"Pétion and Bolívar" by Chelsea Stieber
Stieber is a doctoral candidate at New York University’s Institute of French Studies. Her research is on Haitian literature.
Alexandre Pétion (1770-1818), one of the great leaders of Haitian independence, also played a critical role in ensuring Latin American independence by providing aid to Simón Bolívar (1783-1830), the leader of the Venezuelan independence movement. Born in Caracas to a wealthy, slave-holding plantation owner, Bolívar came to be known as Latin America’s "Great Liberator," eventually securing independence not only for Venezuela, but most of northern South America.
Forced to flee the mainland by an encroaching Spanish expeditionary force, Bolívar made his way to Haiti via Jamaica, landing at Les Cayes in December 1815. Indeed, under President Pétion’s southern Republic, Les Cayes had been a port of asylum not only for South American independence fighters, but for freedom seekers throughout the Caribbean.
Pétion befriended Bolívar, greatly sympathetic to the independence movement, and agreed to provide him with arms, munitions and soldiers—on two conditions. First, that Bolívar agree to abolish slavery in independent Venezuela, as well as any of the future liberated countries in South America, and second, that any slaves seized by privateers be sent to Haiti to be freed. Agreeing to these conditions, Bolívar set out to reclaim Venezuela, proclaiming the abolition of slavery as the main objective of his liberation efforts. After a first failed attempt to retake the mainland, and a return trip to Haiti for more supplies, Bolívar set out again for Venezuela and in 1817 secured critical strongholds that would ensure independence.
Pétion’s contribution to Latin American independence illustrates his commitment to antislavery in the hemisphere. As historian Ada Ferrer notes, Pétion’s aid to Bolívar and to the founding of another country free from slavery show the Haitian leader’s desire to "extend the geographic space of liberty" not only into South America, but into Caribbean and Atlantic waters.