In the chaos of the Latin American wars of independence, new visions of what the future might be took hold, were contested, and, at times, were extinguished: what new states might arise? How would they be governed? What would become of people of different ancestry in these states? Manuel Piar embodied some of this utopian hope, as well as its fragility.
Piar was a morisco, a word that, in the Spanish colonies, meant that his mother was of mixed European-African ancestry. This in turn meant that he faced a certain degree of discrimination from his criollo (European-ancestry) comrades, something that likely influenced his motivations to fight and, ultimately, his fate.
Piar fought against many different colonial regimes, beginning with a push to expel the British from Curaco. Then, he moved on to fight in the Haitian Revolution, one of the first true anti-slavery revolutions in the New World. After Haiti, Piar joined with Bolívar and the struggle for Latin American independence, but continued to push further – significantly joining with Santiago Mariño in an attempt to liberate (and possibly take over) Guayana.
Piar’s primary motivation, whether spurred by his own personal experience or from his time amongst the Haitian rebels, was for equal rights for the mestizo population – those Latin Americans not of pure European blood. His agitation against the post-independence Bolívarian regime saw him stripped of his title, and he fled back to Guayana. There, he teamed up with Marino, José Félix Ribas, and other generals dissatisfied with how Bolívar’s Latin America was shaping up. This rebellion was to cost him – and only him – his life. Bolívar ordered him arrested and subsequently executed. In what may be an expression of regret – or may be just a story – Bolívar is said to have announced “I have spilled my blood” upon hearing of Piar’s death.