The equestrian statue of Simón Bolívar, located at the intersection of Virginia Avenue, 18th Street and C Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, is a public artwork by Felix de Weldon. It depicts Bolívar wearing a military uniform with great detail, including the gold medallion that was given to him by George Washington. He is shown riding his horse, and holding a sword in his right hand and wielding it upward over his head.
Bolívar is remembered as “El Libertador,” or The Liberator, so it is befitting that his statue is part of a series, entitled “Statues of the Liberators,” honoring liberators and other national figures of western-hemisphere countries. The statues can be found along Virginia Avenue between 18th and 25th Streets, near the headquarters of the Organization of American States in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. The statues were erected by various Latin American countries, and are maintained by the National Park Service. The sculpture of Bolívar was authorized by the U.S. Congress in July of 1949, and installed at its current location in June of 1955. It was donated by and the installation was paid for by the government of Venezuela.
Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco, more commonly known as Simón Bolívar, was the son of a Venezuelan aristocrat of Spanish descent. He was born to wealth and position, and travelled to and was educated in Europe, where the thought of independence for Hispanic America took root in Bolívar’s imagination. The Latin American independence movement was launched a year after Bolívar’s return, as Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain unsettled Spanish authority. Bolívar became an outstanding military general and charismatic political leader, and played a key role in Latin America’s successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire. He not only helped drive the Spanish from northern South America, but also was instrumental in the formative years of the republics that sprang up once the Spanish had gone.
Having also traveled to the United States, Bolívar was an admirer of President George Washington, with whom he shared two commonalities. First, like President Washington, Bolívar was a Freemason. George Washington and Bolívar also shared the same objective, namely, independence for their people and the establishment of democratic states. But Bolívar differed in political philosophy from George Washington and the leaders of the revolution in the United States on two important matters. First, unlike his northern counterparts, Bolívar was staunchly anti-slavery. Second, while he was an admirer of the American independence, he did not believe that the same governmental system could function in Latin America, and establishing a republic there would require making some concessions in terms of liberty.
Bolívar is considered by historians as one of the most powerful and influential figures in world political history. Yet today, outside of Latin America where he is still practically worshipped, his name and who he was is almost unknown.