Wednesday, October 30, 2019

"Our Premier Is a Man of the People, But He's Also...a Man"

I'm nearing the end of John Lynch's Simón Bolívar: A Life, and although Lynch appears to be a big fan of Bolívar, I'm liking The Liberator less as I learn more about him, and I'm increasingly frustrated with Lynch's easy-going treatment.

On page 152, Lynch writes, "The Liberator was not a slave-driver and never a racist." But in writing about a violent uprising of free and enslaved blacks in 1811-2, Bolívar called the rebels an "inhuman and atrocious people" (p. 57). In 1813, Bolívar wrote "Spaniards and Canarians, know that you will die, even if you are simply neutral, unless you actively espouse the liberation of America. Americans, you will be spared, even when you are guilty" (p. 73). Hmm, killing people based on their race sounds--I don't know--kinda racist. And taking exile in Haiti in 1815, not that long removed from race-based massacres, probably did nothing to calm the Europeans' fears.

Bolívar wanted the glory (and, maybe even more so, the women) that came with liberation, but none of the responsibility. When he saw Colombia turning into a 19th-century version of a post-Soviet money grab, instead of staying in Bogotá and using his position to ensure the free society he envisioned, he went to Ecuador to use his position to bone Manuela Sáenz. The Father of Colombia couldn't stand that José de San Martín might be the Father of Peru. Bolívar had no contemporary philosophers of liberation, so when he left the stage, he allowed for a free-for-all kleptocracy that so soured the people to classical economics that you can't hardly heave a brick in Latin America without hitting a populist socialist.

Bolívar is responsible not just for the political liberty of Latin America, but also for its centuries of economic failure.

Post title from the Bolívar biopic Dr. Strangelove.

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