Francisco Miranda: A ‘universal Criollo’ who met our Founding Fathers in Philly
“Freedom, Independence and Autonomy.” All words that refer directly to a feeling more than to a physical status, words that seem to belong only to an early age crisis, to a teenage alibi rather than to a mature and well-sustained international ideal.
Those were, in fact, the main philosophical concepts in young Francisco Miranda’s reflections when he left his hometown Caracas back in 1771, eager to join the Royal Spanish Army.
Born of a mixed family (Hispano-American), Miranda was a well-educated cultural phenomenon, way ahead of the warlike and violent prospect that he was while leading naval battles. Even though his military career was wide and full of moral conflicts, his intellectual inquiries have become immortal. From brief literati to transcultural pioneer, his works in translation (from Latin to Greek, from French and English to Spanish) and his laborious work on the dissemination of libertarian ideals, have gained him the historical reputation of a man of words and politics.
But after years of reductions, bibliographical abstractions and the oversight of secondary characters in “Universal History,” Miranda’s legacy has been eclipsed by the exploitation of leading roles like Simón Bolívar, George Washington and Napoleón Bonaparte in the visual culture of the 21st Century.
Only a few “history geeks” find interesting and unremitting his commitment to the American Independence and the spreading of a “proto-democracy” back when slavery and colonialism were the foundation of the capital.
After fleeing unjust imprisonment in La Habana in 1783, Miranda headed north to study the American Revolution, frequenting prominent figures like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Knox, Samuel Adams and Gilbert M. de la Lafayette, outlining the first independence project for all of Hispano America. Then returning to London to find the epistolary gemstone of his intellectual quest.
Miranda’s first rational approach to politics was through the translation of the “Letter to Spanish Americans” by Juan Pablo Viscardo y Guzmán (Peruvian Jesuit that was banished in 1767 and moved to Europe) who left all his paperwork in the hands of Rufus King, American ambassador in London at the time, and close friend of Miranda. This friendship permitted the translation of the letter from French to English and its publication in the P. Boyle Press, with a fake Imprint in Philadelphia. (This could add more sense to the Lorenzo Gonzalez’s statue of Miranda across from the Fels Planetarium and the Franklin Institute).
Quoting Georges L. Bastin: Miranda and Viscardo were then the criollo forerunners of the political revolution in Latin America, that emerged from a transcultural debate and an international conjunct of moral and spiritual ideals. We can imagine the overwhelming discovery in the hands of Miranda, a letter that begun around 1792, mentioning the anniversary of the colonization and launching from there an even philosophical approach to the emancipation and therefore the foundation of an independent American nation.
Viscardo’s considerations were based in the economical exploitation of the people, the mismanagement of resources and the social siege to which they where submitted, the moral subjugation and the annulment of what was now recognized as basic human rights. For Miranda, a man who had traveled the world and embraced the cultural diversity on behalf of freedom and equality, this was an incisive piece of information.
Similarly, Viscardo applauds the courage of the English Colonies when declaring themselves free, organizing their territory and building the first American Republic. Miranda was also dedicated to the American Independence, but his plans to free Hispano America were postponed due to the Dumouriez’ betrayal in Paris in 1793, followed by Miranda’s imprisonment.
After three years of penitent procession in several jails, Miranda finally gains his freedom back and returns to his social and political life, founding in 1797 the Council of Deputies of Southern Provinces with José del Pozo y Sucre and Manuel José de Salas, gathering mutual interests with Bernardo O’Higgins and receiving a request from Manuel Gual in Trinidad asking to join forces.
During the first years of the 19th Century, Miranda created a complete program and emancipation declaration, specifying military maneuvers, a provisional political strategy, and a proclamation of freedom. He arranged everything in London, preparing himself to travel to South America, but heading first to New York, in 1805, where he met with President Thomas Jefferson and the Secretary of State James Madison.
After a failed attempt to land in Ocumare (Venezuela), where he first hoisted the flag he designed for his home country, Miranda returned to London and began an epistolary promotion of the Independence Movement with criollos in Caracas, Buenos Aires and other populations. Organizing the military conflict with the Spanish Army in South America, Miranda became an important commander in Venezuelan territory. It is well known how close friends like Bolívar betrayed him, and how he ended his life in La Carraca, Spain, where his mortal remains were left in a mass grave 200 years ago.
Miranda was the first universal Latin American, a cultural prophet whose merit was the notion of America as a universal concept, the first clear idea of America since the beginning of the colonial domination. He left 63 volumes of his project Colombeia, an illustrated and well based idea of the prime population as a whole. He was the only leader to meet with Washington, Bolívar, Napoleón, Bello, Pitt, O’Higgins, Sucre, Catalina of Russia, Luis Felipe, Wellington and Danton, conceiving and believing in an international human ideal, too premature for his time and way too advanced for his colleagues.
The first Universal Criollo died 200 years ago with only a friend by his side, after having dreamt of a unified America that nowadays is facing the most aggressive political panorama in many years.