This week we delved into how the established colonial societies of the America’s began to resist their imperial rule and gain independence. We discussed how the struggle for independence was both vastly different between nations in cause and methodology and at the same time very similar in that the value of wanting to be free from colonial rule was shared.
The thing that struck me most about the material was the similarities I noticed between the narratives of independence that we discussed and how revolutions begin and are conducted today. For example, when I read about Simon Bolivar and how he was and is still regarded as a largely heroic political figure and freedom fighter I was surprised to learn that he was actually a criollos. This meant that he actually already had a lot of power and was only second-class to the Spanish-born Europeans who held most of the political control in the colonies. This was an “ah-ha” moment for me because it seems in today’s times that when the lower-class people are suffering with low-wages or with high living costs, this doesn’t ignite a lot of radical change to fix the situation. However, when people in power, say bankers and political figures, get in trouble with the law or financially they are “bailed out” and in a way, a small revolution of rule-bending and changing is enacted in order to best suit these people. Very rarely throughout history and now is it the people at the bottom of the hierarchy that are able to enact meaningful, lasting change. In the times of colonial rule over Latin America, the lower-class slaves and indigenous peoples had been suffering in similar ways for some time but they largely weren’t able to change their situation except in a few examples like Saint Domingue. Now looking at Bolivar – he is born an aristocrat and is able to have an education and have a fair amount of power – he is able to rally and initiate revolution to change the system (which already favours him) so that it favours him even more. We also learned about how him and other criollos, not only did this to gain more power, but to ensure that they kept power over the lower-class groups when talk rebellion amongst these groups came from places like Saint Domingue.
In this way, I guess I don’t really understand (as someone not from Latin America) why Bolivar is considered so highly as an independence figure? I guess what I am really wondering is – how much credit should we really give to Bolivar as an independence leader? And a central question in the figures we have discussed – is his really a hero?