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Analysis: The mantle of Simon Bolivar

Hugo Chavez likens himself to modern-day Bolivar, who dreamed of a united Latin America.

“The vision of Chavez is not so different from that of Bolivar, at least with respect to the perceived need to seek protection in togetherness from the interventionist designs of the United States,” said Jan Knippers Black, a professor of Latin American history and politics at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.

Over the past two decades, Latin America has become more united than ever in reaction to the policies of former President George W. Bush, she said. “But grand designs rarely take shape or hold their shapes for long. We the people soon become disillusioned with our leaders — and they with us.”

Bolivar’s attempts to create a unified Latin American confederation of nations failed miserably and ended up tarnishing the Libertador’s image as a democrat and a liberal. Likewise, Chavez’s attempts so far to forge a united anti-American front among the Latin Americans has found resonance only in a small handful of ALBA countries. Border conflicts are commonplace and ideological divisions abound. Unity is a distant reality.

“There is a lot of talk and noise today about Latin American unity, but the differences among countries are deeper than ever and mistrust is, if anything, increasing,” said Michael Shifter, the president of the Inter-American Foundation in Washington and an expert on Latin American politics. “Regional unity may be a laudable aspiration but the reality is far more complicated and Bolivar’s vision seems more remote than ever.”