Sometimes I’m taken aback by the lack of self awareness shown by those at the top of social and political hierarchy. If any group is going to be a group of oppressors it is this demographic. However oppressors practically never understand that their direct actions subjugate people. Perhaps since the less privileged class are frequently not perceived as fully human.
The only time oppressors feel sympathy for the oppressed is when they begin to feel infringed upon themselves. This is painfully true in Bolivar’s “Letter from Jamaica”. While he demonstrates an understanding of the autonomy that many of us believe is owed to all human beings, he cannot fathom that anyone aside himself suffers. He considers himself to be deserving of rights by virtue of his humanity yet he can’t recognize the humanity of those over who he has dominion.
Entitlement rears its head again in the writing of Bolivar. He is used to being included in a political and social hierarchy. It is his natural condition to have his opinions carry weight. it also speaks to his expectation of the land he is inhabiting. He takes issue with such a vibrant, fruitful land remaining “passive”. This speaks first to his expectation of un-colonized land to be rudimentary and primitive. He sees the colonized lands as mold-able to his vision and sees it as a great injustice that he is not being given the power to change the landscape.
What Bolivar did not recognize is that he was a visitor in a land of people who possessed the same level of humanity as himself. It would have made much more logical sense to try to integrate into the existing power structures of the indigenous population. Instead he is attempting to overrule the existing dynamics and hijack the orders being given to him for his own purposes. Bolivar supposes he understands the climate and potential of his surroundings better than Spanish politicians considering he can give first hand accounts. Ironically he does not assume that the native inhabitants might have a better understanding of their home than he does.
Slavery is a condition abhorrent to the human condition. In possibly the most provocative section of his letter Bolivar describes himself and fellow colonialists-many of whom were slaveholders- as “lower than slaves”. He is able to do this because by grace of their diminished humanity, the enslaved non-Spanish population-in Bolivars eyes-can naturally and comfortably settle into the condition of slavery. Therefore, when he understands his own lack of power to be infringing on his inherent rights, he can quickly assume the position of the gravely oppressed.