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What does Simón Bolívar’s sword mean for Colombia and how far does the Spanish conflict go there?

The new president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, wanted to make the military sword of the liberator Simón Bolívar one of the central axes of his inauguration. Everything was prepared: a million dollar policy to protect him in case of risks or accidents, the glass casing where he was to travel, the administrative permits and the route he was to take. But on Saturday, a day before the ceremony, former conservative president Ivan Duque warned he would not lend Saber to the act because of alleged security concerns.

Although the sword had never before been used for this type of ceremony, it became a myth associated with the urban guerrilla movement of the April 19 movement, where Petro was a youth fighter in the 1980s. on January 17. In 1974, five men who belonged to a previously unknown group stole a saber from the Quinta de Bolivar Palace Museum in the heart of Bogotá.

A media coup that had been announced for days in secret ads that were published time Bogotá, newspaper with the largest national circulation. No reader could understand what the acronym M-19 meant, nor what the ads were promoting, which read cryptic messages like, “Parasites? The M-19 is coming”, “Disintegration? Memory loss? Wait for M-19”.

The next day, next to the broken glass of the display case, the police found a leaflet in which the fledgling guerrilla claimed responsibility for the attack: “His sword breaks through the museum’s networks and he plunges into the battles of the present. It goes into our hands, into the hands of the people“. It was the official presentation of a secret group composed of educated, middle-class leaders who mixed symbolism and violence to sow terror and anxiety among the urban population (unlike the FARC and ELN, which focus on rural struggles).

The sword, which has a plant decoration and the relief general’s three stars, was stolen for 17 years and 14 days. A month after the robbery, the magazine disappeared alternativeLeftists published a photo with a provocative caption: “Bolivar’s sword has appeared.” It’s in Latin America.” In the photo, you can also see several objects that are still missing from the map of South America: a sword hilt, spurs and a liberator’s rampart.

It is known today that he was hiding in Bogotá for three to four years, until, according to various press reports, he was taken out of the country in 1980 in Havana (Cuba) in the diplomatic bag of his historical ally Fidel Castro. Supporter of Latin American guerrillas.

Doubts about authenticity

In the years that followed, the insurgents’ promise to “liberate the people” not only disappeared, but turned into a project tainted by the victims of terrorism and violence. Convinced that victory was impossible, M-19 signed a peace accord with the liberal Virgilio Barco government in March 1990, and at the end of January of the following year, Saber returned to the Colombian state. Since then, rumors have abounded about its authenticity and serious questions about how it came into the hands of Simón Bolívar (Caracas, 1783 – Santa Marta, 1830).

In recent decades, the piece, first recorded in 1924, has been kept in a security vault at the Banco de la Repubblica. It was later transferred to the dependence of the presidential palace, better known as Casa de Nariño. A chapter that should be the theoretical end of this story.

But there was an uproar last week, with the added gesture of Spain’s King Felipe VI, who, unlike other dignitaries, did not rise to mark the arrival of the sword in the Plaza de Narino.

little impact

In Colombia, this issue has caused almost no response. Margarita Garrido, PhD in History of the University of Oxford, recalls that although symbols change their meaning over time, Bolívar’s sword is closely related to the idea of ​​freedom and the roots of nation-building: “I. I don’t know the rules of protocol and I don’t know what the king’s motivations were, but one might think that for the royal house this all represents a crisis of the monarchy and the collapse of the empire.

His colleague Silvia Bahamon, from the Universidad del Rosario, claims on her Twitter account that she has only “seen one publication about this”. That is why he calls it “absurd” that “the events that happened 200 years ago are being politicized” around the figure of Bolivar in Spain. “I don’t know if the king was distracted or thinking about his shopping list, but it’s still a humiliating gesture with Latin American symbols,” he says.

For fellow historian Jorge Orlando Mello, the attitude of the Spanish monarch is deeply an episode that can fuel emotional reactions. “It is understandable that he did not rise, because that would have been a tribute to the sword that represents the defeat of Spain. But I also think it was a very simple courtesy that I could have done without a problem.”

The rise of the Bolivar myth

All this is happening in a continent that has witnessed in real time the recent mythologizing of the figure of Bolivar. In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro put the adjective “Bolivar” above all else. Various researchers believe that there is a historical and cultural falsification in this: “Chávez, like the M-19 of the time, tried to turn Bolívar into a socialist figure. But you have to do very little research to find an authoritarian, conservative and militaristic character,” says Andrés Dávila, a historian at the National University.

Mel, the author Colombia: A Minimal History, also recalls that “M-19 accepted Bolivar as a hero of the popular revolution in the 70s”. For this reason, he adds, the sword is seen in Colombia as a “representation of rebellion and Latin American unity.” According to him, it is a nuanced question because “Bolivar was actually a hero of independence, but not a popular figure in the broadest sense. He was a military man of noble origin, a supporter of hereditary senate and oligarchic state”.


Petro’s voice was on the verge of cracking as he began his inauguration speech, “This sword is my life. existence And I want him never to be buried again, I want him never to be left behind. I only want him to be in the shell, as his owner, the liberator, said, when there is justice.’ According to Andrés Dávila, the symbolic use of the piece was “well thought out” by the left-wing Historical Pact team. According to him, it was “celebratory, but also innovative. It was respectful of institutions and also inclusive.”

Petro announced this week that the sword of the General of Caracas, the liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, will be displayed in a place visible to visitors to the presidential palace. Another gesture that reflects the will of the former rector of the National University, Medofilo Medina, to make the sword a “symbol of peace”. “This is a reminder to abandon the pursuit of power through armed means, through insurgency.

Historian Margarita Garrido also felt that the message of Petro’s strategists was well articulated in the speech. In the same line, he explains that if the robbery of 1974 led to the formation of a partisan group that at the time protested the alleged fraud of the presidential elections, the presence of the same iron now served to start the period. which is a weapon in the service of the Republic, justice and peace.

“It’s a return to the old ideals,” he concludes, “but with the message that they can be achieved peacefully and through popular elections.”

Source: El Diario





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