Sunday, June 22, 2014

the last book I ever read (Marie Arana's Bolívar: American Liberator, excerpt seven)

from Bolívar: American Liberator by Marie Arana:

Nature had indeed opposed Caracas. Within minutes, the city was reduced to a grave site. More than ten thousand were buried by the rubble. Another six thousand, it was said, were swallowed by yawning ravines. Some, laboring in the open fields, died of shock. Half an hour didn’t pass before another quake shook the city. Survivors, caked with dust and blood, staggered through streets littered with cadavers, looking for their relatives. By nightfall, it was clear that the accumulations of dead would have to be incinerated in pyres. There were far too many to bury in mass graves.

The looting began almost instantly. The poor rushed in to carry off what they could, rob gold from corpses, rip jewelry from the ears of trapped women who implored for help. Crimes went unseen, unchecked, as smoke from the fires coiled into the sky and the thick, yellow dust yielded to darkness.

Bolívar’s house had been seriously damaged, its floors so buckled that doors had been ripped from jambs, windows from casings, but he was more concerned about the devastation around him. He organized what slaves and friends he could and, with makeshift stretchers, went about exhuming the living and carrying off the dead. There were no tools for digging or clearing away the foul heaps, and so they dug with their bare hands. It was as he engaged in this work, hurrying across the main plaza, that he saw a red-faced priest shout at a cowering crowd, exhorting them to repent, blaming them for the destruction. “On your knees, sinners!” the priest told them. “Now is your hour to atone. The arm of divine justice has descended on you for your insult to his Highest Majesty, that most virtuous of monarchs, King Ferdinand VII!”

If Bolívar threatened that priest with his sword—as legend has it he did—he would soon find that it was impossible to defy the entire clergy. He combed the ruins, working hard to disabuse his fellow survivors of their superstitions, but it didn’t take long for the ministry of the Church to convince Caracas that the earthquake was God’s angry hand, punishing them for the perfidy of insurrection. Hadn’t the declaration of independence two years before been on a Maundy Thursday, too? The revolution was a sacrilege, and all its adherents, blasphemers. The people would need to atone for the sin of betraying the madre patria. Fearing the fate of a Sodom and Gomorrah, Venezuelans now rushed to make right with the Lord. As days and weeks went by, men of means married slaves with whom they had had sexual relations. Chastened revolutionaries fashioned colossal wooden crosses and dragged them, Christlike, through the ruined city.

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