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Cipriano Castro

Cipriano Castro

[kas-troh; Sp. kahs-traw]
Castro, Cipriano, 1858?-1924, president of Venezuela (1901-8). In 1899 he usurped the government, overthrowing Andrade. Called the Lion of the Andes by his followers, he was a stern and arbitrary caudillo, who nevertheless improved the country's economy. Castro's administration is notable because of the financial claims (see Venezuela Claims) made by several foreign powers and his defiance of them. He retired briefly in 1906 and was succeeded by Juan Vicente Gómez, but after having violent disagreements with Gómez, Castro again assumed power. In 1908 Castro went to Europe. Gómez immediately deposed him and took control. Castro died in exile.

José Cipriano Castro Ruiz (1858-1924) was a military and Politician venezuelan. 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.

Early life

Cipriano Castro was the son of José Carmen Castro and Pelagia Ruiz. He was born on October 12, 1858 in Capacho, Táchira. Castro's father was a mid-level farmer and he received the an education typical of the tachirense middle-class. His family had significant mercantile and family relations with Colombia, in particlular with Cúcuta and Puerto Santander. After studying in his native town and the city of San Cristóbal, he continued his studies at a seminary school in Pamplona, Colombia (1872-1873). He left those studies to return to San Cristóbal, where he began work as employee of a company called Van Dissel, Thies and Ci'a. He also worked as a cowboy in the Andean region.

Military experience and introduction to politics

In 1876 Castro opposed the candidacy of general Francisco Alvarado for the presidency of the Táchira state. In 1878 he was working as the manager of the newspaper El Álbum when he participated along with a group of independence advocates in the seizure of San Cristóbal when they refused submit to the authority of the new president of the state.

In 1884, he got into a disagreement with a parish priest, Juan Ramón Cárdenas in Capacho, which led to his imprisonment in San Cristóbal. After six months, he escaped and took refuge in Cúcuta, where he ran an inn.. There he met his future wife, Rosa Zoila Martinez, who would become known as Doña Zoila. In June 1886, he returned to the Táchira as a soldier, accompanying generals Segundo Prato, Macabeo Maldonado and Carlos Rangel Garbiras to again raise the flag of autonomy, much to the dismay of the governor of the Táchira region, General Espíritu Santo Morales. Castro defeated government forces in Capacho Viejo and in Rubio. Promoted to general, himself, Castro began to stand out in the internal politics of Táchira state. It was during the burial of a fellow fighter, Evaristo Jaimes, who had been killed in the earlier fighting that Castro met Juan Vicente Gómez, his future companion in his rise to power. He entered politics and became the governor of his province of Táchira but was exiled to Colombia when the government in Caracas was overthrown in 1892. Castro lived in Colombia for seven years, amassing a fortune in illegal cattle trading and recruiting a private army.

Rise to power

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.

Once in charge, Castro inaugurated a period of plunder and political disorder having assumed the vacant presidency, after modifying the constitution (1904). He remained president for the period 1904-1911, designating Juan Vicente Gomez his "compadre" as vice-president.

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.

American president Theodore Roosevelt became preoccupied with these events in what he considered the United States' special sphere of influence: Latin America. Roosevelt was especially concerned with the prospects of penetration into the region by the German Empire. Unwilling to share trading rights, let alone military control, with any other nation, Roosevelt embarked on a series of ventures in the Caribbean and South America that established a pattern of U.S. imperialism in the region that would long outlast his presidency.

When Castro's government in Venezuela was no longer able to placate the demands of European bankers in 1902, naval forces from Great Britain, Italy, and Germany erected a blockade along the Venezuelan coast and even fired upon coastal fortifications to remind the Venezuelan caudillo, Cipriano Castro, of his debt to some of their nationals. At first content to stand by and allow Venezuela to weather this assault, Roosevelt soon became suspicious of German intentions when German ships began to bombard a Venezuelan port. The German naval bombardment set off rumors that Germany planned to establish a permanent base in the region. In 1903, Roosevelt warned the Germans (according to his own later account) that Admiral Dewey and his fleet were standing by in the Caribbean and would act against any German effort to acquire new overseas colonies. Thus, Roosevelt matched threat with threat; the German navy finally withdrew and the Europeans quickly retreated into the safer field of international diplomacy.

Because of events like the Venezuela incident, it began to dawn on Roosevelt that South American nations might be tempted to use the Monroe Doctrine as a cover for financial irresponsibility even to the point of deliberately defaulting on European loans. These countries might think that the willingness of the United States to keep Europeans out of active meddling in the Western Hemiphere would save them from their own mistakes and mismanagement. On the other hand, Roosevelt was sophisticated enough to also see that this same kind of South American irresponsibility might tempt European powers such as Germany to demand access to customs port revenues from defaulting nations, escalate that to control of a specific port and finally demand a temporary lease such as the Germans had acquired in China on the port of Kiauchow. In China, this "temporary" lease ended up being extended to ninety-nine years.

In short, the problem in Venezuela helped to persuade Roosevelt that European intrusions into Latin America could result not only from aggression but from internal instability or "irresponsibility" (such as defaulting on debts) within the Latin American nations themselves. This left the United States and President Roosevelt with an even greater determination to shut European imperialism out of Venezuela and the entire Western Hemisphere.

Venezuela problem stimulates "Roosevelt corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine

As a result of events in Venezuela, Roosevelt added a new "corollary" to the American Monroe Doctrine. In his address to Congress on December 6, 1904, Roosevelt claimed that the United States had the right not only to oppose European intervention in the Western Hemisphere but to intervene itself in the domestic affairs of its neighbors if those neighbors proved unable to protect U.S. investments in the region on their own. Roosevelt issued his corollary: "Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation," he announced in his annual message to Congress in December 1904, "and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power." Roosevelt tied his policy to the Monroe Doctrine to win public acceptance.

Castro agrees to European and American demands

The subsequent appearance of United States warships in 1902 convinced Castro to acquiesce to a financial settlement. Five years later, however, he again incited foreign naval intervention, this time by the Dutch, who seized a port and destroyed part of Venezuela's tiny navy. After mediation by the United States and a decision favorable to the European creditors by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, Venezuela met its obligations by 1907.

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

Seriously ill and exhausted by his excesses, Castro left for Paris in 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 December 4, 1924, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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