LETTER FROM JAMAICA , written by Simón Bolívar ( 1783-1830 )
Reply of a South American to a Gentleman of This Island (1)
[ Jamaica ]
(1) Translated by Lewis Bertrand.
The Norton Anthology
World Literature, volume E. 2012 USA.
***With what a feeling of gratitude I read the passage in your letter in which you say to me: "I hope that the success which them followed Spanish arms may now turn in favor of their adversaries, the badly oppressed people of South America." I take this hope as a prediction, if it is justice that determines man´s contests. Success will crown our efforts, because the destiny of America has been irrevocably decided; the tie that bounded her to spain has been severed. Only a concept maintained that tie and kept the parts of that immense monarchy together. That which formerly bound them now divides them. The hatred that the Peninsula has inspired in us is greater than the ocean between us. It would be easier to have the two continents meet than to reconcile the spirits of the two countries. The habit of obedience; a community of interest, of understanding, of religion; mutual good; a tender regard for the birthplace and good name of our forefathers; in short, all that gave rise to our hopes, came to us from Spain. As a result there was born a principle of affinity that seemed eternal, notwithstanding the misbehavior of our rulers which weakend that sympathy, or, rather that bond enforced by domination of their rule. At present the contrary attitude persists: we are threatend with the fear of death, dishonor, and every harm; there is nothing we have not suffered at the hands of that unnatural step-mother---Spain. The veil has been torn asunder. We have already seen the light, and it is not our desire to be thrust back into darkness. The chains have been broken; we have been freed, and now our enemies seek to slave us anew. For this reason America fights desperately, and seldom has desperation failed to achieve victory.
***Because successes have being partial and spasmodic, we must not lose faith. In some regions the Independents triumph, while in others the tyranny have the advantage. What is the end result? Is not the entire New World in motion, armed for defense? We have but to look around us on this hemisphere to witness a simultaneous struggle at every point.
***The war-like state of the La Plata River provinces has purged that territory and led their victorius armies to Upper Peru, arousing Arequipa and worrying the royalists in Lima. Nearly one million inhabitants there now enjoy liberty.
***The territory of Chile, populated by 800,000 souls, is fighting the enemy who is seeking her subjugation; but to no avail, because those who long ago put and end to the conquests of this enemy, the free and indomitable Araucanians, are their neighbors and compatriots. Their sublime example is proof to those fightings in Chile that a people who love independence will eventually achieve it.
***The viceroyalty of Peru, whose population approaches a million and a half inhabitants, without doubt suffers the greatest subjection and is obliged to make the most sacrifices for the royal cause; and, although the thought of cooperating with that part of America may be vain, the fact remains that is is not tranquil, nor is it capable of restraining the torrent that threatens most of its provinces.
***New Granada, which is, so to speak, the heart of America, obeys a general government, save for the territory of Quito which is held only with the greatest difficulty by its enemies, as it is strongly devoted to the country´s cause; and the provinces of Panama and Santa Marta endure, not without suffering, the tyranny of their masters. Two and a half million people inhabit New Granada and are actually defending that territory against the Spanish army under General Morillo, who will probably
suffer defeat at the impregnable fortress of Cartagena. But should he take that city, it will be at the price of heavy casualties, and he will then lack sufficient forces to subdue the unrestrained and brave inhabitants of the interior.
***With respect to heroic and hapless Venezuela, events there have moved so rapidly and the
devastation has been such that it is reduced to frightful desolation and almost absolute indigence, although it was once among the fairest regions that are the pride of America.Its tyrants govern a desert , and they oppress only those unfortunate survivors who, having escaped death, lead a precarious existence. A few women, children, and old men are all the remain. Most of the men have perished rather than be slaves; those who survive continue to fight furiously on the fields and in the inland towns, until they expire or hurl into the sea those who, insatiable in their thirst for blood and crimes, rival those first monsters who wiped out America's primitive race. Nearly a million persons
formerly dwelt in Venezuela, and it is no exaggeration to say that one out of four has succumbed either to the land, sword, hunger, plague, flight, or privation, all consequences of the war, save the earthquake.
*** According to Baron von Humboldt, New Spain, including Guatemala, had 7, 800, 000 inhabitants in 1808. Since that time, the insurrection, which has shaken virtually all of her provinces, has appreciably reduced that apparently correct figure, for over a million men have perished, as you can see in the report of Mr. Walton, who describes faithfully the bloody crimes committed in that abundant kingdom. There the struggle continues by dint of human and every other type of sacrifice, for the Spaniards spare nothing that might enable them to subdue those who have had the misfortune of being born on this soil, which appears to be destined to flow with the blood of its offspring. In spite of everything, the Mexicans will be free. They have embraced the country´s cause, resolved to avenge their forefathers or follow them to the grave. Already the say with Raynal: The time has come at last to repay the Spaniards torture for torture and to drown that race of annihilators in its own blood or in the sea.
***The islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba, with a combined population of perhaps 700,000 to 8000.000 souls, are the most tranquil possesions of the Spaniards, because they are not within the range of contact with the Independents. But are not the people of those islands Americans? Are they not maltreated? Do they not desire a better life?
***This picture represents, on a military map, an area of 2,000 longitudinal and 900 latitudinal leagues at its greatest point, wherein 16,000,000 Americans either defend their rights or suffer repression at the hands of Spain, which, although once the world´s greatest empire, is now too weak, with what little is left her, to rule the new hemisphere or even to maintain herselself in the old. And shall Europe, the civilized, the merchant, the lover of liberty allow an aged serpent, bent only on satisfying its venomous rage, devour the fairest part of our globe? What! Is Europe deaf to the clamor of her own interests? Has she no eyes to see justice? Has she grown so hardened as to become insensible? The more I ponder these questions, the more I am confused. I am led to think that America´s disapperance is desired; but this is impossible because all Europe is not Spain. What madness for our enemy to hope to reconquer America when she has no navy, no funds, al almost no soldiers! Those troops which she has are scarcely adequate to keep her own people in state of forced obedience and to defend herself from her neighbors. On the other hand, can that nation carry on the exclusive commerce of one-half the world when it lacks manufactures, agricultural products, crafts and sciences, and even a policy? Asume that this mad venture were succesful, and further assume that pacification ensued, would not the sons of the Americans of today, together with the sons of the European reconquistadores (reconquerors) twenty years hence, conceive the same patriotic designs that are now being fought for?
***Europe could do Spain a service by dissuading her from her rash obstinacy, thereby at least sparing her the costs she is incurring and the blood she is expending. And if she will fix her attention on her own precints she can build her prosperity and power upon more solid foundations than doubtful conquests, precarious commerce, and forceful exactions from remote and powerful peoples. Europe herself, as a matter of common sense policy, should have prepared and executed the project of American independence, not alone because the world balance of power so necessitated, but also because this is the legitimate and certain means through which Europe can acquire oversees commercial establishments. A Europe which is not moved by the violent passions of vengeance, ambition, and greed, as is Spain, would seem to be entitled , by all the rules of equity, to make clear to Spain where her best interests lie.
***All of the writers who have treated this matter agree on this point. Consequently, we have had reasons to hope that the civilized nations would hasten to our aid in order that we might achieve that which must prove to be advantegous to both hemipheres. How vain has been this hope! Not only the Europeans but even our brothers of the North have been apathetic bystanders in this struggle which, by its very essence, is the most just, and in its consequences the most noble and vital of any which have been raised in ancient or in modern times. Indeed, can the far-reaching effects of freedom for the hemisphere which Colombus discovered ever be calculated?
***It is even more difficult to foresee the future fate of the New World, to set down its political principles, or to prophesy what manner of goverment it will adopt. Every conjecture relative to America's future is, I feel, pure speculation. When mankind was in its infancy, steeped in uncertainty, ignorance, and error, was it possible to foresee what system it would adopt for its preservation? Who could venture to say that a certain nation would be a republic or a monarchy; this nation great, that nation small? To my way of thinking, such is are own situation. We are a young people. We inhabit a world apart, separated by broad seas. We are young in the ways of almost all the arts and sciences, although, in a certain manner, we are old in the ways of civilized society. I look upon the present state of America as similar to that of Rome after its fall. Each part of Rome adopted a political system conforming to its interest and situation or was led by the individual ambitions of certain chiefs, dynas ties, or associations. But this important difference exists: those dispersed parts later re-established their ancient nations, subject to the changes imposed by circumstances or events. But we scarcely retain a vestige of what once was; we are, moreover, neither Indian nor European, but a species midway betwwen the legitimate proprietors of this country and the Spanish usurpers. In short, though Americans by birth we derive our rights from Europe, and we have to assert these rights against the rights of the natives, and at the same time we must defend ourselves against the invaders. This places us in a most extraordinary and involved situation. Notwithstanding that it is a type of divination to predict the result of the political course which America is pursuing. I shall venture some conjectures which, o course, are colored by my enthusiam and dictated by rational desires rather than by reasoned calculations.
***The role of the inhabitants of the American hemisphere has for centuries been purely passive. Politically they were non-existing. We are still in a position lowered than slavery, and therefore is more difficult for us to rise to the enjoyment of freedom. Permit me these transgressions in order to establish the issue. States are slaves because of either the nature or the missuse of their constitutions; a people is therefore enslaved when the government, by its nature or its vices , infringes on and usurps the rights of the citizen or subject. Applying these principles, we find that America was denied not only its freedom but even and active and effective tyranny. Let me explain. Under absolutism there are no reconized limits to the exercise of governmental powers. The will of the great sultan , khan, bey, and other despotic rulers is the supreme law, carried on more or less arbitrarily by the lesser pashas, khans and satraps of Turkey and Persia, who has an organized system of oppression in which inferiors participate according to the authority vested in them. To them is entrusted the administration of civil, military, political, religious, and tax matters. But, after all is said and done, the rulers of Ispahan are Persians; the viziers of the Grand Turk are Turks; and the sultans of Tartary are Tartars. China does not bring its military leaders and scholars fron the land of Genghis Khan, her conqueror, notwithstanding that the Chinese of today are the lineal descendants of those who were reduced to subjection by the ancestors of the present-day Tartars.
***How different is our situation! We have been harrassed by a conduct which has no only deprived us of our rights but has kept us in a sort of permanent infancy with regard to public affairs. If we could at least have managed our domestic affairs and our internal administration, we could have acquianted ourselves with the processes and mechanics of public affairs.We should also have enjoyed a personal consideration, thereby commanding a certain unconscious respect from the people, which is so necessary to preserve amidst revolutions.That is why I say we have been deprived of an active tyranny, since we have not been permitted to exercise its functions.
*** Americans today, and perhaps to a greater extent than ever before, who live within the Spanish system occupy a position in society no better than that of serfs destined for labor, or as best they have no more status than that of mere consumers. Yet even this status is surrounded with galling restrictions, such as being forbidden to grow European crops, or to store products which are royal monopolies, or to establish factories of a type the Peninsula does not posses. To this add the exclusive trading privileges, even in articles of prime necessity, and the barriers between American provinces, designed to prevent all exchange of trade, traffic, and understanding. In short, do you want to know what our future held? ----simply the cultivation of the fields of indigo, grain, coffee, sugar cane, cacao, and cotton; cattle raising on the broad plains; hunting wild game in the jungles: digging in the earth to mine its gold ---but even these limitations could never satisfy the greed of Spain.
***So negative was our existence that I can find nothing comparable in any other civilized society, examine as I may the entire history of time and the politics of all nations. Is it not an outrage and violation of human rights to expect a land so splendidly endowed, so vast, rich, and populous, to remain merely passive?
***Surely unity is what we need to complete our work of regeneration. The division among us, nevertheless, is nothing extraordinary, for it is characteristic of civil wars to form two parties, conservatives and reformers. The formers are commonly the most numerous, because the way of habit induces obedience to established powers; the latters are always fewer in number although more vocal and learned. Thus, the physical mass of the one is counterbalanced by the moral force of the other ; the contest is prolonged, and the results are uncertain . Fortunely, in our case, the mass has follow the learned.
***I shall tell you with what we must provide ourselves in order to expel the Spaniards and to found a free goverment. It is union, obviously; but such union will come about through sensible planning and well-directed actions rather than by divine magic. America stands together because it is abandoned by all other nations. It is isolated in the center of the world. It has no diplomatic relations, nor does it receive any military assistance; instead, America is attacked by Spain, which has more military supplies than any we can possibly acquire through furtive means.
***When success is not assure, when the state is weak, and when results are distantly seen, all men hesitate; opinioon is divided, passions rage, and the enemy fans these passions in order to win an easy victory because of them. As soon as we are strong and under the guidance of a liberal nation which will lend us her protection, we will achieve accord in cultivating the virtues and talents that lead to glory. Then will we march majestically toward that great prosperity for wich South America is destined. Then will those sciences and arts which, born in the East, have enlightend Europe, wing their way to a free Colombia, which will cordially bid them welcome.
*** Such, Sir, are the thoughts and observations that I have the honor to submit to you, so that you may accept or reject them according to their merit. I beg you to understand that I have exponded them because I do not wish to appear discorteous and not because I consider myself competent to enlighten you concerning these matters.
END OF LETTER FROM JAMAICA.
* * *
Simón Bolívar, known as "El Libertador"--- the Liberator (1783-1830) led the movement for Latin American independence from Spain. Born in Venezuela , he took part in a battle that achieved a fragile independence there in 1811 before turning his attention to the rest of New Granada, a huge Spanish colony that comprised what are now Venezuela,Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, as well as the colony of Perú, comprising modern-day Perú, Chile and Bolivia. In 1919 Bolivar´s army beat back Spanish forces, liberating the Republic of Colombia, and he was elected President. Six years later he achieved victory at what was then known as Upper Perú, now name Bolivia in his honor.
***Bolivar was a thinker as well as a fighter. He wrote Bolivia´s constitution and a series of influencial political manifestos. He had read works of French Enlightment philosophers in his youth, including Rousseau and Voltaire, and was inspired by the French Revolution. After a defeat in 1815, Bolivar went into exile in Jamaica to reflect on the ideal course of action. His famous "LETTER FROM JAMAICA", ostensibly written to a single Englishman in Jamaica, was published with the intention of winning Britain over to the side of South American independence. Bolivar lists the crimes of Spain and its tenous hold on the vast territories of Latin America, and he offers a theory of colonial power that is different, he argues, from other kinds of tyranny. He makes the case that Latin American independence will serve the interests of all Europe. And he ends with a call to unity among all Latin American nations, foreseeing a great future for the continent.
Translated by Lewis Bertrand.
Pablo Morillo y Morillo (1775 - 1837), commander of Spanish troops sent to quell revolts in the Latin American colonies.
Alexander von Humboldt ( 1769 - 1859), German explorer who published scientific accounts of Latin American geography. "New Spain" : vast Spanish colony covering territory that today includes California, New Mexico,Texas, most of Central America, the Caribbean, and the Phillipines.
William Walton (1784-1857), British resident of Santo Domingo, now capital of the Dominican Republic, who wrote The Present State of the Spanish Colonies (1810) and An Exposé of the Dissensions of Spanish America (1814).
Guillaume Thomas Raynal (1713-1796), French historian and philosopher who condemned European colonialism.
Reconquerors = reconquistadores.
Genghis Khan: Mongol chieftain (1165-1227), founder of the Mongol Empire in Central Asia, who conquered huge swaths of territory, including present-day China, Korea, Russia, and Afghanistan.
Peninsula: The Iberian Peninsula, comprising Spain and Portugal.
New Granada: Spanish colony fighting for independence in 1815; its territory has sice been divided to become the nations of Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela
Caracas, San Bernardino, 10 de septiembre 2015
The Norton Anthology. World Literature. volume E.
Third Edition, 2012. USA