Cipriano Castro

José Cipriano Castro Ruiz (12 October 1858 – 4 December 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 four military strongmen from the Andean state of Táchira to rule the country over the next 46 years.

Cipriano Castro
Cipriano Castro 1908.jpg
Castro in 1908
President of Venezuela
In office
20 October 1899 – 19 December 1908
Preceded byIgnacio Andrade
Succeeded byJuan Vicente Gómez
Personal details
Born(1858-10-12)12 October 1858
Capacho, Táchira, Venezuela
Died4 December 1924(1924-12-04) (aged 66)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Resting placeNational Pantheon of Venezuela
SpouseZoila Rosa Martínez

Early lifeEdit

Cipriano Castro at the age of 25

Cipriano Castro was the son of José Carmen Castro and Pelagia Ruiz. He was born on 12 October 1858 in Capacho, Táchira. Castro's father was a mid-level farmer and he received an education typical of the tachirense middle-class. His family had significant mercantile and family relations with Colombia, in particular 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. During his early life he grew up with 22 brothers and sisters and his mother died which then lead on to his father marrying somebody else then leading to more siblings. He was very close to his family and he then sent most of his little brothers to study in Caracas

Military experience and introduction to politicsEdit

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 to 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.[1] There he met his future wife, Rosa Zoila Martínez, 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.


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 [es], 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 1899–1908, designating Juan Vicente Gómez 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 Dutch, British, German, and Italian naval units seeking to enforce the claims of their citizens against Castro's government.

Crisis of 1901–1903Edit

In 1901 the banker Manuel Antonio Matos was the leader of the Revolución Libertadora,[2] a major military movement with the intention to overthrow Cipriano Castro's government.[3] Severe disagreements between Castro and the foreign economic elite that support the revolution (as New York and Bermudez Company, Orinoco Shipping Company, Krupp, French Cable, and others) evolved into an open war that shook the country and brought the government to the brink of collapse.

On 2 April 1902, in response to rising political tension between the Netherlands and Venezuela to evacuate the Jews of Coro to Curaçao, the HNLMS Koningin Regentes and the HNLMS Utrecht arrived in the Venezuelan port of La Guaira. Prior to their arrival, the Venezuelan Navy had repeatedly checked Dutch and Antillean merchant ships and the presence of the Dutch warships acted as a deterrent against further actions.[4]

Caricature of Cipriano Castro, by William Allen Rogers, published in the New York Herald, January 1903

In November 1902, the troops at command of Castro himself broke the Siege of La Victoria, weakened the vast network of revolutionaries armies and its extraordinary power.

Few weeks after that, Venezuela saw a naval blockade of several months imposed by Britain, Germany and Italy[5] over Castro's refusal to pay foreign debts and damages suffered by European citizens in a recent Venezuelan civil war. Castro assumed that the Monroe Doctrine would see the United States prevent European military intervention, but at the time the government of president Theodore Roosevelt saw the Doctrine[6] 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.

Cipriano Castro and his war cabinet in 1902

When the world press reacted negatively to incidents including the sinking of two Venezuelan ships and the bombardment of the coast, the U.S pressured the parties to settle, and drew attention to its nearby naval fleet in Puerto Rico at command of Admiral George Dewey. With Castro failing to back down, Roosevelt 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 in Washington of an agreement on 13 February 1903 which saw the blockade lifted, and Venezuela represented by U.S. ambassador Herbert W. Bowen 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 U.S feared this would encourage future European intervention. The episode contributed to the development of the Roosevelt Corollary to 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. The revolutionaries, bearing a wound that could not be healed, succumbing finally in July 1903 in the Battle of Ciudad Bolivar after the siege of government army conducted by General Gomez, with which Matos decides to leave Venezuela, establishing itself in Paris.

Dutch–Venezuelan crisisEdit

Castro at Ellis Island during his exile, 1913

In 1908, a dispute broke out between the Netherlands and president Castro regime on the grounds of the harboring of refugees in Curaçao. Venezuela expelled the Dutch ambassador, prompting a Dutch dispatch of three warships – a coastal battleship, the HNLMS Jacob van Heemskerck, and two protected cruisers, the HNLMS Gelderland and the HNLMS Friesland. The Dutch warships had orders to intercept every ship that was sailing under the Venezuelan flag.

On 12 December 1908, the Gelderland captured the Venezuelan gunboat Alix off Puerto Cabello.[7] She and another ship the 23 de Mayo were interned in the harbor of Willemstad. With their overwhelming naval superiority, the Dutch enforced a blockade on Venezuela's ports.

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

Few days later, Castro, who had been seriously ill for four years due to a kidney problem,[8] left for Paris to seek medical treatment for syphilis, leaving the government in the hands of vice president Juan Vicente Gómez, the man who was instrumental in his victories of 1899 and 1903. However, on 19 December 1908, Gómez seized power himself and effectively ended the war with the Netherlands. A few days later, General Castro left for Berlin, nominally for a surgical operation. After that Castro suffered the harassment of the European powers resentful due to the policy that he had maintained towards them during his 8 years as president of Venezuela. Without resources to carry out an armed invasion, he went to Madrid and then recovered from his operation in Paris and in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. At the end of 1912 Castro intended to spend a season in the United States, but was captured and vexed by the immigration authorities of Ellis Island which forced him to leave in peremptory terms (February, 1913). He finally settled with his wife in Puerto Rico (1916), under close surveillance by spies sent by Juan Vicente Gómez, who assumed the Venezuelan presidency. Castro spent the rest of his life in exile in Puerto Rico, making several plots to return to power — none of which were successful. Castro died 4 December 1924, in Santurce, Puerto Rico.

Cipriano Castro cabinet (1899–1908)Edit

President Cipriano Castro 1899–1908
Home Affairs Juan Francisco Castillo 1899–1900
  Rafael Cabrera Malo 1900–1901
  José Antonio Velutini 1901–1902
  Rafael López Baralt 1902–1903
  Leopoldo Baptista 1903–1907
  Julio Torres Cárdenas 1907
  Rafael López Baralt 1907–1908
Outer Relations Raimundo Andueza Palacio 1899–1900
  Eduardo Blanco 1900–1901
  Jacinto Regino Pachano 1901–1902
  Diego Bautista Ferrer 1902–1903
  Alejandro Urbaneja 1903
  Gustavo Sanabria 1903–1905
  Alejandro Ibarra 1905–1906
  José de Jesús Paúl 1906–1908
Finance Ramón Tello Mendoza 1899–1903
  José Cecilio De Castro 1903–1906
  Francisco de Sales Pérez 1906
  Gustavo Sanabria 1906
  Eduardo Celis 1906–1907
  Arnaldo Morales 1906–1907
War and Navy José Ignacio Pulido 1899–1902
  Ramón Guerra 1902–1903
  José María García Gómez 1903
  Manuel Salvador Araujo 1903–1904
  Joaquín Garrido 1904–1905
  José María García Gómez 1905–1906
  Diego Bautista Ferrer 1906
  Manuel Salvador Araujo 1906–1907
  Diego Bautista Ferrer 1907–1908
Development José Manuel Hernández 1899
  Celestino Peraza 1899
  Guillermo Tell Villegas Pulido 1899–1900
  Ramón Ayala 1900–1901
  Felipe Arocha Gallegos 1901–1902
  Arnaldo Morales 1902–1903
  José T. Arria 1903
  Rafael Garbiras Guzmán 1903–1904
  Arnaldo Morales 1904–1905
  Diego Bautista Ferrer 1905–1906
  Arístides Tellería 1906
  Arnaldo Morales 1906
  Jesús María Herrera Irigoyen 1906–1908
Public Works Victor Rodríguez 1899
  Juan Otáñez Maucó 1899–1902
  Rafael María Carabaño 1902–1903
  Ricardo Castillo Chapellín 1903
  Alejandro Rivas Vásquez 1903–1904
  Ricardo Castillo Chapellín 1904–1906
  Luis Mata Illas 1906
  Juan Casanova 1906–1908
Public Instruction Manuel Clemente Urbaneja 1899–1900
  Félix Quintero 1900–1901
  Tomás Garbiras 1901–1902
  Rafael Monserrate 1902–1903
  Eduardo Blanco 1903–1905
  Arnaldo Morales 1905–1906
  Enrique Siso 1906
  Carlos León 1906
  Eduardo Blanco 1906
  Laureano Villanueva 1906–1907
  José Antonio Baldó 1907–1908
Secretary of Presidency Celestino Peraza 1899
  Julio Torres Cárdenas 1899–1906
  Lucio Baldó 1906
  José Rafael Revenga 1906–1907
  Rafael Gárbiras Guzmán 1907–1908
  Leopoldo Baptista 1908

In popular cultureEdit

Cipriano Castro was portrayed by Roberto Moll in the 2017 film La planta insolente.[10]

Personal lifeEdit

Castro was married to Zoila Rosa Martínez,[citation needed] who served as First Lady of Venezuela from 1899 to 1908.[citation needed] Castro's daughter was the actress of silent movies Rosa Castro Martínez Lucille Mendez [es].[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Unsigned (28 August 1901) "Man of Mark: Is President Castro Whose Life of War, Adventure and Romance Would Keep a Dozen Novelists Busy" Moberly Evening Democrat (vol. 31) (Moberly Missouri) p.1, col. 3
  2. ^ Amaro Arias, Alberto 2000:Historia de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela
  3. ^ Liway Rodriguez, Gilberto 2000: Nueva Historia de Venezuela
  4. ^ " :: Maritieme kalender 1902" (in Dutch). Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  5. ^ Fonzo, Erminio (2015). "Italia y el bloqueo naval de Venezuela (1902-1903)". Cultura Latinoamericana. 21 (1): 35–61. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  6. ^ "Gunboats, Corruption, and Claims: Foreign Intervention in Venezuela, 1899-1908" by Brian Stuart McBeth
  7. ^ McBeth 2001, p. 221.
  8. ^ William M. Sullivan, "The Harassed Exile: General Cipriano Castro, 1908–1924", The Americas Vol. 33, No. 2 (Oct. 1976), pp. 282–297
  9. ^ “Gaceta Oficial de Venezuela” Period 1899–1908
  10. ^ "Roberto Moll y el día que fue declarado "clínicamente muerto": "Le dijeron a mi hija que haga los trámites de la funeraria"". El Comercio (in Spanish). 6 February 2020. Retrieved 8 December 2022.
  11. ^ "John M. Anderson to Build Theatre". New York Times: 12. 8 July 1925. Retrieved 25 September 2018.


External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by President of Venezuela
1899 – 1908
Succeeded by