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83 four The Liberals’ Revenge, 1831–1835 news of bolívar’s death—on December 17, 1830, at a friend’s house just outside the small Caribbean city of Santa Marta—traveled slowly. It likely did not reach Sáenz in Guaduas until just after the start of the new year, 1831. Sáenz had been waiting for some word of her lover and no doubt had been expecting to hear from friends who had gone to see him. At least one of these was a member of the special government commission that, in early December, had been appointed to visit Bolívar and personally invite him to return to power.1 On January 6, R. S. Illingworth wrote to inform her of the situation. Sure that Sáenz had not yet received the reports that, he said, he and Bolívar’s doctor had sent earlier, he announced the “terrible news . . . that the Liberator is dying!” Bolívar’s friends in Bogotá were still waiting for the news to be confirmed, he stated in his letter, adding, “I hope to God it is mistaken.”2 Around this time, Sáenz also heard from one of Bolívar’s faithful friends, General Luis Perú de Lacroix, in Cartagena. In his December 18 letter to her, de Lacroix eloquently described his most recent visit with Bolívar. He had last seen the Liberator on December 16 and, he reported, had left him “in the arms of death [and] in a peaceful agony . . . that cannot last much longer.” “I am waiting for the fatal news at any moment,” he added. In words heavy with sadness, the Frenchman T4770.indb 83 T4770.indb 83 8/12/08 11:19:21 AM 8/12/08 11:19:21 AM 84 for glory and bolívar then confessed that he already had begun “weeping over the [imminent] death of the Father of the Nation, of the unhappy and great Bolívar, killed by the perversity and ingratitude of those who owed everything to him, [and] who had received everything [thanks to] his generosity.”3 Although Sáenz at first was inclined to receive such reports with skepticism, her skepticism soon faded. On January 10, interim president Rafael Urdaneta formally announced Bolívar’s death in a speech to the public. The bad news was now official; Sáenz could no longer resist or deny it. Urdaneta also declared a monthlong period of official mourning. All church bells in the city were to toll three times a day (morning, noon, and evening) for the next nine days; for the rest of the month, there were to be no public celebrations or other entertainment . On February 10, Bogotá’s residents were to turn out for a special funeral mass in the city’s cathedral.4 Sáenz postponed her plans to return to the capital. She may have done so in part for health reasons; various sources suggest she had begun to suffer from bouts of rheumatism, an illness destined to plague her in later years and whose symptoms must have been soothed by Guaduas’s warm climate. She likely also preferred to postpone facing the painful reminders of her old life with Bolívar. Indeed, she may have wished to mourn her lover’s death in relative privacy— away from the pitying (and, in some cases, perhaps, triumphant) gaze of Bogotá friends and neighbors. She began smoking cigars regularly, a habit that must have tranquilized her and dulled the edges of her grief and sadness.5 Although extant letters and documents are largely silent on the matter, Sáenz no doubt felt her personal loss keenly. One hint of her grief is the story or legend according to which she tried to commit suicide by exposing herself to a poisonous snakebite. The main source of this legend is French scientist Jean-Baptiste Boussingault. After visiting the Libertadora one day during her recovery from the snakebite—which, she told him, had been part of a “scienti fic experiment”—Boussingault speculated that she had been trying to imitate Cleopatra.6 Sáenz’s apparent suicidal tendencies sprang from more than grief over the death of her lover, however. They likely also arose from guilt over having failed to recognize the seriousness of his illness and to accompany him to the bitter end. Sáenz was no doubt devastated by the loss of her hard-won status as his mistress (and as the Libertadora), as well...


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