Simón BolívarThis week, Bolivia celebrates its independence on August 6th, and Ecuador on the 10th. While the Spanish colonial empire brought Spanish to the Americas, it was in fact, the decline of that empire that really turned Spanish into an international language by creating 20 more Spanish-speaking countries, each of which would contribute to the destiny of the language.

Both Ecuador and Bolivia shared the same liberator: the Venezuelan Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco, commonly known as Simón Bolívar.

It was in Quito, Ecuador, that the Americas’ very first call for independence was made on August 6, 1809. But this insurgency was repressed in a blood bath two months later. Ecuador was then a province of the vice-royalty of New Granada, which was run from Bogota. The central figure of the war of independence was Simón Bolívar, who first liberated the province of Venezuela in 1813. It took nine more years to liberate Ecuador, which became formally independent from Spain on May 24, 1822.

Ecuador was then a province of Great Colombia. The four other provinces were Panama, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. But as the new country became increasingly ungovernable, Bolívar assumed dictatorial powers until he had to resign in 1830. On May 13, 1830, Ecuador became formally independent from Gran Colombia.

But at the height of his fame, between 1822 and 1824, Simón Bolívar played a key role in liberating the province of Upper Peru, as Bolivia was called during colonial times. The vice-royalty of Peru was the last stronghold of Spanish colonialism on the continent and it took the combined efforts of Bolívar, the Argentines and Peruvian insurgents to break it.

Upper Peru proclaimed its independence on August 6, 1825. Simón Bolívar was held in such esteem that it first took the name of the Republic of Bolívar. But others saw otherwise. Congressman Manuel Martín Cruz famously said: “Si de Rómulo Roma, de Bolívar Bolivia (If from Romulus comes Rome, then from Bolívar comes Bolivia.)” The name stuck and Bolivia became the republic’s official name on October 3rd, 1825.

The complete story of how Spain spawned 20 Spanish-speaking countries is told in our new book, The Story of Spanish, to be released in April 2013 (St. Martin’s Press).

The Story of Spanish