Mr. Christiancy to Mr. Blaine.
Lima, Peru, March 9, 1881. (Received April 5.)
Sir: I have the honor to inclose to you the copy of a circular, addressed by Piérola, through his chief secretary, García y García, to all the members of the diplomatic corps here, dated Jauja, March 1, 1881, together with an English translation of the same.[Page 879]
I need not comment upon this except to say that, with the exception of its complaint of the mere paper blockades, it is, in my opinion, as well founded in fact as papers of this kind can be expected to be, and not very materially variant from the actual truth.
I understand from report (though I have not seen the decree) that Piérola has issued a decree for the election of a congress on the first of May next, to meet at Ayacucho on the third day of June next.
I understand also, from general public report, that the Chilian authorities here declare, not only that they will not recognize Piérola as the Government of Peru, nor treat with him, but that they will not recognize a congress called together by him, or elected under his decree. I hope this is not true, since, under present circumstances, it authorizes a more or less strong suspicion that they are seeking to produce or continue such a state of chaos as to afford a pretext for the general spoliation of not only all public property of Peru, but the private property of her individual citizens.
The attempt to form a new Peruvian Government Mere in opposition to that of Piérola, described in my dispatch No. 245, seems from present appearances to have utterly failed. Mr. F. G. Calderon found great difficulty in getting proper ministers to hold offices under him; but when he finally thought he had got this arranged, he, for the first time, as it would seem, began to inquire how far his Chilian friends meant to allow his government to govern.
He requested that the Chilian army should be withdrawn from the city of Lima, that he should be allowed to occupy the government palace and raise over it the Peruvian flag, and that he should be allowed to control the custom-house and the collection of duties, &c., all of which was refused; whereupon, as I understand, his proposed ministers refused to act, and he himself was disposed to decline the task of forming a government; It is now again reported that he has not finally given up the attempt, but as yet nothing definite has resulted.
During the time that these efforts to form a new government were in progress, and while they promised success, the movements previously set on foot by the Chilian authorities for levying war contributions were allowed to rest without any step taken for their enforcement. But as soon as the attempt to form the new government had apparently failed, viz, on the 5th instant, General Saavedra, at present commander-in-chief of the Chilian forces, issued the bando (decree) of the last-named date, a copy of which, with translation, I herewith inclose.
And on the 7th instant he issued the further decree for the collection of $1,000,000 for the month of February, being $20,000 from each of the fifty persons named, of which I also inclose a copy, with a translation.
I call your special attention to the penalty imposed by this decree for non-payment at the day—the destruction of property of the delinquent to three times the amount.
According to the information I have received, and which I think trustworthy, many of the persons named will be able, without much suffering, to raise the $20,000, but many of them will not, as in some cases it is all that the man is worth, and in some much more than he is worth.
In some cases the only property the man owns consists of houses and lots in the city of Lima or in Callao, with furniture, &c., To destroy these by fire would eudanger the whole city, neutrals and natives suffering alike. It may be otherwise destroyed.
But this wanton destruction of private property seems to me to verge very closely upon a violation of that humane law of modern warfare [Page 880] which forbids making war upon unarmed, non-resisting private citizens, or upon their individual property. And though the laws of war seem yet to permit the levying of war contributions, I would suggest that, according to the best and most approved practice of the civilized nations of to-day, that right should only be exercised upon municipalities or other governmental divisions of a country, leaving the local authorities (who much better know the ability of their respective citizens) to apportion the burden.
I had the honor to call your attention to this point in my dispatch of September 17 last, No. 194, in hopes that I might receive some instructions upon it, but as yet I have not had a word in reply.
You will permit me further to suggest, whether if an invading army can levy its contributions directly upon private persons and destroy their property for non-payment, that humane rule of modern warfare which forbids making war upon, seizing, or destroying private property without any offer or idea of compensation, cannot at any moment be set aside by merely changing the name of the operation to that of “contribution.” For instance, the commander of the invading force going to a haciedna or sugar estate says to the owner, “1 want $100,000 out of your property for the support of my army or the expenses of the war; the laws of modern warfare do not permit me directly to seize it or to destroy it, without giving you compensation or promising such compensation in future. But I can demand it as a ‘war contribution,’ without any idea of compensation, and destroy all your property as a penalty for non-payment of that contribution.”
It is respectfully suggested that the distinction between these two modes of proceeding is a very thin and not a very tangible one. (See Woolsey’s introduction to the study of international law, section 130.)
It is right, I think, in connection with the decree of General Saavedra of March 7, above referred to (No. 3/254), to remark that an influential portion of the most influential portion of the Chilian press is very bitter and abusive toward General Baquedano for not having sacked and burned Lima; and how far the severe measures now proposed for collection of the war contributions may have been produced by the influence of that press (an influence which prevented any desire for peace at Arica) I do not know, but leave you to draw your own inference.
It is right also that I should inform you that, from public rumor (which, I think, is generally credited by the diplomatic corps, though I have seen nothing official to warrant the belief), it is generally believed here that the Chilian authorities here intend to carry away with them to Chili not only all warlike material and machinery (of which no one can complain) bat all the paintings, statuary, and libraries belonging Peru and to the municipality of Lima. As to the last, it is sincerely to be hoped that the Chilian Government may not dim the luster of their victory by acts so repugnant to the sentiments of modern civilization; and for one, unless otherwise instructed, I shall be ready to join with the diplomatic corps in an earnest protest against such barbarism.
I have, &c.,