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    Bolívar, Simón, 1783-1830
    The Jamaica Letter : Response from a South American to a Gentleman from This Island / Simón Bolívar
    Book/pamphlet article – Letters
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In this letter, Simón Bolívar considers a number of issues about the wars of independence in Latin America with the purpose of providing information to Henry Cullen, a gentleman settled in the island of Jamaica. Bolívar begins by explaining how the rejection of Spanish rule is justified by the “misbehavior of rulers,” and how the Spanish have in many ways treated Americans as slaves. After considering the specifically brutal form that Spanish colonialism took in the Americas, he switches gears to talk about the present and future situation in America. He continues by describing the many fronts across the large continent on which battles against the Spanish were being waged, including Venezuela, Ecuador (Quito), and Mexico, and by assessing the chances of success in these various regions. For example, Bolivar argues that Mexico is an area where the people will definitely achieve freedom, whereas the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico would undoubtedly remain under Spanish control because they are cut off from independence movements on the continent. He does, though, predict that Spain would eventually be completely defeated because of limited resources and the geographically expansive region of battle. Given the inevitability of Spanish defeat and the benefits other Europeans are likely to enjoy as a result of American countries independence, Bolívar wonders why Europe has not been more active in supporting the cause. While many intellectuals and politicians in Europe have written in support of the cause, he notes none have provided actual aid. Bolívar continues his letter by responding to Cullen’s inquiry about what forms of government have taken and will take hold in America in the wake of these wars of independence. Describing how different forms of republican governments have been established in Venezuela, Chile, and Mexico, among other places, Bolívar ultimately argues that popular forms of government do not seem to function in America because the people have been too long influenced by the negative qualities of Spanish colonization, such as greed and ambition. Instead, he argues that because America is not yet prepared to become a pure centralized republic, it would be best if it divided itself into a series—as many as seventeen—of small paternal republics, each with a congress and constitution, but also with a strong ruler who would probably serve his term for life (a model, he points out, realized currently in Mexico). This is the form of republican government most likely to survive and to provide relative peace, although, Bolívar emphasizes, for many regions in America the process of forming a stable government will be an ongoing process involving future revolutions. Bolívar concludes by emphasizing that the most important criteria for choosing new forms of government for the Americas must be their probability at success; in other words, that Americans must find unity in their common enemy, Spain.  


Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) was among the most important leaders in the struggle for American independence at the turn of the nineteenth century. Born in Caracas (Venezuela), Bolívar was a military and political leader who participated in battles on many fronts in Venezuela, Colombia (that was then called the Vice-Royalty of New Granada), and participated in the formation of the republic of La Gran Colombia in 1821. He wrote this letter to Henry Cullen (an Englishmen living in the Caribbean Sea and an admirer of Bolívar and his cause) in 1815, shortly after fleeing Cartagena due to a dispute with the government there and in the course of seeking sanctuary in Haiti. Bolívar justifies the wars of independence by pointing out at length the inhumanity of Spanish rule in America also describes the progress of battles on numerous fronts across the region, and speculates about what forms of republican government would take hold there. Written to an English speaker, this letter was ostensibly intended as an account of the situation in America for the English-speaking world. Bolívar speaks admirably of his neighbors in the North, and compares the republican forms of government in the United States and Britain with what he envisions should take hold in Latin America (some seventeen separate republics governed by strong central leadership settled in Mexico). Bolívar is clearly thinking of such pressing worldwide issues as slavery (he likens the conditions of colonialism under Spanish rule to slavery), and the commercial interests of Europe in the Americas. Furthermore, he argues that Europe should offer aid to the wars of independence out of self-interest in opening up America to free trade. Bolívar cites a mixture of European and American historical and cultural sources in the course of his arguments, including the French philosopher [Charles de Secondat, baron de] Montesquieu and both the Aztec god Quetzalcóatl and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

María C. Gaztambide; Harper Montgomery, collaborator
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA