The Art of Persuasion: Simón Bolívar and Jose de San Martín

As our kids are being homeschooled, we need to continually find subjects for them to write research papers on. A few months ago, we asked them to write dual biographies on the twin liberators of South America, Simón Bolívar and Jose de San Martín. One of the benefits of being parents of homeschoolers is that we learn a lot of from their projects, and sometimes we learn things that really capture our imagination. For example, during the course of the kids’ research they learned of a famous meeting between Bolívar and San Martín in the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil in 1822. The interesting aspect of this meeting between these two obviously strong personalities is that immediately afterwards, San Martín relinquished his power, returned to his native Argentina and then promptly retired in France. Bolivar continued the fight in Peru and later played a large role in the fledgling governments of several of the new South American republics. What went on in this meeting? What did Bolivar say than convinced San Martín to turn his back on a cause so important to him?

My personal memories of Guayaquil were such that I groaned when my wife told me that we’d have to spend the night there prior to our early morning flight to the Galapagos. I remembered a dreary, industrial port city 23 years ago with not much of interest and a somewhat dangerous reputation. Things have changed quite a bit with the construction of the Malecón 2000, a beautiful 2.5 kilometer boardwalk along the Guayas River, with shops, statues, fountains, gardens, restaurants as well as the first IMAX theater in South America. Along that river, we passed La Rotunda, a statue memorializing the meeting between Bolivar and San Martin (see picture).

Bolivar was instrumental in leading the fight for the independence of the present-day countries of Venezuela, Columbia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia and he is revered as a national hero in all of them. San Martín was an Argentine general who led and fought for the successful independence of Argentina, Chile and (partly, with Bolivar) Peru. Both spent time in Europe – Bolívar in Napoleonic France and San Martín in Spain battling Napoleon’s forces – and both understood, first hand, that Spain had her attention elsewhere and was ripe for an insurrection from her South American colonies.

The meeting between the two great leaders, called the Guayaquil Conference, took place on July 26th, 1822 and was an inevitable palaver between Bolívar, fresh from victories in the north and San Martín, victoriously fighting his way up from the south. Beyond the subject matter of the meeting – the future of Peru and of South America – not much is known. What is known is that after the conference, San Martín abdicated his powers in Peru and returned to Argentina. Soon afterward, he left South America entirely and retired in France.

One interesting aspect of the meeting and perhaps an indication of the two men’s personalities occurred at a banquet immediately following their meeting. At the banquet, Bolívar toasted “the two greatest men in South America: the general San Martín and myself,” whereas San Martín drank to “the prompt conclusion of the war, the organization of the different Republics of the continent and the health of the Liberator of Colombia,” referring to Bolívar. Despite Bolivar's apparent lack of humility, he clearly had heightened powers of persuasion.

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