File No. 823.5048/64.

The American Consul at Iquitos to the Secretary of State.

No. 13.]

Sir: Supplementing my dispatch No. 3 of the 31st ultimo, I have the honor to report that the Putumayo question proves on examination [Page 1251] to be considerably more complicated than would on first sight appear. There are a number of factors that must be taken into account in addition to the conditions in the Putumayo region itself.

Real lasting reform can only be accomplished with the aid and support of the inhabitants of the Department of Loreto, and to what extent public opinion here would back up active and actual reform is problematical. Both the influence of those controlling the Putumayo and the general labor situation in this part of Peru enter into the question.

In the first place, those in control of the Putumayo concession .are among the wealthiest and most influential men in this part of Peru, and in fact in the whole country. Their influence in Lima is great, and locally they could bring pressure to bear on many people who might otherwise strongly support a movement to protect the Indians and improve their condition. An .indication of the state of local public opinion in regard to these men is to be found in the Iquitos attitude toward Pablo Zumeta, the moving spirit in the Peruvian-Amazon Co., who is still under .indictment and for whose arrest a warrant was at one time issued. He is in enjoyment of most of the local honors, vice alcalde (vice mayor of the municipality), vice president and acting head of the chamber of commerce (an influential organization), president of the benevolent society, etc, to all of which he was elected subsequent to his exposure. He is well respected in the town and stands high, the charges under the shadow of which he rests being entirely disregarded.

In the second place, for a full comprehension of the existing situation it is necessary to examine into the general labor situation throughout this part of Peru. An important factor in this phase of the situation is found in the ancient, deep-rooted, and almost universal attitude of the Peruvians, who, while they may not approve of cruel and inhuman treatment, generally regard the Indians as placed here by Providence for the use and benefit of the white man and as having no rights that the white man need respect.

This attitude of the people has found concrete expression in the universal system of peonage, an old institution, well established, recognized by law, and which has come to be the basis on which the rubber business (the sole industry of trans-Andean Peru) almost entirely rests. The system of advancing supplies, necessities and luxuries, to peons and rubber gatherers is universal in this part of Peru and has led to the establishment of what is virtually a slave trade. The trades encourage the “patrons” operating rubber sections to continually enlarge their sphere of operations, so that they will have more rubber to sell and can buy more imported goods. Labor being comparatively scarce and expensive throughout the district, it is to the patron’s interest to get those working for him hopelessly into his debt, which means that lie can retain ‘their services as peons until they pay this off. It is difficult to maintain that this system of servitude is not recognized, since it is universal and, while never discouraged by the authorities, is certainly in many cases upheld. * * *

It simply means that the native who is unable to pay for the advance he has been encouraged to take is seized by the patron who designedly advanced him more than he could pay for, and is compelled to work off the debt. As he must be lodged and fed in the [Page 1252] meanwhile, the cost of this is added to his old debt, and, by further advances, care is taken to keep the debt at a point where it can never be overtaken. As these claims are transferable, the person of the debtor being also transferred to the new creditor, the Indians and their families are really bought and sold, passing from hand to hand under a system that bears a striking resemblance to actual slavery. * * *

There is a lurking fear in the minds of many business men here that too real and serious investigation of the conditions in the Putumayo district may lead to an exposure of the peonage system in general here and bring about an outcry abroad that may break it up, totally disrupting the labor situation and existing credit system, with heavy resultant losses, to say nothing of an increase in labor costs that they fear will constitute a death blow to the rubber industry of Peru for many a year to come. The cost of labor in this consular district is now so high that, in view of the necessarily expensive freights to Europe, it is hard for Peruvian rubber to compete except in times of high market price abroad. There is a decided local demand for readjustment of the import duties on foodstuffs (all of which must be brought from abroad) and of the export duties on rubber, to the end that Peruvian rubber may be enabled to compete with that from other sources. Any movement tending in the least to increase labor costs would thus meet with little or no local support. Not only does this system of peonage touch closely the business of the people; it also comes into their family life, and, though this is not so important a factor as the servitude of the rubber workers, still it must be taken into consideration as affecting in no small degree the local attitude toward the Putumayo question. * * *

On the publication of the Casement reports, the more farsighted will likely realize that to settle the Putumayo question by punishing those responsible for past outrages and providing protection for the Indians from cruelties and inhumanities in the future would tend to divert the attention of the world at large from the institution of peonage in the southern river systems. On the other hand, I am inclined to fear that the majority will oppose any change in present methods and, though resenting interference, will rely on the storm blowing over.

As for the officials charged with the administration of the department, the prefect, Señor Alayza y Paz Soldan, left June 3 for a three months’ vacation, and doubt is expressed locally as to his return. He was regarded as favoring reform in the Putumayo and punishment of those responsible for the atrocities, though, it must be admitted, he never accomplished much in this direction.

The acting prefect is Señor Estanislao Castañeda, whose real office is that of subprefect.

The acting subprefect, who has charge of police matters, is an employee of the Peruvian-Amazon Co. His name is Casanova, and he is a storekeeper for them.

The judge of the criminal court, Dr. Valcarcel, has returned after having been reinstated. He is the man who issued the warrant of arrest against Pablo Zumaeta, and is a friend of Dr. Paredes.

I have not yet taken the Putumayo question up with the acting prefect, thinking it best to employ the time for a while in picking [Page 1253] up what information I could outside and familiarizing myself with local conditions while allowing him ample time to get his administration fully organized and familiarize himself with the details of his office. As long as there was no probability of securing any information additional to that already furnished Mr. Michell by the titular prefect, I thought nothing would be gained by approaching the acting man, especially after the delay and hesitancy to act in regard to my recognition without instructions from Lima, and it seemed that I would likely get more extensive and reliable information by waiting, a bit than by asking him what was being done, directly on my recognition.

I have now, however, requested him to give me a list of the officials in all the principal rivers charged with administrative and judicial functions. This, when received, will give an idea of the theoretical organization of the government in the Putumayo district, and I shall endeavor to secure and forward to the Department information regarding the personality and affiliations of the officials there.

The next step that I propose to take is to ask the acting prefect, in a manner and at a time as opportune as may be, (1) what has been and is being done in regard to the Putumayo cases; (2) what is now being done in that district for the further protection of the Indians, stating that, as public subscriptions are being asked for to be used in missionary work in the district in question, information as to these points is desired in the United States.

I have not yet approached the Peruvian-Amazon Go for information, though I may eventually do so should the right opportunity present. I understand that they claim to have made a change in their administrative system and collecting methods, such that there is no longer any incentive to their white foremen to maltreat the Indians, and that they also claim to have made extensive changes for the better in their personnel. An Argentine, said to be a new employee occupying a responsible position in the Putumayo, is expected in Iquitos before long, and I hope to get some information, directly or indirectly, as may seem advisable, through him.

As the Department is doubtless aware, the general administration of justice in this consular district is far from satisfactory. In fact, it has been frequently complained of in the local press. There seems, however, to be small prospect of an improvement in the present thinly populated condition of the Department of Loreto, with its immense distances and difficult and slow communications. * * *

The prefect himself, Señor Alayza y Paz-Soldan, when asked by Consul Michell late in May, just before his departure, what had been done and was being done toward the punishment of those responsible for the atrocities in the Putumayo, stated that the delay in the trial of those now in prison was due to the appeals of the accused to the supreme court at Lima, that it took a long time for the documents in the appeals to reach Lima, and that the supreme court had been enjoying a vacation from January to March. He also stated that the Iquitos courts were greatly overworked on account of the small number of officials. He said that he had been repeatedly urged by Lima to push the matter, and had personally requested the officers of the court here to lose no time in bringing the criminals to justice, but [Page 1254] feat, as the courts are independent of the executive, he can do no more than this. * * *

One thing is certain, that nothing of any importance will be done without energetic and continued pressure from Lima, and the expenditure of more money by the Peruvian Government for administration and judicial purposes in the Department of Loreto, which furnishes so large a part of the revenues of the Republic and for which hitherto so little has been done.

As to facilities for visiting the Putuniayo, the Peruvian-Amazon Co. sends up a launch five or six times a year to take Tip supplies and bring back rubber. I have no doubt that passage could be arranged on the next launch they send up, and anyone who went up in this way would be allowed to see exactly what the company wished him to see and no more. It would be better too, not to be under obligations to them, and one would be in going on their boat even though he paid passage. The usual rate of passage is £1 ($4.8665) per day, and the trip would last from 8 to 10 weeks, thus costing something like $275 to $350.

The only alternative is to go up on one of the small Government launches that make the trip three or four times a year with garrison supplies. This would also take me away from Iquitos for from 7 to 10 weeks. There would be no passage money, but I should have to contribute to the officers’ mesa, which would come to about the same thing or possibly a little more. This would only admit of visiting Chorrera, and possibly one or two other river points, but I might be able to get some information from the trip.

Chartering a launch is out of the question, as this would cost £20 to £30 a day, or a total of $5,500 to $10,000. Traveling away from the rivers is possible only by permission of, and with assistance from, the company, and its cost is so high as to place it beyond my allowance.

As stated in my previous dispatch on this subject, I shall probably arrange to go up, in company with the British Consul, on a Government launch, in late July or August.

In accordance with the instructions of the Department, I have co-operated throughout with the British Consul, exchanging information, etc. He is an experienced and capable gentleman, who was at one time stationed in fee rubber districts of the Kongo.

Trusting that the action taken so far may meet with the approval of the Department.

I have [etc.]

Stuart Fuller.