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Venezuela Crisis of 1902

A combined Anglo-French-German expedition against Venezuela during 1902 included European warships blockaded the Venezuelan coast. President Theodore Roosevelt (according to some accounts) threatened to send the United States fleet to drive them off, brought the issue to a head. The United States clearly would have to take strong action to protect the Caribbean.

As the result of civil war in Venezuela from 1898 to 1900, British, German and Italian nationals sustained large amounts of property damage. The strenuous protests by Great Britain and Germany yielding no results, on 13 November 1902, the countries agreed on joint action. In the event that Venezuela failed to accede to their demands, they agreed to utilize coercive measures. On 2 December 1902, the diplomatic representatives of the British and German governments at Caracas presented an ultimatum to the Venezuelan government which made clear that in the event of an unsatisfactory response, forcible measures would be employed. On 3 December 1902, Italy asked to be allowed to join in the ultimatum against Venezuela as an ally of Great Britain and Germany, a request quickly granted.

The demands not having been met, on 10 December the three States imposed a blockade under which they seized or disabled four small Venezuelan ships. Germany led the coalition blockade of Venezuela's coastline. Three days later the Venezuelan government, through the US Embassy in London, requested arbitration of the claims in question, proposing certain conditions. The allies finally agreed to this method of settlement.

By the end of 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt had grown wary of Germany's increasingly militant stance, and their plans to establish German naval bases in Brazil and the Dutch Caribbean Islands. In November 1902, believing war with Germany to be imminent, the president transferred control of Culebra to the US Navy, and scheduled naval maneuvers in the Caribbean theater. Relations between Germany and the US deteriorated, and the US armada converged on Culebra.

In 1902-03, the first amphibious landing and ground maneuver training exercises were conducted in Puerto Rico by the US Navy. Areas on Culebra were used as firing ranges and for marine exercises. The Navy set up a permanent base (Lower Camp) in the area of San Ildefonso, and local residents were relocated to other areas of the island. In conjunction with annual naval fleet maneuvers, a battalion of US Marines held advance base defense exercises on the island. These were the first of numerous amphibious landing and ground maneuver training exercises that the Marines would conduct on Culebra in the coming decades.

It was through his relations with the great powers of Europe that Roosevelt gave the American people a new understanding of their country's growing role in world affairs. Still more important was the fact that these relations caused Roosevelt to enunciate a policy that would come to be known as the "Roosevelt Corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine. Roosevelt declared, "we cannot afford to let Europe get a foothold in our backyard, so we'll have to act as policemen for the West."

The policy received its first test when Venezuela lapsed in its financial obligation to Great Britain and Germany. Both Germany and Great Britain sent warships to force Venezuela to make payment. Roosevelt was willing to see that Venezuela paid her debts, but he could not allow an American nation to be threatened. The enforcement of Roosevelt Corollary forced the warships to withdraw and permitted Roosevelt to act as arbitrator for the dispute.

Roosevelt clearly communicated to Kaiser Wilhelm II that the United States was prepared for war over the issue, but did so in a way that enabled the German leader to retreat without loss of face. The show of force underscored Roosevelt's determination that the U.S. was determined to prevent Germany from taking action to acquire territory in Venezuela or elsewhere in the Caribbean. Germany withdrew.

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