Cipriano Castro

Cipriano Castro bigraphy, stories - President of Venezuela

Cipriano Castro : biography

12 October 1858 – 4 December 1924

José Cipriano Castro Ruiz (1858–1924) was a high-ranking member of the Venezuelan military, politician and the President of Venezuela from 1899 to 1908. He was the first man from the Andes to rule the country, and was the first of five military strongmen from the Andean state of Táchira to rule the country over the next 46 years.


Cipriano Castro (center) during his entrance to Caracas in 1899 [[Juan Vicente Gómez and Cipriano Castro]] Amassing considerable support from disaffected Venezuelans, Castro’s once personal army developed into a strong national army, and he used it to march on Caracas in October 1899 in an event called the Revolución Liberal Restauradora, and seize power, installing himself as the supreme military commander.

Castro’s rule was marked by frequent rebellions, the murder or exile of his opponents, his own extravagant living, and trouble with other nations. Castro was characterized as "a crazy brute" by United States secretary of state Elihu Root and as "probably the worst of Venezuela’s many dictators" by historian Edwin Lieuwen. His nine years of despotic and dissolute rule are best known for having provoked numerous foreign interventions, including blockades and bombardments by British, German, and Italian naval units seeking to enforce the claims of their citizens against Castro’s government.

Cipriano Castro and his cabinet in 1902

Venezuela Crisis of 1902-1903

Caricature of Cipriano Castro, by [[William Allen Rogers, published in the New York Herald, January, 1903]] The Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903 saw a naval blockade of several months imposed against Venezuela by Britain, Germany and Italy over Castro’s refusal to pay foreign debts and damages suffered by European citizens in a recent Venezuelan civil war. Castro assumed that the United States’ Monroe Doctrine would see the US prevent European military intervention, but at the time the US saw the Doctrine as concerning European seizure of territory, rather than intervention per se. With prior promises that no such seizure would occur, the US allowed the action to go ahead without objection. The blockade saw Venezuela’s small navy quickly disabled, but Castro refused to give in, and instead agreed in principle to submit some of the claims to international arbitration, which he had previously rejected. Germany initially objected to this, particularly as it felt some claims should be accepted by Venezuela without arbitration.

When the US press reacted negatively to incidents including the sinking of two Venezuelan ships and the bombardment of the coast, the US pressured the parties to settle, and drew attention to its nearby naval fleet. With Castro failing to back down, US pressure and increasingly negative British and American press reaction to the affair, the blockading nations agreed to a compromise, but maintained the blockade during negotiations over the details. This led to the signing of an agreement on 13 February 1903 which saw the blockade lifted, and Venezuela commit 30% of its customs duties to settling claims. When an arbitral tribunal subsequently awarded preferential treatment to the blockading powers against the claims of other nations, the US feared this would encourage future European intervention. The episode contributed to the development of the Roosevelt Corollary to the United States’ Monroe Doctrine, asserting a right of the United States to intervene to "stabilize" the economic affairs of small states in the Caribbean and Central America if they were unable to pay their international debts, in order to preclude European intervention to do so.

Dutch-Venezuela War

Five years later, however, Castro again incited foreign naval intervention, this time by the Dutch, who seized a port and destroyed part of Venezuela’s tiny navy.

Castro’s overthrow in 1908, exile and death in 1924

Castro during his exile, 1913 In 1908 Castro had been seriously ill for four years due to a kidney problem.William M. Sullivan, "The Harassed Exile: General Cipriano Castro, 1908-1924", The Americas Vol. 33, No. 2 (Oct., 1976), pp. 282-297 Castro left for Paris in late 1908 to seek medical treatment for Syphilis, leaving the government in the hands of his lieutenant Gómez, the man who was instrumental in his victory of 1899. However, Gómez seized power himself. Castro spent the rest of his life in exile, mostly in Puerto Rico, making several plots to return to power — none of which were successful. Castro died 4 December 1924, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.