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El libertador: Simon Bolivar led--and won--the struggle for South America's independence, becoming a hero in five nations.

Simon Bolivar (see-MOAN boh-LEE-vahr) wanted independence for his homeland, and he would accept nothing less. It took 14 years of struggle, but his courage, cunning, and fierce determination carried him to victory. His efforts released millions of South Americans from colonial rule and gave rise to five independent nations.

Yearning for Independence

Simon Bolivar was born to a wealthy family in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1783. Venezuela was then part of the Viceroyalty of New Grenada, a huge colony of Spain. Simon was only three when his father died, and nine when his mother passed away. By then, his two sisters were married and had their own homes, so he and his brother were raised by their grandfather, then an uncle.

Bolivar's education was left to tutors hired by his uncle. One of them, Simon Rodriguez, changed the boy's fate. Rodriguez gave him books by European writers who supported "the rights of man." They called for an end to monarchies and the founding of free republics. Such ideals thrilled young Bolivar, and he vowed to liberate his country.

In 1810, France's Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, invaded Spain. With Spain weakened, rebellion erupted in its colonies. Bolivar joined Venezuela's patriot army and soon became an outspoken leader. The following year, a national congress met in Caracas and issued a declaration of independence.

The new republic was short-lived. In 1812, Spain regained control. Bolivar fled to Cartagena (kar-tah-HAY-nah) in present-day Colombia. There, he wrote "The Cartagena Manifesto," a document that urged patriots to continue the fight for freedom.

In 1813, Bolivar again led patriot forces into battle. After fighting Spain's army for three months, he won control of Caracas. Grateful Venezuelans gave Bolivar the title El Libertador, the Liberator. He bore it proudly all his life.

The second independent republic did not last long, either. In 1814, Spanish and royalist forces stormed Caracas and crushed Bolivar's army. He was forced to flee again, this time to Jamaica.

Bolivar refused to give up. In "Letter From Jamaica" (1815), his most famous work, he wrote: "We have already seen the light, and it is not our desire to be thrust back into darkness. The chains have been broken.... We must not lose faith."

In 1817, Bolivar returned to South America. With about 2,500 troops, he hid near the Colombia-Venezuela border--and waited.

Victory at Last

"The art of winning," Bolivar once wrote, "is learned in defeat." By 1819, he was ready to apply what he had learned. He and his men crossed flooded valleys and ice-covered mountains to strike from a direction that took the Spanish by surprise. On August 7, Bolivar won the Battle of Boyaca. That was his greatest triumph. It gave him command of the capital, Santa Fe (now Bogota), and the rest of New Granada.

Bolivar's victory in the 1821 Battle of Carabobo ensured Venezuela's freedom. In 1822, he and Antonio Jose de Sucre (SOO-kray), a trusted general, did the same for Ecuador. Victories at Junin (hoo-NEEN) and Ayacucho (eye-ah-KOO-cho) in 1824 broke Peru free of Spain's colonial grip.

From Liberator to Dictator

Soon after, Bolivar became President of the Republic of Gran Colombia (now Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador) and Peru. In 1825, part of Peru split into another state, named Bolivia in Bolivar's honor.

El Libertador's brilliance in winning independence for South American colonies earned him another nickname: the George Washington of South America. Unlike Washington, however, Bolivar became a dictator.

Bolivar wanted a union of South American states. From 1828 to 1830, as dictator, he tried to keep Gran Colombia together. But former allies had become rivals. Venezuela split from Gran Colombia in 1829. In 1830, Ecuador did the same.

In despair, Bolivar resigned from office. He made plans to leave South America for good. But he never again left the land he loved. On December 17, 1830, he died of tuberculosis in northern Colombia.

A Heart for Liberty

Despite the bitter power struggle of his final years, Bolivar is remembered as the Liberator of South America. He is honored for his passionate dedication to freedom. In later life, he sent a letter to Rodriguez, the tutor whose books had sparked that passion. "You molded my heart for liberty, justice, greatness, and beauty," Bolivar wrote. "You cannot imagine how deeply engraved upon my heart are the lessons you taught me."

Words to Know

* monarchy: a country ruled by a person (such as a king) who inherits and holds absolute power.

* republic: a country governed by elected representatives of the people.

* manifesto: a written declaration of goals and/or beliefs.

* patriot: one who supported South American independence.

* royalist: one who supported Spanish rule.

Your Turn

1. What was Simon Bolivar's greatest accomplishment?

2. Why has he been called the George Washington of South America?


Students should understand

* How and why Simon Bolivar broke Spain's hold over its South American colonies, and helped create five new nations (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia).


cunning: extraordinary craft or slyness * tuberculosis: a contagious disease affecting the lungs.


Ask students what kind of person they think someone nicknamed "the George Washington of South America" would be like. Why?


From the 16th to the 19th century, Spain controlled most of the South American continent. (The exception was Brazil, which was controlled by Portugal.) Although revolts against Spanish rule had broken out from time to time, not until 1810 did a large, organized rebellion take place; during it, Simon Bolivar quickly rose to prominence.


MAKING COMPARISONS: In what ways did Simon Bolivar resemble George Washington? How did they differ? (Both men were skilled generals who won independence for former colonies. After independence, however, Bolivar became a dictator; Washington did not.)

COMPREHENSION: What was Bolivar's ambition for South America? (He wanted to establish a union of South American states.)


DIG FURTHER: Divide students into five groups. To each group, assign one of the countries that honors Simon Bolivar as liberator (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia). Have each group find out who, after Bolivar, was the first leader of their newly independent nation. What kind of government did he head? Was it, as Bolivar once hoped, governed by elected representatives of the people?



* Power, authority, and governance:

How Simon Bolivar changed the structure of power in South America and helped create five independent nations.

* Civic ideals and practices: How Bolivar's actions did and did not match his goals/ideals.



* Gleiter, Jan, et al., Simon Bolivar (Hispanic Stories Series, Steck-Vaughn, 1989). Grades 6-8.

* Goodnough, David, Simon Bolivar South American Liberator (Enslow Publishers, 1998). Grades 6-8.


* Embassy of Venezuela Bolivar Page kids.venezuela/simon.bolivar.htm

* South America for Visitors /southamerica/a/VenBolivar.htm


* Decide whether each sentence is true, false, or an opinion. Write your answer on the blank line provided.

-- 21. Spain should have allowed the people of its South American colonies to choose who they wanted as their leader.

-- 22. Simon Bolivar was given the title El Libertador by the people of Caracas, Venezuela.

-- 23. Bolivar credited books that he read in his youth for giving him the ideals of liberty and justice.

-- 24. Simon Bolivar was elected President of Gran Colombia in 1828.

-- 25. Since Bolivar became a dictator, he should not be called El Libertador or the George Washington of South America.


21. opinion

22. true

23. true

24. false

25. opinion
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:World History
Author:Wilmore, Kathy
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Article Type:Biography
Date:Mar 21, 2005
Previous Article:Colombia's Civil War: a long-running conflict in this South American nation has forced 3 million people from their homes.
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