently, I am not in favor of American monarchies. Here are my reasons: The real interests of a republic are circumscribed in the sphere of its conservation, prosperity and glory. Since freedom is not imperialistic, because it is opposed to empires, no impulse induces Republicans to extend the limits of their country; injuring its own center, with only the object of giving their neighbors a liberal constitution. They do not acquire any right nor any advantage by conquering them, unless they reduce them to colonies, conquered territories or allies, following the example of Rome....

  • "A state too large in itself, or together with its dependent territories, finally decays and its free form reverts to a tyrannical one, the principles which should conserve it relax, and at last it evolves into despotism. The characteristic of the small republics is permanency; that of the large ones is varied, but always tends to an empire. Almost all of the former have been of long duration; among the latter Rome alone lived for some centuries, but this was because the capital was a republic, and the rest of her dominions were not, for they governed themselves by different laws and constitutions."

    Bolívar proved something of a prophet. He correctly envisioned confederation for Central America, although the arrangement would be short-lived. "Because of their magnificent position between two mighty oceans, they may in time become the emporium of the world. Their canals will shorten distances throughout the world, strengthen commercial ties between Europe, America, and Asia, and bring to that happy area tribute from the four quarters of the globe." Manchester remained intransigent and unimpressed with Bolívar's vision of the future. Who would give a fig for this puny little beggar who had twice failed against Spain and now suffered in exile because his presence wrought such dissension among the patriots? Manchester concluded that the fires of independence had burned out: "the flame has absorbed the oil." The English gentleman was mistaken. The flame burned with greater intensity, fed by the oil of Bolívar's dream of glory. He anticipated that "Buenos Aires will have a central government in which the military will have the upper hand. Chile will have the most stable government. The rich in Peru will not tolerate democracy, nor will the freed slaves and pardos accept aristocracy. The rich will prefer the tyranny of a single man to avoid the tumult of rebellion." In other cases, the Liberator fell victim to wishful thinking. He predicted that Venezuela and New Granada, including Quito and Panama, would become one great nation. "How beautiful it would be," he dreamed, "if the Isthmus of Panama could be for us what the Isthmus of Corinth was for the Greeks! May God grant that some day we may have the happiness of installing there an august congress of the representatives of the republics, kingdoms and empires, to discuss and study the high interests of peace and war with the nations of the other three parts of the world! This kind of cooperation may be established in some happy period of our regeneration...." Alas for Bolívar, the future held political fragmentation and civil war, not unity, for Spanish America. Bolívar expected that the Mexicans would at first establish a representative republic. "If the dominant party is military, or aristocratic, it will probably demand a monarchy."