ADDRESS BY DR. FIDEL CASTRO RUZ, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF CUBA, UPON PRESENTATION OF THE ORDER OF THE CONGRESS OF ANGOSTURA, AT BOLIVAR SQUARE, BOLIVAR CITY, VENEZUELA.
Honorable Mr. President;
Authorities and citizens of the State of Bolívar;
Beloved Venezuelan people:
I am trying to imagine that man who, on February 15, 1819, just a few meters from this site, 182 years ago, strove to unravel the mysteries of history, in order to undertake the most difficult task ever faced by humankind in its brief and tumultuous history: the laying of stable, efficient and lasting foundations for its own government.
I can imagine him, drawing on his wealth of historical knowledge, evoking Athens and Sparta, Solon and Lycurgus; reflecting on the institutions of ancient Rome, praising its achievements and merits, yet not hesitating to add, almost immediately, "A government whose sole inclination was conquest did not seem destined to consolidate the happiness of its nation"; analyzing the political characteristics of the great colonial powers, such as Great Britain and France; recommending that the best be taken from each historical experience; extolling the virtues of the people of the 13 colonies recently freed from British colonial power, yet shrewdly adding, with enormous foresight, that "...regardless of the effectiveness of this form of government with respect to North America, I must say that it has never for a moment entered my mind to compare the position and character of two states as dissimilar as the English-American and the Spanish-American, that "…it would be most difficult to apply to Spain the English system of political, civil, and religious liberty" but that, "it would be even more difficult to adapt to Venezuela the laws of North America." "It would be a great coincidence," he noted, "if the [laws] of one nation were to conform to another"; that laws "should correspond with a country’s physical characteristics, climate, quality of land, location, size, the way of life of its peoples [...] the religion of its inhabitants, their preferences, their wealth, their number, their commerce, their customs, their manners. Here is the code we should consult," he exclaimed, "not that of Washington!"
The concrete objective of the Angostura Congress was the drafting and proclamation of a new constitution for the Third Republic of Venezuela. Bolívar, however, could not leave aside his belief that a new and decisive stage in world history was emerging at those very moments, a stage in which our hemisphere was destined to play a major role. He spontaneously voiced many of his innermost political thoughts and concerns as an eminent and farsighted statesman. He spoke there the way he always did: like a Latin American patriot. He understood like no one else the possibility and necessity of unity. He had already stated it in the Pamplona Proclamation, on November 12, 1814: "As for us, The Americas is our homeland."
Months later, on September 6, 1815, in his famous Jamaica Letter, he wrote: "More than anyone else I want to see the greatest nation in the world take shape in America, and for its greatness to owe less to its size and wealth that to its freedom and glory. [...] Since it is one in origin, one in language, one in customs and religion...."
The greatness of the Liberator can be measured by the courage, tenacity and boldness with which he strove for this union, at a time when it could take three months for a message to get from Caracas to Lima; he fully comprehended the enormous difficulties involved.
In his speech at the Congress of Angostura, he said: "Upon separation from the Spanish monarchy, The Americas found itself in a situation similar to that of the Roman Empire when its enormous framework fell to pieces in the midst of the ancient world. Each Roman division then formed an independent nation in keeping with its location or interests; but this situation differed from that of the Americas in that those members proceeded to re-establish their former associations. We, on the contrary, do not even retain the vestiges of our original being. We are not Europeans; we are not Indians; we are but a mixed species of aborigines and Spaniards. Americans by birth and Europeans by law, we find ourselves engaged in a dual conflict: we are disputing with the natives for ownership titles while struggling to remain in the country that saw our birth against the opposition of the invaders. Thus, ours is a most extraordinary and complicated case."
At another point in his speech, he bluntly and frankly stated:
"Subject to the three-fold yoke of ignorance, tyranny, and vice, the American people have been unable to acquire knowledge, power, or [civic] virtue. The lessons we received and the models we studied, as pupils of such pernicious teachers, were most destructive. It is with deceit rather than force than we have been subdued; it is rather by vice than by superstition that we have been degraded. Slavery is the daughter of darkness: ignorant people become blind instruments of their own destruction. Ambition and intrigue abuse the credulity and inexperience of men lacking all political, economic, and civic knowledge; they assume pure illusion to be reality."
"There are many systems for managing men, but they all are intended for oppression."
Yet nothing could discourage a man who had made the impossible possible on more than one occasion. He resigned from all of his official posts and took up his sword to pursue his goal. He marched to Apure, crossed the Andes, and crushed the Spanish hold on New Granada at Boyacá. He immediately proposed to the Congress of Angostura, in December of that same year, a constitution for the Republic of Colombia, which included Ecuador that had yet to be freed from Spanish rule. He had the rare privilege of being a man ahead of his times.
Only 10 months had passed since he had delivered his message to the Congress on February 15, 1819.
It should not be forgotten that almost two centuries have passed since Bolívar’s address at Angostura. Unforeseeable events have developed in our hemisphere since then that surely would not have taken place if Bolívar’s dream of unity among the former Ibero-American colonies had become a reality.
In 1829, a year before his death, Bolívar had rightly indicated: "The United States of America […] have apparently been destined by divine intervention to spread misery through the Americas in the name of freedom."
Almost since its inception, the federation formed by the 13 former British colonies set out on an expansionist course that would have drastic consequences for the rest of the peoples of our hemisphere. After they had robbed Native Americans of their lands, killing them by the millions in the process, they continued to advance westwards, trampling rights and stealing vast tracts of territory from Hispanic America. Slavery remained a legal institution almost 100 years after the 1776 Declaration of Independence recognized all men to be free and equal. The United States had not yet become an empire, and was far from constituting the dominant, hegemonic worldwide superpower that it is today. Then, throughout its conception, over the course of more than 180 years following the Congress of Angostura, it directly or indirectly intervened on countless occasions in the fate of the weak and divided nations of our hemisphere and in other parts of the world.
Not a single power had ever been the absolute master of the international financial institutions. None enjoyed the privilege of issuing the world’s reserve currency with no hard cash backing whatsoever; or controlled vast transnational companies whose grasping tentacles suck up the natural resources and cheap labor of our peoples; or held the monopoly on technology, finances and the most destructive and sophisticated weapons. No one could have imagined the U.S. dollar on the verge of becoming the national currency of numerous countries in our region. There was not yet a colossal foreign debt exceeding by far the export revenues of most Latin American countries, nor hemispheric plans for an FTAA that would result in the annexation of Latin America and Caribbean countries to the United States. The environment and natural resources essential for the survival of our species were not endangered. The era of neoliberal globalization would come many, many years after the time of the Congress of Angostura. The world’s population was several hundred million, a far cry from the 6.2 billion human beings who now inhabit the planet Earth, the vast majority of them living in the Third World where the deserts keep expanding, the soils are downgraded, the climate changes and harrowing poverty and disease have become a pervasive scourge.
In our times, humanity is facing problems that transcend the decisive issues put forward by Bolívar as essential for the lives of the peoples of our hemisphere, which unfortunately were not timely resolved, as he had wished. It is our duty to actively seek for solutions to the dramatic problems currently facing the world that put in jeopardy the survival of even the human specie.
Despite the enormous changes experienced in this long and intense historical period, there are truths and principles put forward by Bolívar in Angostura that are as fully relevant as ever.
We must not forget his profound statements, when he said that:
"Men are all born with rights equal to the assets of society.
"Popular education must be the firstborn concern of the paternal love of the Congress. Morals and enlightenment are the pillars of a republic; morals and enlightenment are our primary needs.
"Let us grant our Republic a fourth power [...] Let us establish this Areopagus to ensure the schooling of our children, and the education of the whole nation; to purify what has been corrupted in the Republic; to denounce ingratitude, selfishness, the lack of patriotic love, laziness and negligence in our citizens; to censure corrupt principles and pernicious examples; correcting behavior with moral punishment.
"The appalling and ruthless practice of slavery covered the land of Venezuela with its black cloak, and our sky was filled with tempestuous clouds, which threatened a deluge of fire.
You know that one cannot be a free man and a slave at the same time but in violation of natural laws, political laws and civil laws.
"I beg for the confirmation of the absolute emancipation of slaves, just as I would beg for my life and the life of the Republic.
"Unity, unity, unity, that must be our motto."
There is nothing more moving and powerful than his final words in that speech, a full-length portrait of Bolívar’s thoughts and feelings:
"Traveling into the future, my imagination can visit the coming centuries, and as I watch from there, in awe and amazement, the prosperity, splendor and new life given to this vast region, I feel overwhelmed, and it seems that I see it now at the heart of the universe, spreading along its lengthy coasts, between those two oceans that nature has separated, and that our homeland reunites with long and wide canals."
"I can see it now, passing its precious secrets to the wise men who do not realize that the sum of all enlightenment is far superior to the sum of all the riches that nature has bestowed upon it. I can see it seated on the throne of freedom, holding the scepter of justice, crowned with glory, showing the old world the majesty of the modern world."
Was he a dreamer? Was he a prophet?
We do share his dreams and prophecies.
We Cubans also had a dreamer and a prophet. He was born 24 years after the Congress of Angostura, and lived when the turbulent and brutal empire was already a tangible and dreadful reality, at the end of the century. He was the greatest admirer of the Father of the Venezuelan Nation, and the words he wrote about him will live on forever:
"You cannot speak calmly about someone who never lived that way: You can speak about Bolívar from the top of a mountain or amidst bolts of lightning, or with a handful of free peoples in your fist and the decapitated body of tyranny at your feet!
"There is Bolívar in the sky of the Americas, watchful and frowning, still seated on the rock of creation, with the Inca at his side and the sheaf of flags at his feet; there he is, still wearing his combat boots, because what he left undone has yet to be done today: because Bolívar still has things to do in America!
"Those who have a homeland must honor it and those who do not have a homeland must conquer it: these are the only tributes worthy of Bolívar."
I do not deserve the immense honor of this Order you have presented to me today which I accept only on behalf of the people whose heroic struggle against the powerful empire is proving that it is possible to realize the dreams of Bolívar and Martí.
Nothing can compare with the privilege you have accorded to me to speak to you here today from this sacred place in the history of the Americas.
On behalf of Cuba, I wish to express to you and to all of the Venezuelan people, our imperishable gratitude.