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Overview: Bolivar and Washington, Contrasts in Style

The life and times of Simon Bolivar have been used as the ideological underpinnings for some Latin American leaders.

This is not the first time that political leaders resurrected characters from the distant past to provide credence to their irrationality. Most people outside of Latin America do not know much about Simon Bolivar. However, he was a complex individual, and interesting to analyze. Indeed, Simon Bolivar makes a sharp contrast with George Washington, his North American revolutionary counterpart.

Both men were members of the colonial aristocracy. Simon Bolivar inherited his wealth, while George Washington married into it. Both men were the military leaders of their revolutionary movements. However, Bolivar was a much more successful general. Despite his great reputation, George Washington never won a major battle. His defense of New York was routed, and the revolutionary army was forced to flee across the Delaware River. Hoping to cut the insurgency in half, the British, under the command of General John Burgoyne, launched an invasion from Canada—marching south with an army of more than 7,000 men. After an arduous trek through the thick swamplands north of the Hudson Valley, the British army was defeated at Saratoga by Generals Horatio Gates and Benjamin Arnold. The unexpected victory allowed the colonists to convince France to enter the fray. Two years later, armed with an army of 5,000 soldiers and the assistance of the French fleet, the Comte de Rochambeau took on General Charles Cornwallis, cornering him in the Virginia peninsula of Yorktown. After a savage siege, the French generaloverran the British defenses, allowing General Washington and the American colonists to make the final charge as a symbolic act of victory. Bolivar, however, was a different story.

Simon Bolivar was an astute military general, able to overcome enormous odds and adversity. It is true that Bolivar confronted a more debilitated adversary. Spain was reeling from years of French occupation and guerrilla warfare. The Spanish garrisons in Latin America were relatively small and not very well supported by the creoles. Just as France played the role of spoiler during the North American war for independence, Britain played a pivotal role in providing arms and ammunition to the Latin American forces. The ranks of the Latin American army were also peppered with British mercenaries who had served in the peninsular campaigns. However, the military leadership still remained in Bolivar’s hands, and his engagements at Carabobo and Boyacá were textbook examples of flanking maneuvers and the skillful use of mounted cavalry. Despite the strong contrasts on the battlefield, the two leaders were even more different politically.

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