Mr. Sherman to Mr. de Lôme.
Washington, November 6, 1897.
Sir: Referring to the conversation had by you with the Assistant Secretary a few days since in relation to the character of the measures taken by the Spanish authorities in Cuba to concentrate the rural population in towns where, deprived of all means of subsistence and thrown upon communities incapable of affording them aid, pestilence and famine could not fail to spread disease and death among them, I have now, by direction of the President, the honor to communicate to you precise particulars reported by the agents of the United States in the Island of Cuba.
In Matanzas since the 1st of October ultimo deaths from actual starvation among the reconcentrados have rapidly and alarmingly increased over the already large proportions of such deaths during the nine months preceding. Between January 1 and October 1 of the current year over 2,000 persons, whose names are listed, have died in the city of Matanzas alone from want of food. Since the latter date the daily average death rate there has been over 45 persons, although prior to the accumulation of reconcentrados in that town the normal death rate was 6 persons daily, not including soldiers. On the 10th of October, for example, 62 died in Matanzas, of whom 57 perished for lack of food.
In the interior towns of the province of Matanzas the situation is described as being beyond belief. In some towns from one-third to one-half of the population has disappeared.
The number of deaths from actual starvation is unquestionably underestimated, owing to the obvious impossibility of ascertaining the facts in every case of death. A conservative estimate, compiled from reliable sources, gives the number of deaths in the Province of Matanzas and outside the city of that name from starvation and the diseases incident thereto as being over 22,000 persons since the present policy was inaugurated.
The local authorities are represented to be powerless to cope with the situation. The cities and towns are virtually bankrupt, and can give no appreciable relief to the starving thousands forced upon them.
These facts but substantiate the representations which reach this Government from other quarters of the island. They abundantly justify the earnest representations which this Government has felt constrained to make in the common cause of humanity and justice. It is no merely sentimental or interested consideration which moves this Government to raise its voice in earnest remonstrance against so harsh and so futile a policy as this, which, to the inevitable hardships and woes of war, superadds extermination by starvation.
The situation bears no analogy to the case heretofore suggested by you of the sufferings caused in a besieged town. These innocent agriculturists, their wives and children, have been herded by the act of the [Page 510] military commanders within towns unbesieged and wholly within Spanish control, without provision for their wants and without any apparent effort to alleviate the inevitable consequences of destitution, lack of shelter, and disease.
With the change of military rule in the Island of Cuba, and in view of the manifested purpose of the Spanish Government to promote reforms therein consonant with the beneficent purposes of a metropolitan government toward a distant, rich, and populous dependency, the President happily anticipates that the condition of things of which this Government has been too often constrained to speak will disappear.