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Issue 17 – Trinity 2023

Arts and Letters

Plow the Sea

Things Are Never So Bad That They Can’t Get Worse: Inside the Collapse of Venezuela

William Neuman
St. Martin’s Press, pp. 352, $26.99


Most Americans in the United States devote very little time thinking about our neighbors in Latin America. That’s a shame: its history reads like an epic, filled with characters and nations attempting to achieve everlasting glory, and, when they dramatically fail, leading to unfortunate consequences for everyone involved. The Venezuelan general Simón Bolívar’s turbulent career is the prototypical example. It looked like a bust when he failed to liberate Venezuela in the 1810s, like a triumph a decade later when he did liberate Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, and then again (in his own view) like a bust in 1830 when he died of tuberculosis in a politically fractured Latin America.

The same year that he died, Bolívar, increasingly disillusioned with his fellow libertadores’ prospects and planning to go into exile, remarked that “all who have served the Revolution have plowed the sea.” Overthrowing the old governments in Latin America was one thing. Building new ones was an entirely different task, and dreams of Hispanic unity quickly devolved into political bickering. In the final days of Bolívar’s life, his unified state, Gran Colombia, strained due to diverging visions. And, shortly after his death, in 1831 it collapsed.

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About the author

Lars Erik Schönander

Lars Erik Schönander is a policy technologist at the Foundation for American Innovation, a tech policy think tank.