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THE CARIBBEAN: Shrunken Santos

2 minute read

When old Latin America hands reminisce about bad days in the Caribbean, they usually agree that the 1908-35 regime of Juan Vicente Gómez in Venezuela was unsurpassed in greed, cruelty and lust. Ignorant, fierce-mustached Góomez brought to Caracas’ Miraflores Palace the bandit morals of the 19th Century caudillos he admired, the manners of the peon he was, the behavior of the bulls he raised. The nation’s treasury and the nation’s women were his; he liked to share these boons with his bastard brothers and with the 100 or so bastard sons he sired.

The most indulged of his male relatives was half-brother Santos Matute Gómez, whom Juan Vicente named president of the state of Zulia in 1918. For a while, the corpulent Santos was content to live on the heavy tribute he exacted from Maracaibo bordellos. Later, in a historic act of direct plunder, he loaded $3,000,000 in gold from the state treasury aboard a German airliner and took off for the Dutch island of Curagao. Juan Vicente clucked at such mischief, and on Santos’ return made him president of the state of Carabobo. When Juan Vicente died in 1935, Santos flew off to Curacao again, this time with $45 million in boodle. Then he dropped from the public eye.

Last week, when it seemed that the Gómez scandals had long since become nothing more than talk for oldtimers, there came a faint but ringing echo from the regime of rape and rapaciousness. A shrunken man in his 70s stood before a court in law-abiding San Jose, Costa Rica, and paid a fine after conviction on a morals charge involving minor girls. The culprit was sick and lonely but no down & outer. An arrogant sybarite, wealthy from U.S. investments, with a fierce, bristling mustache, he gave his name to the court as Santos Matute Gómez.

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