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....