The preservation of peace and stability and the protection of the Panama Canal approaches were the principal goals of United States diplomacy in the Caribbean during the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt. One of the most serious impediments to the realization of these goals was the diplomatic conduct pursued by Venezuela and its capricious ruler, Cipriano Castro. The failure of the Caracas government to honor faithfully its financial obligations had provoked a stormy diplomatic episode in 1902-1903 when Germany, Italy, and Great Britain threatened forceful intervention in Venezuela to secure satisfaction. Such hostility brought forth the decisive hand of President Roosevelt to ensure a prompt and orderly settlement. The so-called Venezuelan claims controversy of 1902-1903 has interested students and scholars alike, who have recounted the episode in numerous publications.1

Less attention, however, has been directed toward the events following 1903 when Venezuela’s behavior failed to improve, and another diplomatic controversy erupted causing the United States again to focus attention upon the turbulent Castro regime. This second Venezuelan controversy posed a diplomatic conundrum to President Roosevelt and his Secretaries of State, John Hay and later Elihu Root, as they labored toward a satisfactory solution.

In January 1904, Venezuela appeared secure and peaceful when Herbert W. Bowen, United States minister to Caracas, returned to his diplomatic post. The minister expected that Venezuela’s relations with foreign countries would take a more acceptable course now that the claims controversy was nearing a final settlement. Following his return, Bowen held an interview with President Castro during which Castro gave assurances that claims would be honored and that there would be no difficulties with foreign powers. Later the Venezuelan chief executive stated: “Our relations with the United States are perfectly harmonious and cordial.. . .” Minister Bowen was so impressed that he informed the State Department of the improved situation in Venezuela.2

Before the year 1904 was over, Bowen’s early optimism waned, as Venezuelan diplomatic troubles reappeared. Initially the minister’s renewed concern stemmed from the Caracas government’s delay in carrying out the provisions agreed on to settle the claims controversy of 1902-1903. Eventually Castro grudgingly honored the settlement, and that issue slowly abated.3 Meanwhile, however, Castro’s cavalier methods provoked a new and vexing controversy that embroiled not only the United States but also France and the Netherlands.4 The complaints of the last two countries reinforced those brought by five American claimants against the Venezuelan government, and all combined to precipitate Roosevelt’s second Venezuelan controversy.

Troubled United States foreign investors found the Roosevelt administration a sympathetic listener to complaints about treatment by the Castro regime. The President held little respect for the unstable and underdeveloped Caribbean republics, especially Venezuela, which he regarded as especially irresponsible and untrustworthy. Castro, whom he identified as one of the most unsavory of presidents,5 treated other foreign interests so high-handedly as to arouse strong and universal disapproval from the major powers.

The first of the five claims came to the attention of official Washington in June 1904, when Minister Bowen informed his superiors that the Castro government had seized the Venezuelan properties of the New York and Bermúdez Asphalt Company.6 The company, a subsidiary of General Asphalt of Philadelphia, was exploiting the natural asphalt of the Guanoco Lake in eastern Venezuela, a concession which it had acquired from the original grantee in 1885. As the American concessionaires proceeded to develop their lease, enlarged by later grants, extensive litigation was required to protect the property from claims by Venezuelan nationals. But in January 1904 the Venezuelan court ended the prolonged litigation by validating the company’s title.7

Six months later, however, the asphalt firm was confronted with renewed troubles when the Venezuelan government charged that the company had violated its contract by assisting a rebel force during the abortive Matos uprising. Following the company’s unacceptable explanation, the Castro regime seized its properties,8 and in 1905 the Venezuelan courts upheld the government’s charges and actions.9 Meanwhile, the desperate and aggrieved New York and Bermúdez Company had appealed successfully to the United States for diplomatic assistance.10

Though Bowen urged military intervention, official Washington preferred less direct methods. Both the State Department and the minister recognized that the Castro government was also abusing investors from several other countries. Bowen reasoned that Castro would continue these practices under shelter of the Monroe Doctrine and proposed that the United States assume some responsibility for the misbehavior of Caribbean republics if it continued to oppose intervention by European powers seeking redress.11 President Roosevelt discussed the dilemma with his Secretary of State, John Hay, and recommended intervention to remove any pretext for similar action by a foreign power. The president referred to the policy announced in his letter to Elihu Root which the latter made public before a Cuban anniversary dinner held in May 1904.12 Because of the approaching presidential election, however, Roosevelt declined any policy statement or decisive measure at this time.13 But in December, following his successful election, the president announced that the United States would assume some responsibility for the behavior of Latin American states through his so-called Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.14

In the same month of December, the United States took up the second of its five grievances against the Castro government when it decided to support the claim brought by Albert Felix Jaurett resulting from his expulsion from the country. Venezuela accused Jaurett of meddling in domestic politics and reporting libelous information about the Castro government for publication in the New York Herald. Jaurett’s arbitrary and immediate expulsion had denied him an opportunity to settle his affairs in Venezuela, causing him financial losses. For its part, the Venezuelan government tried to refute Jaurett’s American citizenship and to prove that he had interferred in Venezuelan domestic politics.15 Nevertheless, the State Department, following an investigation of the charges, concluded that Jaurett held a valid claim which deserved its support. The case evoked strong support from Francis B. Loomis, Assistant Secretary of State, whose reaction to Venezuela’s charges was the terse comment that nothing “less than a gunboat [would] be availing.”16

In January 1905 United States claims against Venezuela increased to four when official Washington supported the grievances of the Orinoco Steamship Company and the United States and Venezuela Company. The claim of the former company arose from efforts to secure reconsideration of an arbitral award rendered in 1903 regarding claims against Venezuela. The company averred that the umpire deciding the ease had violated his instructions to judge the issue “upon the basis of absolute equity, without regard to objectives of a technical nature or . . . the provisions of local legislation.’17 Instead he had thrown out several claims because of the Calvo clause in the contract.18 Article 14 of the contract, the so-called Calvo clause, stated: “Disputes and controversies which may arise with regard to interpretation or execution of this contract shall be resolved by the tribunals of the Republic in accordance with the laws of the nation, and shall not in any ease be considered as motive for international reclamations.”19 Since the United States had never recognized the Calvo clause, it decided to support the company’s claims.

The United States and Venezuela Company, like the New York and Bermúdez Company, was an asphalt concessionaire harassed by the Castro government. The Caracas regime had raised taxes and levied additional duties which the company considered as illegal and disastrous to its future welfare. When the company declined to pay the additional assessment and the Castro government prohibited further exportation of asphalt, the firm faced an economic crisis. Venezuela recommended that the developers present all grievances to the local courts, but warned that any appeal to the United States government was strictly forbidden by the Calvo clause of the company’s contract. In late January the asphalt firm suspended operations and turned to the State Department for assistance.20

Momentarily in January conditions for settlement looked promising when Bowen reported a willingness by Castro to discuss the four claims with the State Department. But a month of diplomatic exchange brought the two nations no nearer agreement, and further deliberation was suspended. A key obstacle was Castro’s firm adherence to the Calvo Doctrine, which the State Department declined to recognize. The exasperated Bowen again urged wielding the big stick to secure satisfaction and to ensure Venezuela’s continued payment on its foreign debt.21

In March the State Department appeared more determined when Secretary Hay on March 10 forwarded a dispatch that presented the United States position in terms capable of being construed as an ultimatum to Caracas. The Hay note summarized the American position, challenged the Venezuelan arguments, proposed arbitration in rigorous terms, and concluded with the demand that “if the Government of Venezuela finally declines to consent to an impartial arbitration ... the United States may be regretfully compelled to take such measures as it may find necessary to effect redress without resort to arbitration.” Furthermore, the United States “will be at liberty to consider whether those measures shall include complete indemnification, not only for the citizens aggrieved but for any expenses . . . which may attend their execution.”22 The reply from Caracas refused arbitration, denied any pending questions with the United States, and inquired whether “the United States respects and reveres equally the agreements and arbitral decisions which it, representing the Venezuelan Government, concluded.”23 The smaller Caribbean republic had soundly rebuffed the proposal of its giant neighbor to the north.

When questioned on measures regarding Castro, Roosevelt replied that “there is nothing to do but hold our temper.” He regarded Castro as an “unspeakably villainous little monkey” and wanted to send an expedition against him, but the president believed that public opinion would not support such measures at this time.24 Furthermore, competing for his attention were other pending diplomatic questions: the Russo-Japanese War, senatorial opposition to the president’s policy in the Dominican Republic, and emerging troubles in Morocco.25

Also Venezuelan relations took an unfavorable turn in April after the New York Herald published a sensational report of charges by Minister Bowen that Assistant Secretary of State Francis B. Loomis had exploited his former position as minister to Caracas (1897-1901) for personal and financial gain. The Herald ran banner headlines— “Scandals Cloud Our Diplomacy in Venezuela” and “Caracas Scandal Must Be Probed to the Bottom”—and magnified the charges into a diplomatic incident.26

Somewhat later William Howard Taft investigated the matter and officially cleared Loomis of the accusations, while Minister Bowen was dismissed from the diplomatic service.27 But meanwhile the Loomis-Bowen affair had excited new press criticism of the administration’s Venezuelan policy. The New York and Bermúdez Asphalt Company, an especial target of several journalists, evoked little sympathy from the American press,28 and few would support any decisive measures on behalf of such claimants. The impetuous Roosevelt rashly summarized the situation: “In Venezuela I am tempted to wish that Castro would execute Bowen and thereby give us good reason for smashing Castro.”29

Meanwhile, Castro strengthened his political position in Venezuela. Following a dramatic personal appeal for support in the rural areas, he returned to the capital amidst a prearranged celebration and was elected to another six-year term as president by a subservient congress. To complete his personal triumph, Castro then boldly defended his diplomacy before congress. He stressed governmental efforts to fulfill all financial obligations and his own endeavors to establish amicable relations with all nations. He minimized differences with the United States, absolved himself of any responsibility for them, and finally judged the whole question beyond his control. Castro ended his remarks with the nationalistic assertion that Venezuela could not accede to the demands of the United States “since the sovereignty and independence of the Republic were involved.”30

Considering the recent developments, Roosevelt, in June 1905, decided that a thorough re-examination of the thorny controversy was sorely needed. Accordingly, the president sent his friend William J. Calhoun, an Illinois jurist, to Venezuela, instructing him to “investigate and report the facts in connection with the asphalt controversy and the Venezuelan Government.. . .”31

Just after Roosevelt issued these instructions, Secretary of State John Hay died, and Elihu Root became the new secretary. The appointment shifted leadership in the conduct of foreign relations, for the president had been acting largely as his own secretary, and he now began a fruitful collaboration with his new appointee. In Latin American affairs Root exercised a greater role than in any other area because of his special concern and Roosevelt’s willingness to exert less influence here. While Root directed his major efforts toward the improvement of relations with Latin America, his distinctive contribution concerned the means rather than the ends of inter-American diplomacy.32

The president’s greeting to his new secretary was “welcome back ... I shall now cheerfully unload Venezuela and Santo Domingo on you.”33 However, although Root was appointed to office in July and issued official instructions to Calhoun as outlined by the president, he waited until October before assuming personal direction of departmental affairs.34 In regard to Venezuela, Root renewed representations toward a friendly settlement, but enjoyed no more success than his predecessor. The secretary had instructed William E. Russell, newly appointed minister to Venezuela, that “the Department entertains the hope that the questions between the United States and Venezuela may be settled without recourse to either of the alternatives contemplated in the dispatch of March 10, 1905.”35 The New York and Bermúdez Company also attempted to negotiate with Venezuela through a special representative dispatched to Caracas from the United States. He too failed to accomplish anything.36

The Venezuelan controversy developed a new dimension when France became embroiled in a dispute with the Caracas government.37 The government had been harassing a French cable company, and in September 1905 it expelled the company director when he protested too vigorously. After several acrimonious notes had been exchanged, the French government informed its representative in Caracas that two French cruisers at Martinique were at his disposal. The United States then instructed Minister Russell to mediate between the two nations.38 With each passing month the French, exasperated at Castro’s behavior, were becoming more belligerent. This attitude was quite apparent in December when Root told Russell that only the efforts of the administration had prevented France from using force.39

On December 14 Jean Jules Jusserand, the French ambassador to the United States, told Roosevelt and Root that if the American good offices were not successful, a breaking of relations could not be avoided and France “would have to employ more telling measures than the mere sending of naval vessels into Venezuelan waters.” Jusserand was referring to French occupation of Venezuelan territory. While the president indicated no opposition, declaring that the Monroe Doctrine could not be used as a shield against the consequences of wrongdoing, Roosevelt and Root sought a pledge from France that there would be no permanent occupation of territory. Root requested France “to follow a procedure which would not create such a precedent as would prove troublesome in the future.”40 In January 1906 the French severed diplomatic relations with the Castro government—the first of the decisive measures discussed in the meeting of December 14.41

If France intended by breaking relations to prod Castro into accepting its demands, the effort was a failure. Instead of submitting, Castro retaliated heedlessly by restricting commercial intercourse with France and closing all Venezuelan consulates in that country. Although relations between the two nations now approached a diplomatic crisis, France took no further steps.42 Undoubtedly the Quai d’Orsay realized that a transoceanic demonstration might prove easier to begin than to conclude successfully and that growing difficulties with Germany over Morocco were more urgent.43 One Paris journal, however, did suggest United States intervention to resolve the dispute.44

Roosevelt maintained a close vigilance over the widening rift between the two nations. From a news correspondent he received a report regarding Venezuelan military preparedness.45 The president did contemplate the possibility of American intervention, for on January 22 he inquired of the General Staff: Is there “a plan developed for the campaign against Venezuela, including transports, and so forth ? Any such campaign should be undertaken with a force so large as to minimize the chance of effective resistance.”46 Despite such bellicose remarks, intervention was not forthcoming. The Senate’s opposition to Roosevelt’s policy in the Dominican Republic and Root’s restraining hand held the hyperactive president in check.

The Castro government did display some concern, however, over the French measures. On January 26, Caracas directed its minister in Washington to ask Root if the United States, in the present circumstances, would maintain and defend the Monroe Doctrine. To this question the secretary replied that “the United States is not aware that any circumstances exist which require action by the United States to maintain and defend the Monroe Doctrine.”47 The State Department, of course, understood the limits of French intentions in Venezuela from a previous discussion with France.

In early 1906 the State Department shifted its attention to a claim brought by the Orinoco Corporation against Venezuela. The corporation’s endeavors to develop an area lease in the delta of the Orinoco River had been severely hampered by the Castro government, which had first granted portions of the lease to other developers and then attempted to secure judicial annulment of the concession. When the firm contested the government’s actions and requested damages, the dispute was added to the questions considered by the arbitral commissions of 1903. The umpire, whose verdict decided the case, upheld the legality of the concession, but employed the Calvo clause of the contract to disallow several of the claims.48 Even after the arbitral award, Castro’s rough handling of the Orinoco Corporation continued. Another Venezuelan effort in 1906 to gain judicial annulment of the concession convinced the desperate company officials to turn to the State Department for assistance.49 Their grievancies became the fifth question at issue between the United States and the troublesome Castro regime.

In June 1906, following an examination of the five claims, Secretary Root drew up an ultimatum, which demanded an immediate settlement either by negotiation or arbitration. The note asserted that Venezuelan practices “have given the . . . United States serious concern, the more so as the lapse of time seems not to mitigate but on the contrary to perpetuate these injuries.” The United States “cannot with indifference see vested rights of American citizens taken from them.” “It now becomes necessary,” the dispatch continued, “to demand from the Venezuelan Government that which it heretofore preferred only by way of request.” Minister Russell was instructed “to insist that [Venezuela] give to each and every demand herein set forth an immediate and unequivocal acceptance.”50

The Root never dispatched his ultimatum, however, for he decided to delay a showdown with the recalcitrant Castro until after his return from the meeting of the Pan American Conference at Rio de Janeiro. Root regarded his trip to South America, the first by a Secretary of State, as an opportunity to promote good will and understanding. He wrote the president that the Venezuelan question should be put aside for the moment, because forceful measures would create an unfavorable reaction at the conference and also because several claims were “not quite in shape to be pressed.”51 The president concurred.

Before his departure the secretary instructed State Department officials to prepare another note. The demands upon Venezuela, Root directed, “should be historical and argumentative and less directory; should state the grounds and reasons for the several demands and the efforts on our part to bring about settlements.”52 Since the proposed note of June had excluded the claim of the United States and Venezuela Company, the secretary requested the company’s legal counsel “to get their claims into shape,” so that “we can show a clean sweep of all American interests.”53 The more moderate instructions testified to Root’s regard for diplomatic amenities, forbearance, and public opinion.

Following the secretary’s return from South America in October 1906, official Washington renewed efforts to deal more actively with the Venezuelan controversy. Calhoun’s account of his Venezuelan investigation, now in the possession of the State Department, reported that both the Caracas government and the New York and Bermúdez Company were guilty of improprieties. Therefore, on this particular the department’s position had not been strengthened. But Calhoun reasoned that the United States and Venezuela Company had been unfairly treated, since it had fulfilled the obligations of the contract. He concluded that it was “a thankless task to attempt to analyze or decide such questions in a country where there is no continuous and orderly administration of public affairs [and] where constitutions are so frequently changed or amended and so often suspended or abrogated.”54 Secretary Root, whose sentiments resembled those of Calhoun, wrote that Venezuela “is in a bad humor for the moment because her President, Castro, is a crazy brute.”55

On February 28, 1907, the United States again laid its case before the Venezuelan government when Root dispatched a lengthy and legalistic analysis of the five claims with instructions for Minister Russell to reopen discussions.56 The secretary planned first to attempt a negotiated settlement with arbitration only suggested and, if unsuccessful, then to present a formal proposal for arbitration. But after another year of diplomatic exchange, the two nations had failed to reach any accord. Venezuela’s blunt and explicit reply of February 1908 stated that Caracas would “view with satisfaction if the . . . United States would consider the question as closed.”57 The Castro government insisted that the five claimants had neither any basis for their charges nor any justification for soliciting United States assistance.

President Roosevelt felt thwarted by this unrewarding effort and the secretary had to restrain him from using force to settle the problem.58 Roosevelt still believed as he had a year previously: “Someday I fear we shall have to spank Venezuela.”59 But both men recognized that American public opinion would surely frown on a display of force to secure satisfaction. Such methods would also undermine Root’s efforts at creating good will in Latin America and might react unfavorably upon the administration in a presidential election year when polities dictated that thorny diplomatic issues must be handled with consummate restraint. Nevertheless, the problem could not remain unresolved for long.

At this point, Roosevelt and Root decided to consult the Senate. On March 31 the Senate received copies of the diplomatic correspondence relating to the controversy, which it referred to the Foreign Relations Committee for recommendation.60 The committee, however, did not suggest any course of action or even display any concern over the problem. Much perturbed by the Senate’s failure to act, Roosevelt and Root several times discussed possible aggressive measures.61 Ironically, American intervention was encouraged by Colombia, a nation which was still resentful toward Washington for its decisive role in the secession of Panama nearly five years earlier. The government at Bogotá, also at odds with Castro, judged the Venezuelan president a menace to world peace and would applaud his fall from power as an international blessing.62 Root, however, was now inclined to rely on the hope that Castro’s turbulent rule would bring about his own destruction. The secretary wrote: “Venezuela is getting into a desperate condition and it cannot go on very long without a change.”63

In June 1908 United States policy seemed to assume a more decisive character when Washington severed diplomatic relations with the Caracas government. This sudden turn of events was headlined by the Chicago Daily Tribune: “Big Stick Swings: Castro to Feel it.”64 Big stick diplomacy, however, was not Root’s method of handling the problem; his policy more closely resembled watchful waiting. The secretary reasoned that Castro’s reckless behavior, which had now created diplomatic storms abroad and restlessness at home might soon lead to the establishment of a new order in that country. A diplomatic rupture with the United States would certainly compound Castro’s difficulties.65

Beset with diplomatic and domestic troubles, Castro acquired another problem when the smoldering embers of hostility between Venezuela and the Netherlands suddenly flamed. For many years the two nations had regarded each other with suspicion and antagonism. In July the situation worsened when Castro severed relations with The Hague government in retaliation for an alleged Dutch affront.66 This move appeared crucial to Root, who wrote to the Colombian minister: “Venezuela is steadily approaching a crisis in her affairs which will lead to important changes.”67

The secretary’s estimate of the course of events was essentially correct, for the administration’s self-restraint was about to bear fruit. The Dutch government dispatched several naval vessels to Curaçao to strengthen its position in the Caribbean, whereupon the United States assured the Netherlands that it would not oppose Dutch measures which did not involve the permanent occupation of territory.68 Then suddenly on November 21, Castro sailed to Europe for medical treatment, leaving the presidency in the hands of the vice-president, Juan Vicente Gómez. Almost at once rumors spread regarding the loyalty and possible direction of Gómez’s policy in the absence of the president.69 Root expressed the hope that the present situation would “lead to an effective reaction and the inauguration of a permanently better state of things.”70

Changes in Venezuela were soon forthcoming. When Dutch vessels cruised in battle formation off Venezuelan shores, exciting inhabitants of the coastal towns, Acting President Gómez assumed the emergency powers conferred by the constitution on the chief executive in time of war with a foreign power. Then Gómez discarded the mask of Castro’s faithful subordinate and proclaimed himself president.71 Another Latin American coup d’état had been accomplished.

Both Roosevelt and Root closely observed the direction of events in the Caribbean to determine how American interests could best be served. A few days before the coup Roosevelt wrote his secretary: “Surely this is a time to send a first-class man down there in order to be on the ground floor before the trouble takes place.”72 Following the coup the State Department learned through the Brazilian embassy in Washington that the new regime sought to end satisfactorily all international questions. The Gómez government also suggested that the presence of American warships at La Guaira would prevent incidents.73

Official Washington quickly took the hint and dispatched to Venezuela several naval vessels and a special representative aboard one of them with instructions to negotiate with the new government.74 This prompt response, which bolstered the new administration, evoked both favorable and unfavorable commentary in the American press.75 Nevertheless, negotiations regarding the five questions at issue were soon under way with the Gómez government, and the controversy was eventually resolved.76

Roosevelt’s second Venezuelan controversy was settled in a satisfactory manner without arousing sharp criticism from either the American people or the Latin American republics. The episode demonstrated how the pressures and resources of a great power may be applied to resolve a contentious diplomatic question without resorting to a dramatic or blatant show of force. Patience, dispatch, and vigilance for opportunities guided the diplomatic course of Roosevelt and his two Secretaries of State. The Castro regime, indeed, confronted the Roosevelt administration with a vexing Caribbean controversy that had stirred frequent discussion of forceful measures. But although Washington officials supported the five claimants in their financial grievances, they opposed direct intervention, especially Secretary Root, who felt that undoubtedly such policies would complicate relations with Latin America and invite condemnation by the American public. Furthermore, the measures pursued by France and the Netherlands did not seem to endanger the security of the canal or to foreshadow the permanent occupation of territory. In the end, the United States severed relations and patiently awaited any opportunities that might unfold. It was a combination of events— pressure by the Dutch with Washington’s approval, Castro’s sudden exit, the December coup d’état, and American disposition to support a new regime—that produced a government willing to negotiate outstanding differences.

The relations between the United States and Venezuela significantly improved with the coming of the new president. At the outset, Gómez recognized that cordial diplomatic relations were essential to his continued tenure of office; furthermore, he was impressed by foreign military power, especially the growing strength of the United States and Germany.77 Therefore, he was careful to cultivate good relations with them and with the other principal powers. He acknowledged just foreign claims and, with income from the new oil concessions, restored Venezuela’s credit by paying off the nation’s foreign debt. On the domestic side, the iron hand of Gómez brought internal order to the country for the duration of his long rule. Consequently, Venezuela’s diplomatic behavior was no longer a matter of concern in the conduct of United States Caribbean affairs.


Howard K. Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (Baltimore, 1956), 339-370; Chester L. Jones, The Caribbean Since 1900 (New York, 1936), 208-262; Dana G. Munro, Intervention and Dollar Diplomacy in the Caribbean (Princeton, 1964), 65-77. For exploits of Castro see Mariano Picón-Salas, Los días de Cipriano Castro (Caracas, 1953).


Herbert W. Bowen to John Hay, January 9, 1904, U.S. Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1904 (Washington, D.C., 1862-), 869-870 (cited hereafter as Foreign Relations). Message of Castro to Venezuelan Congress, enclosure in Bowen to Hay, March 2, 1904, ibid., 871-872.


Jones, The Caribbean Since 1900, 263-264. It was not until February 1913 that the United States received the final installment on the amounts due under the awards of 1903. Jefferson Caffery to Secretary of State, February 17, 1913, Decimal File 431.11/227 #149, Department of State Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C.


Venezuela was also involved in a prolonged boundary-dispute with Colombia. The principal controversy revolved about the source of a small stream which emptied into Lake Maracaibo and disputed claims over the area south of the Meta River and west of the Orinoco River. Arbitral decisions were rendered in 1892 and 1922, but it was not until 1932 that the boundary was marked. U.S. Army, Foreign Studies Division, Area Handbook for Venezuela (Washington, D.C., 1964), 308-309. For additional information see Antonio José Uribe, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Brazil, Nicaragua, Panamá; Las cuestiones de límites y de libre navegación fluvial (Bogotá, 1931).


One recent Venezuelan historian interpreted Castro’s actions against foreign capitalists as proof of his ardent nationalism and of his opposition to the monopolistic encroachments of the foreigner. Guillermo Morón, A History of Venezuela, (New York, 1963), 187.


Bowen to Hay, June 14, 1904, Venezuela Despatches, Department of State Records, National Archives, Washington D.C. (cited hereafter as DS Despatches).


Orray E. Thurber, Castro and the Asphalt Trust (New York, 1907), 5-10; Elihu Root to Herbert W. Bowen, Foreign Relations, 1908, 786-789; Bowen to Secretary of State, January 28, 1904, DS Despatches.


Bowen to Secretary of State, June 14, 25 and 27, and July 24, 1904, DS Despatches; Gustavo J. Sanabria to Bowen, August 6, 1904, Venezuela, Min. de Relaciones Exteriores, Exposición que dirige al Congreso Nacional en sus sesiones constitucionales, 1905 (Caracas, 1835-1905), 141-142; ibid., August 20, 1905, 145; ibid., October 29, 1905, 148-150. Soon after Castro seized power in 1899, a major rebellion led by Manuel Antonio Matos broke out in eastern Venezuela. For more than two years there was heavy fighting, but Castro triumphed in April 1903.


Norman Hutchinson to Secretary of State, June 20, 1905, DS Despatches.


Alvey A. Adee to Bowen, August 15, 1904, Venezuela Instructions, Department of State Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C. (cited hereafter as DS Instruction).


Bowen to Secretary of State, June 25, and August 7, 1904, DS Instructions; William L. Penfield to Adee, July 25, 1904, DS Instructions; Jones, The Caribbean Since 1900, 263-264.


Theodore Roosevelt to Elihu Boot, May 20, 1904, Elting E. Morison (ed.), The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt (8 vols., Cambridge, 1951-1954), IV, 801; Roosevelt to Hay, September 2, 1904, ibid., 917.


Roosevelt to Hay, August 30, 1904, ibid., 914. The president wrote: “Of course I should want such action deferred until after the election.”


Message of the president, December 6, 1904, Foreign Relations, 1904, XLI-XLII.


Sanabria to Hutchinson, December 7, 1904, Exposición, 1905, 210-211; ibid., December 14, 1905, 213-216; En el asunto de Albert Felix Jaurett, ibid., 212-213; Hutchinson to Hay, November 17, December 1, and December 11, 1905, DS Despatches.


Francis B. Loomis to Penfield, December 15, 1904, DS Instructions.


Protocol of Agreement between the United States and Venezuela, Foreign Relations, 1903, 804-805.


Root to Russell, February 28, 1907, Foreign Relations, 1908, 780-786; Jones, The Caribbean Since 1900, 268-269.


Jackson H. Ralston, Venezuelan Arbitrations of 1903 (Washington, D.C., 1904), 86-87 (quoted from original contract). This idea stemmed from the writings of the Argentine jurist, Carlos Calvo, whose six-volume treatise on international law appeared during the years from 1868 to 1896. Donald R. Shea, The Calvo Clause: A Problem in Inter-American and, International Law and Diplomacy (Minneapolis, 1954), 19-20.


Root to Russell, February 28, 1907, Foreign Relations, 1908, 776-778.


Bowen to Secretary of State, January 7, January 19, January 21, and February 2, 1905, DS Despatches; Hay to Bowen, February 3, 1905, DS Instructions.


Hay to Bowen, March 10, 1905, DS Instructions.


Alejandro Ybarra to Bowen, March 23, 1905, Exposición, 1905, 173.


Roosevelt to Hay, April 2, 1905, Morison (ed.), Roosevelt Letters, IV, 1156.


Roosevelt to Baron H. Speck von Sternburg, April 2, 1905, Theodore Roosevelt Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


New York Herald, April 26 and 27, 1905.


Taft to Roosevelt, June 20, 1905, U.S. Department of State, In the Matter of the Charges of Mr. Herbert Bowen, United States Minister to Venezuela, against Mr. Francis B. Loomis, First Assistant Secretary of State, and the Counter Charges of Mr. Loomis against Mr. Bowen (Washington, D.C., 1905), 9.


C. Arthur Williams, “The Truth About Venezuela,’’ The World Today, IX (July 1905), 717-720; Editorial Comment, “The Asphalt Scandal,’’ Current Literature, XXXVIII (June 1905), 481-482.


Roosevelt to Taft, April 20, 1905, Morison (ed.), Roosevelt Letters, IV, 1163.


Bowen to Hay, April 12, April 16, May 14, and June 7, 1905, DS Despatches; Message of Castro to Venezuelan Congress, Foreign Relations, 1905, 1037-1038.


Roosevelt to William J. Calhoun, June 24, 1905, Morison (ed.), Roosevelt Letters, IV, 1253.


Philip C. Jessup, Elihu Root (2 vols., New York, 1938), I, 469-471; Munro, Intervention and Dollar Diplomacy, 112-113.


Roosevelt to Root, September 5, 1905, Roosevelt Papers.


Root to Calhoun, July 20, 1905, Special Missions IV, Department of State Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C.


Root to Russell, October 18, 1905, DS Instructions.


Russell to Secretary of State, January 6, 1906, DS Despatches.


Venezuela, Min. de Relaciones Interiores, Venezuela, Francia y el cable francés (Caracas, 1906), passim., J. M. Siso Martínez, Historia de Venezuela (México, 1956), 635-636.


Bowen to Hay, April 2, 1905, DS Despatches; Ybarra to Oliver Taigny, September 18, 1905. Mininistro de Relaciones Exteriores, El Libro Amarillo de los Estados Unidos de Venezuela, 1907 (Caracas, 1894-), 351-352. Le Temps (Paris), August 4, August 6, September 6, September 8, and September 9, 1905.


Russell to Root, October 29, 1905, DS Despatches; Root to Russell, December 11, 1905, DS Instructions; Le Temps (Paris), December 7 and December 9, 1905.


Root to Jean Jules Jusserand, December 23, 1905, Notes to France XI, Department of State Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C. (The letter contains a summary of the discussions at the meeting of December 14, 1905.) Memorándum de la conferencia tenida entre el Ministro Ybarra y el de los Estados Unidos, Señor William E. Russell, December 30, 1905, El Libro Amarillo, 1907, 364-365. Both Le Temps and Le Figaro (Paris) reported additional discussions held between Root and Jusserand during the months of December and January.


Ybarra to Russell, January 11, 1906, El Libro Amarillo, 1907, 367.


For newspaper accounts and commentary on the crisis following the breaking of relations see the January and February 1906 issues of New York Times, Chicago Daily Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, The Times, Le Temps, Le Figaro, and El Constitucional (Caracas). The latter journal, controlled by the Castro government, propagandized Venezuela’s position.


A contemporary cartoon depicted a French and a German soldier standing tall on a map of Europe, each straining his grip on a paper labelled Morocco. Meanwhile across the Atlantic Ocean in Venezuela, perched in a tree and flaunting a sword, was a somewhat smaller Cipriano Castro. The caption below read: “Castro picks out a good time to defy France.” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 14, 1906.


Le Temps, January 19, 1906.


Roosevelt to Root, January 11, 1906, Morison (ed.), Roosevelt Letters, V, 132.


Roosevelt to General Staff, War Department, January 22, 1906, ibid., 135.


Root to N. Veloz-Goiticoa, January 30, 1906, Notes to Venezuela II, Department of State Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Luis Churión to Russell, April 20, 1906, El Libro Amarillo, 1907, 367.


John C. Rayburn, “Development of Venezuela’s Iron Ore Deposits,” Inter-American Economic Affairs, VI (1952), 52-56; Ralston, Venezuelan Arbitrations of 1903, 211-245.


Rudolph Dolge to Root, February 16, 1907, Numerical File 1537/11-12, Department of State Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C. (cited hereafter as DS Numerical File).


“Proposed Draft—Not Used,” June 29, 1906, DS Numerical File 5082.


Root to Roosevelt, July 3, 1906, Report Book XXII, 483-484, Department of State Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C. In 1906 Latin American countries suspected and disliked the United States because of its aggressive Caribbean diplomacy. Secretary Root hoped to allay fears and create understanding. At Rio de Janeiro he made his famous statement of reassurance to the conference: “We wish for no victories but those of peace; for no territory except our own; for no sovereignty except the sovereignty over ourselves.” Third International Conference of American States, Minutes, Resolutions, and Documents (Rio de Janeiro, 1907), 131.


Root to James Brown Scott, no date, department memorandum attached to “Proposed Draft—Not Used,” June 29, 1906, DS Numerical Pile 5082.




Calhoun to Secretary of State, November 22, 1906, DS Numerical File 1948/2.


Root to Andrew Carnegie, December 31, 1906, Elihu Root Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


Root to Russell, February 28, 1907, Foreign Relations, 1908, 774.


José de Jesús Paúl to Russell, February 29, 1908, El Libro Amarillo, 1909, 125.


Roosevelt to Root, March 28, 1908, Morison (ed.), Roosevelt Letters, VI, 984; Root to Whitelaw Reid, May 22, 1908, Root Papers.


Roosevelt to J. R. Roosevelt, July 29, 1907, Roosevelt Papers.


Copies of the correspondence were published in a report entitled U.S. Congress, Senate, Correspondence Relating to the Wrongs Done to American Citizens by the Government of Venezuela, 60th Congress, 1st Session, Sen. Doc. No. 413 (Washington, D.C., 1908).


Washington Post, April 12, April 18, and April 19, 1908.


Thomas C. Dawson to Root, May 6, 1908, DS Numerical File 5435.


Root to Reid, May 22, 1908, Root Papers.


Chicago Daily Tribune, June 24, 1908.


For a more detailed account of Root’s policy see Embert J. Hendrickson, “Root’s Watchful Waiting and the Venezuelan Controversy,” The Americas, XXIII (October 1966), 115-129.


Karel H. Corporeal, De Internationaalrechtelijke betrekkingen tusschen Nederland en Venezuela, 1816-1920 (Leiden, 1920), 465-468; Paúl to J. H. de Reús, July 20, 1908, El Libro Amarillo, 1909, 506-507; ibid., July 28, 1908, 507-510.


Root to Enrique Cortés, July 30, 1908, Root Papers.


Root to Arthur M. Beaupré, August 6, 1908, DS Numerical File 14457/33; R. de Marees van Swinderen to Paúl, September 3, 1908, El Libro Amarillo, 1909, 513-519.


John Brewer to Secretary of State, November 26, 1908, DS Numerical File 3136.


Root to M. W. Stryker, November 30, 1908, Root Papers.


Brewer to Secretary of State, December 22, 1908, DS Numerical File 3136; John Lavin, A Halo for Gómez (New York, 1954), 120-122.


Roosevelt to Root, December 17, 1908, Morison (ed.), Roosevelt Letters, VI, 1427.


Luis de Lorena Ferreira to Joaquim Nabuco, December 19, 1908, DS Numerical File 4832/68, copy of despatch.


Lorena Ferreira to Paúl, December 27, 1905, El Libro Amarillo, 1909, 130-131; Root to William I. Buchanan, December 28, 1908, Numerical File 4832/68, special instructions.


For commentary see New York Times, December 28, 1908; New York Tribune, December 25, 1908; New York Sun, December 24, 1908; Editorial Comment, “A Nicely Timed Revolution,” The Nation, XL (1908), 645; Editorial Comment, “A Good Riddance,” The Independent, LXV (1908), 1624.


Venezuelan relations with the Netherlands were resumed in 1909, although all questions were not finally resolved until 1921. Beaupré to Secretary of State, April 20, 1909, DS Numerical File 14457/71-73, #133; Venezuela, Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores, Tratados públicos y acuerdos internacionales de Venezuela (3 vols., Caracas, 1924-1927), II, 623; A Franco-Venezuelan protocol to settle issues was negotiated in 1913 and ratified in 1915. Ezequiel A. Vivas, El protocolo venezolano-francés de 1913 (Caracas, 1915), 9, 743.


President Gómez admired Theodore Roosevelt. His uniforms made him look very much like the Roosevelt of the African game hunts: khaki breeches, field boots, and wide hat turned up at the side. In some photographs of Gómez during this period, especially those in which he wears glasses, the resemblance to Roosevelt is striking. Thomas Rourke [Daniel J. Clinton], Gómez: Tyrant of the Andes (New York, 1936), 139-140.

Author notes


The author is Assistant Professor of History at San Jose State College.