Updated: Nov 3
Born in 1783 in what is now modern-day Venezuela, Simón Bolívar was a general and politician who won independence for Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama from Spain. Bolívar’s grand ambition was to form a unified republic of these liberated territories, known as Gran Colombia. Unfortunately for Bolívar, the union dissolved after barely a decade. Despite this failure, Bolívar is remembered today as one of Latin American’s greatest statesmen, often referred to by the title El Libertador (“The Liberator”).
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Bolívar wrote the Cartagena Manifesto while in exile in New Granada (modern-day Colombia), following the 1811 Spanish reconquest of the First Venezuelan Republic. The Manifesto tries to explain why the first republic failed. Bolívar assigns much of the blame to the weak Venezuelan republican government led by Francisco de Miranda.
In 1813, Bolívar, charged with defending New Granada from the Spanish, decided to invade Venezuela. His campaign enjoyed great initial success, going so far as to seize Caracas. However, bloody resistance from Spanish Loyalists led to Bolívar’s controversial Decree of War to the Death that authorized the murder of European Spaniards in Venezuela. This decree did not curb resistance to Bolívar, and in 1814 his short-lived Second Venezuelan Republic collapsed.
LETTER FROM JAMAICA
Bolívar fled into exile again after the fall of the Second Venezuelan Republic, this time to the British colony of Jamaica. While there he wrote an 1815 letter addressed to an Englishman named Henry Cullen. The letter lays out a broad vision for post-independence Latin America. Bolívar advocated for constitutional republics with elected presidents for life and based his model of the legislature on that of the British Parliament.
Nothing if not persistent, Bolívar continued his military struggle, and by 1817 he began to enjoy a series of victories. In a series of battles, including Boyaca, Carabobo, and Pichincha Bolívar and his talented generals, most notably Antonio José de Sucre, defeated Spanish colonial forces. In 1824 the liberation was completed at the Battle of Ayacucho, in which Sucre defeated the Spanish in Peru.
GRAN COLOMBIA Bolívar’s political successes could never match his battlefield accomplishments. By 1820 he had liberated the present-day countries of Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama, combining them into the republic of Gran Colombia at the Congress of Angostura. Bolívar was selected as president according to the newly-established republic’s Constitution of Cúcuta. The republic didn’t last long, and figures like Jose Antonio Paez led resistance to Bolívar’s centralized rule. By 1831, the republic was forced to dissolve, barely a year after Bolívar himself died of tuberculosis.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Bolívar’s military genius cannot be overstated. Visit this site to read about his brilliant but incredibly risky 1819 crossing of the Andes to take the Spanish by surprise.
While Simón Bolívar is a mythical figure in Latin America, little is known about the accomplishments of Manuela Sáenz, Bolívar’s lover and fellow revolutionary.
Learn about the history of Venezuela’s national dog and its close connection with Bolívar!
Finally, for an in-depth but engaging history of Bolívar check out:
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