In Venezuela, even legacy of Simon Bolivar is in dispute

World Today

In Venezuela, even legacy of Simon Bolivar is in dispute

Simon Bolivar has a country, a currency, and even a satellite named after him. But in the country where he was born the use of Bolivar’s name is now controversial.

CGTN’s Stephen Gibbs reports from Caracas.

As the independence hero of Venezuela, Simon Bolivar’s memory has long been seen almost everywhere. Nearly every town has a square named after him, and even the country’s now worthless coins have long been called ‘bolivars.’

Over the last 18 years, however, his image has grown even larger. Under Venezuela’s left wing government, Bolivar has gone from being ever present… to nearly omnipresent.

Hugo Chavez called his leftist movement the ‘Bolivarian Revolution.’ In 1999, the country’s official name became the ‘Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The army is called the ‘Bolivarian armed forces.’ It’s constitution… the ‘Bolivarian constitution.’

But why did Chavez choose this man – the son of a rich plantation owner – to be an icon of his socialist movement?

Inés Quintero, director of Venezuela’s National History Academy, believes the answer is simple: Simon Bolivar was a ready-made hero.

“It is much easier to adopt an ideological movement which already exists, to make it a doctrine, than invent a new one,” according to Quintero.

Opposition supporters, however, have long been troubled by Chavismo’s adoption of Bolivar. They argue that if he were alive now, he would be a freedom fighter just as they are.

Quintero though says it’s always a mistake to cast historical figures in the present day.

“There are people with historical importance. That is indisputable,” Quintero says. “But you have to be profoundly careful to make sure that that historic significance is not transferred to a political situation that has nothing to do with the period in which that person lived.”

Nevertheless, the government of current President Nicolas Maduro is convinced that Bolivar would be on its side. When the U.S. recently sanctioned 13 senior officials, the president awarded each of them with a replica of his sword. When the new constituent assembly was inaugurated, his portrait – alongside one of Chavez, of course – was brought along.

It’s easy to think Venezuela’s independence hero would be one thing that’s not controversial. Today, however, everything is in dispute.