Simón Bolívar was born 234 years ago today. This great historical figure was anything but boring. You might remember him from that far off Latin American history class, but there are some surprising facts about “The Liberator” of six countries in Latin America that the textbooks seem to leave out. Or maybe I just don’t remember all the details from my history professor’s lectures in her jarring East Boston accent. Anyway, here are some fun facts about the one and only Simón Bolívar that might come as a surprise.
His Full Name is Long AF
If you’ve ever complained about a hyphenated or long name, think again. Are you ready for this? Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco. Quite a mouthful. And if having Santísima Trinidad in your name doesn’t make you a badass, then I don’t know what does.
The Ladies in His Life Took Center Stage
SSimón Bolívar stayed forever loyal to his esposa. She died when he was only 19 and he kept his promise made as a jovencito to never marry again. Her death is often cited as the driving force that pushed him into politics.
He still had future relationships — most notably with fellow Latin American liberator Manuela Saenz when he was president of Gran Colombia. As First Lady, Saenz didn’t stay on the sidelines— she was a trusted advisor of Bolívar and even thwarted an assassination attempt against him. Saenz became known as the “Libertadora del Libertador.” Sounds like Bolívar knew even back then that the future was female.
The Abolitionist for Afro-Latinos
Bolívar’s parents had both died by the time he nine years old, so he was raised by his family’s slave Hipolita. He called her “the only mother he had ever known,” and she’s believed to be the driving force behind his efforts to eliminate slavery. Unlike his counterparts in North America, he didn’t believe that a country could truly be liberated with an enslaved population. While this attitude was generally unpopular in South America as well, he was a true believer in equality for Afro-Latinos before his time.
Big Battles on the Big Screen
Alberto Arevalo’s 2014 film, The Liberator, is an epic style biopic based on Bolívar’s conquests. It was a favorite from Venezuela to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, but it didn’t end up clinching the nomination. While the film received mixed reviews, it’s special effects of epic proportions made it one of the most expensive films made in Latin America. Arevalo dedicated the film to his father, who taught him tales of Bolívar as a child.
Does Size Matter?
Bolívar liberated the Spanish territories of Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, and Panama. That’s twice the land area conquered by Alexander the Great. Not to mention five more countries than George Washington.
Redefining His Legacy
While controversial, Simón Bolívar’s legacy lives on in politics today—with a presence that is perhaps stronger than ever. Hugo Chavez advocated many of his extreme socialist and dictatorial policies under the guise of what he coined to be the Bolivarian Revolution. Back in 2000, FARC rebels in Colombia formed an extremist left wing party of their own—the Bolivarian Movement. Regardless of the extremist beliefs, the United States can’t say that any kind of similar “Washingtonian” party has resurged from the days of the Founding Fathers. Though maybe that’s a lesson to be learned from our Southern neighbors…