the Libertador rises again

apparently immune to accusations of absurdity, Hugo Chavez has had the remains of Simon Bolivar exhumed from the Panteon Nacional in Caracas to determine the precise cause of the Libertador’s death.

since 2008, Chavez has publicly called into question the conclusion that Bolivar died of tuberculosis while in Colombia. the cult of Bolivar is profoundly strong in Venezuela, not unlike that constructed around George Washington in the U.S., and with good reason — he successfully united the people of the Viceroyalty of New Grenada to throw off Spanish colonization and formed the short-lived nation of Gran Colombia (which included parts of what is now Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Peru, Guyana, Ecuador, and Costa Rica). Chavez in is particularly enthralled with Bolivar’s legacy — he pushed to rename the nation the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (the precise meaning of which could be debated at length)  has espoused self-proclaimed Bolivarian ideals from his earliest days in politics, and has gone to lengths to highlight similarities between himself and his nineteenth century idol. (whether Bolivar and his nineteenth century “liberal” ideals would support Chavez’s efforts is another topic for lengthy debate.)

and so, perhaps because his antics haven’t been capturing sufficient international attention of late, and acting upon the inconclusive conclusion that Bolivar’s recorded symptoms could indicate long-term arsenic poisoning, the tomb in the Panteon has been opened and the contents therein will be subjected to further tests.

(again, another quandary: Bolivar died in and was initially interred in Santa Marta, Colombia. twelve years after his death, the then-president of now-Venezuela requested that his remains be returned to Caracas, where Bolivar was born. not so very long ago, the authenticity of the bones resting in state in the Panteon was called into question and, as Bolivar had no direct descendants, verification is even more complicated.)

will science prove some nefarious alternative to the tuberculosis conclusion? I doubt it. what does it matter, 180 years later, how, precisely, the Libertador died? the new information won’t alter the course of the intervening years or how Bolivar is perceived by anyone. mostly, it seems Chavez is interested in dredging up more reasons to rattle a saber in Colombia’s direction, to provide more fodder for verbal attacks if tensions over FARC and cross-border paramilitary incursions lose their ability to agitate.

word from the BBC that the remains were to be exhumed, and an article from 2007 (while I was writing my thesis, in fact) in which Chavez proposed the idea.

Saint Oliver Plunkett

one of the attractions of Drogheda is a relic held by Saint Peter’s Church. after spending many years abroad during the Cromwellian era, Oliver Plunkett returned to Ireland in March of 1670 and began establishing Jesuit schools. this did not go over well with the English and he was forced into hiding, only traveling in disguise. in the end, he was captured and sent to England for trial (since they couldn’t get him properly convicted while in Ireland), where he spent time at Newgate Prison before his execution. he was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn (now Marble Arch) in 1681. he was buried in two boxes and, eventually, his head made its way to Drogheda and Saint Peter’s Church (in 1921). he was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1920 and canonized in 1975. following strong a recommendation I decided to go and take a look at the shrine, but chose not to take a picture. i’m not a big fan of visiting churches in the first place, much less those that have relics and shrines, but how often do you get a chance to see something like that, especially in the states when recorded history doesn’t go back that far? a four hundred year old head is an interesting thing to see… if you’re interested in knowing what Saint Oliver Plunkett’s looks like, they’ve got a picture of it here.