December 17: Simon Bolivar and the Jews

Simon Bolivar, Latin America’s great liberator, declared independence from Spain for the Republic of Gran Colombia (in today’s Venezuela) on this date in 1819, after years of military struggle. In 1812, after the first stage of his revolt in Venezuela had failed, Bolívar took refuge with two of his sisters on the island of Curaçao, which was controlled by the Dutch (and was a key hub of their slave trade) and had a small, thriving population of Sephardic Jews, refugees or the descendants of refugees from the Spanish Inquisition. Jewish lawyer and merchant Mordechai Ricardo made two houses available for the Bolívars; one of the houses, an octagonal building by the sea, is preserved today as the Octagon Museum in Curaçao. Brothers Richard and Abraham Meza also helped Bolivar finance his fight against Spanish power, and several Jews fought in Bolivar’s army during the war. Ties between the Jews of Curaçao and the newly freed Venezuela increased when the land’s new constitution established religious freedom.

. . . And the Jews there [in Curaçao] are well loved, because the people say that they give charity, the best of charity, the beautiful alms . . .” —José Martí

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Comments (5)

  1. An excellent example of Establishment historiography (not only the Jewish variety). We get the names and occupations of the rich Jewish Bolivarian supporters, but “several Jews (who) fought in Bolivar’s army…” remain nameless and lost to this kind of “history.” The loss is theirs, of course, but perhaps more significantly, ours.

    • I was unable to locate the names or even exact number of the three or four Jews who fought with Bolivar, but I suspect that they were also upper-class men, as many of the Jews of Curacao were.

  2. I’m venezuelan and didn’t know this parte of the history of Bolivar. It’s very interesting for me and I guess to all Venezuelan who love history. My Father was born in Curacao in 1902 and my family have many relations with the curazolean people. The Curiel, one of the most well known familys in Curazao are jews and very well related to our family.

  3. Good one, Lawrence. The Octagon was next to our hotel when we visited Curacao a couple of years ago.

    You can visit one of the oldest synagogues in the New World in Curacao, which has a sand floor. There is also a museum; Maybe you are familiar with it, Diana.

    George Maduro, a Jew from Curacao whose family was also one of Curacao’s oldest Jewish families, distinguished himself fighting for the Dutch and then for the Resistance against the Germans in WWII. He was a law student at Leiden University when the war began. He was eventually captured and died at Dachau.

    His parents donated to create a miniature park in Holland bearing his name. Today, Madurodam (http://www.madurodam.nl/en/) is one of the most famous and most-visited attractions in the Netherlands.

  4. Jews who fought with Bolivar include: Benjamín Henríquez, who participated in la Campaña Admirable and the expedition los Cayos; Samuel Henríquez who reached rank of captain and Juan Bartolomé De Sola, brigadier general.

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