Chavez building his agenda around Bolivar

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Nearly 200 years ago Venezuelan patriot Simón Bolívar declared his country a free and sovereign state, and went on to liberate four other South American nations from Spanish colonial rule, envisioning a confederation of Andean republics that would stretch from the isthmus of Panama to the high plateau country of Bolivia. His dream inspired another, decades later, when a young Hugo Chávez, then an Army officer in his late 20s, gathered with some of his military colleagues in the Venezuelan city of Maracay on the anniversary of Bolívar's death and declared, "There is Bolívar in the sky of the Americas, watchful and frowning ... because what he left undone remains undone to this very day."

Chávez has attempted to finish the job ever since. Already "the most influential head of state in Latin America," according to a critical biography by Venezuelan writers Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka, his guiding star has always been Bolívar, who at the apex of his career exerted an influence that went far beyond the borders of his native land. Bolívar, in 1819, merged Venezuela with Colombia and Ecuador to found the Republic of Gran Colombia. He was subsequently appointed chief of state in the newly independent nations of Peru and Bolivia, and believed Venezuela would carry more heft as part of a larger entity than it could ever hope to acquire on its own. "Only a Venezuela united with New Granada [Colombia] could form a nation that would inspire in others the proper consideration due to her," he argued in 1813.

Chávez also renamed his native country—the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela—in one of his first acts after his Inauguration in 1999. And he too has attempted to transform the nation into a powerful regional player that would serve as a counterweight to the hegemony of a foreign power, the United States. His goal, according to a recent government document, is the "consolidation" of a left-wing alliance that encompasses Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia and the strengthening of "alternative movements in Central America and Mexico" to distance them from Yankee "domination."

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