Julio Hoenigsberg, one of several modern Colombianists trying to enhance the historical stature of Francisco de Paula Santander, has aptly titled his second study on the Granadino hero of Colombian independence, Santander ante la historia. The Hero is indeed presented before the bar of history; testimony is taken from many historians and contemporaries; unfortunately, the role taken by Hoenigsberg is not that of impartial judge, but that defense attorney. The tone of the volume is set in a lengthy historiographical introduction in which Hoenigsberg professes to see a near conspiracy to neglect Santander’s role in Colombian history.
In four extended chapters Hoenigsberg treats several controversial aspects of Santander’s career up to about 1824 with the intention of vindicating the Hero. The major substantive weakness of the volume is not the thesis that Santander has been underrated and perhaps even maligned, but the author’s willingness to refight old fights and refute old and sometimes outdated allegations against Santander. A more positive approach stressing Santander’s substantial accomplishments could be more persuasive. Even more, what is needed is a good analysis of Santander as a skilled politician, a characteristic which Hoenigsberg recognizes but does not fully develop. Hopefully, the next volume will deal with this and other important topics which are not covered in this first volume. We are promised a discussion of the loan question, but Hoenigsberg should also include a reassessment of the church question and Santander’s generally neglected ‘second administration.’
The author’s rambling style leaves the reader to struggle with repetition at times and with incomplete presentation of ideas at other times. His propensity to go too far into background material sometimes obscures the train of argument and at times even Santander is lost. For example, in refuting the allegation that Santander prevented Francisco Xavier Guerra y Mier from giving an elegy at the anniversary of the death of Nariño, Hoenigsberg spends some fifty pages detailing the tense religious atmosphere, Nariño’s religious life, the conflicts between Guerra y Mier and the Dean of the Cathedral of Santa Fé, Andrés Rosillo y Meruelo, on whom Hoenigsberg places the blame. While all this is important, the role of Santander in the religious controversies of the time, which is also significant, and of which the author could have written with authority, is ignored. Chapters three and four deal with the execution of General José Maria Barreiro which many serious historians no longer condemn as unjustifiable and with Santander’s early years as vice-president under the Cúcuta constitution.
The absence of a bibliography is regrettable and the footnote style may be unclear to the North American reader. The appendix contains a list of Santander’s descendants, his hoja de servicios, the names of the thirty-eight Spaniards killed after the battle of Boyacá, a list of educational institutions founded by the government when Santander was at its head, and some documents relative to the expulsion of Nicolasa Ibañez de Caro in 1829.
In spite of some weaknesses, serious students of Colombian history will recognize Hoenigsberg’s work as a useful contribution to the campaign to place Santander in a more balanced perspective and will look forward to the publication of the second volume.