Mr. Christiancy to Mr. Blaine.
Lima, Peru , May 4, 1881. (Received May 26.)
(Personal and confidential.)
Sir: Referring to my dispatch No. 286, dated April 19, 1881, I wish to say confidentially and for your own eye alone (for the present), that, in my opinion, the Chilian Government intend to establish a kind of provincial government of their own over Peru, or so much of it as they can control, which, in my opinion (unless England and France, or the United States should actively intervene to prevent it), will be all of Peru west of the first range of Andes, and possibly still more.
Should such a result take place, I am inclined to think it would be equivalent to establishing the ascendency of English over American influence on this coast, so long as such a provincial government should be maintained.
Some of my reasons for this conclusion will appear in my confidential dispatch No. 162, to which I refer, and so far as American commerce on this coast may be concerned, the products of Chili are mostly similar to those of our grain-producing States, viz, the cereals.
The productions of Peru are very different, though some of them might compete to a considerable extent with those of our country.
For a general view of the staple productions of Peru, her exports and imports, the value of her trade, and the various questions connected with the increase of our trade here, I refer you to the dispatches of Mr. Gibbs, my predecessor in this legation, Nos. 244 and 284, merely remarking that when I came here, the present war had just been declared, and it has been impossible to obtain any reliable statistics of commerce, but that it is evident there has been a great decrease of production and of exports and imports. The Chilians having taken the nitrate districts in [Page 900] the south, the production of this article by Peru is, for the present, practically extinguished; and Chili having command of the sea, Peruvian production and exportation of guano have been reduced to a very small fraction of what they were before. But I am informed by persons who profess to have made personal examination, that there are nitrate deposits in the north of Peru, nearly, if not quite, as rich and extensive as those in the south.
As to manufactured cotton, of course no one would think of importing it into the United States, as they can afford to pay more for it in England. As to wool and sugar, our tariff is such that its importation into the United States is practically prohibited. Our wool-growers would not consent to a reduction of duty upon ordinary wools; yet there is one kind of wool—the alpaca—which would not compete at all with home production. But England now takes practically all of this which is produced in Peru and Bolivia; and it may be worthy of consideration whether the mere local interests of Louisiana ought to deprive the whole Union of the benefits which would result from admitting Peruvian sugars at a reduced duty. But, not to go further into particulars, it is evident from the nature of the products and exports of Peru, she must find commerce with England, under past and present circumstances, more advantageous than with the United States, as England takes more of her products in return and thereby helps her more in the way of exchange.
While railroads were being constructed here, there were considerable importations of locomotives, railroad cars, and railroad plant, and may be again, if they ever get a settled government here. There has, also, been a small trade in furniture, the smaller kinds of hardware and cutlery, and farming implements, machinery, &c.; though, except upon some of the larger plantations, the demand for farming implements is small, as most of the small agriculturists prefer the antiquated method of plowing their lands with a crooked stick (iron pointed), and with oxen hitched by the horns.
Owing mostly to the mountainous character of the country, wagons or wheel carriages are unknown, except in a few of the larger cities (and lumber wagons on the sugar and rice plantations), the transportation being carried on almost everywhere on the backs of mules and donkeys, much of it even in the cities.
Another thing which has given to England the control of the commerce of this entire coast is the establishment of an excellent line of steamers, at first largely subsidized, but now receiving no direct subsidy, and yet doing a profitable business. If the establishment of an American competing line would tend very largely to increase our commerce here, and to open large markets for our trade, I should be ready to give up my habitual opposition to such subsidies until the line could compete with opposition without them. But the other causes which I have mentioned (and many others which might be mentioned), which, aside from and independent of her line of steamers, tend to give England the control of the commerce of this entire coast, would still continue to operate, and an American line could not be supported without large subsidies.
The great mass of all classes of Peruvians feel a very strong attachment to the United States and a bitter hatred to England. Still, in matters of trade, pecuniary interest will, in the main, control.
Upon the whole, my conclusion is, that the only effectual way for the United States to control the commerce of Peru, and to preserve a commanding or even a material influence along this coast, is either actively [Page 901] to intervene in compelling a settlement of peace upon reasonable terms or to control Peru by a protectorate of by annexation, for either of which I am satisfied at least three-fourths, if not four-fifths, of her population would gladly vote to-day.
Unless the United States take one of these courses in the present emergency the “Monroe doctrine,” so called, will be considered a myth in all the South American States. Whether our government ought so far to depart from its traditions as to adopt any one of these courses is not for me to decide, nor to discuss the means necessary to carry any of these ideas into effect, nor do I express any opinion as to the propriety of any such projects, except to say that I should individually be strongly opposed to the idea of annexation, unless it could be had on terms that Peru should, for at least ten years, be subject to a territorial government, on the general plan of our territorial governments, and then to be admitted as States, at the discretion of Congress. In that ten years Peru would, under such a system, become wholly North American in its ideas.
These projects have lately been often and strongly pressed upon me by Peruvians, and I find that some of the Catholic clergy, even, are in favor of annexation. My only answer has uniformly been that, in any opinion, our people were not yet disposed to adopt any such policy; but that I would bring the whole matter, at the proper time, to the attention of my government, and be guided by their instructions.
I ought here to say, by way of introduction to what follows, that with my own personal observation of over two years, and the best sources of information I have been able to obtain, I am unable to discover any sufficient elements here for establishing an independent or even any kind of regular or permanent government of Peru; certainly no form of popular government by the Peruvians themselves. To state all the grounds for this conclusion would require a volume. I can only refer to a few of the fundamental reasons for this state of things, and for this conclusion. The original immigration into this country from Spain did not consist of men who, like the original colonists in the United States, only sought to better their conditions by honest, persevering industry, but of adventurers, seeking only to make money rapidly, by robbing the original inhabitants and by sudden accumulations of wealth from mines of siver and gold.
They found here a people well advanced in the arts of agriculture, producing all that was necessary for the support and comfort of the inhabitants (then amounting to some 8,000,000 or 9,000,000, in what is now Peru). They found every foot of ground in a high state of cultivation, wherever it was possible to bring water for irrigation. They not only seized upon all these lands and improvements, but made all the inhabitants slaves, and assigned the former owners, by repartiamentos, as slaves to the few Spanish immigrants, to each of whom large tracts of country were granted, often amounting to ten, fifteen, or twenty townships, in our country. Many of the original inhabitants were also assigned as slaves to the leading men who settled in the towns and cities. The Spaniard would not labor and did not, but all the labor was done by the enslaved race, and afterwards, in some measure, by African slaves.
Nearly all the Spanish adventurers either took Indian wives or, which was more common, kept a harem of Indian girls, as many as he chose; but as a general rule they did not treat their children as slaves, but recognized them as their children. In this way it has happened that almost all the people of Peru are of this mixed race, and the mixture [Page 902] with the negro; so that I do not think there are now in the city of Lima two hundred families of pure white blood, and probably not in all Peru 200,000 of the white race unmixed. Slavery was only finally abolished here in 1856 (see Article IV of constitution of that year), and all the old ideas and habits of the people remain. Labor is looked upon as a disgrace and degradation, and as only fit for a servile race. Any man of standing in Lima, to-day, who purchases an article at a store, however small the package, would at once lose caste if he dared to take it home in his hand. He must have a servant to carry it for him. The consequence of all this is, that all the sugar and rice estates, instead of employing free labor, have resorted to the Chinese, who are nominally imported into this country as hired servants, but, except in the cities under the eyes of responsible officers, these Chinese are treated with about the same severity as the slaves were in our Southern States, and in many respects worse, as they are generally locked in their quarters and kept under guard at night, and so many conditions are attached to their contracts of which they do not know the effect, upon which the employer assumes the right to decide, that in some and, I think, in most cases, after the Chinaman has served five or ten years he finds he has more time yet to serve than he had when he commenced, and few, if any, ever come out freemen.
There are many foreigners here, especially Italians, and some of other nationalities, who are not ashamed to live by their labor in some of the various trades. But aside from these and the Chinese the whole manual labor of Peru is performed mostly by the Indians and races mixed with them, who had been slaves, and by negroes and their mixed descendants, who had also been of the servile race, who constitute at least three-fourths of all the inhabitants of Peru. These, though now nominally free, are almost all treated in the interior (away from the cities) as practically slaves; their rights being almost wholly disregarded by the authorities, who, in many, if not in most, cases assume to fix the prices of labor of various kinds, which is also, to some extent, done even in the cities. The wages of these people, since I have been here, have not exceeded from 10 to 20 cents per day in our money.
It is also from these poor classes of people that all the Peruvian soldiery were drawn (except the “Lima reserves,” who were temporarily raised for the defense of Lima), and these forces were called volunteers; but the way they were made to volunteer was for officers to go through the country with an armed escort, and compel the poor fellows to fall in. If they refused, they were taken by force, tied together, and put on the cars, or compelled to march to Lima. I have myself seen scores of such volunteers, thus tied, marching through the streets of Lima. Not a single white man did I ever see in the ranks (though the officers were whites), except the “reserves” above mentioned. All these men of Indian descent are docile, amiable, and brave, and will fight as long as their officers will stand; but the officers (all white) fled by scores and hundreds from San Juan and Miraflores, leaving their men to do the same. The battle of the 13th opened at daylight, some 10 miles from Lima, and at 9 o’clock a.m., I saw in the streets of Lima enough Peruvian officers with shoulder-straps to make an entire regiment. It is but right to say here that the Chilian army, though called volunteers, was, much of it, raised in the same way, and from similar mixed races, more largely Indians mixed with whites and less with Africans. (I have seen but few white men in their ranks.) The Indians of Chili and the mixture of Indians and whites are more vigorous, enterprising, desperate, and cruel than the corresponding races in Peru, partaking more [Page 903] of the Araucanian type; but the Chilian officers were far superior to those of Peru, and less under the blind guidance of the church (though the private soldiers are about equally so), and the government of Chili is composed of more enlightened men wholly emancipated from the control of the church and ready to adopt all modern improvements in warfare.
But to return, after this long digression, to the question of labor and the laboring classes, I must say that, with my democratic and republican ideas, knowing that the great masses of people in all countries always have been and always will be compelled to get their living by the sweat of their brows, and fully believing that the government which best secures the greatest good of the greatest number is to be esteemed the best, I am compelled to estimate the prosperity of every country by the adequacy or inadequacy of the compensation which it enables the great mass of its citizens to obtain for its labor. That country which secures to them the highest compensation is the most prosperous, and that which secures them the least is the worst and least prosperous.
From what I have already said, it might appear sufficiently evident that the laboring classes in Peru are sunk beyond the hope of redemption. * * *
Every man naturally looks only to what he deems his own immediate interest or elevation to power; and, when placed in power, he seeks only to enrich himself by the opportunities which his office gives him to appropriate the public funds to his own use. This has become so settled a conviction in the public mind that whenever any man obtains office it is at once assumed by the people that such is his object. This opinion is, doubtless, sometimes unjust, but on looking back through the various governments and forms of governments, I am satisfied this conviction is generally well founded. If, for instance (except in a time of war when no administration would dare to entertain any claim), any man had a claim against the government, well or ill founded, he could get it allowed by giving a fair share of it to the President and cabinet officers, and however good the claim might be, it was seldom allowed without this reward.
The joint commission got up here by * * * in favor of American claims, was no exception to the general rule; and, I am informed, several claims were allowed against Peru, which never should have been allowed at all, or only for a much smaller sum; * * * allowing some special friend, such as——, to make the arrangements between the claimants and the officers of the government, and these claimants paying sometimes 70 per cent. and upwards of their claims, which percentage, to all appearance, must have been shared among all the parties acting in the scheme.
This however, is only a sample of the mode in which the public business has generally been transacted by the various Peruvian Governments here for many years past. A few honest men have, from time to time, been in office, who could not thus be bought, but were compelled to retire from office.
There seems to be no fixed principle of honesty, no idea even of that self-sacrificing patriotism which is essential to a proper and honest administration of government.
Such are the people of Peru. The picture has been but feebly drawn. I have only been able to touch the prominent points, the “vestigia.” To fill it up would require a large volume, which I have not time to write nor you to read. * * * Chili has been able to secure a more permanent government, and better to enforce financial honesty in her [Page 904] administration, and to preserve her public credit. But the grievances of and impositions upon her laboring classes—the great mass of her people—are essentially the same as in Peru; and the grade of civilization among the masses even below that of Peru, the church having equal control over them, and committing the same kinds of abuses.
In short, I would not advise the United States or her people or any other enlightened people to take any stock in any of the South American republics, unless they can take the controlling stock. This they could easily have in Peru, if they choose to take it. The disposition of the masses of the people is favorable to the United States. A United States protectorate or annexation would be hailed with delight. In the hands or under the control of the United States, Peru would soon again become one of the richest countries of the world. I will not trouble you with her geography, which, if you do not already know, you can readily learn. There is enough of the country to make five or six large States, to say nothing of other parts of Peru, which are well known. The eastern slope of the Andes, along the upper branches of the Amazon, is one of the richest agricultural countries in the world; stocked with the most valuable timber and producing everything which a tropical climate can produce, but at present almost entirely in possession of the wild Indians; and I give only the opinion of geologists and that of all intelligent travelers when I say that there are still more valuable mines of silver and gold in Peru than in any other country of like extent in the world. And if it belonged to the United States it would not be two years before it would eclipse California, Nevada, Colorado, and all the mining regions along the Rocky Mountains in the production of the precious metals.
Fifty thousand enterprising citizens of the United States would control the whole population and make Peru wholly (North) American.
Peru under the control of our country, we should control all the other republics of South America, and the “Monroe doctrine” would become a verity. Large markets would be opened to our productions and manufactures and a wide field opened for the enterprise of our people.
Whether all these advantages are sufficient to outweigh the wise, traditional policy of our government it is not for me to express an opinion. I only bring the matter to the attention of my government, leaving that government to decide.
If Peru lay contiguous to the United States, our citizens would soon relieve our government from all responsibility by taking possession of the country, and in due time asking its admission as a part of the United States.
But, as a single individual, I must declare my utter repugnance to the idea of its incorporation as a part of our Union, until American ideas first get control of its population. I want no more such discordant elements until we have digested and assimilated what we have already.
* * * * * * *
This letter must be treated as perfectly confidential, for your own eye and that of the President alone. I do not even copy it in the records of the legation, and ask that it may not be placed on file in the Department. My own life, even, would not be safe here for one day if it were made public.
I have, &c.,
Hon. James G. Blaine,
Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.