Wednesday 25 April 2012

The Portuguese in Trinidad

by Jean de Boissiere

Being second only to the English as slave traders, the Portuguese appeared in Trinidad at a much earlier date than is generally supposed. In the 17th and 18th century, the small Spanish colonies that settled from time to time were supplied with slaves by these Portuguese traders whose headquarters were in Brazil. The north and east coasts of Trinidad had large plantations which were also used as slaves depots.
The first Portuguese colonisation made no roots in the islands and never got beyond the fringe of coastline. They mostly traded in slaves and shipped whatever produce these slaves grew while at the coastal depots to Europe in slave trading vessels, going back across the Atlantic for another load of human cargo. With the slowing up and eventual abolishment of the slave trade, these Portuguese settlement disappeared from the island.
The second colonisation—that which is the origin of the Portuguese community of today— occurred under more credible circumstances. It was comprised of refugees who had fled the island of Madeira in the 1850s. They were Protestant, and the religious persecution begun by the Lisbon government at the instigation of the Catholic church had become alarmed at the inroads made in a former stronghold of the faith by Scottish Presbyterians.
These new Portuguese colonists, being whitesand with a tradition of slave driving behind them, were given work as drivers, overseers and, most significant of all, as shop managers on the estates. At that time, the estates ran shops from which they supplied goods to their labourers. The profits made were heavy, so that the labourer, whose wage averaged 20 cents a day, was forever in debt to the estate (This was the new freedom. Wage slavery had replaced the chattel slavery of pre-emancination days).
The practice became so abusive that the government was eventually forced to legislate against the estate owners having shops to fleece their labourers. The usual evasion of law took place and the Portuguese managers, overseers and even drivers were placed in ownership of the shops, but with a staggering mortgage at high interest which left the Portuguese in fact no more than nominal owners.
By frugal living, thrift and sometimes barefaced robbery, these hardworking emigrants from southern Europe were not long in throwing off the French and other Creole planters they were saddled with and emerged in complete control of the grocery, liquor and small shop trade of the island.
Their success was due to their present thriftiness, their Latin love of a "bodega" and most of all their facility for mixing freely and equally with their clientele, the Negro and East Indian labourers.
In three generations, the most successful amassed fortunes running into millions of dollars. This spectacular rise of the Portuguese was made out of small shops, which sold a cent saltfish and a penny butter. The only trade that must have given them huge profits to explain this phenomenal accumulation of wealth was the liquor business and possibly more than a fair share of dealing in usury.
With typical Latin instability, when out of their political and social sphere, these Portuguese made the same mistake as the French. Instead of sending their children to Madeira to learn agriculture and commerce from their peasant relatives - after the necessary English education in the schools of Trinidad - they sent them to the public schools of England to learn the academic culture of the wealthy English mercantile bourgeoisie, a people whose ways of living would have no relation to their future except in distant commercial contacts. And they learnt much that was harmful - to be ashamed of the fat, greasy, very human father who had slept beneath his dirty counter in order to accumulate wealth for them instead of being proud of his successful struggle in a foreign land.
These well-educated Portuguese returned, some to spend their money in a mad attempt to compensate the inferiority complex they had been given with their education by giving large extravagant entertainments to the society of the island (mostly composed of impecunious clerks, penniless daughters of ruined planters, openly scalping for a husband and a meal ticket for life, and visiting foreigners with a firm conviction that Trinidad was their oyster). Others attempted to clean up with the then crystalising monopoly taking place at that time, but a few years in England, while giving them a lot of high and low ideas, had been unable to remove the terrifically individualistic, careful peasant psychology of their fathers from their make-up, with the result that they either got severely mauled by their partners or got nowhere at all.
The younger generation of Portuguese who grew up and were educated (very often at the most elementary schools) in the island showed much more business acumen and common sense. They shifted their vital interest from the small shop, wholesale provision and rum business, where the even more frugal Chinese were making big inroads, to real estate in the main and own interests - in some instance. They formed their large-scale business, this time carefully backed by their own social groups, and made no attempts to form themselves into an atmosphere artificial and therefore distasteful to their natural simplicity. It is largely to these latter that the rise of the Portuguese prestige (achieved in a short two decades) was due.
To protect their real estate interests it became absolutely necessary that they go into politics - nothing shows more clearly the private property bias of politics than the predominance of real estate holders over other interest in all existing political bodies - where they conducted themselves with a dignity and propriety that was in direct contrast to a lot of their colleagues serving on public bodies.
While economic success is essential to survival, it hardly entitles people, or peoples, to any honour except a presumed one. The more distinctive honours belong to the world of art, science, literature, medicine and all the other higher fields of human endeavour. In two of these fields - art and literature - the Portuguese of Trinidad created what little there exists that is genuinely of Trinidad and not a mimeographed copy of what strictly belongs to other time, people and place, and what is universal in art and literature used in present day Trinidad in anything but a universal sense. They treat these things exactly as if they belonged to them by right of personal creation.
In summing up, the Portuguese, working the distributive sphere of Trinidad's economic life, have been the least ruthless in exploiting the uneducated masses of Trinidad at one of the highly protected, most flagrantly abused games peculiar to capitalism. They cleared the hurdle of their security in a race in which whatever rules there were, seldom were applied. They took their security, and stopped an exploitation that was so fascinating that most other people in Trinidad having started it find it as hard to give up as a habit-creating drug. And out of their security have arisen contributions to a cultural life that will be truly of the West Indies, and most of all a warm human feeling of life in a land that sometimes seems to be struggling in the grip of a fierce northern battle for commerce.

Monday 23 April 2012

William Wilberforce

The African presence in North and South America and the Caribbean defines the character of the New World. Without it, the western hemisphere would merely be an extension of Europe. The African presence of the New World commenced with slavery, which was seen by many cultures - not only Europeans - as an economic necessity at various times. In the case of the Americas, slavery provided cheap and abundant labour for the plantations. It did not run counter to the beliefs and ideas of people both in Africa, the Middle East or Europe. Slavery, serfdom and servitude had been known the world over for countless generations.
By 1800, however, slavery had become expensive and wasteful in the eyes of European thinkers and economic planners. Also, beliefs and convictions of people had changed. The ideas that had evolved towards the end of the 18th century, from the 1760s onward, called the "enlightenment", brought with them the philosophical concept of the rights of man. The enlightenment helped to provoke the French Revolution in 1789 and the beliefs that brought about the evangelical revival  that changed the attitudes of countless thousands of Europeans.
By 1800, there were many influential and powerful people who felt that African slavery was fundamentally wrong and morally indefensible. Perhaps more significantly, there were many others who regarded it as an economic waste. Another voice, that of self-interest, was the voice of planters and merchants in the West Indies. They held a monopoly of trade, and set themselves to destroy it. The days of African slavery, at least in the New World, were numbered. Sad to say, slavery, in particular and the enslaving of women and children, continues in Africa and some Asian and Muslim countries to this day.
Let us look, however, at the efforts of some of the men who fought against slavery because they thought it morally wrong.
When William Wilberforce, one of those who fought hardest against African slavery in the colonies, was a boy of about 6 or 7 years, one of the first blows against African slavery was struck by a man named Grenville Sharp. He was in the house of his brother William Sharp, a doctor in London, one day in the year 1765, when a slave called Jonathan Strong came in, asking for help. Jonathan had been so badly treated by his owner David Lisle, who had brought him from Barbados, that he had become lame and unfit for work. His master turned him out.
Dr. Sharp helped Jonathan and found a job for him after he had recovered from his wounds and had caught himself. Unfortunately, one day Lisle came on Jonathan, saw that he was fit for work, hired two men to kidnap him and proceeded to sell him for £30 to a Jamaican by the name of John Kerr.
The Sharp brothers managed to have Jonathan set free, but only with great difficulty. The entire affair seemed so unfair to Grenville Sharp that he set to study the law himself. Lawyers told him that he was wasting his time and that Jonathan was in fact the property of his master. But Grenville would not accept that. He was determined to find out for himself. After three years of work and study, he wrote and published a book claiming that it was against the law for anyone in England to remain enslaved. In 1772, he was given the opportunity to prove his point. Another slave, James Somerset, had fallen ill and had been turned away by his master. With the help of the Sharps, Somerset got better, and as soon as he was well and back on his feet, his master claimed him. Sharp took the matter to court and on June 22, 1772, Chief Justice Mansfield ruled that as soon as any slave sets foot on English soil he becomes free. By this decision, the 10,000 Negro slaves who were in England at that time all became free men and women.
In the wake of this victory, a religious sect, the Quakers, formed a anti-slavery society, which was jointed by Clarkson Sharp, Ramsay and others, and they began to tell people in England how wicked the slave trade and plantations worked by slave labour were. There were terrible accounts to relate of the suffering and loss of life on the long sea voyage from the coast of West Africa to the West Indies and of the harsh and brutal punishments of the plantations.
By and large, it was a cruel age, when men had little pity for each other. The poor of Europe had few rights, lived in great want and experienced profound distress. The sailors in the British navy were subject to terrible floggings, and a man could be hung for stealing a loaf of bread.
Yet, there was a wind of change in the air. The preaching of John and Charles Wesley and of John Whitfield [WHO WERE THEY?] had touched the hearts of many people, both rich and poor. Others were beginning to think about ideas like liberty and the common brotherhood of man.
However, there were those who did not think that the West Indian planters should be the only ones to have the right to sell sugar in Britain, and who wanted to build up the East Indian trade. Political avarice, heinous as it is, served in the abolition movement of the day.
By this time, William Wilberforce, who now had a seat in the English parliament, joined the anti-slavery society and became its leader. William was slightly built and frail in body, and had been so delicate as a child that his parents had often been anxious about him. He was near-sighted, stooped a little and was no good at out-of-door games. He was nonetheless possessed of a gentle, bright spirit and was such a mimic that he could keep a group laughing at the way he made jokes and poked fun at others.
Above all, William had great courage, a very quick mind and was a fine orator. One who heard him speak to a large crowd of people on a bleak and windy day in the open air, said that he saw "what seemed a mere shrimp mount upon the table, but as I listened, he grew and grew until the shrimp became a whale".
In the 1780s, the antislavery society grew in numbers. Public meetings were held all over England and support increased. In 1791, Wilberforce introduced a bill in the House of Commons to abolish the slave trade, saying "As we have been great in crime, let us be early in repentance". The bill did not pass. England then went to war with Napoleon. Delay followed delay until at last the great day dame. Sixteen long years after Wilberforce had moved the first bill, in 1807, the English parliament voted to abolish the slave trade. As members cheered, William Wilberforce was seen with tears streaming down his face. 

Thursday 12 April 2012

Toussaint L'Ouverture

 William Wordsworth wrote of Toussaint L'Ouverture:
"There is not a breathing of the common wind that will forget thee;
thou hast great allies;
thy friends are exultation,
agonies and love,
and man's unconquerable mind."
(published in the Morning Post, 2 February 1803)

Pierre Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture - his surname possibly deriving from his bravery in battle where he once made a breach in the ranks of the enemy, was born a slave on Breda plantation, St. Domingue (Haiti), in 1746. It is said that he came from noble stock, in that he was the grandson of an African king, King Goau-Guinou of the Aradas. He was taught to read and write by Pierre Baptiste, a free black. It would appear that his father was highly regarded by the master of L'Habitation Breda, the Comte de Noé, who, upon his marriage to a slave Pauline, granted him 'liberté de savanne', a partial freedom that allowed the slave, although still the property of his master, freedom within the confines of the estate to live his own life.
"Toussaint's father was also granted a parcel of land and five slaves of his own to work for him," wrote Wenda Parkinson in an account of the life of Toussaint, entitled "The gilded African". There were five children born to the marriage, Pierre, the eldest, became a colonel in the army of the king of Spain; Paul served as a general in the French colonial army, Marie Jean, the only girl, married a colonel. There was a boy who died young named Goau-Guinou after his royal grandfather, and then there was Toussaint.
Philip Sherlock wrote of him:
"Toussaint had a quick mind, he learnt quickly, learnt from his father the use of healing herbs; learnt the ancient stories of his people, and above all learnt to hate the degradation of slavery."
The Comte de Noé was a man of the enlightenment and recognised in this family a natural intelligence. Being kindly, he lent the boys books.
St. Domingue, the futile, prosperous colony that it was, groaned beneath the weight of slavery. Toussaint saw men and women treated not as human beings, but as things. As a youth, tall, thin, a trifle frail, he was called 'fatras baton' - the thrashing stick. He tested his strength swimming the fast-flowing rivers, climbed to the hilltops alone and crawled up the rocky crags on the mountains above Breda. He saw the schooners and sloops setting out from Haitian ports for France, laden with such quantities of sugar, coffee, indigo and cotton that all of Europe marvelled. He saw the production of sugar grow and then grow even more to the stage when Haiti in 1789 was producing one third more sugar than all the British colonies in the Caribbean.
His father, the coachman to the Comte de Noé, would take him along when the Comte attended the affairs of the nobility. He saw the wealth that flowed into the estates, the finery from Paris, the opulence of absolute ownership. He knew that all this power and wealth rested on the basis of plantation slavery and was witness to the appalling cruelty so revolting that it would sicken you if it were to be recalled in detail.
Beneath this power, this wealth, beneath the crushing heel, there was a rising anger, swelling like some vast tide. As an explosion it came in 1791 when 100,000 Africans rose in revolt and swept the north of St. Domingue with fire and sword.
Toussaint joined the rebels. At first, he was suspect. They had won the hard-fought battles; they had put the fire, and they had faced the fire. But his determination was relentless and his skill in war obvious. By sheer power of his leadership he came to be regarded as their best general.
Regiments from France arrived and the colonists by and large refused the moderate terms of peace that were asked by Toussaint and the rebels. The colonists were contemptuous. "Did Toussaint think that they had brought half a million African slaves to the New World to make them French citizens?" they asked.
Now came the heroic moment in Toussaint's life: should he take the easy road and return to Breda, or the difficult road that meant years of war, perhaps even defeat? As a learned man, he may have remembered the words of Pericles, spoken in Athens over the Athenians who had given their lives for their country: "Life was dear, but they held their honour dearer, and so when the hour came it brought not terror but glory."
With that decision, a rebellion without a clear purpose became a war of liberation.
The hounds of war howled over the island and behind came the horsemen of the apocalypse, bringing disease, starvation and death. Toussaint first fought the French, then the Spaniards in the eastern half of the island (now the Dominican Republic). Then he fought against Maitland and his English army. His tattered army victorious, he now ruled all the island which Christopher Columbus had named Hispaniola, both what was once French and what was once Spanish.
In France, the French Revolution had swept the monarchy from the throne and had beheaded the aristocracy. Out of that new reality came Napoleon Bonaparte. The shadow of the Corsican dictator fell over all Europe. In Haiti, Toussaint strove to create a free African state. Napoleon saw quite clearly the real meaning of the Haitian revolution. He knew that the successful slave revolt in that island was a turning point in the history of the New World. He himself told his minister Talleyrand to inform England that "the freedom of the Negroes, if recognised in St. Domingue and legalised by France, would at all times be a rallying point for freedom-seekers of the New World".
Napoleon sent an armada of 46 ships to Haiti's harbours, carrying an army of 46,000 men to subdue Toussaint and his people. At first, the Haitian was overwhelmed and dismayed at the vastness of Napoleon's army. Turning of a strategy of "burnt earth", he summoned his best general Jean-Jacques Dessalines and instructed him:
"Remember that this soil nourished on our blood and sweat must not yield a crumb of food to our enemies. Keep all roads under constant fire. Throw the bodies of horses and men into all wells and springs, destroy everything, burn everything."
The three terrible allies Toussaint, yellow fever and dysentery reduced Napoleon's army to a shambles. In the end, having lost 60,000 men, Napoleon withdrew from the New World and gave up his designs on Haiti and Louisiana.
Toussaint had secured the freedom of Haiti. His actions were of direct benefit to the infant Federation of the United States, to whom Napoleon sold Louisiana. Toussaint, however, did not see the end. Betrayed by one of his friends, French General Brunet, he was kidnapped and taken to France. As the ship sailed into the rolling Atlantic swells, Haiti hardly more than a memory hovering on the horizon, Toussaint said:
"In overthrowing me, you have cut down in Haiti only the trunk of the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots, for they are numerous and deep."
Toussaint L'Ouverture died ten months later in a fortress in the bleak and wintry Jura mountains, but the roots of the tree sprouted again and in 1804 Haiti was finally free.

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Monday 2 April 2012

The Fires of Liberty in the New World

Two very important anniversaries in the Americas are coming up: the 4th July is the Independence Day of the United States, and the 5th July that of Venezuela. Both those dates commemorate the end of revolutions, and the men who initiated and fought are today remembered as heroes and liberators. The Caribbean, in fact, has had many revolutionaries in the French, English and Spanish colonies. The upheavals acted as triggers for migration, and especially we in Trinidad have ancestors who came as the result of revolution in their previous homes. During the times of British colonialism, the heroes of other nations were all but forgotten. "One of the troubles with our system of education is that it ignores the region to which we belong. What does the school-boy in San Fernando know about Simon Bolivar? Or about Jose Marti? Or about Toussaint of Haiti?" said Prof. Dr. Philip Sherlock in a radio programme in 1964. Today, as an independent nation, we will blow away the thick layer of dust from the marble busts of the heroes, an have a look at who some of those revolutionaries really were.

The close of the 18th century was a pivotal period for the western hemisphere north and south. It was a time of war, where England  fought its old enemy France, who in turn supported the colonists in North America who were struggling for independence. Spain, who was now out of the race for European dominance of the New World, fought to keep her colonies in South America; colonies she could hardly now afford to maintain.  

The colonies in both North and South America overthrew the monarchies—the House of Hanover, England's ruling dynasty, in the North, and Spain's House of Bourbon in the South—and went on to write for themselves republican constitutions. 

The war of American Independence came to an end in 1781 with the surrender of General Cornwallis, the commander of English troops in the American colonies. Great Britain recognised the government of the United States of America as independent. Slavery was made illegal in the state of Massachusetts on the ground that the words in the constitution of 1780 were "All men are born free and equal", which was a nullification of slavery. Maryland followed and also outlawed the slave trade.  

George Washington was born in Bridges creek, Virginia, in 1732. His great-grandfather was first mentioned in Virginia about 70 years earlier, where he acquired wealth and public standing. George's father Augustine died while George was still a little boy. George was a healthy boy, and in 1747, he went to Mount Vernon, the residence of his eldest half-brother Lawrence, who had inherited most of the estate. In 1748, George gained employment with the Fairfaxes, the family of Lawrence's wife, as a surveyor of the Fairfax property. During his employment, George learnt to hunt, to use arms and became interested in the strategies of warfare. In 1751, George came to the Caribbean, to Barbados to be precise, to accompany his half-brother in the last months of his life; he died the following year of consumption. George inherited the estate and became guardian of his niece. 

In 1755, Washington became involved in warfare for the first time, when the English colonies of America sent an expedition against the French colonies of that continent. Four years later, he married a rich young widow, and upon the death of his niece he became one of the richest men in America.

The British colonies in America became involved in a five-year quarrel with Britain in 1765. Washington first had the viewpoint of peaceful measures and negotion, but soon changed his view in that he favoured force to defend his countrymen's rights. He took a leading part in the political arena, and being neither an orator nor a writer, he excelled in common sense and management of affairs. Becoming commander-in-chief,  he led the first American contingent against the British in Boston in 1775.  

In the following six years, the Americans waged a war for independence against the British. In close alliance with the French from 1778 onwards, the war was eventually won in 1781, and George Washington resigned his commission as commander in chief of the American army, having accomplished his great work of defeating the British forces. In 1793 he laid the cornerstone of the Capitol in Washington in a masonic ritual in which he presided as master.  

In the war for the independence of the British colonies in North America, several thousand Africans had fought on both sides. Slaves gained their freedom for serving the Union under General George Washington. Some black regiments came from as far away as Haiti.

"The aim of the Franco-American alliance was to evict the British from Savannah, Georgia," remarks Smithsonian Museum their publication "The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution". They continue: "In early September [of 1779], a French fleet of thirty-three sail, under the command of the Comte d'Estaing, anchored off the Georgia cost and discharged its troops. As reported in the Paris Gazette, there were 2,979 'Europeans' and 545 'Coloureds': 'Volunteer Chasseurs, Mulattoes, and Negroes, newly raised at St. Domingo,' the latter called the Fontages Legion after its French commander. 

"Among the coloured volunteers in the American cause were young men destined to become famous in the Haitian revolution—among them were André Rigaud and Luis Jacques Beauvais, non-commissioned officers at Savannah; Martial Besse, a general under the Versailles Convention; Jean Baptisete Mars Belley, deputy to the convention; and Henri Christophe, future king." 

French revolutionary thinkers, such as the Marquis de Lafayette, influenced the framers of both the American and Haitian constitutions. As a result, Haitian patriots supported Washington's war for independence.

Among many Haitians who came to Trinidad and Tobago were also the descendants of General Alexander Dumas, another hero of the Haitian revolution. Today, the family of Reginald Dumas, former head of the Public Service, still live in our country. 

Africans fought also for England, as witnessed by the Company Villages in south Trinidad. Soldiers of these Black detatchments in the British army were transported to Trinidad and given land and freedom. 

In Trinidad, 1783 was a pivotal year. It saw the promulgation of the Cedula of Population, a document issued from the Spanish Royal Court at Madrid that was of special importance to our island. It established an immigration policy to Trinidad, and defined the creation of modern Trinidad as distinct from the old, Spanish times. It opened the doors to significant agricultural development. Even after the abolition of slavery here in 1838, this agricultural foundation went on to make this island one of the wealthiest territories in these parts. The cedula also served to create one of the most racially diversified places in the world through its terms. The whole agreement was the work of a significant man, Philippe Rose Roume de St. Laurent, who had been born in the island of Grenada. Roume de St. Laurnet later served the French government as 'ordinateur' (judge) in Tobago. He represented Napoleon Bonaparte as one of the commissioners of Haiti. When he married Marianne Rochard, a coloured woman from Tobago, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Toussaint L'Ouverture and his brother were their witnesses.

Simon Bolivar

1783 was also the year that Simon Bolivar, the great liberator of South America, was born in Caracas. For more than 200 years, this city had been one of the great centres of Spanish imperial power in South America. Ever since de Losada had founded it in 1567, Caracas had grown in size, power and influence. 

The Bolivars were one of the great families of Caracas. In their veins ran the blood of Africa, of the Iberian peninsula, and of the natives of the Andes. They owned large estates of sugar cane which were worked by slave labour, as well as silver mines that produced tremendous wealth. Simon's grandfather had been granted a colonial title of nobility by the Spanish court. 

Orphaned before his fifteenth birthday, Simon Bolivar's maternal grandfather, Feliciano Palacios, took him in his care and arranged for him to have the best possible education in Venezuela and in Spain. Amongst his tutors were Simon Rodriguez and Andres Bello. Simon distinguished himself during the years of his education in Spain with his academic accomplishments. There, at the age of 18, he fell in love with Teresa del Toro, who was a year younger. The families insisted on a year's delay of marriage. At the end of the year, Bolivar married Teresa and took his wife back to one of the family's plantations in the valley of Aragua, near Caracas. Not long after, Teresa died of a malignant fever, and the heartbroken Simon swore never to remarry. He kept his oath, however, he always enjoyed the company of women and admitted that the inspiration he gained from them was a necessity to him.

Single, young Bolivar returned to Europe. He was the guest of the Marquis de Uztaiz, who gave him access to one of the greatest private libraries of Spain, famous for its collections on the physical sciences, history, philosophy and politics. It was during this period at Cadiz that Simon met Francisco de Miranda.  

Miranda was a remarkable person. He was the type of intellectual that revolution turns into a military leader, and he became the precursor of Venezuela's fight for independence. Born in Caracas, Francisco's education was immense. He had devoted many years to the study of politics. Simon Bolivar was greatly influenced by the older man's grasp of culture and history, and of the philosophy of the "rights of man". Bolivar became a member of Lodge Lautro in Cadiz in 1803, together with two other great South American patriots, José de San Martin, later the liberator of Argentina, and Bernardo O'Higgins, later the national hero of Chile. 

Argentine soldier and statesman, national hero of Argentina, José de San Martin was born in Yapeyu in 1778. Played a great part in winning independence for his native land, Chile and Peru. Officer in the Spanish army (1789-1812), but helped Buenos Aires in its struggle for independence (1812-1814). Raised army in Argentina, and in January 1817 marched across the Andes to Chile, where he and Bernardo O'Higgins defeated the Spanish at Chacabuco and Maipo, thus winning independence for Chile. Subsequently, he won independence for Peru and became this country's protector. He resigned in 1822 after differences with Bolivar and died in exile in Boulogne in 1850.

Bernardo O'Higgins, the Chilean revolutionary, born in Chillán in 1778, illegitimate son of Ambrosio O'Higgins, the Irish-born viceroy of Chile and Peru. Played a great part in the Chilean revolt of 1810-1817, and became known as the 'Liberator of Chile'. In 1817-1823 he was the new republic's first president, but was deposed after a revolution and retired to Peru, where he died in 1842. 

This was a time when words like "liberty" and "equality" were powerful concepts. The term "rights of man" can be understood only against the background of a Europe dominated by autocratic monarchs, supported by aristocracies that excluded vast majorities of the population. The furnace of the French Revolution had branded those ideas upon the consciousness of a generation. The revolution in France was followe by the era of Napoleon Bonaparte, and there was a growing interest in science and the roots of another revolution, the Industrial Revolution.  

In Paris, Simon Bolivar met the great German scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, who knew South America well. Bolivar told him his feelings of the dignity of life in his homeland, and to this von Humboldt replied: "I believe that your country is ripe for emancipation. But who will be the man to undertake so vast an enterprise?" 

Bolivar traveled to Rome in the company of his former tutor Simon Rodriguez. There, one golden afternoon, they climbed to the top of the Aventin Hill, where more than 2000 years before the ancient Romans had been accustomed to reaffirm their right for freedom.

Simon Bolivar gazed long at the monuments and the ruins of classical buildings spread before him. Then, all of a sudden, he turned to Rodriguez and said:"I swear before you, I swear by the God of my fathers, by my fore-fathers themselves, by my honour and my country, that I shall never allow my hands to be idle or my soul to rest until I have broken the shackles which bind us to Spain."

Thus, great decisions are made, and this one was to be the turning point for South American affairs. Sometimes, a person would move to the moment of decision so gradually that at first, there is no sign of change or of the turn in his or her life. But to others, it is a bolt from the blue, a moment of revelation, such as happened to Paul on the Damascus Road. 

Not long after his stay in Rome, upon his return to Caracas, Bolivar met with a group known as the Patriotic Society. They were in disorder and had no idea how to go forward. Bolivar forced the issues, cried out to them: "These doubts are the sad effects of our ancient chains. Chains we no longer need to wear. They say that we should prepare for great projects with calm - are not 300 years of calm sufficient? Without fear, let us lay the cornerstone of South American independence."

Events moved swiftly. Bolivar, Andres Bello and others went to London in search of British help. They also persuaded Francisco de Miranda to return and lead the armies of Liberation. It was his second attempt to break the shackles that bound the southern continent to Spain. 

But the general, who had once commanded an army on the Rhine, was now too old - he could not adapt himself to guerrilla warfare, bungled the campaign and accepted terms from the Spanish. Bolivar arrested him. The rot, however, had set in. 

The revolution was smashed, the leaders arrested. Miranda was sent to Spain in chains. Bolivar escaped to Curaçao and eventually to Haiti, where Toussaint L'Ouverture offered asylum. All his property and estates in Venezuela were confiscated. Notwithstanding, he kept his courage and his flaming faith in the cause of liberation.

When Bolivar returned to Venezuela, the tide was turned from the neighbouring island of Trinidad. From there, a small band of men, remembered as the "Immortal 45", crossed the Gulf of Paria under the command of a young man by the name of Santiago Moreño. They took the coastal towns, drawing thousands to their cause.  

Bolivar's famous Cartagena manifesto demonstrated the importance for all American States to work together for independence. The second phase of the revolution was now underway. Final victory was yet a long way away., however. 

Simon Bolivar kept the course and held before him the lesson "Let no motive therefore make you swerve from your duty, violate your vows or betray your trust." 

 "United we are strong" is a concept as old as humanity. In the history of nations, it manifests itself in the form of federations. Simon Bolivar had a dream of a federation of South American states, with his home country, Venezuela, being part of that. Partly liberator and elected president, partly dictator, Bolivar succeeded in joining Venezuela, Colombia and New Granada into a republic called Colombia. In 1822, Ecuador was joined, and in 1824 Peru. Upper Peru was named Bolivia in his honour, however, the inhabitants of that state were not at all satisfied with Bolivar's consitution and drove out his troops. In 1828, also the republicans in Colombia rebelled against Bolivar's supreme power, and in 1829, Venezuela split from the federation and elected José Antonio Páez as president. A year later, Bolivar died, leaving behind a shattered federation, but a dream of federation very much alive in the former Spanish colonies of South America. 

Páez' power collapsed in the 1840s, when liberal ideas became stronger. From 1846 to 1858, control of the country was in the hands of José Tadeo Monagas and his brother José Gregorio. They were not liberal, and apart from the abolition of slavery in 1854, nothing much was achieved for the people.

After the collapse of the Monagas regime, chaos and turmoil struck Venezuela for twelve years. Páez tried to once more restore order in the early 1860s, but failed. The turmoil ended with Antonio Guzmán Blanco assuming power in 1870 and assuming dictatorial rule until 1888.  

A quantity of Venezuelan families from both Caracas and the coastal towns came to Trinida in the period of the dictators. Others merely renewed older links with the island. French creole families, such as the Ganteaumes and the Pantins, and German creoles such as Wuppermann and Siegert, married into Caracanian families, such as Machado and de Tova. 

Guzmán, like the other dictators, did not achieve any alleviation in the mass poverty of Venezuela. He rebuilt Caracas, but the rural masses remained in their hovels. After his regime ended, the country again fell into chaos, until stability was re-gained at the terrible price of oppression and brutality. Cipriano Castro ruled from 1899 to 1908, followed by Juan Vicente Gómez from 1908 until 1935.

 "Bolivar's dreams of liberty and freedom proved illusory," writes Esmond Wright (ed.) in "History of the World". Dr. Philip Sherlock adds in a lecture on Radio Guardian, 1964: "Bolivar had been successful in the war because he had the support of the great conservative families. They were hostile to Spain. But when Spain was defeated, all hte old vested interests began to assert their power and take charge. It was the old landed estate, the latifundia, against any form of democratic rule. Bolivar dreamed of a great federation of the South American continent, that would be the counterpart of the United States. The nine years between 1821 and 1830 found Bolivar struggling to defeat the parochialism and selfishness of the landed proprietors. The struggle brought frustration and defeat."

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