Civil War Butchery in Venezuela, 1813

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 151-154:

A British traveler in the service of Spain now noted a marked change in Caracas. Spaniards were being dragged to the dungeons, made to surrender their wealth to patriot coffers. The unwilling were taken to the marketplace and shot. Not outright, but limb by limb, so that onlookers could watch them wriggle as musicians struck up lively airs. These spectacles caused such merriment that the multitude, provoked to an obscene frenzy, would finally cry, “Kill him!” and the executioner would end the victim’s suffering with a final bullet to the brain. A Spaniard in agony had become a source of amusement, a ready carousel of laughs.

Outside Caracas patriots hardly fared better. The “Legions of Hell”—hordes of wild and truculent plainsmen—rode out of the barren llanos to punish anyone who dared call himself a rebel. Leading these colored troops was the fearsome José Tomás Boves. A Spanish sailor from Asturias, Boves had been arrested at sea for smuggling, sent to the dungeons of Puerto Cabello, then exiled to the Venezuelan prairie, where he fell in with marauding cowboys. He was fair-haired, strong-shouldered, with an enormous head, piercing blue eyes, and a pronounced sadistic streak. Loved by his feral cohort with a passion verging on worship, he led them to unimaginable violence. As Bolívar’s aide Daniel O’Leary later wrote, “Of all the monsters produced by the revolution . . . Boves was the worst.” He was a barbarian of epic proportions, an Attila for the Americas. Recruited by Monteverde but beholden to no one, Boves raised a formidable army of black, pardo, and mestizo llaneros by promising them open plunder, rich booty, and a chance to exterminate the Creole class.

The llaneros were accomplished horsemen, well trained in the art of warfare. They needed few worldly goods, rode bareback, covered their nakedness with loincloths. They consumed only meat, which they strapped to their horses’ flanks and cured by the sweat of the racing animals. They made tents from hides, slept on earth, reveled in hardship. They lived on the open prairie, which was parched by heat, impassable in the rains. Their weapon of choice was a long lance of alvarico palm, hardened to a sharp point in the campfire. They were accustomed to making rapid raids, swimming on horseback through rampant floods, the sum of their earthly possessions in leather pouches balanced on their heads or clenched between their teeth. They could ride at a gallop, like the armies of Genghis Khan, dangling from the side of a horse, so that their bodies were rendered invisible, untouchable, their killing lances straight and sure against a baffled enemy. In war, they had little to lose or gain, no allegiance to politics. They were rustlers and hated the ruling class, which to them meant the Creoles; they fought for the abolition of laws against their kind, which the Spaniards had promised; and they believed in the principles of harsh justice, in which a calculus of bloodshed prevailed.

EVEN AS DECEMBER CAME AND went—even as Spain crept out from under Napoleon and Ferdinand resumed his teetering throne—the butchery in Venezuela continued. It is altogether possible that the Spanish nation, emerging from its long night of terror, had little idea of the carnage that consumed its colonies. For Bolívar, a war to the death was a retaliatory measure; he had believed it would unite Americans against foreigners. The result was quite the opposite: Americans turned against Americans—Venezuelans took up weapons against their neighbors—and the revolution became a racial conflict, a full-fledged civil war.

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Filed under Britain, democracy, France, Latin America, migration, military, nationalism, piracy, slavery, Spain, war

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