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THE BOLIVARIAN REPUBLIC
MT. PLEASANT, 1995
MT. PLEASANT, 1995
Simón Bolívar was a declared republican. Borrowing from the ancient Roman Republic and Anglo-French political thought combined with his own original ideas, Bolívar established his vision for republican government which blended the Enlightenment ideals of civil liberties with the Greco-Roman vision of civic virtue and restraints on the popular will. Bolívar rejected monarchic or empirial government as both unsuited for Spanish America and inconsistent with the principles of liberty and equality. Republics, as opposed to monarchies, "do not desire powers which represent a directly contrary viewpoint, have no reason for expanding the boundaries of their nation to the detriment of their own resources" (Jamaica Letter). American monarchies, Bolívar argued, would fall into the trap of European-style wars over territory, succession, and power.
In discussing civil liberties such as political equality and freedom of religion, Bolívar presented ideas similar to those of Rousseau and Locke; the Libertador's views on civil responsibilities reflected the influences of Plato and Cicero. Education was also touched upon by Simón Bolívar, especially in his Essay on Public Education, as a tool for governments to reeducate their citizens to the responsibilities and duties of participation in public life. Bolívar also commented on the weaknesses and limits of liberal democracy when writing to explain the necesity of a strong, republican form of government. All these ideas, which are discussed later, are distinct and separate from the Libertador's model for republican government presented throughout many of his writings. The specific atributes of Bolívar's model state are essential and are discussed in length below, but the basic principles of Bolivarist republicanism are:
A strong government would not be despotic, but rather would allow the state "to use force in order to liberate peoples who are ignorant of the value of their rights" (Cartagena Manifesto). To Simón Bolívar, the independence armies had gained freedom from Spain for the Spanish Amarican nations; the struggle for the political liberty of its people was to be the next phase of the revolution. Lacking the traditions of political activity present in North America and England, the Spanish American people required that their new states be organized in such a way as to maintain order by checking the popular forces until they could be trained in the civic virtues. Bolivarism emphasizes the common good over the individual; unrestrained democratic expressions that harmed the general well-being of the state and nation must ultimately result in the loss of freedom for the individual. "The most perfect system of government is that which results in the greatest possible measure of happiness and the maximum social security and political stability ... we must hope that security and stability will perpetuate this happiness" (Angostura Discourse). Strong, central government prevents the anarchy that would destroy true freedom. The state, Bolivarism argues "molds the character of a nation and can set it upon the path to greatness, properity, and power" (Essay on Education).
The core of the Bolivarist state is the tricameral legislature. In his Message to the Congress of Bolivia, Bolívar argued that a bicameral legislature is ineficient since it means that both houses "are always found in conflict". The solution Bolívar proposed was the tricameral legislature ensuring that at all times at least two of the legislative bodies would be in agreement. The tricameral legislature Bolívar propsed is composed of a Chamber of Tribunes with the "right to initiate laws pertaining to finance, peace, and war"; a Senate to "enact the codes of law and the eccelesiastical regulations and supervise the courts and public worship ... appoint the prefects, district judges, governors, corregidores, and all the lesser officials of the department of justice"; and a body of Censors to "exercise a political and moral power ... [as] persecuting attorneys against the government in defense of the Constitution and popular rights ... [and] the power of national judgement, which is to decide whether or not the administration of the executive is satisfactory" (Message to the Congress of Bolivia).
The Chamber of Tribunes Bolívar proposed is to be the main legislative body of the government. It is this legislative body or chamber that Bolívar most frequently refered to as the "government". The executive and all other parts of the state are often written of as balanced against the government in a variety of ways; the executive and other legislative bodies are organized to act as checks to this first and greatest power of the state. These checks were created by Bolívar to prevent the Tribunes from becoming despotic and assuming the role of the executive branch of government. Following Montesquieu, Bolívar asserted that the "representative assembly should exercise no active function. It should only make laws and determine whether or not those laws are enforced" (Angostura Discourse). In his Message to the Grand Convention of Ocaña, Bolívar insisted that the legislative branch "should have only limited sovereignty", clearly distinguishing that its role, while central, must not be that of complete sovereignty over the state.
The republican Senate Bolívar envisioned would act as a "neutral force" in the state. Borrowing from the Roman and British models and Plato's Republic, Bolívar's republican Senate is an hereditary, not an elective, body. Justifying a hereditary legislative body, Bolívar argued that the role of the Senate is to act as a "neutral body to protect the injured and disarm the offender ... [it] would arrest the thunderbolts of the government and would repel any violent popular reaction" (Angostura Discourse). Bolívar's Senate is designed to act as a moderative force between the people and the government to prevent either from usurping too much power -- only a hereditary body can assume such a position. "To be neutral, this body must not owe its origin to appointment by the government or to election by the people, if it is to enjoy a full measure of independence which neither fears nor expects anything from these two sources of authority" (Angostura Discourse).
The Senate is composed of a body of virtuous, patriotic, and intellectual republican citizens through "enlightened education". Future Senators are to be educated in "a colegio designed especially to train these guardians and future legislators of the nation ... From childhood they should understand the career for which they have been destined by Providence" (Angostura Discourse). While the Senate does also reflect many of the attributes of the British House of Lords, the pre-condition of education maintains the integrity of the republican Senate; Senators must prove themselves worthy and knowledgeable to hold public office. These "guardians" are not expected to govern, but rather to act as political philosophers and guide the people and the government through the hazards of politics. Governments seek power and people seek liberty; the Senate is a force in the republic to balance the needs of both.
Moral authority in the republic rests upon the Censors. Alluded to in several writings, Bolívar elaborateed on this third legislative body in his Message to the Congress of Bolivia. The Censors are designed to act somewhat like the Supreme Court of the United States although it is not a judicial body. Bolívar's censors "are the prosecuting attorneys against the government in defense of the Constitution and popular rights" (Message to the Congress of Bolivia). It is the Censors who hold the keys to the Constitution and protect its integrity; they check the other branches of the state to keep them from abusing their powers unconstitutionally. The Censors also maintain "the power of national judgement, which is to decide whether or not the administration of the executive is satisfactory" (Message to the Congress of Bolivia). Bolívar did not elaborate on this point but it appears that he intended for the Censors to have a power equivalent to impeachment. The Censors "exercise the most fearful yet the most august authority" (Message to the Congress of Bolivia). This branch of the legislature works to maintain and "safeguard morality, the sciences, the arts, education, and the press" (Message to the Congress of Bolivia). While the Tribunes create laws and the Senate holds the keys to republican virtue, it is the Censors who protect the people and their civil rights from government abuses.
Bolívar headed his model republic with a restricted, life-term President who appoints his own successor "but his office will never be hereditary" (Jamaica Letter). The establishment of a life President or presidente vitalicio prevents the executive power from relying on or abusing popular support for policies; he uses his personal authority, much like the British monarch, to act as a figurehead to the republic while his ministers and legislature hold the real power of the executive. This President "is deprived of all patronage. He can appoint neither governors, nor judges, nor ecclesiastic dignitaries of any kind" (Message to the Congress of Bolivia); the only powers he holds is to name "the officials of the Ministries of the Treasury, Peace, and War; and he is Commander in Chief of the army" (Message to the Congress of Bolivia). The government functions without the personal direction of the President; the Bolivarist republic, once set into motion, continues on with its own momentum. The personal demands on the President are not great, he is there to act as a symbol or hero for the republic and cannot constitutionally become a tyrant, nor can he hinder the republic with ineffective leadership. "Should the president be a man of no great talent or virtue ... he will be able to discharge his duties satisfactorily ... the ministry, managing everything by itself, will carry the burdends of the state" (Angostura Discourse).
While arguing in his 1819 Angostura Discourse that "[n]othing is more dangerous with respect to the people than a weak executive", Bolívar stressed the need for a non-active president when writing his Message to the Congress of Bolivia in 1826. The apparent conflict can be explained in this way: Bolívar saw the strength of the legislative body in 1819 Colombia and saw it as too powerful as a tool of government in relation to the contemporary constitution; for the proposed Bolivian model, the branches of government were divided to give each a separate role, not merely a separate power. The legislature creates laws and maintains the constitution -- without executive interference; likewise, the executive branch runs the bureaucracy of the state without legislative interference.
The executive cabinet envisioned by Bolívar is a bureaucratic body empowered to deal with the everyday running of the state and conducting foreign policy. The President can best be described as an icon for the people who holds no real authority other than his presence but who oversees the workings of the state. In Bolívar's republican model, the executive functions are conducted by the cabinet ministers and their subordinates. Working under a resctricted President, the "ministers, being responsible for any transgressions committed, will actually govern" (Angostura Discourse). The President appoints a Vice-President "who will administer the affairs of the state and succeed the President in office" (Message to the Congress of Bolivia). Under the Vice-President, the cabinet ministers run the executive branch managing the finances and diplomatic relations of the state and enforcing the legislation of the Tribunes.
Unlike the United States' model of government, Bolívar's republic does not include a judicial "third branch" of government. Bolívar described the courts as "the arbiters of private affairs" (Message to the Congress of Bolivia) and did not grant them the power to revoke or challenge legislation. The only role of the justices and magistrates is to abide by the laws approved by the Tribunes or legislative assembly; the Anglo-American power of "judicial review" is reserved for the Censors -- a part of the legislative branch. Bolívar argued that "the judges are responsible for the enforcement of laws, they do not depart from them" (Angostura Discourse).
While limiting the positions available to direct popular election, Bolívar recognized that there is "[n]othing more important to a citizen than the right to elect his legislators, governors, judges, and pastors" (Message to the Congress of Bolivia). The central republican state -- with the exception of the Tribunes -- is not popularly elected, but local government is left to the hands of the citizens. For the republic, Bolívar proposed a representative electoral system where "[e]very ten citizens will elect one elector" (Message to the Congress of Bolivia). The electors are the citizens that will actually vote in republican elections. An elector is not required to own property, but he must "be able to write out his ballot, sign his name, and read the laws" (Message to the Congress of Bolivia). In the Angostura Discourse, the Libertador also divided citizenship into the classifications of "active" and "passive" citizenship. Only active citizens participate as electors in the republic and act as a "check on popular license" (Angostura Discourse) to prevent the masses from inadvertently acting against their own interests.
The limits on direct popular participation are consistent with the development of a life-term President and an hereditary Senate in the republican state proposed by Bolívar. Bolívar recognized that the people need to participate in government if they are to learn and develop civic virtues. But to ensure the triumph of justice over free will, Bolívar "confers only powers of control on the majority (Pouvoir majoritaire) and leaves the business of government to a minority (Pouvoir minoritaire) constituted by authority based on natural qualities of competence, honor, and will to command" (Belaúnde, Víctor Andrés, Bolivar and the Political Thought of the Spanish American Revolution, Preface).
The last foundation of the Bolivarist republic is an autonomous military. In his 1828 Message to the Grand Convention of Ocaña, Bolívar declared that the army "was the glory of freedom ... its obedience to the law, to the chief of state, and to its general were worthy of the heroic age of republican virtues" and then regrets that "[t]hese generous virtues have somehow been eclipsed by the new laws designed to regulate and control the army". The armed forces which had fought for Spanish American independence, Bolívar believed, deserve a special place in the republic; it is an institution that is to be honored and respected, not regulated by civilian leaders. "[T]he liberators ... are entitled to occupy forever a high rank in the Republic that they have brought into existence" (Angostura Discourse). Writing to General Nariño in 1821, Bolívar supported an autonomous military when he stated that "command of the army and the direction of the Republic must be kept separate" (Letter to Nariño). The military is not instituted as a tool of the government in the republic, but rather as another patriotic symbol -- much like the President -- of the republic's sovereignty and liberty.
The above is only one section from a larger work entitled "Bolivarist Ideology" written under the direction of Dr. Thaddeus Zolty, Central Michigan University. The complete work was submitted for aproval on December, 1995.