Colombia’s Struggle Against Racial Inequality and the Nation’s Oppression

“El Grito de la Independencia;” the shout of independence. In most Latin American countries, this phrase symbolizes unity and formidability against oppression throughout the people of the nation. In other parts of the world, independence establishes power and presence, most recognizable through the story of the thirteen American colonies rising up and claiming their own independence from England. However, during that same period, revolutions fought against Spain swept Latin America through a series of rebellions inspired by said movement. One man is usually labeled as El Libertador, or the Liberator, because of his involvement in many of the Latin American Revolutions.

Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan-Creole man, helped countries such as Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador achieve independence from the Spanish. His biggest accomplishment was the consolidation of the Gran Colombia in 1819, a state consisting of the previously mentioned countries. Formerly known as the Viceroyalty of New Granada, the Gran Colombia was a new republic that unified the four countries into one centralized state. However, Bolivar was soon seen as a traitor and was exiled from the country. Soon after in 1831, the Gran Colombia dissolved and each country became the republics present today. As much influence as Simon Bolivar had, to what extent was he responsible for the dissolution of the Gran Colombia? During the country’s short run, the government was in political turmoil, with conflicts between centralists and federalists.

Therefore, Simon Bolivar was responsible for the dissolution of the Gran Colombia to a moderate extent because he based political decisions off his beliefs and lost control of Colombia; however, his people also instituted inequality following the creation of the Constitution. Formerly, Simon Bolivar was known for his military prowess and political experience. However, the loss of control in Colombia inadvertently contributed to the dissolution of the country, not because of Bolivar’s intentions, but because of the political turmoil. In 1826, Bolivar and Santander, another Colombian politician, were re-elected as presidents for a second term and set the city of Bogota as the capital of the country.

After this event, Venezuela tried to express their resistance to having a capital so far away from them and rebelled against Bolivar. Ecuador took advantage of the struggle between the two governments and also tried to overthrow the Colombian government. The reason for the people’s rebellion was not so much Bolivar’s fault, but instead the tumult of the citizens. Venezuela’s uprising was independent; although initiated by Bolivar and Santander, they could not control how the Venezuelans took action towards their decision. Venezuela was responsible for how they reacted, but since Bolivar was president, he is usually said to be at fault for what happened. On the other hand, before the civil war uprisings, the political tensions between centralists and federalists came from the fear of turning into the Spanish government. Centralism is a political system where there is only one central government in charge.

Federalism, on the other hand, is a system where there is a central government ruling over smaller independent regions. In his Address at the Congress of Angostura in December of 1819, Bolivar himself expresses the disorder in the country and his disinterest in democracy. He tries to reinforce centralism, and threatens that the country, “will have to reckon with an ungovernable, tumultuous, and anarchic society.” Bolivar tries to offer a solution to the anarchy in the country; however, the people do not listen to him and go their own way. Bolivar also tries to warn his people about the consequences of their rebellion, but he had no way of controlling how his people would react to the events that transpired. Bolivar’s only job was to govern the country and uphold the law, but the political tensions prevented him from enforcing his laws.

Therefore, Simon Bolivar should not be held responsible for losing control of Colombia because the people did not allow him to rule rightfully. Be that as it may, Bolivar’s own beliefs also induced the dissolution of the Gran Colombia, leaving him partially responsible. Bolivar was born during the Enlightenment, a period of intellectual growth from 1650 to 1800 that centered around reason and logic rather than religion and superstition. Because of this, Bolivar grew up with Enlightened ideas around him, inspiring him to fight back against the Spanish. Nevertheless, these ideas were not reflected through Bolivar’s behavior with mestizos—a term used for a person with mixed European and Amerindian race—and native people. Bolivar was more occupied with freeing the Creoles and giving them the power rather than the lower classes.

Bolivar could have chosen to focus on the emancipation of slaves and helping mestizos to achieve the freedom they deserve, yet he was more focused on helping the upper class achieve power. The majority of the population was in the lower classes, still leaving the white Creoles in power. Such event, in turn, also contributed to the uprisings aforementioned since the mestizos would not be content with the Creoles having the only power. Had Bolivar also advocated for the mestizos, they would have respected him even more. Additionally, Bolivar was a strong advocate for centralism. He based the Colombian government off monarchies and republics, trying to create his perfect vision of an autonomous nation. Bolivar held the highest positions in order to keep his vision in check, essentially created a quasi-dictatorial rule.

In order to keep his own ideologies in check, Bolivar made himself a dictator and ruined the trust he had with his politicians and his people. By creating a dictatorship, Bolivar stripped away the promise of liberty offered by the Constitution. His advocacy for centralism ultimately brought Colombia’s dissolution because no one else was as committed as he was. Consequently, Simon Bolivar’s beliefs backfired on him, for he did not execute his plans correctly, harmed the liberty he gave to his people, and contributed to the dissolution of the Gran Colombia. Finally, following the implementation of the Constitution of Cúcuta in 1821, the Gran Colombia faced inequality between its citizens, causing the dissolution of the country. In the Constitution of Cúcuta, Bolívar assures that, “los representantes de Colombia [establecerán] una forma de gobierno que les afiance […] su libertad, seguridad, propiedad, e igualdad.” An approximate translation of this is, “the representatives of Colombia will establish a form of government that will secure freedom, security, property, and equality.” Regardless, until the 1850s, slavery remained legal in Latin America. Laws similar to the Jim Crow laws in the 1960s were enforced and segregation was allowed.

Although explicitly stated, equality and liberty were still not attained in Colombia, seen through the continuation of slavery in Latin America. This inequality caused racial tension between various social groups, which led to the dissolution. However, Bolivar had no say in how the Constitution was written because he had asked Congress to write it, so he did not know that what was being promised was not being fulfilled. Likewise, political inequality was present alongside racial inequality. During the civil war uprisings, Bolivar had to take a dictatorial stance in order to unite the country again. He tried to redirect the power back to him by revising the Constitution; however, the liberals, under the leadership of Santander, prevented Bolivar from making any more decisions and attempted to assassinate him. The liberals took matters into their own hands, to the extent of attempting to assassinate Bolivar.

The inequality between traditionalists and liberals is clear because liberals are now lashing out for not being able to share their opinions due to Bolivar’s advocacy for centralism. Therefore, political inequality caused the dissolution of the Gran Colombia. Some people may argue that Simon Bolivar was completely to blame for the dissolution of the Gran Colombia because of his responsibility as president over his citizens. However, Bolivar only had so much control over his people. The Constitution accentuates that all Colombians have the right to write and state their opinions. The mentioned statement allows the citizens to be able to express their disagreement over certain aspects of the country, meaning that Bolivar allowed such expression. Although Bolivar was the ruler at the time, part of the Constitution allowed freedom of speech, so Bolivar had no say over what his people could do. Therefore, Bolivar was responsible for the dissolution of the Gran Colombia only to a moderate extent. Ultimately, Simon Bolivar’s attempts at creating a utopian type of nation failed due to the uncontrollable inquietude from his people.

The political tension in Colombia affected Bolivar’s control of the country, as well as his own beliefs contradicting him in the Constitution and the racial and political inequality. The dissolution of the Gran Colombia, one of the world’s most powerful nations at the time, created individual republics that are still present today. Its dissolution marked the end of a unified republic, but the start of new autonomous nations.

Under Simon Bolivar, the Gran Colombia both excelled and suffered, and in the end, El Libertador created a political revolution that would influence the history of Latin America forever.

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