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Arsenic may have helped kill Simon Bolivar

Arsenic helped kill Simon Bolivar in 1830, according to Dr. Paul Auwaerter of Johns Hopkins.  (Associated Press)
Arsenic helped kill Simon Bolivar in 1830, according to Dr. Paul Auwaerter of Johns Hopkins. (Associated Press)

Revolutionary likely used it as a tonic

BALTIMORE – Arsenic helped kill Simon Bolivar, according to a Johns Hopkins doctor who is questioning the tuberculosis diagnosis given as the cause of the Latin liberator’s death in 1830.

Doctors, not treachery, led Bolivar to take arsenic, however, said Dr. Paul Auwaerter, who presented his case Friday at an annual University of Maryland School of Medicine conference on the deaths of famous figures.

Arsenic was a common treatment at the time and may have contributed to Bolivar’s 1830 death, he said.

“Tuberculosis has been the conventional explanation for so many years, but that doesn’t make sense,” Auwaerter said before the presentation. “It really doesn’t explain his final six months.”

Bolivar is not reported to have coughed up blood, and green phlegm and green fluid later found around his heart suggest a bacterial infection, not tuberculosis, he said.

The Venezuelan-born Bolivar is a favorite of current Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan Embassy sent two representatives to the event, including an official who led a council Chavez convened to examine Bolivar’s death.

Reacting to the doctor’s findings, Chavez reiterated on Friday that he believes Bolivar was murdered.

“They killed him. Here in my heart for years I’ve had the conviction that Bolivar didn’t die of tuberculosis,” Chavez said during a televised speech in western Venezuela. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to prove it, but I think they assassinated Bolivar.”

Auwaerter said his finding don’t support any claims of intrigue.

While arsenic probably led to many of Bolivar’s health problems, it was most likely taken as a tonic, and he also may have inadvertently been exposed through tainted food and water, Auwaerter said.

Bolivar is one of Central and South America’s greatest heroes, leading countries from Peru to Venezuela to independence from Spain.


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