1902-1903 Venezuelan Civil War Provisional Issues

30/08/2012     Venezuela

General Cipriano Castro, a military dictator or 'Caudillo', declared himself President in 1899. He suspended the already irregular payment of foreign debts, including $15m owed on a loan to Great Britain, and similarly large sums to German industrial concerns, including Krupp's Great Venezuelan Railway Company, all the while continuing to indulge his own lifestyle.

Although by July 1901, Venezuela had been persuaded to engage in arbitration via the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, Casto avoided all attempts to engage with his country's creditors. He assumed that the United States' Monroe Doctrine would see the US prevent European military intervention. President Roosevelt however, saw the Doctrine as being concerned with European land appropriation, rather than actual physical intervention. It is apparent in hindsight, that Castro had not been informed that Roosevelt as Vice-President, told the Congress in July 1901, that 'if any South American country misbehaves towards any European country, let the European country spank it!'

Revolts broke out against Castro in many areas of the country, including amazingly, the purchase of a small British registered ship by a banker, Manuel Matos, which was fitted out as a gunboat, renamed El Libertador (featured on the stamps of Guyana), and was used to raid coastal towns. In June 1902, Castro seized a British ship, The Queen, on suspicion of aiding rebels in another phase of Venezuelan civil war. This together with Castro's failure to engage with the British through diplomatic channels, tilted the balance in London in favour of military action, with or without German co-operation. By July 1902, the Boxer Rebellion having been quelled, and with Mato's insurrection having led to further abuses against German citizens and their property, the German government was ready to return to discussions upon joint action. In mid-August, Britain and Germany agreed in principle to go ahead with a blockade later in the year. The 1st Provisional Issues of November 1902, were as a result of the coastal town of Carupano being cut off from supplies, during a siege by Government troops.

The German naval contingent (numbering four to Britain's eight), followed the British lead in operational terms. An Italian naval contingent arrived in support of the blockade on 16th December. The blockaders captured four Venezuelan warships, with the Venezuelan navy providing little challenge, and virtually all its ships being captured within two days. The Germans lacking the capacity to tow them to neutral waters, simply sank two Venezuelan ships that proved to be unseaworthy. On land however, Castro was more powerful, and arrested over 200 English and German residents of Caracas. He prompted the allies to land troops in order to evacuate their citizens.

On 13th December, after a British merchant vessel had been boarded and its crew briefly arrested, the British boldly demanded an apology. After failing to receive it however, they launched a bombardment of Venezuelan forts at Puerto Cabello, assisted by the German SMS Vineta (of the 'Vineta Provisional' fame). The 1903 2nd Provisional Issues of January were as a result of the blockade. On land, the rebel General Rolando, was defeated trying to attack Caracas in Spring of 1903. He retreated to Ciudad Bolivar in Guyana State. During this period most of the Provisional stamp issues were subsequently produced, including the iconic 'Libertador' issues. The city was captured by Government troops in July 1903, finally bringing an end to the civil war.

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