Honoring Simón Bolívar, liberator of South America

The birthday of Simón Bolívar, July 24, is a national holiday in Venezuela. Few men can claim to have founded a country; Simón Bolívar played a role in liberating six from Spanish rule.

Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama all owe their independence to the man known as El Libertador.

Today, Venezuela, the country Bolívar is most closely associated with, is suffering the damage inflicted by the former Maduro regime, which betrayed Bolívar’s legacy.

Elliott Abrams, the U.S. Department of State’s special representative for Venezuela, noted that 40 years ago, “Venezuela was one of only two democracies in Latin America, along with Costa Rica. It was an anchor of stability in what was often a turbulent region. It was not only the birthplace of Bolívar but a beacon of his ideals.”

Born in Caracas, Bolívar was sent to Europe for military studies as a teenager. He returned to Venezuela at age 24. A year later, he launched his first campaign to overthrow Spanish rule in the New World.

Bolívar “really admired the American Revolution, the American will to independence,” Marie Arana, author of Bolívar: American Liberator, told NPR.

Man at microphone with fist raised, with large portrait of elaborately uniformed man behind him (© Ariana Cubillos/AP Images)
Nicolás Maduro speaking in front of a portrait of Simón Bolívar (© Ariana Cubillos/AP Images)

Bolívar proved a great war strategist and tireless campaigner, and in 1819 was elected Venezuela’s president. He fought to free New Granada — modern-day Colombia and Panama — as well as Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, which was named for him.

Of the countries Bolívar had a hand in founding, nations such as Peru and Colombia still strive today to embody his ideals.

“As in the time of Bolívar, Venezuela’s path to democracy is not easy,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said to the people of that country this year on Venezuela’s independence day, “but you inspire the world with the strength of your voices and tremendous courage.”