“A sea of blood separated Spanish America from its old and stubborn ruler; To even try to cross its ruffled waves was to risk losing with life the honor, even more precious, for those who rendered a reverent worship to honor and to the country. It is pleasant to repeat it, and to repeat it with satisfaction: the compliments of Spain did not find a place in one of the supporters of that Homeric struggle ”.
So reads a fragment of the first pages of the story of the Battle of Carabobo embodied in the book Heroic Venezuela, by Eduardo Blanco (1839-1912). The text, the pinnacle of Venezuelan romanticism, is intended to be a testimonial document on various episodes of the war of independence. Its historiographical value constitutes a discussion that still raises passions, but its literary value is inexhaustible.
Taking a walk through the photograph that Blanco's pen makes of the deed 60 years after it happened is not to rediscover an episode mentioned a thousand times in the classrooms or coldly remembered on the national radio and television networks. For those who read it for the first time, it is a clean slate. Far from any nationalist cliché, the text permeates with genuine homeland emotion, giving voice to a good handful of generals and six thousand soldiers, who are characters of a pro-independence gospel.
Today, when almost 200 years have passed since the triumph of the Bolivarian troops in Carabobo and 140 since the publication of this book, it is well worth taking a look at the story behind the story, and knowing the particular story of how this writer from Caracas he was able to give an account of the minute by minute of our most illustrious feat.
In the voice of Achilles
Eduardo Blanco was born in Caracas in 1839. He came to the world in the bosom of a family of ancestry, and as expected of someone with his social position, he followed the arms race. In 1859, when he was 20 years old and when the Federal War was in full swing, he was assigned as aide-de-camp to the recently arrived General José Antonio Páez. This appointment would mark his life, his brief military career and his next and fruitful literary career.
Páez had been pardoned from exile after the March Revolution the year before and, in fact, was being summoned to help pacify the country. This llanero, who returned after an absence of almost a decade, returned a living legend.
He had toured North America and Europe, had met Napoleon in Tuileries, had been entertained by Louis of Bavaria and honored by the generals of the United States civil war. Now the country demanded him to speak from you to you to the llaneros raised by Ezequiel Zamora.
And so he did. Páez, assisted by Blanco and others, undertook a plan of rapprochement and negotiation with the insurgent troops of the Long War.
In 1861, Páez agreed to a meeting with the then federal leader, Juan Crisóstomo Falcón, a native of Paraguaná. The meeting takes place on December 12 in the Savannah of Carabobo, where independence had been sealed. The symbolism was obvious.
There the two generals met in an atmosphere of total cordiality and after the usual greetings they retired alone to try to reach agreements in favor of a truce. The dialogue did not have great consequences for the future of the war, but it did for the young Eduardo Blanco, who in a moment of distention witnessed how Páez, making a courtesy to Falcón, made an in situ narration of what he had lived in Carabobo.
Páez was part of the advance column that almost at noon on June 24, 1821 attacked the Spanish troops commanded by La Torre; There he saw many of his most faithful soldiers die, including his beloved Pedro Camejo, who attended in person to say goodbye with a bloody chest. He also bathed in glory.
The story moved Falcón, who in what meant a moment of epiphany for the future writer, approached Blanco to say: "It is the Iliad as told by Achilles himself."
The anecdote - repeated a thousand times and told by Santiago Key-Ayala, Blanco's friend and biographer - marked a commitment: to become Homer to leave the narrated epic in black on white and pass it on to future generations, with the same inspiration from a Greek epic poem. . It would not be Troya, but it would be Carabobo.
Blanco was not satisfied with Páez's narration and neither was he satisfied with this one battle. Shortly after he retired from the barracks and dedicated his next years to researching documents and more living sources of everything that happened in the country during the war of independence and the result was the publication of Heroic Venezuela in 1881.
The first edition, of which two thousand copies were printed, consisted of five “pictures” that narrate the battles of La Victoria, San Mateo, Las Queseras del Medio, Boyacá and Carabobo. A second edition published in 1883 adds six new deeds: Siege of Valencia de Venezuela, Maturín, The invasion of the Six hundred, La Casa Fuerte, San Félix, The battle in Punta Brava, The invasion of Estrella de Mar and Matasiete.
After Heroic VenezuelaBlanco published fiction books, became a respected figure on the Caracas cultural scene and also tried his hand at politics by assuming the Ministry of Public Instruction. Arturo Michelena used him as a model for his canvas Miranda the La Carraca in 1896; in 1905 he was a speaker of order in the act for the centenary of Páez; and in July 1911, exactly one hundred years ago, he lived his moment of apotheosis when he received a national tribute at the Municipal Theater of Caracas on the occasion of the first centenary of independence. He died six months later.
A trip to Olympus
The same year it was published Heroic Venezuela Cuban Apostle José Martí stepped on Venezuelan soil. A review that he made of the White book and that today is usually used as a prologue to the text, gives an account of the impact caused by the narration of the battles of independence. He described the work as a whole as "a trip to Olympus."
"Everything throbs in Heroic VenezuelaEverything ignites, overflows, breaks into sparks, smokes, flashes. It is like a storm of glory: after it, the earth is covered with gold dust. It is a coming and going of horses, a fluttering of flags, a blaze of harnesses, a shining of colors, a striking of battles, a dying smiling, that neither vileness nor complaining fits, after reading the brilliant book ”, Martí writes.
Regarding its structure, the Carabobo chapter of Venezuela Heroica, divided into 35 chapters, does not start on June 24 but goes back many months and at times even years.
The narration speaks of antecedents such as the resignation of Pablo Morillo as head of the royalist troops and the appointment of Miguel de la Torre, the organization of each column in each part of the country, Bolívar's route and the experience acquired by him in his campaign. against Boves, and the talks between patriots and royalists to seek an armistice.
Blanco recounts the daily life of the six thousand soldiers marching to Carabobo, a land that Blanco does not explain why it was selected by the Spanish, when in 1814 it was their “necropolis”. "Carabobo, always conducive to our cause, seemed to have a secret pact with the Liberator," says the author.
The book delves into the battle from the previous day, tells how was the last review by Bolívar and what the Liberator read to them to give them encouragement in the face of what was coming: for many of them death. He narrated the night before, the dawn before the final march, the uniforms that the patriotic soldiers used for the first time, how Bolívar studied the situation when he saw the enemy camp from above, and how Páez attacked the Spanish with his vanguard army.
From there to the end, the narrative of the war itself is frenetic. The moment of Camejo's death is devastating, the moment of the victory cry is one of deafening emotion.
“Carabobo lasted as long as the lightning; it can be said that for all it was a dazzle. On the upright forehead of the victor in Las Queseras, one more laurel shone, and of high price. The Liberator descends to the plain the moment the battle is decided. His prognosis was fulfilled; the patriot army enthusiastically salutes its immortal caudillo ”, says Blanco at the peak moment.
Heroic epic, pamphlet or history book?
As a historiographical source, Eduardo Blanco's book has encountered a legion of staunch enemies since the day of its publication. The most controversial described the book as a pamphlet, and the least affirmed that it is nothing more than a historical epic full of literary resources, but with little scientific reliability. The debate makes its pages the perfect example of that old discussion about the intersection of history and fiction that the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur raised.
Blanco, certainly, did not experience the battle in his own flesh, but he relied on reliable testimonies and documents to tell it. As for its heroic and flowery narrative, it is faithful to a style that today causes hives to many readers but that is totally in keeping with its time.
Contrasting two contemporary readings of this text, the writer Raquel Rivas-Rojas, in her article A battlefield without blood: the vicarious heroism of Eduardo Blanco, qualifies the book as a "serial" and says that it takes the form of an "identity fable."
“Blanco's aesthetic project condenses the residual values of a conservative intelligentsia that survived the cataclysm of the Federal War —the bloodiest civil war in the country's history— and, in the face of the fulfilled facts of inevitable social change, hid behind a principled notion of society: ordering —through the word— the chaos after Independence and the Federal War became the inescapable mission of the conservative intellectual ", says Rivas-Rojas in the article included in the book Fix the homeland. Eduardo Blanco and the Venezuelan imaginary.
On the other hand, the journalist and memorialist Aldemaro Barrios, coordinator of the Documentation and Information Unit National History Center (CNH), where he is also a researcher, gives the text a significant value within the national historiography but always taking into account that In a strict and scientific sense it is not a history book but a fictionalized piece of history.
“It is that category in which the writer adds decorative elements, gives his interpretation of the epic that the historical moment he describes lived through; however, this does not mean that it is not of significant value. We have studied Heroic Venezuelafrom school, it is one of those important books to rescue the memory of that time, "he said in conversation with Últimas Noticias.
Barrios puts into perspective Heroic Venezuela with other texts that speak of Carabobo in the first person - not vicariously, as Blanco does - and recalls Páez's autobiography, General O'Leary's testimony entitled The history of Gran Colombia; or the story of the soldier Braulio Fernández, Stop that country until second order. Invite you to review these texts as a direct source of the facts.
"There is no doubt that Heroic Venezuela it has a value in historiography as a fictionalized element, but when we refer to the strictly scientific, we must consider one of the remaining elements and testimonial accounts of actors in the process ”, he stressed.
Finally, Barrios resents that Blanco's book speaks of Carabobo from the point of view of great heroes, but little refers to the life of the soldier or the subordinate. For this reason, it vindicates the value of insurgent history as a current of study to rescue the ignored stories, such as, for example, in this case, that of the women or the plain soldiers who participated in the deed.
In any case, return to Carabobo from Heroic Venezuela, whether with historical curiosity or in search of a vitalizing story, is to revisit a memorable epic that speaks of the construction of the homeland from an ethic and a militant aesthetic that is today more than ever timely. Credit goes to the Homer of this Iliad.
"I come to say goodbye"
This is how Eduardo Blanco narrates the death of Negro Primero:
Suddenly, amidst the disturbing expectation suffered by both sides, the flying flame stops; and Páez, full of astonishment, sees a horseman bathed in blood emerge from the cloud of dust that guards the effects of that violent crash, in whom he immediately recognizes the most powerful black of the llaneros of his guard: the one whom all the Army distinguished with the honorable nickname of «the first».
The horse that that intrepid soldier rides, gallops without concert towards the place where Páez is: he soon loses the race, takes the trot, and then step by step, the floating reins on the defeated neck, the downcast head and the open nose brushing the ground, which reddens at its touch, it advances shaking its heavy rider, who automatically seems to be holding on to the saddle. Without hiding the amazement caused by this inexplicable cowardice, Páez goes out to meet him, and harshly apostrophizing him, his former bravery in a hundred fierce battles, yells at him threatening him with a gesture:
-Are you afraid?…. Aren't there any enemies left?… Come back and get yourself killed!….
Hearing that voice that resounds irritated, horse and rider stop: the first, who can no longer take another step, bends his legs as if to collapse: the second, opens his eyes that glow like embers and straightens up in the saddle; then he throws the powerful spear to the ground, breaks with both hands the bloody dorman, and exposing his bare chest, where two deep wounds are bleeding copiously, he exclaims stammering:
—My general…. I come to say goodbye…. because I'm dead.
And horse and rider roll lifelessly on the churning dust, while the cloud rips open and reveals our victorious llaneros, throwing Spanish squadrons from behind, fleeing in terror. Páez directs a look full of bitterness to the faithful friend, inseparable companion in all his past dangers; and at the head of some bodies of horsemen, who, having overcome the shortcut, have reached him, he runs to avenge the death of that brave soldier, charging the enemy with unspeakable fury.