Venezuela: Casting Doubt on the Cause of Bolivar's Death

Every December 17th, all the countries that consider Símon Bolívar as its national hero commemorate the anniversary of his death. In Venezuela, people place a flag outside their doors, while Bolivarian groups of intellectuals and academics around the country bring flowers to the statue of the Liberator located in every Bolívar Square. Last December 2007, these commemorations of the anniversary were overshadowed when President Hugo Chávez began to cast doubts on the cause of Bolívar's death, which is believed to have been caused by tuberculosis. However, Chávez claims that it was an act of poisoning and he ordered an investigation on the matter. A year later, bloggers comment on the historical anniversary of Bolívar's death the the changes being seen in the history books.

Felix Tapia writes about how to determine the cause of death [es]:

Nuestra opinión es que la detección del ADN en la osamenta del Libertador, sobretodo si es el del Mycobacterium tuberculosis, podrá confirmar la muerte por tuberculosis. De lo contrario no se podrá confirmar el envenenamiento con este simple examen. Lo único viable sería confirmar trazas del veneno en los huesos, una vez estos sean confirmados como pertenecientes al Libertador, lo cual es bastante difícil pues no hay descendientes directos vivos de Bolívar.

Our opinion is that the detection of DNA in the bones of Bolivar, especially that of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis may confirm the death by tuberculosis. On the other hand, the test of poisoning cannot be proved by this simple test. The only viable thing would be to confirm the traces of the poison in the bones, once these are confirmed to be Bolivar’s, something very difficult since there are no living descendants.

The blog Megaresistencia [es] republishes an article from the newspaper about the case, which resulted in an interesting variety of comments, including some who are embarrassed that this is even a topic of discussion and others intrigued by the mystery of the possibility of an alternate death.

Corocoro Frito writes:

La gente común se pregunta: ¿Cuantos dólares va a costar esta investigación? Cuanto costó?:
.-El cambio de nombre a Venezuela.
.-El cambio de nombre de los ministerios.
.-El cambio de la moneda.
.-El cambio de los timbres fiscales
Cuantos dolares necesitados en los hospitales y escuelas se han gastado encosas no prioritarias?

The common people wonder how much this investigation is going to cost?
How much did the following things cost?
-The country’s name change
-The Ministries’ name change
-The change of the currency
-The change of the stamps
How much money needed in hospitals and schools have been spent on things that are not priorities?

El Blogo [es] created a humorous image (see the image in the post) that brought also a lot of discussion by some who support the decision:

Bolivariano writes:

Más alla de la retorica, creo que el presidente chavez tiene razon en desconfiar de la historia, y en este momento tiene la oportunidad y el poder para emprender una investigacion como esta, que no solo es criminalistica o cientifica, si no que tambien es una evaluacion e investigacion historica que seguramente puede revelar muchos mas detalles de la vida y muerte de el Libertador.

Beyond all the rhetoric, I think that the President is right not to trust history and now he has the opportunity and the power to begin a research like this, that is not only criminalistic or scientific, but also an evaluation and historical research that can surely reveal more details on Bolivar’s life and death.

Amarilis adds:

Si hoy en dia investigan el cómo murieron los egipcios, los noruegos, los dinosaurios, las especies estinguidas, por qué no pueden averiguar cómo murió uno de los hombres más visionarios e importantes de la historia de América.

If nowadays people investigate how did Egyptians died, as well as Norwegians, dinosaurs and extinguished species, why can’t they investigate the real death of one of the most visionary and important men in America’s history?

Andrés of Venezuelan Compass [es] writes about the government's dependence on the Bolivar mystique and why this is so important to them:

Nadie negará a Bolívar en la historia, pero su memoria debe servir como fuente de inspiración, no de oráculo que otorga respuesta a todos los problemas del país.

La Bolívar-dependencia pone de manifiesto los visos militaristas, mesiánicos y de caudillismo que aún hoy asolan nuestra tierra. Ningún hombre tiene el poder de los dioses para saber qué es lo que le conviene siempre, en toda circunstancia (…) Máximo cuando esa divinidad está muerta. Esta es una de las grandes tragedias de nuestra nación.

No one would deny Bolivar's place in history, but his memory should serve as a source of inspiration, not as an oracle that provides an answer to all of the country's problems.

The Bolivar-dependency shows the military and messianic ideas that even today destroys our land. No man has the power of the gods to know what is convenient all the time, in every circumstance… even more when this “divinity” is dead. That is one of the main tragedies of our nation.

Finally, Ana Julia Jatar wants to look foward to the future and writes [es]:

No nos importan los problemas de hace casi 200 años, queremos soluciones a los de hoy.

We don’t care about the problems that took place almost 200 years ago. We want solutions to today’s problems.


  • Hola Laura, Gracias por citarnos. Feliz Navidad y un buen 2009 para ti y los tuyos. Felix

  • Hago eco del agradecimiento hecho por Felix. Gracias por tomarnos como referente en relación con el tema del “bolivarianismo perdido”.

    Cordial abrazo y feliz año.


  • Tahimy Guevara

    Dejando de lado la relevancia histórica que tendría la muerte de Bolívar, tampoco olvidemos que el Sr. Chávez es un hombre bastante caprichoso que en el momento estaba de malas con Colombia. Y que, si bien su propósito era buscar culpables (que él ya había decidido sería la oligarquía colombiana), no se descartaba que lo que realmente buscase fuera material para sus muchas supersticiones.

  • Thanks for this post, Laura.

    There have been periodic accusations since his death that Bolivar was in fact poisoned, so Chavez isn’t a pioneer in that line of thought.

    Could money be better spent in Venezuela? Absolutely. But as an historian I would like to see conclusive evidence og how Bolivar died, but that’s just my curiosity showing itself!

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