Simon Bolivar is often called the “George Washington of South America.” But his influence in the modern world can be seen in Latin American countries that are growing increasingly defiant of the United States. Bolivar is credited with leading several countries to independence two centuries ago, a legacy that continues to define the politics of places like Bolivia and Venezuela. Kojo and biographer Marie Arana discuss what we can learn about the modern world by becoming better acquainted with the history of Bolivar’s time.


  • Marie Arana Author, "Bolivar: American Liberator" (Simon & Schuster, 2013)

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From BOLIVAR: American Liberator by Marie Arana. Copyright © 2013 by Marie Arana. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


  • 13:06:43

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The American Revolution conjures up images of George Washington crossing the Delaware and Paul Revere riding into the night alerting that the British were coming.

  • 13:07:13

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut in many Latin American countries, an overlapping period of history, evokes revolutionary images of a different kind and at the front lines stands Simon Bolivar, the George Washington of Latin America, the man who led half a dozen countries to independence from Spanish rule.

  • 13:07:30

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBolivar may have drawn inspiration from America's founding fathers but he also accomplished many things his U.S. counterparts did not. And to this day Latin American leaders strive to embody both his political ideals and his charisma as the American liberator.

  • 13:07:47

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIToday we're exploring the complex history behind Bolivar's story and what it can teach us about the modern identities of countries throughout the Latin American world. Joining us in studio is Marie Arana. She is the author of "Bolivar: American Liberator." She's a biographer, essayist, novelist and former editor-in-chief of the Book World at The Washington Post.

  • 13:08:11

    MR. KOJO NNAMDICurrently she's a guest columnist for The New York Times, writer-at-large for The Post and senior advisor to the U.S. Librarian of Congress. Marie Arana joins us in studio. Welcome.

  • 13:08:23

    MS. MARIE ARANAThank you so much Kojo. Thank you for having me.

  • 13:08:25

    NNAMDIThank you for joining us. And if you'd like to join the conversation yourself give us a call at 800-433-8850. Are you from or have lived in Latin America? How do you view Bolivar? How do you think it compares to the way Americans view the founding fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? Give us a call 800-433-8850 or send email to

  • 13:08:54

    NNAMDIMarie, Bolivar is both very much the past and present of Latin America and he continues to provide inspiration for leaders across much of that part of the world. Why do you think understanding the history behind Bolivar is so important to understanding the region's modern identity?

  • 13:09:10

    ARANAWell, Simon Bolivar has been for these 230 years, in fact today, Kojo, is his birthday, 230th birthday.

  • 13:09:19

    NNAMDIHappy Birthday, Simon.

  • 13:09:21

    ARANAExactly, it's a very great day to be on talking about him. But he embodies a Latin American identity, I think. When I tried to think of the single person who would tell the most of a story of the history of Latin America, it had to be Simon Bolivar to the amount of territory that he covered, the liberation of a huge, powerful force on the continent, Spain and the whole story of how he brought together the races to win the revolution because it was the only way that he could do it.

  • 13:10:04

    ARANAThe life of Bolivar still speaks today, I think, to Latin Americans in a very immediate way. I think that other leaders don't speak to their nation's contemporary times. In the streets of the United States, nobody goes down the streets shouting the name of Jefferson.

  • 13:10:30

    ARANANobody, there's no Washington party. In England, there is no shouting of the name of Cromwell in the street. But in Venezuela, in Columbia and Ecuador, people are still, particularly in Venezuela, shouting the name of Bolivar, using his name to head, to title their parties and their movements so he is very much a presence still.

  • 13:10:54

    NNAMDIHe is called the George Washington of Latin America. While other people chose George Washington to be our country's first president, Bolivar was self-selected. How else are the two leaders different?

  • 13:11:07

    ARANAWell, they are actually alike in a few ways. They both came from very wealthy families and they both you know lived in the lap of luxury. They both didn't want to rule and turned down the power, you know wanted to. Both expressed a desire to sort of retire into a nice, happy old age and both were forced really to power.

  • 13:11:30

    ARANABut they were very, very different in many, many ways as well. Washington, you can see through his writing was very staid, very stately. There's a very orderly mind at work. Bolivar's writing and Bolivar, what he has left for us to read is incredibly passionate. I think that he singlehandedly changed the Spanish language.

  • 13:12:02

    ARANABefore Bolivar, the language was very ornate very what we call an adorned, kind of Spanish language. The locutions were very complicated and long. And when Bolivar came he turned the language into a fresh, young, vibrant language. You can see it in his letters.

  • 13:12:23

    ARANAAnd it was at that point I think that we can say that he changed the language by the force of his charisma and his abilities as a writer. He is one of the great Latin American writers. I don't think we can say that about George Washington but, and they also differed in the way that they looked of course on slavery which is the crucial part, the center story of Bolivar.

  • 13:12:50

    ARANAGeorge Washington was a slave owner. He, it never occurred to him or perhaps if it did he did not say so, that it was absurd to free the colonies and not free 100 percent of the people. Bolivar did it differently. He had, was persuaded by the Haitian example that he did have to free the slaves in order to proclaim liberty for all. It was simple for him.

  • 13:13:25

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Marie Arana. She is the author of the book "Bolivar: American Liberator." She's a biographer, essayist, novelist and former editor-in-chief of Book World at The Washington Post, currently guest columnist for The New York Times, writer-at-large for The Post and senior advisor to the U.S. Librarian of Congress.

  • 13:13:41

    NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Children in the U.S. grow up hearing stories about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and have the image of him crossing the Delaware ingrained in their minds. You were born in Peru and you've received national acclaim for your memories of a multicultural childhood. How did you hear about Bolivar? It's my understanding that that depends apparently on what country you happen to be in.

  • 13:14:11

    ARANAYes, that's absolutely true. In fact in Peru where I was born and where my family has lived for hundreds of years Bolivar was roundly hated. I mean my father did not admire Bolivar for obvious reasons because when Peru was liberated and it became a republic it became just that, a republic instead of this extraordinary power that it was when it was a colony of Spain.

  • 13:14:34

    ARANAIt was large, influential, and wealthy and it had. Bolivar always said you know Peru is a land of gold and slaves and the Peruvians when independence came, the country shrank, the borders shrank and life changed for the very wealthy and the very powerful of Lima so they've never liked Bolivar very much although it was he who actually executed the liberation of Peru which San Martin could not really complete.

  • 13:15:13

    ARANABut I grew up, you know my forbearers, I had two ancestors who fought in the Battle of Ayacucho and the Battle of Ayacucho was the defining battle that won independence in Peru and once and for all booted the Spanish from the continent and freed all the Spanish colonies.

  • 13:15:36

    ARANAIt was the Waterloo, the Yorktown, the Battle of Ayacucho was really the moment when liberation was complete and one of my ancestors was a Spanish general. He was the first one to be killed at the Battle of Ayacucho and my other ancestor was a rebel general. So, you know the rebel actually very strangely and wonderfully in a way after 17 years after the Battle of Ayacucho married the daughter of the Spanish general who was 17 at the time so she had never even met her father.

  • 13:16:15

    ARANASo I came from a family that really, for whom the Battle of Ayacucho and the story of independence was really a very big deal. So growing up it was always a curiosity for me.

  • 13:16:29

    NNAMDIHow was the Peruvian perception of Bolivar different from other countries?

  • 13:16:33

    ARANAWell, you know in other countries he, there's a different opinion depending on where you are. Venezuela of course adores Bolivar. He is the favorite son. He is the liberator, libertador and Columbia also admires and reveres Bolivar. Ecuador a little bit less so because he was critical of Ecuador and then when the Ecuadorans started reading his writing about them, you know they could see that he was not. He thought they were stubborn. He thought they were very difficult to govern.

  • 13:17:09

    ARANAAnd of course, then Peru, as I say, Peru was shrunk, was made less powerful by Bolivar. Even though he liberated Peru, it never was the same thereafter. And Bolivia, on the other hand, reveres him as well because there is. It is a country that bears his name. It was originally going to be called the Country of Bolivar, the Republic of Bolivar and then it was changed to Bolivia.

  • 13:17:42

    ARANAAnd you know he had carved Bolivia out of the land that used to be Peru so of course they're very grateful for their existence to Bolivar. But there's a different, there's a different opinion of him and different emotions about him wherever you go.

  • 13:18:02

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here is Victor in Vienna, Va. Victor, you're on the air, go ahead, please.

  • 13:18:08

    VICTORHello, you mentioned San Martin by just passing, but the fact that Kojo started that conversation by saying the one man that liberated South America, that's the wrong historical perspective. So maybe you could say a little more about San Martin.

  • 13:18:30

    ARANAI would love to say more about San Martin. San Martin is considered in the country where I was born, in Peru, a real hero. The main square in Lima bears San Martin's statue, not Bolivar's statue. But San Martin of course came and liberated the City of Lima and he could never get the liberation of the rest of Peru done.

  • 13:18:57

    ARANASan Martin was an extraordinary general of tremendous military talent and when he arrived in Lima and his army became an army of occupation he lost shall we say, the rhythm of independence and little by little there were complications. He was also not well. He had a crippling disease of rheumatism, arthritis and there were times when he had to be carried on a litter from one place to another, from one battle to another.

  • 13:19:34

    ARANAAnd San Martin arrived in Lima and it really, it became very difficult because the parties in Lima became very difficult to control. The Spanish hated him because the people of Spanish origin, because all the wealth had stopped because there was. The City of Lima was completely separated from the rest of the country and so all the gold, all the silver, all the copper couldn't get through to the ports and so day by day people were losing money with San Martin being in the city.

  • 13:20:10

    ARANABut he was the one who, without shedding a drop of blood, had liberated the capitol of Lima. He was a tremendous hero for that reason. And because he didn't shed any blood, I think he is greatly loved and greatly revered, and because he stepped aside when he knew that he couldn't get the job done. He met with Bolivar in (word?) in a very famous what they call intravista, interview, with Bolivar. And Bolivar said there's basically -- I mean, what was said was there isn't really room for both of us in Peru.

  • 13:20:45

    ARANAAnd San Martin had the grace and the -- I think the consideration, the sort of political acumen to step aside and let Bolivar come. San Martin left Lima in the middle of the night, rode by horseback to (word?) and slipped out of history, you know, eventually to go into exile in Europe. And Bolivar was allowed at that point to come in and actually finish the job in what was a war of independence all the way down from Venezuela that were absolutely bloody and terrible. But the countries -- or the republics were liberated in a very different way than San Martin wanted.

  • 13:21:31

    NNAMDIVictor, thank you very much for your call. From praise for San Martin to controversy. We got an email from Patrick who says, "It is dishonest to portray Simon Bolivar as a liberator. Simon Bolivar exterminated the indigenous peoples of the Andes Region. The liberator of South American is General Jose de San Martin." But Patrick was not satisfied to just send us an email. He's also on the phone. Patrick, you're now on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:21:56

    PATRICKHi, very quickly just to reiterate what the earlier caller said, that the liberator of South America is General Jose de San Martin. Simon Bolivar's ethics are questionable. He slaughtered a lot of indigenous people in the northern region where he was active.

  • 13:22:14

    NNAMDILet me hear a response to that before you go any farther, Patrick. Here now is Marie Arana.

  • 13:22:20

    ARANAIt really -- thank you, Kojo, for having the telephone contributors because you can see that here's still very much passion about Bolivar. It's really quite extraordinary, quite wonderful for me to engage in it. He did not exterminate the indigenous. He -- his armies were filled with indigenous people, filled with pardos, filled with blacks. He -- in the war there was systematic elimination, extermination of armies in general of battalions. But there was -- that is just simply wrong, I'm sorry to say, that he did not exterminate the indigenous.

  • 13:23:07

    ARANAIn fact, he was very much a part -- what he did do is he said the indigenous, you know, will -- I think the reason why the indigenous don't like Bolivar is because he said there will be no nobility. There will be -- and so he absolutely stopped forever the Inca nobility in Peru. As he said, if there's no nobility for the whites there will be no nobility for the Indians as well. And he is resented very much for that but you can hardly call that extermination.

  • 13:23:41

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll return to this conversation with Marie Arana, author of "Bolivar: American Liberator." We're still taking your calls at 800-433-8850. How do you view Bolivar? You can send us an email to or send us a Tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:25:41

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Marie Arana, author of "Bolivar: American Liberator." She's a biographer, essayist novelist and former editor-in-chief of Book World at the Washington Post. Currently she is a guest columnist for the New York Times, writer at large for the Post and senior advisor to the U.S. Librarian of Congress. We're interested in having you join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Marie, you write few heroes in history have been dealt so much honor, so much power and so much ingratitude. What did Bolivar do to receive such a conflicting reputation?

  • 13:26:16

    ARANAIt's very interesting, Kojo, but when he -- by the time he got to Ceto (sp?) and he was working his way down, he had liberated Colombia first and then Venezuela and then moved to Ecuador. By the time he got to Ceto, I mean, the -- it was a terrible war, as I've said earlier, terrible wars of independence. Whole populations were razed, whole towns were -- disappeared. The expeditionary forces of Spain were pretty much eradicated in the process.

  • 13:26:52

    ARANAThe -- it was a terrible, terrible bloody war. And by the time it got down to Ecuador and to Ceto and started heading down to Bolivar -- I'm sorry, to Peru, Bolivar began to -- interestingly began instead of using the word -- you can see this in his letters -- instead of using the word liberty, liberation he was using the word victory. And there was a change, I think, in the psyche of Bolivar as he went down. He really began to concentrate on victory. And there -- it was a sort of perceptive change.

  • 13:27:28

    ARANAAnd by the time he got to Peru and he was -- he found the Peruvians incredibly difficult -- I can say this as a Peruvian -- very stubborn, and very slippery because the Peruvians would go back and forth from wanting to be liberated to wanting to stay Spanish, back and forth depending on the winds of change. And this really frustrated Bolivar. And he didn't trust Peruvians to the core. I think he was found -- was suspicious of them.

  • 13:28:01

    ARANABut -- so by the time he got to Peru and then to Bolivia and then started his way back up again, with all of this triumph, in spite of all of the triumph, the liberated areas that he left behind were really chaotic. And he had predicted this. He had said, you know, behind me will be chaos because the liberated lands did really not understand how to govern themselves. And he feared that this would be the case.

  • 13:28:34

    ARANAAnd in fact, that was the case. And he began to make a lot of political mistakes. He was not a politician. And he began to give his generals different order. He began to treat them differently. He began to forgive some and not forgive others. He began to say things to one group of people and say another to another. And he was politically not the man that he was as a military man. So little by little I think his generals began to distrust him, began to think that he was too hungry for power.

  • 13:29:13

    ARANAHe was, in a sense, hungry for power and that what he wanted to do was to unite all of those republics and to make one large United States of Latin America, which he thought would be a bulwark against North America -- against the United States of America. And to have it be as powerful a force as could be. They were united by the Spanish language. They were united by the church. They were united by a spirit of liberty. He wanted all of the region to be one.

  • 13:29:45

    ARANAAnd he began to be very passionate about that and it became suspect because the people who wanted Venezuela to be Venezuela and Colombia to be Colombia wanted their own power in their own territories. And they did not really cotton to the sense of a larger America for Latin America. And so his star began to wane at that point. And his generals who were interested in ruling in their little fiefdoms began to, you know, speak openly against him.

  • 13:30:22

    ARANAAnd so he really -- for -- I would say since -- starting in 1926 -- I'm sorry, 1826 to 1830 when he died, the last four years of his life, were really -- ingratitude is the word, that he was railed against. He was not permitted to go back to Venezuela. The Jose Antonio bias forbad him to go back to the land where he was born. And he finally ended his days in (word?) because he was poor. He had given all his money, all his wealth away. And he was on his way to exile when he died, really a very sick man from tuberculosis, a very poor man. And roundly despised by the leaders who had actually been made leaders by him.

  • 13:31:22

    NNAMDIThere are a lot of people who want to join this conversation. If you would like to join it also we still have a couple of lines open at 800-433-8850. But if the lines are full you can shoot us an email to Here is Clayton in Purcellville, Va. Clayton, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:31:40

    CLAYTONHi there, Kojo.

  • 13:31:41

    NNAMDIHi, Clayton.

  • 13:31:41

    CLAYTONI'm a student of history and I was just curious. What aspect, Marie, do you think -- what aspect of Bolivar's character made him the great liberator, the great -- yeah, liberator of South America?

  • 13:31:56

    ARANATo my mind it was his incredible sense of surprise. He had this talent for guerilla warfare, whereas San Martin planned his -- the crossing of the Andes for a couple of years and prepared for it, where Hannibal also, to cross the Alps, prepared for two years to do it. Bolivar just did it. And he didn't announce it. he kept it from his troops for the longest time. And then he simply did it. That sense of surprise, that sense of power rushing upon the enemy, really frightened the Spanish. They weren't quite used to the kind of warfare that Bolivar was delivering, was prosecuting on the battlefields.

  • 13:32:52

    ARANAAnd that was -- his contribution was that determination and that ability to turn on a dime, really, to make decisions. He was excellent at it. He was a great military leader for that reason. He knew he could outwit the enemy and he could outfight the enemy with much fewer forces and with less arms. I mean, the Spaniards were very, very well armed. It was a great war machine that was coming against Bolivar.

  • 13:33:21

    ARANAAnd very often, particularly in the beginning, before the British began to help with arms and munitions, the war was being fought by barefoot soldiers with sticks, you know. It was just this sense of will and the ability to move quickly and outwit that was so great about Bolivar.

  • 13:33:45

    NNAMDIClayton, thank you very much for your call. On now to Jose in Arlington, Va. Jose, your turn.

  • 13:33:53

    JOSEYes. I appreciate the show. This is an amazing opportunity to showcase one of the most impressive men in history. And in particular based on the fact that most Latin American countries were founded on the basis of almost a cash system by the Spanish Empire at the time, made it extremely difficult for Bolivar and any of those generals to rule those countries or those areas in a very uniform manner.

  • 13:34:34

    JOSEAnd Bolivar basically run based on vision. He didn't care how many people he had onboard. He just had a vision of uniting all of these different countries and cultures into a powerful force. And that basically was his driving force. I guess he had run out of health and he ran out of time and energy. But it's an amazing story that should be told more often. Thank you.

  • 13:35:04

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call.

  • 13:35:06

    ARANAThank you.

  • 13:35:07

    NNAMDIBolivar formed his political views based on the teaching of his favorite teacher Rodriguez who was a staunch supporter of enlightenment notions of self determination. Yet Bolivar went on to advocate lifelong terms for president. What was his reasoning?

  • 13:35:23

    ARANAWell, he knew -- just as our caller -- thank you very much for that most recent caller. Very smart nugget of wrap up on Bolivar. But the question of Bolivar's change really was that -- something that he always feared from the beginning which was that, exactly as the caller says, the Spanish had really been such a force for paralysis in South America in many ways. By that I mean, paralysis in that the laws -- the laws of the Indies were very, very strict.

  • 13:36:19

    ARANAAnd, for instance, nobody was allowed to cross borders from colony to colony. Nobody was allowed to till their own land or mind their own shaft of mining. Everything had to be done through the power and the order of the Spanish rule. And so what happened -- and Bolivar felt this very strongly -- was that Latin America had been infantilized by Spain. It had really not learned how to govern itself. It had not -- it had been systematically deprived of education in many ways. You can see in the laws of the Indies that there were very clear ways that education was being denied to the people because it was easier to rule -- to govern the ignorant than the educated.

  • 13:37:17

    ARANAAnd what happened to Bolivar, who was always a man of the enlightenment, was always for the liberty and believed very deeply in the enlightenment notions is that he simply didn't see how government could be done without sort of a long term vision and a long term ability to build the power that one would need to govern with strength. His constitution, which he wrote for Bolivia, included a president for life.

  • 13:37:52

    ARANAHe always said, well you know, if you look at the powers of the president for life, they're not anywhere near the powers of any president in the world. They're quite curtailed powers. But nevertheless, he felt that the continuity would be what was necessary. He very much admired the English system with the continuity of the monarchy, even though he hated and was often accused of wanting a monarchy. He did not want a king. He despised the notion of a monarchy.

  • 13:38:26

    ARANABut he really admired the idea of a government that could last for a long time that would be respected, that would be seen as benevolent, patriarchal, if you will. And that was why he made that change. And he made that change probably right around the time that he got all the way down to (word?) in Bolivia.

  • 13:38:53

    ARANASpeaking of his philosophical and ideological orientation, we have an email from Tom in Baltimore who says, "The late Hugo Chavez used to claim Bolivar was a Socialist. Is there any truth to this assertion?" And here now is David in Bethesda, Md. along the same theme. But, David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:39:12

    DAVIDThank you, Kojo. Yes, specifically if you could tell us a specific example of how you feel that Chavez was faithful to the legacy of Bolivar. And secondly, a specific example or two of areas in which you feel that he was not -- Chavez was not faithful to Bolivar's legacy.

  • 13:39:36

    ARANAThank you for that question, David. It's so interesting to me to see how so many leaders after Bolivar have used his name for very different ends. I mean, Pinochet, who was a very, very conservative leader of Chile, admired Bolivar and claimed that he was a follower of Bolivar's thought. And then you have someone on completely the other side of the spectrum, Hugo Chavez, a socialist, who -- Marxist who renamed Venezuela the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and spoke of Bolivar constantly, revered him, dug up his bones to sort of -- to be able to talk about Bolivar and sort of renew, which happened very often in Venezuela, three times, actually.

  • 13:40:17

    ARANAPaez, Guzman Blanco, than Chavez all dug up Bolivar's bones and sort of to -- what one of Bolivar's generals called to bask in the magic of his prestige. Chavez really, apart from the fact that Bolivar wanted complete liberty and justice for the people of Venezuela without any conditions, and for all races, I think Chavez wanted that too. The beginning of Chavez's rule in Venezuela, I think was very promising in that way.

  • 13:41:21

    ARANAI mean, he really was turning a very oligarchical society upside down. Bolivar in certain ways would have admired that. But, you know, Chavez forgot, I think, that his idol, Marx, had actually been very hard on Bolivar, and Marx wrote a very, very critical essay on Bolivar in which he called him...

  • 13:41:48

    NNAMDIA dastardly, most miserable, and meanest of blackguards.

  • 13:41:51

    ARANAIndeed. Indeed. Those were exactly the words, Kojo. And so hardly could you say that Bolivar had any sort of coloration of Marxist thought. But Chavez was very smart to know that the ideals of Bolivar were something that any really liberal-thinking republic would want. Bolivar always complained that Santander, who was his great friend and vice president, but became his worst enemy always claimed the liberal side and kept accusing Bolivar of being conservative.

  • 13:42:40

    ARANAAnd he said, how did this happen, you know, I have always been liberal. I have always believed in liberty, and somehow I've been cast in this role. The reason why he was cast in that role, of course, is because he very deeply believed in the military as being a very strong and important part of Latin America, and it always has been, and he believed that the church ought to be respected. He was not particularly a faithful man, but he believed that there was a very civilizing force to the church, and that, of course, was considered conservative as well.

  • 13:43:16

    NNAMDIDavid, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take another short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Marie Arana, author of "Bolivar: American Liberator." If you have called, stay on the line, we'll try to get to your calls. You can also send email with your questions or comments to, or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:45:20

    NNAMDIOur guest is Marie Arana, author of "Bolivar: American Liberator." She's a biographer, essayist, novelist, and former editor-in-chief of "Book World" at The Washington Post. Currently she's guest columnist for the New York Times, writer-at-large for the Post and senior advisor to the U.S. Librarian of Congress. About the United States, Bolivar said a democratic system, far from rescuing us can only bring us ruin. How did that apparent contempt for the U.S. compare to the U.S./Latin American relationship today?

  • 13:45:52

    ARANAYou know, Bolivar spent a few months in the United States of America. He was coming back from Europe and he stopped in -- he landed in the Port of Charleston, and he was actually very sick with a bad case of the flu or something like that, and he stayed in Charleston for a while. Kojo, I think, you know, being in Charleston, you could imagine in 1807...

  • 13:46:18

    NNAMDIOh, yeah.

  • 13:46:20're in the Port of Charleston, you are seeing the commerce of slaves at its peak in the United States. Slavery was a huge business. In fact, the historian Gordon Wood, in his wonderful book "Empire of Liberty," says that, you know, in that period of time between 1800 and 1830, the largest GNP of the United States was based on Slavery, on the selling of people, and on what slaves -- the cotton and the -- all the agriculture wealth of the U.S. was based on slavery.

  • 13:47:08

    ARANAAnd you have to wonder, Bolivar looking at this, and he was a very young man at the time. He was -- he had really been shaping his vision for Latin America, and he -- stepping into the United States of America, which is burgeoning with the slave trade, and building, I mean, there was an amazing time of growth in the United States of America. Everything -- there was great construction, great, you know, sort of pressing westward and all of that.

  • 13:47:38

    ARANAAnd he could see a kind of unity at work there that would be impossible for Latin America to achieve in the state that Spain had left it. The enormous cast system in Latin America, the ignorance, you know, the lack of education, the poverty, the alienation of so many of the people. This was going to be an impossible thing for Latin America to get to democracy in the way that the United States of America had, and he, I think, knew from that moment coming back to Caracas after his visit to the United States that that was something that he -- it was just not going to happen.

  • 13:48:27

    NNAMDIHow did his views on slavery and race evolve over the course of the revolution and his time in power, and presumably, how was it affected by that visit to the U.S.?

  • 13:48:37

    ARANAWell, you know, the revolution began in Venezuela and in -- well, everywhere in Latin America. It was being talked about by people who could -- by the rich. In Venezuela it was the mantuanos, the very, very wealthy, the highest cast of Venezuelans, creoles, and Creole in Latin America means people of Spanish background but who were born in Latin America, so are not considered Spanish. That highest Creole class was the class that began the revolution.

  • 13:49:15

    ARANABut after experience with exile, and Bolivar found himself in Haiti, and he found himself a guest of Alexandre Petion who really counseled Bolivar very closely on this, and extracted a promise from him. He said, I will help you, but when you go back you must promise that you will free the slaves in Latin America. And for Bolivar it was an obvious thing because he had realized at that point he either had been -- several attempts to get the revolution going, and there was no way that he would be able to get the revolution going without engaging the blacks and the Pardos and the indigenous.

  • 13:50:01

    ARANAIf he could not bring all of those races together against Spain, he would not be able win independence, and I think Petion was a clarifying force for him because the -- when he went back for the revolution that actually worked at that point in 1816, when he went back, it actually did gel with all the races and he was able to employ the races to his side and won the loyalty of the Mestizos and the Pardos and all the color -- the mix, the great sort of cosmic race that was building in Latin America which was, you know, at that point, had been a cauldron of race mixing for 300 years already. But he was able to employ everybody at that point to his side.

  • 13:51:02

    NNAMDII want to get back to the relationship between Latin America and the U.S. today, because as one born in South America, I know the resentment that occurs any time people in the north refer to themselves as Americans, excluding people from the south. But the only countries that have granted NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum are from that region of the world. And in response to the forced landing in Vienna of Evo Morales' flight home from Russia for fear of Snowden being on board, Bolivia's vice president said Morales was kidnapped by imperialism.

  • 13:51:35

    NNAMDIObviously it was an insult to a democratically elected head of state, but can you talk about what fuels the Latin American apparent empathy for somebody like Edward Snowden?

  • 13:51:46

    ARANAYes, of course. Well, you know, there's a long history, and it goes all the way back to the days of Bolivar of mistrust of the United States' motives. Bolivar actually wrote quite a bit about this, and said that Americans were basically just interested in their own power, you know. The interest that they pretended to have in Latin America was just to extend their power, not really to build, liberate it, and free a continent or hemisphere I should say.

  • 13:52:32

    ARANAAnd so Latin American resentment had very, very deep roots. It goes all the way back 250 years for the feeling that the United States has only been interested in Latin America for commercial reasons. Of course, Latin America has always -- Hugo Chavez made a very big case on this -- has viewed the United States as a bully, as a power that wanted everything its way, and really didn't -- was not willing to negotiate on certain issues.

  • 13:53:12

    ARANAOn the other hand, there was this love/hate thing because of course what Latin Americans have wanted most was a kind of commercial relationship and a successful, economic conviviality with the United States. And so that has -- it has been a very complicated dance. But you're right when you say about America having been stolen as a name, because I remember my grandfather always used to say that, you know, we are American, and how is it that now we have been deprived of that.

  • 13:53:50

    ARANAAnd he would have -- were he alive today, I think he would say it was the greatest case of identity theft that, you know, that Latin Americans were robbed of the nomer of being able to be called Americans.

  • 13:54:03

    NNAMDIThey were. Here's Christina in Rockville, Md. Christina, you're on the air. We're running out of time, so please try to make your question or comment brief.

  • 13:54:14

    CHRISTINAYes. I only wanted to say that being a Bolivian, I have a strong feeling about our libertador because if it wouldn't be for him and for -- and for Sucre -- Antonio Jose de Sucre, another Venezuelan, you know, the Spaniards were very -- were there in our territory to get all the riches, all the silver from the federal (word?) . So it wouldn't have been for their help, it would have taken a lot longer to get independence. So from that point of view, I -- we, in Bolivia, admire the figure of Simon Bolivar as a great warrior, and who gave us our independence.

  • 13:55:01

    NNAMDIThank you very much. At the top of the broadcast, Marie talked about the difference with how he is regarded in Bolivia as opposed to Peru for instance, but we got an email from Jack who says that "It seems that Bolivar combined in one personality, the military strategy of Washington, philosophical insider Jefferson, and the diplomatic touch of a Franklin, Santander and Sucre and others seemed very much distant seconds of the revolutionary generation. Please have your guest speak to this."

  • 13:55:27

    ARANAAbsolutely. The -- Bolivar combined, he was an intellectual at heart. He loved to read. He took books onto the battlefield. He took a printing press onto the battlefield which, you know, the Spaniards laughed at him because they were -- they could see the soldiers struggling across the terrain carrying this cumbersome printing press. But he really believed in the power of the intellect, the power of the word, and he was a -- very much as we've said before, Kojo, a man of the enlightenment.

  • 13:56:06

    ARANABut he -- and he was a wonderful military man. He was very, very talented at that as well. But, you know, he was incapable of going from a war model to a peace model, and Santander, who was the man -- he called him the man of laws, who was very, very good at office business, and at writing the laws and it's -- he was the vice president to Bolivar, and he was, as you say, a real distant second, and Sucre, who was mentioned by the caller from Bolivia, thank you so much for mentioning Sucre who was a great beloved sort of sun figure of Bolivar.

  • 13:56:52

    ARANABut he was assassinated in the course of the last years of Simon Bolivar, who wanted Sucre to take his place, was assassinated. There were many assassination attempts on Bolivar's life as well. But there were jealousies because there was not real sort of gathering, no team of rivals like Lincoln had. Nobody who was Bolivar's equal at the time who could actually collaborate and bring, you know, the -- what Hamilton brought and Jefferson brought and Madison brought, and all of these people brought in the course of the founding of this country. It wasn't the same in Latin America by a stretch.

  • 13:57:41

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Of course, Bolivar wanted a unified South America, a unity that today remains elusive. But if you want to understand the history of all of this, you'll simply have to read, "Bolivar" American Liberator." Marie Arana is the author of the book. She is a biographer, essayist, novelist, and former editor-in-chief of "Book World" at The Washington post. Currently she's a guest columnist for the New York Times, writer-at-large for the Post and senior advisor to the U.S. Librarian of Congress. Marie Arana, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:58:12

    ARANAThank you, Kojo. It was wonderful.

  • 13:58:14

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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