CR: The New Centennial Review 3.1 (2003) 25-53
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Simón Bolívar's Findings
Johns Hopkins University
SIMÓN BOLÍVAR, THE HEIR TO THE MAYORAZGO 1 DE LA CONCEPCIÓN, WAS BORN in 1783 in Caracas and died at the age of 47 in 1830. Although he died a relatively young man, his body was broken by fever and his spirit destroyed by the chaos that ensued after the wars of independence were won. Gabriel García Márquez's The General in His Labyrinth (1990) is, of course, the most poignant chronicle of the Liberator's last months. But Bolívar's life cannot be reduced to the beautifully melancholy tale of his last journey between Bogotá and Santa Marta. Bolívar's life works are, in fact, full of sunshine, energy, and accomplishments. His legacy in Spanish America can never be underestimated, for many a politician and political thinker, from the Cuban José Martí (1853-1895), to the Uruguayan José Enrique Rodó (1871-1917), the Mexican José de Vasconcelos (1882-1959), and the Peruvian Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre (1895-1979), have been influenced by the Liberator's Pan-American vision. Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, has elaborated an effective, if indeed degraded, Bolivarian political rhetoric that takes advantage of the living power of Bolívar's project.
The one-hundredth anniversary of the Pan-American Exposition in [End Page 25] Buffalo provides us with a productive occasion for a retrospective on the meanings and legacies of Pan-Americanisms across the centuries. A fresh look at Bolívar's struggle and political philosophy will, I believe, prove instructive, not only for a better understanding of the past but especially for a deeper understanding of the United States as it becomes strongly accented by Latin American immigration. It could indeed be illuminative in Walter Benjamin's sense of the term. If we think of "history [as] the subject of a structure whose site is not homogeneous, empty time, but [history, as rather] filled with the presence of the now," 2 then we might be able to better appreciate how Bolívar, thrust into a postcolonial situation without antecedents, maneuvered and created out of whole cloth ideas that wrestled with and addressed the heterogeneity of historical time-space, ideas that marked then and still do so today the difference with Europe and the United States, a geo-political problematic still poorly understood. I do not intend here to revisit Bolívar's figure in terms of a "criollo narrative" or pilgrimage, as Benedict Anderson (1991) has recently done. Instead, I would like to situate the Liberator's thought as an expression of a struggle which has not yet abated, as a wrenching and challenging episode in the tradition of subaltern thinking in a colonial situation. The story of how Bolívar came to understand the realities of the Americas' relations with each other and the world teaches us, as Benjamin put it, that "for the tradition of the oppressed . . . the state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule" (Benjamin, 257).
In what follows, I offer a genealogy 3 of Bolívar's thinking on governability in this hemisphere. That genealogy shows that digging in the local Spanish American archive brings forth the crucial link betweeen Bolívar's education, lived experience, and his later finding of a Pan-American union based on a theory of the citizen-subject and his/her relation to the state that entailed a great many crossings of the structures available at the time. His project proved most incompatible with the parallel but not similar developments in the newly independent English colonies. I also show how today's Pan-Americanism required a violent resemantization of Bolívar's concept. The Monroe Doctrine unabashedly represents the discursive and political inversion of Bolívar's concept of America as a geo-cultural space. This move eventually produced the institutionalization of the subordination of Latin [End Page...