A distinguished Venezuelan historian, who prepared “Simón Bolívar, el Culto Heroico y la Nación” for the HAHR memorial edition (1983), brings together in this convenient paperback seven of his presentations, written for the bicentennial of the Liberator’s birth in 1983. Two were delivered in Germany, two in Caracas, one in Paris, another in Mexico, and one is the HAHR essay. Tightly organized, selectively documented, and profusely footnoted, these pieces of synthesis should prove most attractive to experts of the late colonial era, the wars of independence, and the establishment of nationhood. They provide a masterly and objective analysis—with only a slight Marxist slant—of the fierce clash between states’ rights and centralism (chapter 1), the colonial elite’s role in the “revolution” (chapter 2), the “structure of internal power” vis-à-vis the “national project” (chapter 3), and the regional question in Venezuelan politics during the second half of the nineteenth century (chapter 5).
Bolívar’s role was paramount in this crucial period of nation making (chapters 4, 6, and 7). A sensitive admirer of the Liberator, Carrera Damas nonetheless recognizes that Bolívar was a prominent member of the colonial elite, sharing its antipopular views and its overriding ambition to control society—el poder social of the book’s title. Wherever possible, Bolívar is presented in the best light: his contribution to international anticolonialism, the abolition of slavery, and so on. A strong point throughout the volume is the author’s longstanding concern with Venezuelan nationalism. He published El culto a Bolívar, for example, in 1973, describing an almost religious and obsessive identification of Venezuelans with their great hero. This fixation has helped to unify and bring out the best in Bolívar’s compatriots; yet, it has also been exploited unabashedly by ambitious dictators throughout Venezuelan history (chapter 6).
This is a provocative compilation by a scholar and teacher who has thought deeply about his country’s problems, the distortions perpetuated by the “national” historiographers, and the future of Bolívar’s universal goals for all of Latin America (chapter 7). It has the usual drawbacks associated with specialized books: its social science vocabulary and excessive methodological display are annoying at times—at least to me; it reflects the classroom teacher’s tendency to overorganize and repeat oneself; and, finally, there are lapses of verbosity that create confusion. From the standpoint of scholarship, however, this is indeed a commendable effort—a model worth emulating.