Venezuela Honors Lover of its Independence Hero
By Christopher Toothacker
July 5, 2010
By Christopher Toothacker
July 5, 2010
South America's 19th century independence hero Simón Bolívar was reunited Monday with his controversial and audacious lover at a graveside ceremony.
A coffer containing the symbolic remains of Manuela Saenz, an audacious woman credited with helping Bolivar liberate several South American nations from Spain, was moved alongside Bolivar’s tomb in an independence day celebration.
The government of President Hugo Chavez is helping redress Saenz’s reputation, portraying her as one of the continent’s greatest heroines.
Scorned as immoral and adulterous by some, Saenz spent the last years of her life destitute and her contribution to South America’s independence struggle against Spain was largely forgotten after she died during a diphtheria epidemic in 1856. Her body was burned and dumped, along with those of many other victims, in a mass grave in Ecuador.
Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa placed earth gathered from the grave where she was buried next to Bolivar's tomb inside the National Pantheon as supporters of the two Latin American leaders cheered outside.
A path to the building was covered with rose petals and lined with women soldiers dressed in uniforms like one Saenz once wore. State television broadcast spots stating: “Manuela returns to reunite with Bolivar.”
Ramon Torres, Ecuador's ambassador to Venezuela, said the two leftist presidents “paid a historical debt” by placing Saenz's remains in the pantheon.
Saenz was born in 1797 as the daughter of a Spanish aristocrat in Ecuador. She was forced to marry an Englishman whom she left. She distributed propaganda for the independence movement and later became a highly decorated colonel in the rebel army.
Chavez often speaks of an incident in which mutinous officers razed the presidential palace in Bogota, Colombia, one night in 1828, and Saenz helped Bolivar to escape. He also likes to note that Bolivar dubbed his companion “The Liberator of the Liberator.”
Some historians now consider her a pioneer for women's rights. But for decades, many Venezuelans condemned Saenz as an immoral lover. Mention of her deeds was left out of history books. “Conservative history condemned this woman to be forgotten,” Torres said.
Bolivar, who was just 19 when his first and only wife died, had numerous lovers throughout his life. But Saenz accompanied him during his military campaigns across the Andes and lived with him during the last eight years of his life — until his death in 1830.
After he passed away, generals who had conspired against Bolivar barred Saenz from Colombia and her native Ecuador. Destitute, she lived out her days in Peru, writing letters for American whalers who needed help courting Latin American women.
Above: Members of Venezuela's army escort a box containing earth taken from the mass grave where Manuela Saenz, lover of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar, was allegedly buried in 1856, in Caracas, Monday, July 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Fascinating story, don’t you think? And wouldn’t it make for a great film!?
I mean, all the elements are there: action, romance, and a century-old injustice finally put right. Oh, yeah, and I know the perfect person to play Simón Bolívar: the talented and beautiful Gael Garcia Bernal (pictured at right). Most recently he played the work-obsessed boyfriend in Letters to Juliet. He’s probably most famous, however, for playing the young Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries, and for his truly gender-bending role in Bad Education. Actually, if you've seen this particular film you'd know that Bernal could also get away with playing Manuela! Mind you, that probably wouldn't go down too well with certain audiences.
Above: Children dressed as Venezuela’s independence hero Simon Bolivar, center, and his lover Manuela Saenz, right, attend a ceremony to honor Saenz in Caracas, Monday, July 5, 2010. Venezuela celebrated its independence day by commemorating the life of Saenz, who helped Bolivar free several South American nations from Spanish colonial rule, placing her remains alongside the tomb of her former lover inside the National Pantheon. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)