Simón Bolívar

Shortly before his death, the man who brought independence to today's Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia uttered the immortal words, 'There have been three great fools in history: Jesus, Don Quixote and I'. By this time he was abandoned and poor. In a twist of irony, he was given shelter by a friendly Spaniard, who also donated one of his own shirts to dress the dead body.

Bolívar, who is regarded as a saint in Venezuela, was influenced by the early 19th-century revolutionary fervour he experienced first-hand in France and America. He was particularly stirred by the works of Voltaire and Rousseau. In Venezuela, he orchestrated the long, bitter war for independence. From 1812 to 1824, battle followed battle, many personally directed by Bolívar. He was a strategic genius, and many of his victories still puzzle war experts.

Bolívar's long-awaited dream was finally realised with the creation of Gran Colombia, the unified, independent state comprising Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. He was elected president;but the task of putting the new-born country on its feet proved to be even more difficult than winning the battles, and political realities caused his glory to slowly fade.

Opposition to Bolívar's mammoth centralised republic led to a short period of dictatorship (1828-30). Chastened by his miraculous escape from an assassination attempt, he resigned the presidency. Ill, depressed and homeless, Bolíva died on 17 December 1830 of pulmonary tuberculosis. Twelve years later, the Venezuelan nation began to realize its debt, bringing Bolívar's remains to Caracas, where they were eventually deposited in the National Pantheon.

Gabriel García Márquez's The General in His Labyrinth describes the final months of Bolívar's life, and is solidly based on fact.

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