Almeida, "London-Kingston-Caracas: The Transatlantic Self-Fashioning of Simón Bolívar"

Sullen Fires Across the Atlantic:
Essays in Transatlantic Romanticism

London-Kingston-Caracas: The Transatlantic
Self-Fashioning of Simón Bolívar

Joselyn M. Almeida, Long Island University

  1. Whilst he was at Paris, Bolivar's favourite and principal occupation was the study of those branches of science which belong to the formation of the warrior and the statesman . . . Humboldt and Bompland were his intimate friends, and accompanied him in his travels in France: nor did he think he had learned enough until he had traversed England, Italy, and a part of Germany . . . He went back to America, where he arrived at the very moment when his fellow-countrymen, who were wearied with the oppression of the Spanish government, had determined to unfurl the standard of independence . . . but he disapproved of the system adopted by the Congress of Venezuela, and refused to join Don Lopez Mendez in his mission to England, which was connected with the interests of the new government. Bolívar even declined any connexion with it, though he continued a staunch friend of his country's liberties. ("Sketch" 5)
  2. "Sketch of the Political Career of Simón Bolívar" is among the opening pieces of the January 1823 issue of the New Monthly Magazine, which, as Nanora Sweet has argued, served to foster Anglo-Hispanic ties (Sweet 143). Within the first paragraphs, the anonymous author endeavors to establish the image of Bolívar as a cosmopolitan gentleman who had completed his education with the European grand tour. The assertions that follow this initial description, however, are puzzling to anyone familiar with Bolívar's life. He in fact was with López Méndez "in his mission to England"; José Blanco White, who corrected the proofs for the New Monthly article, knew this not only because of his friendship with Andrés Bello, who had accompanied el general to London, but also because he met Bolívar there. André Pons notes that "Blanco White personally met Bolívar in the summer of 1810 when Bolívar was appointed by the Junta in Caracas to a diplomatic mission with Andrés Bello and López Méndez" (Pons 508).

  3. Why did Blanco White not correct this historical error in the "Sketch"? If it was an oversight, he caught it in "Noticia biográfica de Dón Simón de Bolívar," his version of the New Monthly piece that opened the first issue of Variedades, and which was published in January 1823 as well. Blanco suppressed the erroneous passage for his Latin American readers, to whom Bolívar's London visit would have been familiar. That the author of the Monthly article would want to make British readers think that Bolívar had not accompanied López Méndez and that Blanco would go along with this impression point to the careful manipulation of Bolívar's image in the early 1820s: a victorious general and statesman who had liberated a continent from "the oppression of the Spanish government" through his own efforts. A public acknowledgement of how much British assistance he received would have been, as Blanco astutely added in the conclusion of the "Noticia biográfica," contrary to Britain's political interests. "Aunque los enlaces políticos de la Gran Bretaña . . . requerían la neutralidad que su gobierno ha guardado, los Republicanos de la América Española no cumplirían con los deberes de la gratitud si no mirasen a la Inglaterra como origen, en parte, de la libertad que empiezan a gozar" ["Though the political ties of Great Britain . . . required it to be neutral, the Republicans of Spanish America would not fulfill their debt of gratitude if they did not regard England as an origin, in part, of the liberty they begin to enjoy" ] (Blanco 12).[1] Blanco also intuits that the idea that Simón Bolívar, who embodied the gestas of independence and the liberation of South America, was ever in the position of a supplicant to a European power like Britain, would have been repellent to the new republics.

  4. Notwithstanding Blanco's dexterous editorial diplomacy, his remarkable statement—that England be considered an origin of Latin American independence—posits a challenge to scholars interested in transatlantic Romanticism.[2] William Keach's "thinking transatlantically about romanticism" (33), which pervades current critical discourse, is caught in an impasse: the transatlantic journeys are assumed to be between Britain and its English speaking contacts in the American hemisphere. This monolingual notion of the transatlantic cannot explain Blanco White's assertion. Nor, in fact, do other models of British Atlantic culture that include the Caribbean in their formulations.[3] With the exception of Mary Louise Pratt and Eugenia Roldán Vera, the Spanish American nexus that connected London, Kingston, and even Dublin with Spain, the Caribbean, South America, and Africa has been largely overlooked. Pratt, whose work on Humboldt has reintroduced Latin America as a locus for Romanticism, devotes a chapter to Andrés Bello and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, two major nineteenth century writers in Latin America, but it has not had the same critical impact as her work on Humboldt.[4] Eugenia Roldán Vera's work has shown the intricate connections between Rudolph Ackermann's bilingual press and the newly formed republics in the Americas; he published Blanco White's Variedades as well as 100 titles, including a translation of Scott's Ivanhoe and José Joaquín de Mora's Meditaciones Poéticas, a series of poems to accompany William Blake's engravings to Blair's The Grave.[5] This body of work, however, has not received the attention that it merits from transatlantic scholars.

  5. To invoke the Americas, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic, and ignore the crucial presence of Hispano-Americans, whom Romantic authors themselves acknowledged, is an act of critical oversight that becomes less and less viable. Implicitly, this oversight condones what Kirsten Silva Gruesz calls the "imperial conflation of America with the United States . . . America [is] a name which [the U.S] has appropriated synechdocically unto itself" (10). However, the cultural history Gruesz maps for the United States, one in which intercultural exchanges cross linguistic borders, has earlier origins than those she claims for José María Heredia's "Niágara" (1824) and William Cullen Bryant's translation of Heredia in 1827. As Nigel Leask and more recently Robert Aguirre have shown, Humboldt's incursion into the Americas generated an avid interest in Mexican and Peruvian artifacts. Aguirre writes that "in the wake of Alexander von Humboldt's journeys, which made Latin America an object of intense scrutiny after 300 years of Spanish domination, the British quest for and representation of pre-Columbian antiquity became a crucial cultural arm of the larger political strategy historians call 'informal imperialism'" (xv). He focuses on William Bullock's Residence and Travels in Mexico (1824) and his collecting, which forms the basis of the British Museum's permanent collection of Mexican art (Aguirre 26-33).

  6. As central as Humboldt's travels are when thinking about the European construction of Latin America, it must be remembered that two other pressing concerns made the Americas extremely real to the British public during the Romantic period—Napoleon and the slave trade. James Mill argued in "Emancipation of Spanish America" (1809) that South America was a "barrier . . . to resist the torrent whose pressure we must continue to dread" (230), a sentiment later echoed in other journals. "The Continent of America alone can save us from the gigantic power of Bonaparte" declares the November issue of The Statesman (Miranda 23:103).

  7. Debbie Lee has most recently elaborated the connection between Britain and the slave trade, one that through commodities, maps, images, literature, discourse, and disease made itself felt in the metropolis and "shaped the Romantic imagination" (6). What has not been considered is how British discourse about the slave trade was linked in the British imagination with the independence of Latin America. A transatlantic reading of Simón Bolívar's "Carta de Jamaica" ("Jamaica Letter"), written during his exile  in Kingston in 1815, shows that he draws on the discursive connection between abolition and independence that Mill and others had made familiar to the British public in order to make his case for continued British support of the Latin American enterprise.[6]  Like El Español, the New Monthly Magazine, and Variedades, the "Jamaica Letter" aims to create a textual alliance between Britain and Latin America. Though it has long been considered a foundational document of Latin American thought, the letter's intended audience is clearly the British public, metonymically represented by its addressee, Henry Cullen. Bolívar's language expresses anxiety about slave uprisings even as it uses the language of abolition as a critique of empire to gain sympathy for the Latin American cause, an anxiety with which British audiences, and especially British Creoles in Kingston, could clearly identify. This reading also reasserts the importance of Kingston as a locale that connects the Anglophone and Hispanophone transatlantic.[7]

  8. The letter's publication history also supports the need to reconsider it within a transatlantic context, rather than the more nationalistic readings that it has hitherto received. As Pedro Grases, a renowned Bolívar scholar, has shown, the first known manuscript of the letter is in English. It was published in The Jamaica Quarterly and Literary Gazette in 1818 and again in 1825 under the title "General Bolivar's Letter to a Friend, on the Subject of South American Independence. (Translated from the Spanish.)" (706). The manuscript in Spanish was not published until 1833, after Bolívar's death in 1830. Like the "Sketch" in the New Monthly and the "Noticia Biográfica," the "Carta de Jamaica" has a double life. This article will briefly address the ways in which Bolívar's self-fashioning in the "Jamaica Letter" and other writings during his exile in Kingston in 1815 shapes the image of Bolívar for the British public. My reading suggests that Romanticism in the Caribbean and the Americas has a multilingual dimension, and invites readers to rethink the "movements of time, plot, and history" (Bakhtin 84) in the transatlantic that more traditional readings exclude.

    II. Kingston Circa 1815

  9. For British sailors, travelers, and planters like Olaudah Equiano, Lady Maria Nugent, and Monk Lewis experiencing the city of Kingston became de rigeur when in Jamaica. Lewis, who arrived during the John-Canoe celebrations at Christmas in 1816, gives a lively account of the city, declaring that he "never saw so many people [both black and white] who appeared to be so unaffectedly happy" (40). Equiano's experience, on the other hand, points to Kingston's role as a major slave-trading port. Having been denied his wages by a captain Baker, he goes from magistrate to magistrate seeking redress, "and there were nine, but they refused to do anything for me, and said my oath could not be admitted against a white man . . . Such oppressions as these made me seek for a vessel to get out of the island as fast as I could" (218). Trevord Burnard notes that during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Kingston "remained the principal port of entry of slaves until the abolition of the trade in 1808 . . . [from 1700] to 1808, 830,000 slaves were imported into Jamaica" (234). Merchants also supplied slaves to the Spanish American colonies—the illicit trade in goods and slaves provided needed bullion for traders, who in turn used it for loans to sugar planters (Burnard 237). Burnard continues "Having gone to the Caribbean to make their fortunes, some wealthy West Indians returned to Britain and made new careers as London merchants, continuing to deal with their brethren back in the tropics" (232)— dealings that Jane Austen dramatized in Mansfield Park through the figure of Sir Thomas Bertram. Kingston, as a city of empire, seemed distant and marginal, but as Edward Said has pointed out,"Far from being nothing much 'out there,' British colonial possessions in the Antilles [West Indies] and Leeward  islands were during Jane Austen's time a crucial setting for Anglo-French colonial competition" (90).

  10. Said, however, does not mention that Spain also was part of this contest and does not posit Kingston as a site of resistance. The Ashanti Queen Nanny, who defeated the British in the Jamaican Maroon Wars during the 1720s and 1730s, played on the imperial rivalry between Spain and Britain. The British feared a plan by slaves to "hand over the island [of Jamaica] to Spain when they had taken it over, on the condition that the Spanish guarantee their freedom" (qtd. in Linebaugh and Rediker 195). Resistance was also expressed in the domestic sphere: Toussaint L'Ouverture's revolution encouraged enslaved Afro-Caribbeans in Kingston to "not do anything but listen" to the tabletalk of whites. Lady Nugent records in her journal: "The splendour of the black chiefs of St. Domingo, their superior strength, their firmness of character [. . .] are the common topics at dinner; and the blackies [sic] in attendance seem so much interested, that they hardly change a plate, or do anything but listen. How very imprudent, and what must it all lead to!" (198). The latent implications of a revolution in Jamaica—one that domestics could conceive around her own dinner table as they ignored the dishes that needed to be retrieved—do not escape Lady Nugent. As Lucille Mathurin Mair notes, "Domestic slaves in particular, many of whom were women. . . listened carefully to the discussions of their masters and mistresses: planters spoke quite frequently about slavery in their homes, at the dinner tables . . . confident that blacks were too unintelligent to understand the conversation of whites" (991).

  11. If the slave trade connected the Anglo-Hispanic world in Kingston, the city also served as a strategic location for the wars of Spanish American Independence because of its geographical proximity to Venezuela, and its financial, political, and military connections to London. In 1806, when Francisco de Miranda had tried to invade Venezuela while the British attempted to take Buenos Aires, Kingston was a purveyor of supplies, and perhaps more importantly, the communications hub for news about Miranda's operations. London papers relied on their Kingston counterparts to report what was happening in South America and the Caribbean. A report from The Times is typical: "The Jamaican papers state, that Miranda's squadron touched at Jacmel of the 10th of April and sailed again on the 6th for Caraccas, joined by the Echo Schooner at Jamaica. The avowed object of the expedition (says the royal Gazett) is to revolutionize the south american Colonyes [sic]" (Miranda 23: 157).[8] When Bolívar arrived in Kingston after the disastrous loss of Cartagena to the Spanish at the end of 1814, the Latin America-Kingston-London news circuit was thus well established.

  12. From Kingston Bolívar launched a public relations campaign to raise British support for more money and troops, directing his efforts towards individuals and the press. On May 1815, Bolívar wrote to Sir Richard Wellesley, who had been an Ambassador to the Central Junta in Spain in 1809 and Secretary of Foreign Affairs until 1812: "Me he salido a dar la alarma al mundo, a implorar auxilios, a anunciar a la Gran Bretaña y a la humanidad toda, que una parte de su especie va a fenecer, y que la más bella mitad de la tierra será desolada" [ "I have come to sound the alarm, to ask for assistance, to tell Great Britain and the world that part of its species will die, and that the most beautiful half of the earth will be desolate"] ("A Sir Ricardo"). He also wrote to the Duke of Manchester, who was then Governor of Jamaica. Besides those in governmental positions, Bolívar had contacts among the merchant class in Jamaica, which is not surprising given the fact that Kingston and South America carried on trade in defiance of prohibitions from the Spanish Crown. Maxwell Hyslop, who acted as an agent for plantation proprietors, is one of the persons to whom Bolívar wrote for money.[9] "Suplico a Ud. que se sirva suministrar el dinero que Ud pueda . . . en la inteligencia de que, en llegando a Cartagena, le pagaré a Ud. la suma total" [ "I humbly ask that you provide whatever money you can . . . with the knowledge that I will pay you the total sum upon my arrival in Cartagena"] ("Al Señor Don Maxwell").

  13. Besides contacting government figures and merchants, Bolívar also wrote pieces for the Jamaica Gazette, which were reprinted in the Times; these were calculated to appease and appeal to a British audience. He had a difficult task ahead. On the one hand, the British were elated and exhausted after Wellington's triumph over Napoleon at Waterloo; the benefits of British intervention in South America would not seem as urgent to Britain after the Napoleonic menace had been removed. In a letter to the Royal Gazette's Editor published on September 23, 1815, Bolívar explains his view of "internal differences" between Royalists and those in the Independence army. The letter's temporal proximity to the better known Jamaica Letter shows Bolívar's struggle to rewrite the rationale for British participation and intervention in Latin America. He places Latin America in a historical continuum, beginning with Athens and concluding with "the United States of North America": "What free nation, ancient or modern, is there, which has not suffered by disunion? Can there be a history more turbulent than that of Athens?  . . . Civil wars, more violent than those of England? Dissensions, more dangerous than those in North America?" ("To the Editor"). Bolívar sees the internecine struggles in Latin America as a "thermometer of liberty," and not as a symptom of an instability that threatens to give victory to the Spanish, which is the concern of his detractors. He also notes that the United States had "a foreign Power" support its bid for independence, whereas "we were abandoned by the whole world" ("To The Editor"). His disappointment after months of lobbying is palpable: "We have no other weapons to resist our enemies but our arms, our breasts, our horses, and our pikes. The weak require to struggle long, in order to conquer. The strong give, as at Waterloo, one battle, and an Empire disappears!" (Bolivar "To the Editor"). Yet Bolívar ends with a brave front despite these reverses, acknowledging the desperate situation in which "The South-Americans" find themselves, "a despair which has almost always led to victory" ("To the Editor").

    III. The "Jamaica Letter"

  14. If the "Letter to the Editor of the Royal Gazette" presents a defiant Bolívar struggling to write Latin America into the narrative of world and British history, the "Jamaica Letter," written around the same time (September 6, 1815), shows a Bolívar who confidently draws upon authors such as Alexander Von Humboldt, William Robertson, Abbé Raynal, Montesquieu, and Blanco White to seek the "auspicios de una nación liberal que nos preste su protección" ["auspices of a liberal nation that would lend us its protection"] ("Carta" 84). While other scholars have focused on the letter's relationship to Enlightenment thought, I focus on Bolívar's doubling strategies within the letter given his consciousness of a transatlantic audience, and that the perception of his persona in London was crucial to the success of the Wars of Independence. [10] The letter's double life in Spanish and English creates a mirroring effect between Latin America and Britain in order to cement a textual alliance. Bolívar also uses the discourses of slavery and empire to deflect another "doubling" that he is at pains to conceal from his British audience: the actions of Afro-Venezuelans who, like the Independence army, fight against their criollo masters to get the freedom the latter are demanding from Spain. This was a special concern to the British, who were in the midst of abolitionist campaigns, and for Bolívar's financiers in Kingston and London, whose profits from slavery would be jeopardized if enslaved Afro-Jamaicans took up arms like their Venezuelan counterparts.[11]

  15. The letter's composition in two languages is extraordinary—its historical equivalent would be a 1776 translation of the Declaration of Independence into Spanish for circulation in Florida, New Orleans, and Latin America. After Bolívar wrote the letter in Spanish, General John Robertson, an Anglo-Canadian officer in the British Army who had served as secretary of the governor of Curazao, drafted the English translation, and Bolívar then corrected it, marking his corrections on the English manuscript in French (Grases 706).[12] Yet the Declaration, as an official, public, statement carries with it the weight of the letter of the law. By contrast, a letter is dialogical in nature and depends on the addressee to complete its signification. As Lacan concludes with regards to Poe's purloined letter: "the sender . . . receives from the receiver his own message in reverse form" (52-3). The letter's signification points to several reversals. First there is the reversal of language in Bolívar's answer. Bolívar assumes the rhetorical stance of answering questions that he receives from Henry Cullen, and although Cullen's letter is presumably in English, Bolívar answers in Spanish. The second reversal is the Jamaica Letter's translation from Spanish to English; Bolívar reverses his own text by authorizing Robertson's translation into English.

  16. The mirroring of English and Spanish in the letter stands for a complex rewriting of Anglo-Hispanic historiography, in which Spanish Americans emerge as accomplices of Britain, rather than as their traditional antagonists. In his Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father, Richard Rodríguez, the renowned Latino essayist, suggests that the emblematic episode of Anglo-Hispanic history is the sinking of the Spanish Armada. He summons this cultural icon as paradigmatic of Latino-Anglo American relations:

    According to the Dallas Morning News, a gang of "Anglos" and a gang of Hispanics shed real blood in a nonfictional cafeteria, in imitation of a sixteenth century sea battle the students have never heard of. Who could have guessed that a European rivalry would play itself out several hundred years after Philip's Armada was sunk by Elizabeth's navie? And here? Yet Americans comically (because unknowingly) assume proxy roles within a centuries-old quarrel of tongues. (110)
  17. While Rodríguez is right to point out that the narrative of imperial Spain and its rival England frames the Latino and Anglo students fighting in a cafeteria à la West Side Story, he overlooks how translation—mirroring rather than confrontation—was one of the strategies Latin Americans used to resist Spain's imperial narrative and author their own. Like other translations that invert colonial relations—for example, Richard Madden's translation of the autobiography of Cuban slave Juan Manzano—the "Jamaica Letter" problematizes the assumption that European rivalries replay themselves obsessively in the theatre of the Americas.

  18. Rather than recapitulating the bitter history of England and Spain, Bolívar presents himself as Cullen's ally by quoting and answering Cullen's questions on the character of the "New World." Indeed, Cullen's letter serves to organize Bolívar's exposition. Bolívar assumes the role of the addressee returning the sender's message in "reverse form"; the message that Bolívar returns is a narrative of empire and oppression. Prompted by Cullen, who writes, "For the last three centuries, the Spanish have been committing barbarities in Columbus' hemisphere" (56), Bolívar invokes Las Casas, who "denunció ante su gobierno y contemporáneos los actos más horrorosos de un frenesí sanguinario" [ "denounced before his government and contemporaries the most horrendous acts of a bloodthirsty frenzy"] (56). The bloodthirstiness of the Spanish is "insaciable" (58), and the implied cannibalism and/or vampirism of the Spanish transposes the valuation of the European as "civilized" and the Native as "savage." As Tzvetan Tódorov has observed, Las Casas is the first European to make this transvaluation. Las Casas "show[s] the relativity of the notion of 'barbarism' . . . each of us is the other's barbarian" (190).

  19. Las Casas's denunciation of abuse and torture against Native Americans becomes the basis of the case against Spain, and this seems to be the accepted reason as to why Bolívar chooses him to open his case to the British. [13] Antonio Benítez Rojo has noted that "las ideas de Las Casas cobraron particular importancia en las primeras décadas del siglo XIX, cuando la gran mayoría de las colonias españolas de América se rebelaba para conseguir la independencia" [ "Las Casas's ideas became particularly important during the first decades of the nineteenth century, when the great majority of American colonies rebelled to obtain their independence"] (112). When read in a transatlantic context, however, Bolívar's billing of himself as a second Las Casas raises important questions about the contradictions regarding slavery at the heart of the independence movement, and the way in which Bolívar wants to control how the British public read reports of his revolution, one that, for all its rhetoric against slavery, will not result in the actual liberation of slaves, and in fact conceals actual slave uprisings against Bolívar and the Independence army. While Bolívar writes from Kingston, slaves in Venezuela and Latin America have not been liberated, and Britain—still profiting from slavery—is providing financing for the Wars of Independence. Invoking the comparison to Las Casas allows Bolívar to communicate to his British audience that he vehemently opposes Spain without having to declare a position on slavery.

  20. This double signification is possible because of Las Casas's contested status in Britain as an icon for abolitionists. Thomas Clarkson opens his Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species narrating Las Casas's activities against slavery; Clarkson places his work in relation to that of "the pious Bishop of Chiapa" (Preface). In the midst of the brutal scene of the conquest, he is the man to "make a publick remonstrance before the celebrated emperor Charles the fifth, declaring, that heaven would one day call him to an account of those cruelties which he then had it in his power to prevent" (Preface). The abolitionists' identification with him partially explains Las Casas's deus ex machina role in Williams's Peru, where he appears as "the pitying angel" who opposes the priest Valverde's cruelty and brutality (3.97). In The West Indies, which James Montgomery wrote to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade in 1808, he calls Wilberforce "The new Las Casas of a ruin'd race" (4.136); Las Casas "raised his voice against a sea of blood / Whose chilling waves recoiled while he foretold / His country's ruin by avenging gold" (1.120-2). At the same time, abolitionists fiercely defend him against the charge that William Robertson imputes in his History of America: "While [Las Casas] contended earnestly for the liberty of the people born in one quarter of the globe, he laboured to enslave the inhabitants of another region; and in the warmth of his zeal to save the Americans from the yoke, pronounced it to be lawful and expedient to impose one heavier still upon the Africans" (Robertson 1:319).

  21. Robertson is not being entirely fair to Las Casas, though. In the early period of the conquest Las Casas did recommend that "if necessary, white and black slaves can be brought from Castille to keep herds and build sugar mills, and wash gold" and suggested that each Spanish migrant should be allowed to take 20 black slaves (qtd. in Traboulay 50). Todorov points out that "Las Casas did not have the same attitude towards Indians and Blacks: he consents that the latter, and not the former, be reduced to slavery. We must remember that the enslavement of blacks is an acknowledged phenomenon at the time, whereas that of the Indians is beginning before his eyes" (170). Las Casas's attitude changes from 1516 to 1546, for as Traboulay puts it, "The matter of providing Black slaves took a different turn than Las Casas had intended. The contract to provide 4,000 slaves was given to one of King Charles' friends, Governor Bresa, who then sold the license to Genoese merchants" (52). In other words, the Las Casas of 1514 sees the ramifications of Native American slavery but cannot foresee the enslaving of Africans becoming as systematized, inhumane, and genocidal as what he is witnessing in the New World. By 1546, the trade and exploitation of enslaved Africans leads him to write, "He [Las Casas] always considered the Blacks as unjustly and tyranically reduced to slavery, for the same reasons applied to them and to the Indians" (qtd. in Todorov 170).

  22. Peter Blanchard has attributed "the origins of the language of the independence era" to the Enlightenment and notes that the "particular analogy [of] slavery" creeps into the language of "those fighting for freedom" (500). Yet slavery as a metaphor for the condition of Latin Americans in the Jamaica Letter is a result of Bolívar's unstated but analogous relationship to Las Casas, and his knowledge of the British abolitionist debate. While Bolívar has to gain support for his cause, he cannot afford to alienate those of his supporters who are profiting from slavery, which included the Baring family and banking house (Williams 171). Bolívar describes the colonial relationship between Spain and the Americas as a relationship between an abusive master and his slave. Speaking to Cullen of Spain's attempt to suppress the Independence army, he writes "Ya hemos sido libres y nuestros enemigos pretenden de nuevo esclavizarnos" [ "We have been free, and our enemies pretend to enslave us again"] ("Carta" 63). Under Spanish rule, Latin Americans have lived "en un grado más bajo de la servidumbre, y por lo mismo con más dificultad para elevarnos al goce de la libertad" [ "in a state lower than servitude, and because of this, with greater difficulty to lift ourselves to the enjoyment of liberty"] ("Carta" 70). Following Montesquieu, he speculates that it is harder for "naciones esclavas" [ "enslaved nations"] to become free than it is to "subyugar un[a] libre" [ "to subdue a free one"] ("Carta" 76). The metaphor is calculated to engender pathos: the degradation that accompanies slavery highlights the righteousness of the patriots' cause, since no free man would ever want to be enslaved. Resistance against the Spanish is fierce because men "han perecido por no ser esclavos" ["have died so as not to be slaves"] (Carta 58). But the metaphor also points to Bolívar's attitudes towards slavery. To Bolívar and his audience, enslavement is the most degraded state of being, and renders it "difficult to enjoy liberty." One can see how this argument could be used by both abolitionists and planters.

  23. When Bolívar actually refers to slavery, he imagines slaves as incapable of becoming free in the sense that would be acceptable to a European audience, "la [libertad] que se alcanza infaliblemente, en la sociedades civiles, cuando ellas están fundadas sobre las bases de la justicia, la libertad y la igualdad" [ "the [freedom] reached infallibly in civil societies, when they are founded on the basis of justice, liberty, and equality"] ("Carta" 76). Surveying the likelihood of success for the independence army, Bolívar paints the geography of the continent from Mexico to Peru. The only country where he doubts independence can be achieved is Peru because it "encierra dos enemigos de todo régimen justo y liberal: oro y esclavos. El primero lo corrompe todo; el segundo está corrompido por si mismo" [ "[Peru] encloses two enemies of any just and liberal government: gold and slaves. The first corrupts everything; the second corrupts himself"] ("Carta" 80). The self-corrupting slave "rara vez alcanza a apreciar la sana libertad: se enfurece en los tumultos o se enfurece en las cadenas" ["rarely appreciates healthy liberty: he rages in revolt or rages in chains"] ( "Carta" 81). Bolívar's claim that slaves are incapable of "appreciat[ing] healthy liberty" echoes Coleridge's pronouncement that slaves were "unprepared for freedom" (Richardson 11). It also anticipates the resistance of planters just before the abolition of slavery in 1834, captured in Mrs. Carmichael's Domestic Manners and Social Condition of the White, Coloured, and Negro Population of the West Indies. Intended as evidence for Parliament and an apologia for planters, she writes from her experience as a planter's wife: "I could enumerate numerous facts, all tending to prove that many negroes are utterly unfit for rights of civilized men" (2: 198).

  24. Bolivar's insistence on the inability of enslaved persons to translate their "rage" into action culminates in a portrait of the contented slave, which Bolívar offers in another letter he writes to the Royal Gazette of Jamaica:

    El esclavo en la América española vegeta abandonado en las haciendas, gozando, por decirlo así, de su inacción, de la hacienda de su señor, y de una gran parte de los bienes de la libertad; y como la religión le ha persuadido que es un deber sagrado servir, ha nacido y existido en esta dependencia doméstica, se considera en su estado natural, como un miembro de la familia de su amo, a quien ama y respeta.

    [The slave in Spanish America loafs abandoned in the plantations, enjoying, as it were, his inaction, his master's grounds, and a greater part of the fruits of liberty; and because religion has persuaded him that service is a sacred duty, because he is born and raised in this domestic dependence, he considers himself, in his natural state, as a member of the family of his master, whom he loves and respects.] ("Carta al Editor" 87)

  25. The rhetoric of Kingston's planters has found its way into Bolívar's prose here, for after all, British slaves, like those in Spanish America, were also treated as "members of the family of his master." The idleness of slaves in the midst of abundance is a favorite theme of Mrs. Carmichael's, who informs her readers that "The slave may be perfectly idle, and yet he is supported. The British labourer strains every nerve to live. The slave is provided for without anxiety on his part" (1:180) and that "Indeed one had only to walk about the states in the vicinity of Kingstown . . . and see how cheerful the slaves were, to be convinced that the idea of slavery as bondage, was the last thought that ever entered their minds" (1: 244).  But Bolívar knew this portrait did not correspond to reality any more than those painted by the Kingston planters. Manuel Piar, one of his generals, was a mulatto who "proclaimed to the inhabitants of Margarita Island in 1814 that to him 'death was more worthy than slavery'" (qtd. in Blanchard 501).[14] While Piar fought for the Independence army, there were enslaved Venezuelans who chose to throw in their lot with the Royalists, a far cry from the filial fantasy the Bolívar depicted in the pages of the Royal Gazette. [15]

    IV. Puy and Pío

  26. Puy and Pío are two Afro-Venezuelans whose opposition to Bolívar and the independence army have earned them the excoriation of Bolivarian scholars for almost two hundred years; yet what has not been sufficiently considered in Bolivarian historiography is the fact that they were enslaved men siding with the Royalists in the hope of earning their freedom, and, given the uprisings throughout the Caribbean, freedom for slaves at large. As Blanchard records, the Spanish crown offered slaves their freedom if they sided with the Royalist army, an action which is reminiscent of British strategy in the American Revolution; the Independence army had to make accommodations if it was not to lose the large number of men to the Crown: "Needing soldiers for their armies and trying to prevent slaves from supporting the royalist cause, revolutionary leaders in all parts of the continent granted slaves the freedom that they wanted" (Blanchard 501). But the delay in granting slaves their freedom cost the revolutionaries troops. Bolívar did not grant freedom to slaves serving in his army until 1816; prior to that, Miranda had done so in 1812, and the war had been going on for two years by then. José Ramos Guédez notes that Miranda's "measure did not consolidate the Independence army's efforts to destroy the Spanish forces that in a short time frustrated the republican cause. Furthermore, many slaves obtained their liberty by fighting for both sides, or by fleeing their place of work to maroon communities, where they obtained protection and food" (125).[16]

  27. The New Monthly "Sketch" features Puy, a recruiter and commander for the Spanish, though it is silent on Pío, who in fact tried to kill Bolívar while they were in Kingston in 1815: "The execrable Puy, who was far more bloodthirsty than any of his comrades" goes to "organize their [the slaves'] irregular bands" accompanied by "Palomo, a negro, who was a notorious thief and a murderer" ("Sketch" 8). After Puy assumed command of this "irregular band" and they entered Barinas, he had five hundred inhabitants executed "fearing that its inhabitants would rise en masse against him" (8). The "Sketch" continues: "Exasperated by the infamous conduct of his adversaries, Bolivar assumed a character totally foreign to his generous principles and habits, and ordered eight hundred Royalists to be shot" (8). The organized slaves are presented as "irregular" in contrast with a well-organized army, and of course "bloodthirsty"—as "bloodthirsty" as the Spanish whom Las Casas denounced. In writing about Haiti, Bryan Edwards, as Alan Richardson indicates, "depicts massacres of white colonists in racist and blood-curdling terms: 'Upwards of one hundred thousand savage people, habituated to the barbarities of Africa, avail themselves of the silence and obscurity of the night, and fall upon the peaceful and unsuspecting planters, like so many famished tygers thirsting for human blood'" (11). The New Monthly writer clearly evokes "the Spectre of Domingo" and Toussaint's revolt in his description of Puy, a connection clarified in José Blanco White's version of the "Sketch." We learn in the Spanish version that Puy is "uno de los gefes negros" [ "one of the Black chiefs"]; Blanco also suspects the Spanish of starting "la violencia de una guerra civil" ["the violence of a civil war"] by arming slaves (5). Bolívar's extreme response was not only a lesson to Spain, but sent a clear message to Puy and his men, and any slave who would join the Royalists or try to rise up against the independence cause. As late as 1828 "Bolívar was indifferent to the fate of those enslaved . . . it must have stemmed from his fear of a 'race' or 'color' war, which had developed in Haiti and other Caribbean islands" (Ramos Guédez 14). That the English article does not contain Puy's status as a "Black chief" again shows to what lengths Bolívar's image, and by extension, Latin America's, is being manipulated across the Atlantic.

  28. Pío, the Afro-Venezuelan who tried to kill Bolívar, is absent from the New Monthly and Variedades biographies of Bolívar altogether, even though the trial had been reported in the Royal Gazette during December 1815. Pío was Bolívar's slave and traveled with him to Jamaica. Not surprisingly, there are two versions of the story as to why Pío tried to kill his master, but instead killed Felix Amestoy, a friend of the general's whom he mistook for Bolívar. The first story is the one the Royal Gazette reports. The coroner's inquest determined "That the deceased came to his death of a wound, supposed to be received from a negro man named Peo, the property of General S. Bolivar, with a sharp pointed knife, which entered his left side . . . and which wound was a cause of his death" ("A Coroner's"). The statement taken says that "The negro was offered two thousand dollars by some Spaniards" and "agreeably to his murderous contract" accepted the money ("A Coroner's"). Pío was sent to Kingston's Slave-Court, where he was identified again as "the property of Simon Bolívar, Esq." According to witnesses Felix Amestoy had arrived the night Bolívar was to be murdered, and was lying in the General's hammock when a black man came in and stabbed him. Antonio Paez, Bolívar's aide de camp, heard Amestoy exclaim "Paez, Paez, this negro is murdering me" ("A Special"). Bernardo Castillo, another witness who heard Amestoy, tried to get out "but could not, as his servant had locked his room" ("A Special"). This detail shows that Pio could not have been acting on his own; however, he alone was convicted for the murder: "The Court then pronounced the sentence of death" and called for "his head to be afterwards severed from his body, stuck on a pole, and Placed in Spring-Path" ("A Special").

  29. Daniel O'Leary, who became Bolívar's aide de camp after 1817, gives a very different account, which he presumably heard from Bolívar himself:

    In Kingston, Jamaica, an Italian Jew corrupted the fidelity of Pito [Pío], the servant of Paez, his ADC, and who had formerly been his own slave and received his freedom from him (B). This boy had for some time meditated his infernal design. His first intention was to execute it by means of poison. In this he was providentially frustrated every time he made the attempt by some unforeseen accident. Finally he resolved at the instigation of his employer to stab the general. (38)

    In this later version of the story, Bolívar denies his ownership of Pío, a denial that is in line with Bolívar's public familial vision of slaves' lives. A contented slave would not have reason to try to murder his or her master; and Bolívar clearly wants it known that he was a good master, one who his slaves would not want to murder. The second notable alteration is the person who pays Pío for the murder: from two Spaniards to "an Italian Jew." Why would an Italian Jew have any reason to have Bolívar killed? The outrageousness of the suggestion signals, as Stephen Greenblat argues, "power, whose quintessential sign is the ability to impose one's fictions on the world: the more outrageous the fiction, the more impressive the manifestation of power" (13). The effect is to isolate Pío from the historical context of slaves who like Puy and himself, thought that the Spanish offered better chances of liberty than Bolívar. He adds a touch of the gothic through the detail of the poison, which was a terror of whites wherever they had slaves. Monk Lewis gives a detailed account on "the deadliest poisons used by the negroes" (207), and whites connected Obeah with poisoning. Robert Dunbar, a British Creole poet in Kingston, records "I myself was present at the trial of three Negroes for Obeah. An Obeah-man and two accomplices were clearly convicted of a design to administer poisonous drugs to a lady of the island" (129). Fears of Obeah and poisoning were connected to the larger fear of a slave revolution (Richardson 10-9), which I would suggest explains the alteration of the story to incorporate poison. As late 1828, Afro-Venezuelans were taking up arms against their masters; though it was a "free" republic, slavery was not abolished until 1830 (Ramos Guédez 14).

  30. The two versions of Pío and Puy's stories betray the anxiety of Europeans and white Creoles following Bolívar's career. If freedom is the ultimate goal of Latin Americans, what is to stop the fire of revolution from spreading to Jamaica and the other British possessions in the Caribbean? What is to stop the reversal of master and slave? Bolívar employs rhetorical, affective, and political comparisons between enslaved Spanish Americans and actual slaves in Kingston and throughout the American hemisphere to give his argument urgency. Yet his transatlantic doublings as a new Las Casas, as a general who never crossed swords with a "Black chief," and as the victim of the perfidy of an ungrateful former slave allow him to separate any connection between rising against this metaphorical enslavement and Afrocaribbeans taking up arms, and to emerge as the Bolívar that a British audience could embrace. His crossings of the Atlantic and then the South American continent—from Venezuela to Perú, Bolivia and back over the Andes on horseback— were truly Napoleonic in scope, and earned him an admirer in Byron, who immortalized Bolívar in what has to be one of the most remarkable rhymes of the English language. In the "Age of Bronze," Byron links his sympathies with the Greek struggle to the American one: "On Andes' and on Athos' peaks unfurled, / The self-same standard streams o'er either world: / The Spartan knows himself once more a Greek, / Young Freedom plumes the crest of each cacique" ("Age of Bronze" l. 275-279).[17]  The transatlantic imaginary that connects Latin America, Kingston, and London reveals that on the path to those peaks of freedom, one might find displayed on a pike the head of a slave who also wanted to climb them.


1 Translations in English are mine.

2 The intense involvement of the British in Latin American independence is reflected in George Canning's statement regarding the event: "The deed is done, the nail is driven, Spanish America is free; and if we do not mismanage our affairs sadly, she is English" (Galeano 173).

3 The available critical concepts illuminate different aspects of the Americas-Africa-Europe triad, but are mostly predicated on an Anglo-American outlook. Concepts like Paul Gilroy's "Black Atlantic," focuses on the Anglophone African diaspora; Joseph Roach's circum-atlantic gestures towards Latin America, but does not engage it; the "transatlantic" implies the U.S. and Britain or Europe; Srinivas Aravamudan's "tropicopolitan" gestures to the Francophone world, but conflates Asia and the Americas;  Mary Louise Pratt's "transculturation" is a more inclusive term, but one that neglects the AfroCaribbean or Afroamerican experience in relation to the Hispanophone world. Most recently, Kaplan and Gerassi-Navarro note that "the Spanish empire and early Spanish American republics have not figured as centrally into these new transnational figurations" (2).

4 For a more recent assessment of Humboldt and Romanticism, see Leask 243-97.

5 For a complete catalogue of Ackermann's publications in Latin America, see Roldán Vera 239-59; for commentary on Mora's Meditaciones Poéticas, see Essick and Pailey 38-9.

6 Francisco de Miranda, the general, diplomat, and ceaseless agitator for the Latin American cause, preceded Bolívar in London, and laid the groundwork for the latter's dealings with Britain. Miranda had fought as a general in the French Revolution, and upon Napoleon's expulsion of him from France, he sought asylum in London, where he began a campaign for British support of Latin American independence, including audiences with William Pitt, and William Wilberforce. For a discussion of the activities of Miranda and other Latin Americans in Britain, see Casa de Bello, vol. 1 and 2; Almeida 197-209; Racine 141-208. For a recent fictional treatment of Miranda's life, see Duncker, where Miranda figures as the stepfather of James Miranda Barry, a woman who passed as a man for over fifty years so she could study medicine.

7 The London-Kingston-Latin America connection is dramatized in Robert Dunbar's The Caraguin, a Caribbean epic published in 1839. The Caraguin chronicles the failed love affair between Amy, a British planter's daughter, and Guzman, a Venezuelan revolutionary.

8 Other papers carried similar bulletins. On July 6, 1806, The Morning Herald reported "A Jamaica mail arrived yesterday, and has brought us later and more authentic intelligence relative to Miranda's expedition than any we have yet received." On July 7, the Times continues "The arrival of the Jamaica Mail puts it beyond all doubt that Gen Miranda effected a landing on the Spanish Main about the end of April." See Miranda 23: 165-7.

9 Robert Madden identifies Hyslop in his narrative Twelve Months in the West Indies: "My friend, Mr. Hyslop, agent of the legatee, one of the most respectable men in the islands, furnished me with these particulars" (165). Absentee planters regularly hired agents to represent their interests in Kingston while they lived in London and lobbied Parliament. See Dunn 200-217.

10 Pons gives an excellent analysis of how Burkean thought finds its way into Bolívar's writing via Blanco White. See Pons 507-529.

11 Galeano explains how Britain's financial world was dependent on slavery. In the early nineteenth century "an Englishman could live on £6 a year; Liverpool slave merchants garnered more than £1.1 million a year in the Caribbean alone . . . An economist described the slave trade as 'basic and fundamental principle of all the rest, like the mainspring of the machine which sets every cogwheel in motion.' Banks proliferated in Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, London, and Glasgow; Lloyds piled up profits insuring slaves, ships and plantations" (81).

12 Grases notes that no original manuscript for the Spanish has been found (706).

13 "Las Casas's writings criticizing the Spanish colonists were used by Spain's enemies as propaganda in the sixteenth-century conflicts between Protestant England and Catholic Spain. . . . These editions carried the message of Spain's cruelty throughout Europe. The Spanish conquest, not Las Casas' struggle for justice, was emphasized in these editions. Conquest, not the struggle for justice, came to define the Spanish legacy in America, at least for the English-speaking world" (Traboulay 187).

14 See Quintero for an analysis on race relations in Bolívar's army; she notes that Bolívar had Piar executed because he allegedly was advocating a race war.

15 For a discussion how Bolívar constructs the "family narrative" in terms of gender in the 'Jamaica Letter,' see Davies 5-19.

16 Ramos Guédez's original reads "Tal medida no logra consolidar los esfuerzos de los independentistas por destruir a las fuerzas españolas que en poco tiempo frustran los dos primeros intentos de organización republicana. Además, en el transcurso de la guerra, muchos esclavos logran su libertad al participar como soldados en los distintos bandos en conflicto y en otras circunstancias, cuando huyen de sus sitios de trabajo y se trasladan a las comunidades integradas por negros cimarrones, en las cuales consiguen tanto protección como alimento."

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