When Bolivarianism Was Cool in the U.S.

Y'know how you can find like a Jefferson García in any given Caracas barrio? 200 years ago, it was the other way around.

Caitlin Fitz has an amazing OpEd yesterday in the L.A. Times about a moment now so distant, it feels impossible:

Almost 200 years ago, as the United States approached its 50th birthday, a new baby name swept the nation. It wasn’t biblical or even Anglophone. It was Bolivar. Hundreds of mothers and fathers, living in Kentucky log cabins or Illinois farmhouses, named their crying, crinkly newborns after Spanish America’s most celebrated revolutionary: Simón Bolívar of Venezuela.

The baby Bolivar boom wasn’t an isolated oddity, either. Other Americans named their new towns, their boats and even their livestock Bolivar, adopting the Spanish-speaking revolutionary as one of their own.

It’s really worth reading the whole thing, including its stirring —for gringo internationalists— centerpoint:

Our early 19th century predecessors saw themselves as political kin of people with clear cultural, linguistic and sometimes racial differences. Turning south of the border, early U.S. patriots adopted internationalism as a credo.


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  1. Perhaps the most interesting cases of the Simon Bolivars in the US are the Simon Bolivar Buckners. The dad, a General in the Confederate Army and later Governor of Kentucky; the son, an Army general and the highest-ranking official killed in World War II.

  2. Nearly four weeks ago, Quico wrote a flippant comment: “To tar Bernie supporters with the ills of the Chavez era is to show the kind of slackjawed rightwing simplemindedness that brought us…well, that brought us candidate Trump.”

    Quico gave neither documentation nor reasoned thinking to support this comment. Apparently all the right people know this, so there is no need to prove it. Quico has given no empirical evidence why this statement is correct. That to me sounds like dogma, using Quico’s own definition of dogma: “A belief is dogma when it’s accepted without question on the basis of authority, rather than empirical evidence.”

    Within several hours I had made well-documented replies to Quico’s comment to show that Bernie Sanders himself, through his half-century-long support of Latin American despots and their policies, had shown why it was not so “simpleminded” to associate Bernie Sanders with Chavismo. Several days ago I made my fourth attempt to get Quico to reply. He still refuses.

    Perhaps as John Updike wrote about the final game of Red Sox great Ted Williams, “Gods do not answer letters.” But that cannot be, as Quico has made numerous comments. Or is it that “Gods” refuse to answer well-reasoned, informed takedowns of their dogma? 🙂

    Quico, you made the comment which I have italicized above . Own up to it.

    • Sigh. The “ills of the Chávez era” are the result of the onslaught against the institutional checks and balances that kept terrible ideas from becoming policy. If 30+ years in office at both the local and national level you can’t point to *any* instance of Bernie Sanders seeking to discredit, dismantle or destroy the institutional apparatus the American republic is built on. To think, on the basis of some broad ideological kinship, that Bernie in the White House might have done anything like the damage Chávez did is to demonstrate you haven’t understood the first thing of what’s happened in Venezuela in 17 years. Duelale. A quien. Le duela.

      • That this was my point has been obvious to anyone paying attention since the original comment was written. That you weren’t paying attention, similarly obvious.

      • Quico, my reply can be put in one sentence: If Bernie Sanders has given vehement and voluminous support for Latin American tyrants and their policies since the 1960s, then why should we expect hims to refrain from tyranny in the US? Or is Bernie Sanders’s position that tyranny is alright for the little brown people, who can’t expect any better, but not for the anointed Gringos? 🙂

        My more detailed reply is that Bernie Sanders’s vehement and voluminous cheerleading for tyrants who do their best to destroy institutional checks and balances, without condemning their disregard for institutional checks and balances, does make me uncomfortable. Apparently it doesn’t make you uncomfortable.

        Bernie Sanders’s decades-long position on Cuba appears to have been, “Yes Cuba is totalitarian [‘not perfect,’ says Bernie], but as Castro is doing great things with health and education- even if one has to resort to deceiving statements and statistics to prove that- there is no need to make an issue of Cuba’s totalitarianism. And that is the Bernie Sanders ‘more intelligent perspective’ on Cuba.”

        As far as I can tell, the most Bernie Sanders has said to distance himself from totalitarianism in Cuba is to state that Cuba is “not perfect.”

        Food lines are a consequence of an overly powerful government which due to a lack of institutional checks and balances has decided to impose price controls. Result: shortages and food lines, in Jaruzelski’s Poland, Sandinista Nicaragua, and in Chavista Venezuela. Bernie Sanders has gone on record to say that he considers food lines a good thing. Food lines prevent the poor from starving, Bernie told us. If Bernie Sanders considered food lines to be a good thing for Sandinista Nicaragua, then why wouldn’t he consider them a good thing for the US, especially since he is concerned about hunger in the US, all in the goal of reducing hunger?

        As Bernie Sanders has been a cheerleader for tyranny in Latin America, I am very uncomfortable having him in charge in the US. Recall his remark:
        “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants when children are hungry in this country,”

        That is the remark of someone just itching to impose controls. Why wouldn’t just one brand of deodorant be OK? A good Socialist brand? 🙂 Bernie Sanders supported food lines and their accompanying price controls with the goal of reducing hunger in Sandinista Nicaragua. Bernie Sanders is uncomfortable with 23 deodorant brands and the free enterprise that entails, as he apparently believes that the free choice that 23 brands of deodorant implies is a cause for hunger in the US. That sounds to me like someone just itching to impose controls. All with good intentions, mind you. 🙂 Paved with good intentions….

        My point of view is that as Bernie Sanders has gone on record as liking tyranny in Latin America-Castro and the Sandinistas– he is probably not all that uncomfortable with tyranny in the US. That is apparently not your point of view.

      • Quico, in support of my point that one cannot separate Bernie Sanders’s positions on tyranny in Latin America with his positions on domestic policy in the US, I present to you Daily Beast: When Bernie Sanders Thought Castro and the Sandinistas Could Teach America a Lesson.

        Quoth Bernie: “Vermont could set an example to the rest of the nation similar to the type of example Nicaragua is setting for the rest of Latin America.”

        According to Bernie, as Latin America should follow Marxist-Leninist wannabe Sandinista Nicaragua, Vermont should set a similar example for the US that Nicaragua was setting for Latin America.

        So much for trying to separate foreign policy Bernie from domestic policy Bernie, as you are trying to do. That is apparently our disagreement.

        Fin del cuento. Thank you for finally responding.

        And no, your point as written in today’s comment was not “obvious” to infer from your “left-right axis…orthogonal authoritarian-constitutionalist axis” comment leading to your “slackjawed” comment.” Not at all.

        But again, thank you for finally responding.

        • I for one appreciated and enjoyed this exchange, and I agreed with Boludo Tejano point. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this debate in CC.

        • I guess when Bernie accepted defeat, endorsed Hillary, quietly sat through her nomination, and committed to join her campaign, his inner Hugo Chavez was having a power nap.

      • The point is that government’s role is to provide a stable environment in which individuals can go about their business (and businesses) in freedom of choice. The creeping socialist thought – on a spectrum from anarchy to communism – is that government should have a major role, if not the ONLY role, in telling people what business (or businesses) to mind, and how.

        All that can be worded a thousand ways. Maybe the best is the spectrum from decentralized control to centralized control.

        Socialism is just short of communism. This Sanders guy’s “ideas” are anti-capitalist, anti-free market, anti-financial markets, and are all rooted in the basic conviction that man is basically an animal which requires government dictation – a dog that needs a muzzle to keep him from destroying himself and others along with him. That’s what the mass murderer Karl Marx “preached” as a religion, and why communists are notorious for trying to eradicate religion (to the point of machine-gunning Buddhist monks), so that they alone can have control over everything a man wants, all the way down to his soul.

        It is an evil, Francisco Toro. An evil. It says so itself. And this Sanders jerk is all-out to destroy the “institutional apparatus” which you yourself have bought into as the sine qua non of the United States. He wants centralized control when what the United States (not “America”) is all about is individual freedom.

        In simplest possible terms, the U.S. is one nation under God – NOT under “the government”. And one of our most precious and most diligently guarded values is freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We do NOT subject ourselves to “Big Brother” – and Trump knows that,

        What was admired about Simon Bolivar (SeeMON BoLEEvar, and not CYman BOlivr) in the U.S. was that he freed individuals from oppression and tyranny. He had the fire of a free soul, and a mind, and a will to fight and lead people to freedom. Un arecho en la direccion correcta.

  3. Port Bolívar, Texas…

    I think the whole Bolívar fad had more to do with centuries long anti-Spanish crown, anti-catholicism sentiments in the UK, than pan-american brotherhood, given as he was (somewhat rightly) seen as the most effective and enduring enemy the Spanish crown had ever faced…

  4. Fun esoteric fact: the local leg of the Pony Express was run by a guy named Bolivar Roberts. There also used to be a statue in the state capitol of Simon Bolivar, but it went away years ago during a renovation (along with other statues of classy folk such as Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson).

    I think much of the disenchantment with LatAm started with the inherent later conflicts the Monroe Doctrine engendered, particularly as the political alignment of the fledgling democracies diverged. Combine wars and quasi-wars with puppet governments and dictators along with an expansionist policy, and it makes it easy to see where the roots of today’s rhetoric starts.

    Dr. Fitz notes the cultural, racial and linguistic differences, and from the primary sources I have seen from the 19th and early 20th centuries, these exacerbated the issue. Made it easier to make people in LatAm from brothers into “others”.

      • Monroe Doctrine predates the Mexican-American war by about 20 years. Various iterations of it over the next 200 years created such pleasantries as Manifest Destiny and the paternalistic tendency of the US to intervene and keep everyone else from doing so, resulting in much antagonism on both sides; one from a false sense of superiority, the other from being on the receiving end of that superiority, and everyone’s favorite: the Banana Wars.

        There’s an interesting prelude to the Mexican-American war involving the Texas Republic (not recognized by Mexico, but relatively independent for 9 years or so), which was subsequently annexed by the U.S. The gringos attempted to purchase disputed territory from Mexico (which nominally was a Republic, but hideously unstable and needed the cash) and when they were rebuffed, they moved troops into the territory.

        The Mexicans responded by attacking the troops and another American fort on the Rio Grande, killing a dozen or so U.S. soldiers. Curiously, this seemed to annoy the U.S. and, well, that minor conflict resulted in Mexico losing quite a bit of its territory as you note (for the bargain Treaty-of-Guadalupe-Hidalgo-price of $15 million). I would point out that large portions of said territory was nominally held by Mexico, but in fact hadn’t seen a Mexican in decades, if not years.

        Of course, this was in the 1840s. Its not like there were any wars for territorial expansion going on anywhere else 150+ years ago, particularly in South America…

        However, going back to the Banana Wars, if you look at the primary source material in the press at the time, especially that of Hearst or Pulitzer (amongst others) there is a decided tendency to cast negative views upon Latin America and its people therein, further highlighting those differences between culture/race/etc (not the least of which is the term Banana Wars coined back in the 80s).

  5. There is a very nice mural at the entrance of the St. Matthew Cathedral, in Washington DC, the site for the Archbishop of Washington. See; http://www.stmatthewscathedral.org/about/tour/baptistry-nave . There are or were 2758 persons named Bolivar in the U.S. and several cities or towns called Bolivar in different states of the U.S. A nice photo of the visit of Gallegos to Bolivar, Mo, with President Truman is at: https://www.trumanlibrary.org/photographs/view.php?id=35452

  6. Anyone who has done a lot of reading on the American Civil War has probably noticed the number of generals who had first or middle names of famous generals and political figures, Bolivar was one of them seen in multiple generals. There were also multiple examples of Leonidas and Napoleon.

  7. There’s a very long tradition of English speakers using last names (surnames) as first names. The practice actually started in the Tudor period! The husband of Lady Jane Grey, the unfortunate “nine-day queen”, was Guildford Dudley.

    In 19th century America, it was very common – Franklin, Jefferson, and Lafayette, for instance. Also Clinton (after two early New York governors).

    Hispanophones never do this, unless borrowing an anglo surname, e,g. baseball players Robinson Cano, and WIlson Ramos. One doesn’t see hispanics with names like Castro Gomez, or Zapata Garcia.

  8. Not commonly known is that Bolivars spanish ancestors did not go by the name of Bolivar , the first Bolivar who came to america landed in Santo Domingo and there dropped his own last name and started using his mothers last name (Bolivar) as his own which use he maintained when he crossed over to Venezuela …..!! .

    My own ancestors on my mothers side used an hyphenated last name when they crossed to Venezuela in the mid XVIII Century , then one of them, a Lawyer who recieved his degree (after having studied canon and roman law in the Real y Pontificia Universidad de Caracas) in 1805 took the side of the Spanish Loyalists for the whole of the war of independence which didnt make him very popular when the war ended , this ( I surmise) led to his sons adopting the second of their fathers hyphenated last names as their last name (strangely enough while their sisters retained the use of the full hyphenated last name). There are a lot of cases were the original last name is modified because of different reasons ….!!

    • For further information on Bolivars family original last name the following is an excerpt from a wikipedia article : ” Parece ser que Bolíbar “el Viejo” pertenecía a los Rementería (de errementari que significa herrero en vasco), una rama segundona de la familia Bolíbar o Bolíbar-Jáuregui (significa palacio de Bolívar), familia noble que tenía su casa-torre solariega en La Puebla de Bolívar. La casa solariega de los Rementería se ubicaba también en la misma localidad. El patronímico de su familia era Ochoa. Por aquel entonces no existían reglas fijas para la configuración y transmisión de los apellidos. El apellido de su familia era Ochoa de la Rementería de Bolíbar-Jáuregui; pero el padre de Simón de Bolíbar el Viejo intercambió Rementería por Bolíbar-Jáuregui, quizás por ser este apellido de mayor prestigio. Simón de Bolíbar el Viejo fue el que simplificó el apellido al quedarse sólo con Bolíbar, prescindiendo del patronímico Ochoa (por aquella época dejaron de utilizarse los patronímicos) y quedándose solamente con el nombre de la localidad de su familia. Una vez establecido en Venezuela, pasó a escribir su nombre con v, dando origen a la saga de los Bolívares americanos.”

  9. That was an interesting read. Which makes me wonder, what would Rudy Giulliani and Fox News think if someone wanted to erect a giant statue of a lady symbolic of European revolution in New York harbour today?

    • That statue is named the Statue of Liberty, last I heard. The cries for suppression of basic freedoms these days, such as speech codes to codify political correctness, are coming nearly all from the left these days. Ditto assaults on peaceful demonstrators.


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