Wednesday, May 6, 2020

My unjust condemnation

‘I was with General Lafayette, invited by him to discuss reconciliation with Bolívar. I explained to him the origin and the development of our enmity, the persecution I suffered, the outrages, and my unjust condemnation; I told him that Bolívar was vindictive and proud, and that in my current disgrace I should not neither abate myself nor humiliate myself, and that with these principles he could use me as much as seem convenient and opportune to him.’ This is from a diary kept by Francisco de Paula Santander, one of the founders of Columbia who died 180 years ago today, after being exiled to Europe. His diaries have only been published in Spanish, but a few extracts in English can be found online in Revista Brasileira de História.

Santander was born in the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Granada, not far from the Venezuelan border, in 1792 to a cocoa farmer and his wife, both descendants of Spanish aristocracy. He studied law, but was attracted by the growing movement for independence. By the age of 18, he had taken up a military career with the federalists. He was promoted rapidly, and was at the front line during several defining battles in the war for independence from the Spanish colonies. He fought under Simón Bolívar for many years, being made a general when only 24. Unhappy with his role, though, he resigned within a few months. In 1821, after the Constitution of Cúcuta (the founding document and constitution for Gran Colombia) was proclaimed, 
Bolívar was elected president, and Santander vice president; Santander, though, was placed in charge of the government while Bolívar headed to Venezuela to propose a wider union of territories.

As acting president, Santander sent trade missions around the world and managed to persuade Great Britain and the US to recognise Gran Colombia as a state. The new nation, though, was in a turbulent economic state, having endured a prolonged state of war. In time, a rift in ideology developed between Santander and Bolívar  especially over their views on the future of Gran Colombia - Santander seeing its future as a separate country, and Bolívar wanting to create a unified South American state. In 1828, Bolívar declared himself dictator and abolished the vice-president position, effectively cutting Santander off from all political power and influence. Just weeks later, Santander was arrested for an assassination attempt on Bolívar. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Bolívar pardoned him, but forced him into exile. Two years later, Gran Colombia was dissolved, and Bolívar died soon after (aged 47).

Santander returned from exile to New Granada in 1832, having learned much from his time in Europe. Under a new constitution, he was selected to be president, a post he then held until 1836. That same year, he married Sixta Pontón, and they had three children. As president, he ordered the execution of several Spanish officers in captivity and reinstated many of the doctrines that had been overturned by Bolívar  More specifically, he advanced public education, and signed a final peace treaty with Spain. He died in 1840, like Bolívar at the aged of 47. Further information is available from Wikipedia, New World Encyclopedia, and Totally History.

During his exile in Europe Santander kept a diary, eight notebooks in all, but these were only revealed for the first time in 1948 by the National Museum of Colombia. The diaries were then published, in 1963, with the sponsorship of the Colombian Banco de la República as Diario del general Francisco de Paula Santander en Europa y los EE. UU., 1829-1932. A review of this, in English, can be read at the Hispanic American Historical Review website.

Subsequently, in 1989, the Biblioteca de la Presidencia de la Republica in Bogotá published a two volume edition: Santander en Europa: Diario de viaje, 1829-1830. There is no English edition of Santander’s diaries. However, in 2013, the periodical, Revista Brasileira de História, published an essay, in English, by Libertad Borges Bittencourt on Santander’s diary: To write, to tell, to keep: the diary of Santander in European exile (1829-1832). And this is freely available online at Scielo. Here are a few extracts as found in Bittencourt’s essay.

‘7 November 1829
‘Today it is one year since Urdaneta [president of Gran Columbia 1830-1831] pronounced my death sentence, violating all the rights and laws of justice.’

6 May 1830
‘I was with General Lafayette, invited by him to discuss reconciliation with Bolívar. I explained to him the origin and the development of our enmity, the persecution I suffered, the outrages, and my unjust condemnation; I told him that Bolívar was vindictive and proud, and that in my current disgrace I should not neither abate myself nor humiliate myself, and that with these principles he could use me as much as seem convenient and opportune to him.’

7 May 1830
‘they were talking with me about the projected reconciliation with Bolívar. I told them decidedly that on my part the reconciliation could be made under the following conditions: 1) that the political regime in Colombia would be republican and partially federative; 2) that General Bolívar, in good faith, would agree to this and govern without privileging any parties and in conformance with the law; 3) that all the outrages and persecutions I suffered would be remedied. On the other hand, I cannot commit myself to anything, because that would mean humiliation and debasement, unworthy of me and prejudicial to the welfare of my homeland.’

26 June 1830
‘There I heard of Bolívar’s new farce in Bogotá in April and read some public documents from Bogotá. In summary there was a movement in Casanare in favor of the Venezuela pronouncement, for which reason the principal neighbors of Popayán sent a petition to Congress, dated 29 March, stating that it was necessary to cede to the nature of things and the impulse of public opinion, forming a confederation to prevent war with Venezuela, which the Granadines did not want to do this because the Venezuelans should not be considered, according to the principles of public law, as factions, since a large dissident part of a state which had the means to support their decisions could not be treated like this. They conclude by asking for the convocation of a Granadine congress and the adoption of a federal regime which is desired on a daily basis by people with an imperious need. Another document signed by General Obando in Bogotá expresses equal feeling and talks of the effervescence in the capital. Based on all of this the provisional government of Bogotá (D. Caycedo, Osorio, Márquez and Herrán), or instigated by Bolívar, who saw that the opinion was decided in favor of the Venezuela pronunciation and the federation, sent a message to the Congress on 15 April inviting it to dissolve and to meet in a new convention in New Granada. This produced a great altercation in Congress when García Del Rio and De Francisco called the provisional government revolutionary and traitors. Nevertheless, the ministers of England, Brazil, and the United States had sent a note to the government, without the interest of intervening in domestic affairs and without being able to appreciate the reasons for the message of the government to Congress, declaring that any secession of Colombian territory would impose on them the duty to withdraw, taking their functions to be finished and that any treaties with Colombia on the part of their respective governments would be considered invalid. This scandalous note produced its effect: the Council declared that it would preserve national integrity and the Council of State proclaimed Bolívar as president, with the debates in the Chamber being suspended. Bolívar returned to his mandate.

27 August 1830
‘To my answer that I was no longer one, because my country was an independent state and called Colombia, they asked me several questions about our army, the way of fighting war, and, particularly about Bolívar; I sought to be moderate about the political conduct of our Liberator and praised his military conduct; the officer answered that irrespective of what I had said there were important men in Colombia who were opposed to the political conduct of Bolívar, which to him seemed doubtful whether or not they were without ambition. My answer was reduced to saying that in effect he had personal enemies and enemies of his political principles, and that time would say with justice which was right. The officer named Sucre as being opposed to Bolívar and, not remembering my name, said these precise words: “There is another general who was president of Colombia when Bolívar was in Peru who they say demonstrated great talent and many services, and who positioned himself completely against the ideas of Bolívar, as he supported the laws of his country.” This praise made me flush, but I did not reveal myself. However, my servant, in a stop to change horses shortly afterwards, revealed who I was, and the officer paid me many flattering compliments.’

16 September 1831
‘I was presented to the king in his palace of Neuilly by Count Saint Maurice; I went with a complete military uniform, and the king, the queen, and Mme. Adelaida, the king’s sister, asked me different question about the geography of Colombia and its political situation. The king told me that we should not fear any attack from Spain, for which it would be necessary to form a government that would inspire confidence in Europe and maintain public order.’

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