July 20: 197 Years of Solitude

· Latin America

July 20, 1810, Colombia opened the gate of a new history: the intention to build their own nation, far from any European control. In 1819, after the first years of what was practically a Republican experiment, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador y Panama had to pass their final exam of their challenge to Spain.
Picture “Casa del Florero” by Vojageur du Mondo. This is the House that was at the center of the events that conducted to the Proclamation of the Independence on 1810.

On August 7, 1819, Bolivar defeated the Royal Armies in their intention to reconquest their former colony. The Battle of Boyaca was one of the most important war events in the history of the South American continent. Thanks to it, the air of a new change was spread throughout the continent making that Spain lost their precious American colonies.

Picture “Bandera colombiana” by elementality.

A new era was established in the lands that were under the Spaniard rule for more than three centuries and that claimed complete freedom. It was the beginning of the formation of new nations in the two continents that were called by Columbus the West Indias when he thought that what he discovered on
October 12, 1492 was India. It marked the end of the European rule over the called continents of freedom and the world America should mean for the years to come freedom and opportunities. But things would not work as the Fathers of the nation were waiting. The dreams of Libertador Simon Bolivar were about to face some unexpected circumstances: 197 Years of Solitude, to compare our history with the 1982 Prize Nobel author’s book.

By Al Rodas | Picture of Bolivar, Santander and other Fathers of the Nation in the Congress of Angosturas (From Commons Wikipedia).

As it is said by the the Venezuelan historian and antropologist Elizabeth Burgos, in Europe Honduras and Venezuela are compared with Zimbabwe to conclude that all our Latin American countries are enclosed in a same categorization of Third World without knowing the specific history of every nation. Burgos continues saying that they [the Europeans] see the undeveloped African countries in the same position of Argentina and Brazil. What many Europeans do not know is that the Latin American nations have a history of national formation as long as their own formation, even if the Old Continent has itself several centuries of their peoples. Most of the Latin American republics were proclaimed many decades before the modern constitution of La Reppublica italiana (March 17, 1861) and the independence of the Hispanic colonies meant a decadence for the Great Spaniard Empire for most part of the 20th Century (the Spaniard economic crisis). If the Spaniards came during the centuries 16th to 18th as conquerors and colonizers, they would return during the first part of the 20th Century as migrants. The Italian writer Giovanni Papini would said about Latin America during the 40´s that it was made with the waste of Europe, and to this respect, Gabriel García Márquez said in his speech in a forum about Latin America in Paris in 1999 that it is in part to our own responsability.

America, Americas and Americans

The Colombian flag in Cartagena de Indias, picture from Commons Wikipedia.

When we study the history of the Americas, it gives the impression that the two continents – North and South America -, are exactly the same thing at least until a certain period of time. For example, the Prehistoric era hide the Americas in the same cloud of mistery and theories that still to be answer like the origin of the peoples, the paths they used to come from the plains of Siberia or the costs of Southeast Asia and even it is not yet answered which Western continent was settled first: South or North America. Archaeologist sites in both continents show that either the North as the South could be the first. Still the discussion that the whole piece of land that extends from the North Pole to the South Pole in the Western Hemisphere is a single or two continets. For example, for Latin America it is a single Continent: America, while for the English-speaking Americans it is two Continents: South and North. Geological researchs for their part give more credibility to the theory of two continents and for this reason many refers to the Whestern Hemisphere as The Americas. Other problems is the name of America, that is a Latin name given in honor of the Italian cartographer Americo Vespuccio, the first to prove that what Columbos discovered was not Asia but a new Continent.

Picture “mundial en vivo italia ukr” by Alvaro Martínez Nieto.

Our indigenous ancestors, either in North or South America and even the most powerful civilization like Mayas, Aztecas and Incas, did not know that they were living in a big Continent, maybe with the exception of those who live in Central America and the islanders of the Caribbean sea that had an idea of the two big bloques at their south and north. For many persons around the world and specially in English, to say American is to refer to the citizens of the United States of America. When Simon Bolivar was speaking or writing to the Americans, undoubtedly he was talking to the mass of the peoples of the Hispanic former colonies. It is like to say that Germany changes its name tomorrow for something like United States of Europe and then, everybody from Germany will be called European but not those who come from the other European countries. A game of words, but it is just exactly what happens in America.

The Battle of Bocayá, pictures from Commons Wikipedia.

Other problem that shows the ignorance of Europeans about Latin America is the use of the term Western. When scholars from Europe – and maybe from USA and Canada – talk about things like Western culture, Western mentality and everything related to the Western World, they do not consider Latin America inside the Western. At the contrary, when Latin American scholars refer to those same concepts, they are including Latin America. In this case, even if Papini called Latin America a waste of Europe, the Latin American scholars are right. The Latin American societies, their politics, economies and even conflicts, belong to that Western World, being it a good or a bad news for anybody. Latin America is not Asia, not Africa and not Oceania, although many elements from those continents are present inside our countries, as they are present in Europe, USA and Canada as well.

Picture of José de San Martín (Commons Wikipedia)

The other fact to underline is the particularity of our nations. Latin America is not a unique culture in the same way Europeans are not all the same. There are many peculiarities that make the distinction among Mexicans and Argentinians the same way there are many differences among Spaniards and Frenchs. Although the Latin American countries share mostly a same history, language and most of them belong to the Hispanic and Portuguese culture, every nation has its own identity and not all the Latin Americans like chilli.

The Fathers of the Nation

To study the Fathers of the Latin American Nations is a good clue to understand the Latin America identity and history. Among them, the great figures are Simon Bolivar and José de San Martín. They would remain throughout the Latin American history as a strong referent to follow or to take distance. They are the synthesis of what is Latin America and only in them we could find the answers to our future, thanks to their humanity, their mistakes and visions, their successes and failures. Their project for the region was one of a great vision and enlighment, thought in the name of freedom, justice and unity. On July 26, 1822, the giants of the 19th´s Americas history met in Guayaquil to discuss the strategies of the liberation of Peru. But history would keep other American secret from scholars: nobody knew what was discussed among Bolivar and San Martín in that secret meeting. After that misterious and fascinanting event, San Martín returned to Argentina and Bolivar finished the campaign of liberation of Alto Peru (Bolivia).

Map of the República de la Gran Colombia (Commons Wikipedia).

The Coat of Arms of the República de la Gran Colombia.

Even if both of them are claimed by Venezuela and Argentina as their home countries, the true is that both are a symbol of unity among Latin America and they considered certainly their country all the land of the people they helped to get rid from slavery in order to build nations not inferior in history and opportunities to the European ones. They freed a land many times bigger than what Napolean conquered and for this reason their importance in the universal history is a golden podium.

That popular proclamation of independence that was cried out in the markets of old Bogotá in 1810 is not ended. It stills going around our countries until the project of the Fathers of the Nations – a title that includes not only Bolivar and San Martin but also many others, the Afro-Americans, the indigenous peoples, the country people -, will be fulfilled. Maybe the title 197 Years of Solitude seems to be gloom and even hopeless, but as Gabriel García Márquez suggested in his speech of Paris, what Papini wanted to say when he said that Latin America is the waste of Europe was to call our attention about being original and believing more in ourselves.


  • PEREIRA, Javier. Elizabeth Burgos, reacción desde Francia. El Nacional.com, Caracas, 16 de julio de 2007.
  • GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ, Gabriel. Ilusiones para el siglo XXI. Fundación para un nuevo periodismo iberoaméricano, Cartagena de Indias.

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