Simón Bolívar's Quest for Glory

By Richard W. Slatta; Jane Lucas De Grummond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
From Demagogue to Demigod

The rancor against Bolívar gradually cooled in the decade following his death. As Chris Conway has pointed out, a national cult of Bolívar emerged in Venezuela between 1830 and 1842. During this period, termed “the Conservative Oligarchy” (1830–47), civil wars and other brutal political traumas suffered by the nascent republic generated a profound yearning for unity. In 1835, pro-Bolívar Gen. Santiago Mariño led a separatist movement in eastern Venezuela. The coup, known as the Guerra de Reformas, failed, but the government’s inflexible treatment of its leaders widened existing schisms between conservative and liberal factions. Calls for political clemency for the defeated “Reformistas” brought the issue of national history to the fore. Many politicians and much of the public concluded that soldiers of the past, regardless of their mistakes, deserved to be honored by the nation. Even from the grave, Bolívar continued to shape political debate and conflict in his homeland.

During this acrimonious and divisive time, the shadow of Bolívar, whose remains had lain in Colombian exile since 1830, took on renewed symbolic importance. On February 9, 1842 (twelve years after Bolívar’s death), his onetime adversary José Antonio Páez petitioned Congress to return the Liberator’s ashes to his native Caracas, an act that would fulfill Bolívar’s deathbed wish. Congress decreed that this should be done with proper decorum and with the participation of the governments of New Granada (Colombia) and Ecuador. Venezuela invited both governments to send representatives to Santa Marta in November to exhume Bolívar’s remains.

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