Visiting 58 Grafton Way, London, W1, England: Remembering — or Forgetting — Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar
Grasping the significance of de Miranda and Bolívar?
[While some aspects of Venezuelan history are discussed in this hubpage, no mention is being made of developments and events in that country that have occurred within the past 15 years; none of the heads of government mentioned in relation to prior to 15 years ago are currently in office.]
The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) famously suggested that history is what we remember and forget.
Bearing this in mind, 58 Grafton Way, London, W1, England, is a place of memories.
The 4-storey building, in Georgian style, dates from the 18th century; it is now a museum (1).
Part of the historical significance of 58 Grafton Way — sometimes referred to as Miranda House — is that it is linked with at least two colossally important figures in Latin American history. Not only did Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816) live here between 1802 and 1810, he met in this building Simón Bolívar (1783-1830). These hugely significant historical personalities are known respectively as the Precursor of Latin American independence and the Liberator. Both were from what became Venezuela, and both served as leader of the country; Bolívar also served as President of Greater Colombia (as it then was), Bolivia and Perú.
It was here also that Francisco de Miranda designed what is now the Venezuelan flag (see above; the stars were added later).
Rather aptly, 58 Grafton Way has been owned by the Venezuelan Embassy since 1978. De Miranda's widow, Sarah Andrews, continued to live at 58 Grafton Way — as it is now called — until 1847.
These immensely significant historical personalities led often tumultuous lives, and their actions can be analyzed to look variously for heroism and wisdom, foibles and weaknesses.
If amidst all the ideas and events with which Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar one defining thought were discerned it is that they stood for the independence of Latin American countries.
It can be said that this idea — well understood in Latin America — was still not completely understood in English-speaking countries at the beginning of the 21st century..
If anyone were to try to challenge this assertion — namely that even as late as the beginning of the 21st century many people in the leadership of countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States still did not completely understand the significance of de Miranda and Bolívar — then we may look at examples of the way historical events took their course.
But first of all, it must be said that some US Administrations have certainly been perceived as having shown a measure of diplomatic sensitivity in their relations with Latin American republics: the F D Roosevelt Administration's Good Neighbor Policy and the Kennedy Administration's Alliance for Progress readily come to mind (3). These periods in the history of US-Latin American relations were in general characterized by a willingness to relate to Latin American republics as independent sovereign states; and even today many people across the Hemisphere recall with respect these Administrations' handling of Latin American relations. It may thus be said that, amidst the myriad issues which demanded the attention of the FD Roosevelt and Kennedy Administrations, the significance of the sovereignty of Latin American republics — the key issue in the lives of Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar — was indeed seemingly grasped.
It is also fair to say that at certain other times a different approach towards Latin American relations prevailed on the part of the leadership of various powerful countries. Distinguished writers and journalists such as Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and Stephen Kinzer formerly of the New York Times have been among commentators who detailed the way various parts of the US intelligence community at times worked covertly to undermine the sovereignty of some Latin American and other states (2).
For example, in the run up to the April 2002 coup attempt in de Miranda and Bolívar's native Venezuela, coup plotters met with officials of the US Bush Administration and subsequently staged the overthrow of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez — actions which proved after less than two days to be unsuccessful. Among these officials were some who had previously fulfilled a significant role between the Reagan Administration and the Nicaraguan Contra insurgents. This perceived linkage with a powerful foreign government only served to bolster President Chávez in the eyes of Venezuelan citizens (3).
For its part, following the lead of the US Administration, the British government through its Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane was quick to recognize the US-backed coup régime which very soon failed, and hours later had to eat its words, so to speak. Nancy Soderberg, former senior official of the Clinton Administration, detailed some of these events as they unfolded (4).
It is hard to argue that significant goodwill among Venezuelans and Latin Americans was thus not unnecessarily lost by the perceived actions of the US and British governments.
One could cite many examples of how US Administrations and British governments — often working in concert — have been perceived as taking actions injurious to the sovereignty of Latin American republics. One further example will suffice: In 1954, President Árbenz Guzmán of Guatemala was overthrown by a CIA- and United Fruit Company-induced coup-d'état; for its part, the British government implemented a naval blockade in the region, thus setting aside its traditional stance as regards the freedom of the seas. Interestingly, the travels in Guatemala of a young Argentine doctor, Ernesto (Che) Guevara had the effect of radicalizing his thought with the result that he became with Fidel Castro and others an architect of the Cuban Revolution (5).
It would be hard also to argue that the less than friendly reception that then Vice President Richard M. Nixon received from demonstrators in Caracas, Venezuela in 1958 was unrelated to the rôle of the Administration of which he formed a part in the overthrow of President Árbenz's government in 1954.
The fact remains that, like Americans who greatly value their own independence, Latin American peoples are citizens of sovereign republics and it is men such as Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar who substantially assisted in making this a reality.
It is clear, however, that in the English-speaking world the close identification of Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar with the sovereignty of Latin American republics was not yet fully understood among policy-makers. Perhaps Borges was right when he suggested that history is what people remember...and forget.
July 4, 2018
(1) See also: http://thelondonpost.net/house-of-francisco-de-miranda-in-london-opening-museum/
(2) See, for example: John Coatsworth, Stephen Kinzer, Stephen Schlesinger, Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, Cambridge, MA: David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard, Revised Edition, 2005; Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003; Bob Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, Simon and Schuster, New York City, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1987.
(3) See also:
(4) See: Nancy Soderberg, The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006.
(5) In Bolivia in 1967, I myself recall the trial of Che Guevara's accomplice Régis Debray, following the death by summary execution of Guevara at the hands of a CIA-assisted team. One can in theory 'moralize' from various and opposite directions in relation to such events. But in any case some Latin Americans will recall that various Independence-era leaders were on good terms with the US's George Washington; and it may be said that the economic theories of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are not necessarily widely held to have been examples of successful and efficient management; yet it is undoubted that Latin Americans do not take kindly to external influences imposing lethal force in their countries. The relevance of de Miranda and Bolívar — strongly identified with the independence of Latin American republics — is indeed abiding.
Even leaving aside the CIA's Bay of Pigs fiasco, one may note that President John F. Kennedy, whose Administration spearheaded the Alliance for Progress, said: 'I regard Latin America as the most critical area in the world', President John F. Kennedy, 1963, qu. in: 'Battle for the Hemisphere', Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, Mayflower-Dell, 1967, p. 590.
Also worth seeing
Central London has numerous sights for the visitor, but the adjacent Trafalgar Square, with Nelson's Column, and the National Gallery, also facing the Square, are major landmarks in close proximity to Canada House. Admiralty Arch, close to Trafalgar Square, serves as an entrance to The Mall and St James's Park. Whitehall, leading off the Square, has the gated entrance to Downing Street, where the office and residence of the British Prime Minister are situated. Other sights within quite easy walking distance are Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey (where Prince William and Miss Kate Middleton were married in 2011), Horse Guards' Parade; and various local Underground station provide services. A little further from Trafalgar Square is Oxford Street, famed by generations of shoppers, and St. Paul's Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren's most famous ecclesiastical building (where Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were married in 1981).
How to get there
United Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Underground and train services link Heathrow Airport with Central London. 58 Grafton Way, W1 is close to Warren Street Underground Station on the Victoria and Northern Lines. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada
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