Venezuela: importing milk since the XVIIIth Century

Ay negra

One of the new textbooks being distributed in Venezuela’s schools makes the strange claim that Simón Bolívar was nursed … by a Cuban woman.

Now, the story of Bolívar’s early nutrition has always been draped in mythology. As you can imagine, baby formula was not readily available back then, so it was customary for wealthy mothers who were having problems nursing to hand their child over to other women more capable of doing so. The young Bolívar was nursed by one of his parents’ slaves, La Negra Hipólita, a figure that has rightfully taken her place in the pantheon of Venezuelan folklore.

But now, a mysterious Cuban wet nurse has entered the picture, promising to wreak havoc in our collective memory. .

Prominent Venezuelan historian Elías Pino Iturrieta dismisses the claims, saying they have no basis in historical fact. He says the woman in question, Ines Mancebo, has been known for a while, and she even figures in Hipólita’s Wikipedia page as well, but that there is no basis to say she was Cuban.

This may all be just an amusing chavista prank, but Venezuelan intellectual extraordinaire Colette Capriles sees dark intentions in the mystery of the Cuban wet nurse. Her money quote:

“Just like everything that surrounds the abnormality that we have become, mystery, silence, misinformation, and myth-making operations also hound the analysis of the relationship between Venezuela and Cuba, or shall we say, of chavismo with castrismo. These days we have seen a new act of totalitarian re-writing of history when we learn that a textbook for children states that a “Cuban wet nurse,” supposedly “a friend of doña Concepción (Bolívar’s mother, which suggests a woman of means),” fed little Simón Bolívar, thereby displacing Hipólita, the black woman we had always learned about. What makes this position so grotesque is that it shows the lengths they are willing to go in order to build a guttural, intimate reference between the two countries. The metaphor feeds the idea of the nutritional link between Cuba and Venezuela – two nations that did not yet exist at the time. This link would, supposedly, trascend the political, the epochal, and the historical.”

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