Episode 35: Bolivar, Part III

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At the end of the Second Decade, after many tumultuous years of war and revolution, Spain’s colonial empire in the New World began to collapse at a rapid rate. It was due in no small part to Simón Bolívar and his daring military conquests, which were crowned by an audacious and harrowing trek through swamps and mountains which led to the pivotal Battle of Boyaca in 1819. But how did Bolivar, who had suffered at least as many failures and setbacks as he had clear successes, come to this point? His prowess as a commander—questioned by some—was not the whole story. As a political leader fighting for democracy and self-determination, he could never quite conquer his dictatorial tendencies. The result was a successful revolution against Spanish rule, but also an imperfect one.

In the conclusion of the three-part series on Simón Bolivar—and the season finale of Second Decade—Dr. Sean Munger takes you into the forbidding jungles and frozen mountains of South America, onto the battlefields of the wars for independence, and, as much as anyone can, into the head of one of the world’s most famous revolutionaries. In this episode you’ll learn how Bolivar wrote New Granada’s constitution in a small boat, how he used a threat of giving up his power to obtain even more, and why mud, rain, horses and mosquitoes played such an important role in the decisive battle that made modern South America. As an epilogue, you’ll learn about Bolivar’s life post-Second Decade, and why his legacy remains controversial today.

After this episode, Second Decade will be on hiatus for the summer (with the possible exception of one or more “Off Topic” episodes). See you in the fall!

Additional Materials About This Episode

[Above] General José Antonio Páez, the “Centauro de los Llanos” who helped Bolivar achieve victory in the Venezuelan countryside.

[Above] Páez and his Llaneros in action at the Battle of Las Queseras del Medio, April 2, 1819.

[Above] Bolivar and Francisco de Paula Santander at the Congress of Gran Colombia, about 1821. Bolivar shifted frequently from leading campaigns on the battlefield to political business, where he was more or less a dictator of the several countries he controlled.

[Above] A 19th century sketch of Bolivar’s army crossing the Paramo de Pisba, one of the great feats of military prowess of the Second Decade. The pass was over 13,000 feet in altitude, and troops endured it after already suffering terrible privations in the rain-sodden swamps of the lowlands.

[Above] Maneula Sáenz (1797-1856), Bolivar’s final girlfriend. She is credited with saving his life during the assassination attempt of September 25, 1828.

[Above] Bolivar dying. He was only 47 when he perished of tuberculosis in December 1830.

These images are believed to be in the public domain.
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