File No. 823.5048/74.

The American Consul at Iquitos to the Secretary of State.

No. 19.]

Sir: Supplementing my dispatches No. 3 of May 31, 1912, and No. 13 of July 1, 1912, I have the honor to transmit herewith a duplicate of the latter, with duplicate of its inclosure. Since writing my last dispatch, no launches have gone up to the Putumayo, but I have been able to gather locally further information that may interest the Department.

[Page 1255]

As an understanding of the organization of government in the Department of Loreto is important in looking into the present status of the Putumayo question, it may be well to give a brief outline of it here. At the head of the department is the prefect, which office is for the present, occupied—in the absence of the titular official—by an acting man, really the subprefect of the Province of Bajo Amazonas. This gentleman was spoken of in my No. 13.

The total area of the Department of Loreto is estimated at 288,500 square miles. This is more than the combined areas of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina, or, to go further west, more than the combined areas of Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota. The department is divided into three provinces, at the head of each of which is a subprefect.

The Putumayo region is in the Province of Bajo Amazonas (the same one as Iquitos), and the acting subprefect at the present time is Señor Daniel Casanova, an employee of the Peruvian Amazon Co., the concern responsible for the atrocities.

The provinces are divided into districts, each having a governor. In each of the larger towns and villages the Government is represented by an official called a lieutenant governor. These last are very minor officials and are under the governors. There are three justices of the peace (juez de paz) in each provincial capital and one in each district. They are unpaid officials.

In addition to these functionaries, there are officers called comisarios, appointed for certain river districts, which constitute authorities independent of the subprefects and immediately under the prefect of the department.

Also, in many places in which, on account of the sparse population, it has not been practical to appoint lieutenant governors, the prefecture has stationed small detachments of troops under the command of army officers, with the title of “jefes de guarnieion.” These are partly under military authority, but under the prefecture in affairs of a civil character in which they may be required to intervene.

There being no towns worthy of the name in the Putumayo region, the sole representatives of the civil power are a justice of the peace for the whole river and a comisario. The Putumayo River itself is about 1,000 miles long. There are two other important rivers, tributaries of the Putumayo, in the district—the Igaraparana and the Caraparana—which rise near the Caqueta and parallel each other southward for some 300 or 400 miles through continuous forest to junctions with the Putumayo. The mouth of the Igaraparana is some 400 miles from the point where the Putumayo joins the Amazon and that of the Caraparana, about 200 miles further still from the same junction. The area of the entire Putumayo basin (the better part of which is controlled by the Peruvian Amazon Syndicate) is estimated as high as 35,000 to 40,000 square miles, or more than the combined areas of all the New England States but Maine.

The strong arm of the law and the sole protection to the defenseless Indians in the whole of this vast region seems at present to be found in one justice of the peace, an employee of the company which has fathered such reprehensible practices in the past, and one comisario, [Page 1256] who draws, in the face of strong temptation, the munificent salary of some $1,500 a year (United States currency), about the same as a clerk gets in Iquitos, together with a handful of soldiers shut up all the time in La Chorrera and possibly El Encanto. There may be more troops, but I have been unable so far to get exact information. I believe, however, that there are not enough in any case to be a factor in the situation.

The justice of the peace for the whole Putumayo basin is a man named Manuel Torrico, an employee of the Peruvian Amazon Co. Dr. Paredes denounced the appointment of this man as a scandal, and a clear proof that the local authorities had no real intention to bring about an improvement in the state of things on the Putumayo. When Sir Roger Casement was on the river in 1910, Torrico was a subagent of the company, a subordinate at Occidente to Fidel Velarde, one of the leaders in the atrocities (and one of the first to “escape”). He has since been promoted to be a chief of section for the Peruvian Amazon Co. Sir Roger Casement said of Torrico, “From him no more than from his predecessor could any public service be expected.”

The comisario is a man named Juan Garcia Buenaño. He is fairly well spoken of as a man, but stated by many to be in a position where he can do little or nothing to better things, even though he might wish to. I expect to see and talk with him when I go up to this district, and will report further on my return.

As to the administrative staff in general in the Department of Loreto, allegations of venality on the part of Government officials of all grades are frequent, open, and common here in Iquitos, and it certainly would seem as though there must be some fire to cause so much smoke. River comisarios are a special target. Their salaries are small, but they are said to return from their posts rich after a year or two in a jungle where they are supposed not to engage in trade.

Protests against illegal trading by Government transports and river comisarios in the rivers closed to trade on account of the troubles with Ecuador have been made, and I have heard it openly stated that the late prefect was interested in this illicit trade to a heavy extent.

As to the prosecution of the cases brought against those accused of crimes committed in connection with the Peruvian Amazon Co.’s enterprise in the Putumayo, despite all the reasons held forth for the failure so far to show results, it really must be admitted that they have been conducted in a most desultory manner. Since my last dispatch nothing has developed, and, in fact, up to date no judgments of any importance have been handed down. It will be recalled that the prefect (Señor Alayza y Paz-Soldan) assigned this to delays involved in appeals to the supreme court at Lima and to the fact that the local courts were provided with too few officials for their work. There is something in the first excuse, but it would certainly seem that if the Government of Peru really wished to push these cases the first thing they would have done would be to provide the necessary machinery without delay.

The return of Dr. Valcarcel, referred to in my No. 13, added nothing to the facilities of the local courts, as he merely replaced the man [Page 1257] who had been acting temporarily (i. e., during Valcarcel’s suspension) a local lawyer. It was not until the 7th instant that any additions to the bench were made. On that date Dr. Morelli, a justice who had been on leave, returned, and two new judges, Drs. Jose Dolores Contreras and Lorenzo Guarcia, arrived from Lima.

Pablo Zumaeta, in whose case nothing further has been done, continues to stand high in the esteem of the local public. He took a prominent part in the official ceremonies of July 12 connected with the mass celebrated for those who died in the Battle of the Caqueta last year in the troubles with Colombia. He and his friends blackballed, at the Iquitos Club, the judge, Dr. Valcarcel, who had issued the warrant against Zumaeta, and that in a club where a majority is necessary to shut out a proposed member, Zumaeta may not be guilty of all that is laid at his door; he may have been accused and the warrant issued against him unjustly, but if as innocent as he claims to be, it is strange that he does not go into court and vindicate himself once for all.

El Oriente published, on July 1, dispatches from Lima regarding the appointment of two more commissions to investigate and devise plans for the future for government in the Putumayo region “and other regions similar to it.” These are inclosed, together with translations. The news did not appear in any of the other daily papers, and it aroused no special comment.

Julio Ego-Aguirre, appointed on the principal commission, is the senator from this department, and the deputy, Julio Abel Raygada, appointed likewise, is believed to be the Raygada who is a deputy from Loreto. Ego-Aguirre is stated to be an able lawyer. He at one time took lessons in English from Hardenberg (the man whose articles in London Truth first directed attention to the Putumayo atrocities) and is known to have spoken well of him in the past.

As to the personnel of the auxiliary commission, I have already referred (in my No. 13) to the acting prefect, who is ex officio its head. An idea of his attitude toward the question may be gained from what he said to me unguardedly in a conversation regarding the Putumayo, viz, that he had lived in Loreto 25 years and did not believe that more than six or seven serious crimes had been committed in the whole Putumayo region in all that time; that the Indians were wild, irredeemable cannibals, who could only be handled by force; and that the whole Putumayo agitation smelled to him strongly of Colombian intrigue. As to the president of the superior court I have heard widely varying opinions expressed. It is altogether possible that if given the chance he may do genuine service. The third member, Dr. Maradiegue, is a local lawyer, rather old and infirm, and more likely to prove a figurehead than one to whom you could look for service in this matter.

The auxiliary commission itself looks very much like the interposition of reel tape, with the object of delay and obstructing any action of a vigorous or prompt nature. In fact, the whole commission plan to one on the ground looks suspiciously like a device to produce the appearance of doing something when really leaving things as they are. What these commissions could do in the matter of punishing the crimes of the past is hard to see. As for the future, it would be strange if the local knowledge of the senator and deputy from this [Page 1258] Department, added to the data given in the voluminous report already made by Dr. Paredes, were not sufficient for the drawing up of a plan to protect the Indians and furnish organized government to the district in question.

As to what the administrative branch of the local government has done and is doing in regard to Putumayo matters, this is either nothing at all or else they have proceeded without giving out any information either publicly or to the British Consul. Short of going up the river, which the lack of facilities will make impossible for some time, the only way to find out was to inquire of the prefecture. This I did, calling personally on the acting prefect and presenting the memorandum of which a copy is inclosed, with translation of the same. I thought it more likely to secure a satisfactory answer if presented in writing, and assigned in the conversation as my reason for so doing my unfamiliarity with the Spanish language. The acting prefect stated that he would look into the matter and let me hear from him. I do not expect a reply for some time, as I believe that he will undoubtedly communicate with Lima before replying. The questions in the letter were carefully drawn to avoid offering any ground for offense, and I stated verbally that I had heard that the’ Government was taking measures, as stated in the decree appointing the commission, but had no information as to what they were.

As to what the company is doing, I have nothing further to report by this mail, but the more one looks into the question the more it appears that the point is not so much what changes the have made and what their present treatment of the Indians is (though this is important), but what guaranty the Government is furnishing of protection to the Indians. We have already seen what the business developed in the past, and, regardless of what reforms the private corporation may have undergone, one has good reason to fear that without firm and adequate government in the territory the temptation—ever present to men of the only kind that apparently can be got to go out into these unhealthy jungles—may bring about a repetition of the atrocities. Everything may be all right now—this can only be determined by thorough inspection—but the present condition would not constitute a guaranty for the future.

News of the publication of the Casement reports has reached here since my last dispatch, and, so far as I have yet been able to ascertain, it attracted very little attention or interest in Iquitos. I do not believe that local support for measures of reform can be secured to any appreciable extent, unless the fear is aroused that the failure to provide decent and adequate government in the region under discussion may lead to loss of the territory. If this feature were to be made a point by Ecuador and Colombia in pressing their claims it might help.

Granting all the reasons for the failure to accomplish anything so far, they do not redound to the credit of Peru nor constitute any proof of determined effort to better conditions. No real effort has yet been made to make the administration of justice and the protection of the Indians in the region a reality or a possibility. The same old form of organization is maintained, although it has been [Page 1259] proved a complete failure and totally inadequate. It is still necessary to travel 1,200 miles from the Putumayo to Iquitos to get a hearing in a court of first instance, and there are only five or six chances a year to make the trip.

It can not be claimed that the district is unproductive of revenue and can not afford a better organization, for a glance at the tables showing the amounts of rubber produced there, and a thought of the heavy Peruvian export duty, will show what a heavy return has come to the Peruvian treasury from this source for years past and is still coming in.

Another factor in the situation worthy of consideration is the feeling, that doubtless is more .or less present with the Lima authorities, that they face the possibility of serious political troubles if they try to force unpopular measures, inimical to the rubber business, the sole trade of the Department of Loreto, already poorly treated and having little in common with the rest of Peru.

The Peruvian Amazon Co’s launch Liberal, I hear, is to go up the Putumayo about the 5th or 6th of August. Nothing further has been heard regarding the next trip of a Government launch to this region. It is probable that the British Consul and myself will go tip in the next boat that the Government sends. We hope to secure the services of an interpreter who speaks several of the dialects spoken by the Indians in the Putumayo Basin, and shall endeavor to work out a plan for a bit of land traveling in the region, if it can be arranged at a cost within our allowances. We shall probably be away from Iquitos for from six to eight weeks.

I have, etc.,

Stuart J. Fuller.

The American Consul at Iquitos to the Acting Prefect of the Department of Loreto.

Mr. Prefect: In view of the fact that public subscriptions are being asked for abroad, to be used in establishing religious missions in the Putumayo region and relieving the condition of the Indians there, I have the honor to inquire:

What measures have been and are being taken to bring to punishment those guilty of the atrocities in the Putumayo region?
What measures to protect the Indians from further ill treatment have been in force since the disclosure of these atrocities?
Whether it is proposed to put into effect any further measures to protect the Indians during the six months or more that must elapse before the plan of administrative and judicial reform to be drawn up by the new commission can be submitted and acted upon.

Your excellency will doubtless understand that, in making these inquiries, there is no disposition to offend by referring to a matter concerning the internal affairs of Peru, but will appreciate that mention of the matter is prompted by the desire for information as to existing and past conditions on the part of those charitable members of the Church of Rome abroad who are seeking to aid these unfortunate Indians with the same high ideal of serving humanity that has actuated your Government in the steps they have inaugurated to put an end to the excesses in the Peruvian rubber forests.

I take this opportunity to repeat the assurances of my high consideration and personal esteem.

Stuart J. Fuller.