About a hundred years before Hugo Chavez took power in Venezuela, an Andean cowboy-turned-politician named Cipriano Castro took illegal cattle trade funds to launch a private army and attack Caracas. As leader of Venezuela for eight years, Castro lived in extravagant luxury, took control of foreign companies, refused to pay foreign debts, and aspired to broad Latin American leadership. The "Lion of the Andes" may be remembered somewhat fondly, at least by the Venezuelan government, but he stoked the ire of the Los Angeles Times editorial board. The board may have initially supported his position on foreign corporations, but it quickly turned, sticking up for the U.S. and suggesting Castro be "spanked."
Castro first comes to the attention of the editorial board on Feb. 28, 1905, after he had been in power for five years. Castro had already suffered one European naval blockade when he refused to make debt payments. The Times advocates a hands-off stance with foreign leaders while leaving a hands-on stance as a possibility under the right circumstances:
There is nothing peculiar, of course, about the fact that a revolution is in progress, or in contemplation, in Venezuela. In Venezuela, and in most of the republics to the south of us, a state of revolution seems to be about the normal condition of things, while peace and quiet are the exception. But it is a somewhat anomalous request that the government of the United States shall refrain from interfering in the affairs of Venezuela until a revolution shall have been successfully accomplished. The request is anomalous, because it is not the custom of the United States to interfere in the domestic affairs of any of the South American republics....[I]t would be in very bad taste, to say the least, for us to make any advance bargain or agreement with the enemies of the legal President of Venezuela, even if there be a strong prospect that they will soon come into power. We have nothing to do with the internal affairs of that government. If Castro should be deposed, we shall deal with his successor or successors holding power as the responsible government....No question in serious conflict with the Monroe doctrine has yet arisen in this affair, and it is not likely that any such questions will arise.... Our government will know precisely how to act in any crisis that may arise calling for action.
One month later, on March 21, 1905, The Times was pleased that Europe was letting the U.S. handle relations with Venezuela, which were testy at the time because Castro had seized American, French, and Italian companies. The Times warms up to the idea of intervention:
...[T]he military dictator of the incorrigible republic appears to be picking quarrels deliberately and impartially with the commercial representatives of all the other powers.... If [Castro] were a man of blameless rectitude, even a true although a rash and misguided patriot, the world at large might be inclined to wait patiently for his explanations before forming an unfavorable opinion of his latest high-handed proceedings. But it has become notorious that government in Venezuela simply means plunder and extortion by the gang that secure temporary ascendancy....On the broadest grounds of universal philanthropy it is a pitiful spectacle to see a land, favored by climate and rich in natural resources, thus given over to the eternal restlessness that inevitably means poverty and misery for the masses, while the corrupt coterie in power wax fat on the profits of misgovernment.... Business is paralyzed, credit destroyed, capital frightened away, and in the result men, women and children go hungry and in rags....[T]he United States cannot stand idly by, an unprotesting witness of the Venezuelan march toward chaos and national collapse. Whether we like it or not, trouble of this kind in a South American republic brings the Monroe doctrine into the forefront of international questions.... President Castro cannot be allowed to cast his country to the dogs without action on the part of the United States, for this would mean casting the Monroe doctrine to the dogs as well.
But by April 12, 1905, The Times is taking corporations to task, rather than Venezuelan leaders, for exploiting the country, sounding quite Castro-like themselves:
The principal trouble with Castro at the present time, however, is that he appears to be right. Therefore, the foreign vultures that have been plucking at the vitals of Venezuela for many years past, find it the more difficult to handle the fiery chieftain of our little southern neighbor....Venezuela is an exceedingly rich county [sic] in its resources, and its wealth has attracted fortune seekers from the time of Pizarro down through the long line of buccaneers who sailed the Spanish Main, even to this very hour.... European and American speculators and promoters have found Venezuela a productive field for operation in these modern times of soap-bubble schemes. They have gone into that country for the purpose of gutting her and leaving her behind them like a dried-up lemon skin with the pith and the juice all squeezed out of it. And whenever they found that the people of Venezuela protested against their methods these alien corporations set up a howl for warships to come over to the golden coast of Venezuela and shoot great, wide, gaping holes through the anatomies of the natives.
Three days later, The Times brings up Castro's masculinity after this, any mention of his manhood would be in disparaging terms:
President Castro is pursuing the only manly and honorable course open, in order that he may do justice to himself and to his country. It is shown that foreign speculators have been robbing and swindling Venezuela and other South American Republics in the most shameless and high-handed manner. But there's to be an end of that sort of thing now. The vultures must go.
On Aug. 23, 1905, The Times reacts to Castro's purchases of weaponry with more anti-corporate sentiment and some belittling words for "Casty":
It may be that Castro has some grievance against the United States.... If this be true, he ought to tell us so like a man, and not go sulking around and lying in ambush for us, like a wily Jap looking for a Russian. On more than one occasion we have shown ourselves to be the friend of Castro, and he ought not to treat us in such a measly fashion. We never thought it of Casty.It is quite possible, however, that our friend Castro is getting all this war material together for the purpose of driving off hostile syndicates, corporations, and other like varmints that seek to effect a landing in Venezuela that they may prey upon the country. If so, we can freely forgive him; and we should not blame him overmuch if he should use some of his explosive material to blow into kingdom come the foreign syndicates that have already fastened their tentacles upon his government.
This detour into anti-fatcat rhetoric, however, lasted only a few months. On Jan 28, 1906, The Times took the spotlight off corporations and returned to blaming Castro for his country's woes:
Most competent and unbiased authorities who have studied the situation on the spot concur in the verdict that the Castro regime marks an era of "graft" such us no South American republic has witnessed before....The chief pity is that President Castro, by the very effrontery of his own dishonesty, has arrayed such a strong sentiment in the Untied States on the side of those who cross the seas to exact the observance of international amenities, if needs be, at the cannon's mouth. There cannot be and shall not be any permanent occupation of Venezuelan territory by any foreign power; but we could have wished that the complications thus thrust upon the United States in maintaining this doctrine had been in defense of a worthier cause and of worthier leaders.
And on April 18, 1906, The Times wasn't taken in by Castro's fake resignation (he returned quickly to power):
The end may come by revolution and assassination. Or there may be discreet flight to climes and pastures new, when a sufficiency of plunder has been secured and further looting becomes an over-dangerous game. The taking off of Cipriano Castro appears likely to be of the latter order. But we shall know definitely now in a few days' time whether his loudly-vaunted patriotism and fire-eating defiance of the world at large (the Untied States included) were merely the carefully studied tricks of a grafting game. Some there be who still believe that Castro is an honest man, a loyal upholder of his country's rights, and altogether a fine type of American. But if his traveling trunks turn up on an ocean liner, even these few of wondrous faith will at last have their eyesight cleared of the mists of delusion.
Within a couple months, by June 28, 1906, The Times resumes its insults of Castro, and isn't too kind to Venezuela anymore, either:
If Senor Castro knows anything worth remembering, he assuredly knows that the United States has no "sinister designs" against either Venezuela or any of the other waspish little Republics of South or Central America....If this republic had not befriended and protected them, not one of those governments, now independent, would be in existence today....The saying that "republics are ungrateful" receives a new significance when little cross-grained chaps like Castro inveigh against their best friend among all the nations of the earth....
When the U.S. Department of State decided to reopen negotiations on debt payments with Venezuela, The Times seemed pleased and only vaguely threatening in its editorial on July 19, 1906:
If Venezuela should persist in the refusal to arbitrate the questions at issue, such refusal would be in effect a confession that its cause is not just, and that therefore it would be likely to suffer before an impartial tribunal. It is sincerely to be hoped that our government may not be compelled "to resort to more vigorous measures." But it is needless to say that we shall meet whatever necessity may arise, and in a manner commensurate with our national dignity, power, and inherent sense of justice.
By Aug. 30, 1907, The Times had moved so far from its earlier anti-corporate rhetoric as to offer a racially tinged excuse for any "aggressive" behavior by foreign companies:
Will these people never understand that we have none but the most friendly feelings for them, to do business, paying for what we get and giving a dollar's worth of goods for every dollar they are willing to pay us?...The trouble with Venezuela has a known source. Certain people in that country owe certain of their neighbors, some Europeans, some Americans, considerable sums of money.... These corporations have invested large sums of money in attempts to develop the natural resources of Venezuela.... It may possibly be that some of these foreign corporations have been aggressive, grasping privileges beyond those conceded to them.... If that has been done, it is another case of our uncomfortable position as the heirs of all the ages of Anglo-Saxon aggression.
Following China's example that country had recently boycotted Japanese goods The Times suggested a boycott of Venezuelan coffee on April 2, 1908:
So we have adopted the new Chinese way of making war and are going to apply it to Venezuela if that cocky little republic up in the mountains down there does not behave....Should these means of awakening a sense of justice in the mind of Mr. Castro prove ineffective, then the old way of fighting with balls may come, superseding the new way of fighting with coffee grams.... So long as Castros sit in the seats of the mighty and seek to rule by injustice and cruelty, so long will men have to go on learning war and practicing their lesson.
Two days later, The Times, comparing Castro to a variety show performer, seemed to advocate a more physical response:
the European power shave naturally looked to Uncle Sam, who is a kind of unwilling director of the whole South American vaudeville programme, to insist on an improvement. Uncle Sam, however, is long-suffering and full of mercy toward the southern performers whom he shelters beneath his Monroe doctrine wing.But signs are not wanting that he is getting so thoroughly disgusted with Castro's portrayal of his role that he is contemplating disciplining him. All the European powers, particularly France, Germany and Great Britain, would hugely rejoice were Uncle Sam to place Castro across his broad knee and administer stripes to him the while he made him see stars....Uncle Sam has always been patient with and kind toward the puffed-up rulers of the regions around the equator, many of whose queer actions may be laid to "a touch of sun." There comes a time, however, when patience is exhausted and kindness a mistake.
And The Times offered another metaphor for Castro, the "little, black, bald-headed bantam" on Aug. 20. 1908, comparing him to Ajax, the "greatest sheep-killer" and "terror to the Trojans":
He has defied every nation on earth, times without number, without ever even as much as getting off his front porch at Caracas, and then sighed because there were no more nations to defy.But we think he is at last nearing the end of his wild and picturesque career. Queen Wilhelmina is sending over from Holland a bevy of shooting boats, and by tomorrow France will be doing the same thing. Things have come to a focus, and Gen. Castro is about to get what we may properly refer to as "his."
By the end of that year, on Dec. 18, 1908, The Times seemed generally calm after Castro's departure to Europe for medical help (his lieutenant seized power while Castro was away):
The king-obsessed subjects of effete Europe, who have heard so much about the equality and democratic simplicity in the New World, will open their eyes very wide as they see these things illustrated by the person of Gen. Castro, President by the people's choice he being the people of Venezuela. The swellest hotel in modern Berlin, where imperial luxury reigns, thirty-eight rooms for this simple President of a primitive people....
And on April 12, 1909, The Times seemed convinced that Venezuela's troubles were over, and demonstrated why editorial boards should never be too optimistic:
All that the trouble over Castro means is that the United States with the necessary assistance of France and perhaps some of the other powers has determined to put a stop to traditional revolutions in the republics of Latin America.The little, sick man of the Caribbean who is also more or less crazy is finding out that he can't go back to Venezuela and throw that unhappy country into convulsions at will....Venezuela owes money to France, Germany, England, the Netherlands and other countries. These debts should be paid and can be paid easily enough if Venezuela is not intermittently torn with revolutions....[Castro] may rave and storm and compel the police to drag him to and fro in his pajamas, but he has come to the end of his string; and the breed of him is in a fair way to become extinct.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun