Manuela Sáenz and Simón Bolívar were, at once, distinguished leaders of the nineteenth-century South American Revolution, and devoted to each other with that same intensity in thought and action. They are subjects of legends and inventions. In reality, Manuela Sáenz was born in Quito in 1797. She would join the covert political operations against Peru’s Viceroy, becoming acquainted with Bolívar as he officially took over Peru’s liberation. He eventually became President of the South American states of Grand Colombia.
Sáenz and Bolívar met often as the revolutionary campaigns travelled South America. They would also correspond, exchange love letters, practical military advice, and advice about practical survival. In 1823, in his role as General, he wished her to be part of his military staff. She agreed and became his archivist and Captain of Hussars, journeying with him and the armies.
This selection extends over the love letters they exchanged and letters they wrote for others about their attachment. Quemar’s creative Modern English translations attempt to represent and reflect their writing’s flow, intricacy and vividness. Her voice and his echo back and forth to each other their hope to reunite. The goal of this work is to offer a new authentic access to their voices.
The title, Meeting Each Other Alive, springs from a line in a letter Bolívar wrote to Sáenz: ‘Qué debo brindarte: ¿un encuentro vivo acaso?’ Because ‘brindar’ signifies ‘to offer’ and ‘to toast’, these words are open to levels of interpretation: ‘What should I offer to you: the ability to meet each other alive?’, ‘What is it that I must give to you: maybe, a meeting where we continue living?’, ‘What should I bring to you: a vibrant encounter, perhaps?’ or finally: ‘I should drink to you: to meeting each other alive, perhaps?’
Throughout their letters, whether in spontaneous affection, finding solutions to slander and untruths, or defining facets of revolution, their voices never sound disillusioned. Neither of them died in disillusionment. Making plans to travel with Sáenz, Bolívar died in 1830. After Bolívar’s death, Sáenz survived exile and went to the North of Peru, where she decided to live in Paita, on the coast. She gave her correspondence with Bolívar to one of his generals, O’Leary, who was writing a biography.
With her long career as his archivist, Captain of Hussars and, ultimately, Colonel, she knew the importance of word and action. As a revolutionary, she knew the importance of incorruptible voices in history.