With great solemnity and in the presence of several cabinet ministers, the tomb of Simon Bolivar (1783–1830), Latin America’s equivalent of George Washington, was opened in Caracas this past week.
“Bolivar is alive. Let us not see him as a dead man and let us not see him as a skeleton. He is like lightning, like a sacred fire,” Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez proclaimed.
The first question to ask is why this zeal for a new forensic investigation? It is a situation akin to President Obama ordering President Lincoln’s remains exhumed to see if he was actually assassinated by John Wilkes Booth or France’s Nicholas Sarkozy opening Napoleon’s tomb to prove the Emperor was poisoned by the English. It is an action that does little to help the Venezuelan people as they battle economic stagnation, mounting insecurity, and loss of liberty.
For Chávez, Bolivar is a secular saint, a living symbol of Latin American nationalism and independence, and the embodiment of anti-Americanism. For the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution or Socialism of the 21st Century, Bolivar is to be revered in the same way Bolshevism’s chief architect Vladimir Lenin was venerated by the Soviets or Castro is exalted by Cuban communists. Chávez’s misuse of Bolivar’s historical personage has been previously documented and his fascination with combative historical myths appears boundless and not entirely rational.
Chávez theorizes Bolivar, died not a result of tuberculosis, but as victim of foul play, perhaps arsenic poisoning. Attention focuses on Bolivar’s chief political rival, Francisco de Paula Santander. But looking at Bolivar’s last days one also discovers that a U.S. naval surgeon George MacNight was among the last physicians to attend the dying Liberator. Others point to a certain Captain Issac Mayo who was believed to have been on secret mission for the U.S. in Colombian waters. Hence the improbable but conspiratorial possibility that Chávez will soon assert President Andrew Jackson and the U.S. are to be implicated in Bolivar’s death.
In his last public message, Bolivar lashed out at his enemies. “My enemies,” he proclaimed, “exploited your credulity and destroyed what is most sacred to me—my reputation and my love of liberty.”
It is the fate of leaders who betray the Liberator’s principles and make an assault on liberty that should most worry Chávez—not some historical whodunit.