File No. 823.5048/105.
The American Consul at Iquitos to the Secretary of State.
Iquitos, October 28, 1912.
Sir: I have the honor to report that I left Iquitos on August 7, 1912, by launch, for the Putumayo region, and reached here again in [Page 1265] return late on October 6. Total absence of facilities prevented my communicating with the Department in the meantime.
There is evidence that the company has mended its ways to some extent, at least for the present, but it is plain that, up to date, the Government has done nothing at all on the ground.
As previously reported to the Department, my British colleague and I desired to go up to the Putumayo quietly, and in such a way as to be independent of the company if possible. After we had waited over two months for the dispatch of a Government launch to the region (as stated in my No. 25 of July 31) we finally gave that idea up, and decided to take the company’s launch. We took care, however, to say nothing about it until the very last minute, and then we made it plainly understood that we would accept no favors whatever, and would insist on paying for everything that we got.
To be as independent as possible, we provided ourselves with tents and rations, and took with us our own cook, a colored Barbadian. We also took, as interpreter, John Brown, a native of Montserrat, a British subject, thoroughly familiar with the Huitoto language, who had spent some years in the Putumayo region at the time when the atrocities were at their height. He is the man whom Sir Roger Casement brought down from the West Indies to act as his interpreter, and he gave testimony before the prefect at Iquitos in the matter, as stated in the Casement report.
The acting prefect failed to provide us with the letter to the local authorities, which we had asked for, and which he had promised us but on the evening before departure I received from him a letter, a copy of which, with translation, is inclosed,1 to the effect that Carlos Rey de Castro, the Peruvian Consul General at Manaos, would join the Peruvian Amazon Co.’s launch Liberal at the mouth of the Putumayo, and that he was going up “on a journey of investigation, with the object of ascertaining the fulfillment of the measures taken there, and to see how the instructions issued to the authorities of that zone were being carried out.”
Although Señor Rey de Castro is a high official of the Peruvian Government, I do not consider the selection of a man of his reputation, for the duty of accompanying us, by any means a compliment to myself or to the United States Government. His reputation is well known and a matter of common talk in Iquitos. It is epitomized in Sir Roger Casement’s report of November 24, 1911, on page 3, where he states that Señor Rey de Castro, on the occasion of his previous investigation of affairs in the Putumayo, was bought by Señor Arana for the Peruvian Amazon Co., the proof of which was seen by Sir Roger Casement in the company’s books at Manaos. I am inclined to believe that the prefect’s reticence as to the exact nature of his mission was largely clue to the fear that we might withdraw from the trip altogether were we advised of the real facts before our departure. Indeed, I did think seriously of so doing, but decided to continue in view of the arrangements already made at considerable expense and the doubt as to facilities for going up at a future date.
The launch Liberal, with the British Consul and myself on board, was met in the River Amazon, not far from the mouth of the Putumayo, [Page 1266] by the English mail steamer Napo, bound for Iquitos, and Señor Arana, of the Peruvian Amazon Co., with his party, joined us. This party consisted of Julio C. Arana, the liquidator of the Peruvian Amazon Co., his secretary and brother-in-law, Marcial Zumaeta, a photographer, an agronomist, a bookkeeper, a Huitota named Julia (the mistress of the criminal O’Donnell), and Señor Rey de Castro and his servant. All of these proceeded to La Chorrera with us in the Liberal.
On August 16, the night before we arrived at La Chorrera, Señor Rey de Castro showed my British colleague and myself copies of extracts from two telegrams and a copy of a letter from the acting prefect of the Department of Loreto, which, he stated, constituted his instructions. Copies of these, with translations, are inclosed.1 He said that he would take entire charge of the trip and make all the arrangements. This was the first mention that he made of the nature of his mission.
I thanked Señor Rey de Castro for his courtesy, but declined his assistance, stating that, from the advices I had received from the acting prefect at Iquitos, I understood his mission to be an investigation as to the conduct of their business by the local authorities, and hence not the same as mine, which was to report on commercial and labor conditions, those under which money being publicly collected for missionary purposes might be spent, and the conditions to be met with by any American citizens who might elect to go there as missionaries. I also stated that it was beyond my province to sign formal acts with him regarding the internal affairs of Peru without explicit instructions from my Government. I added that I expected and desired to travel quietly and independently, to see the people in their home life; that I had complete equipment for so doing, and that neither assistance nor escort were necessary.
When asked if I did not form one member of a joint commission with the British Consul to investigate crimes committed in the Putumayo, I stated that I did not; that I might and might not travel in the interior with Mr. Michell; that I was not informed whether he had instructions to investigate possible criminal acts on the part of the British company operating there.
When asked if I would give him a copy of my report, I stated that I could not do so, but that the Peruvian Legation at Washington might, if they wished, apply to the Government for it.
The letter of the acting prefect which he showed us is an interesting commentary on the lack of good faith that has characterized the local authorities in their dealings throughout. The Department will recall that I wrote and asked the acting prefect for certain information regarding the Putumayo, as reported in my dispatch No. 29 of August 6, and in previous dispatches. In his reply, which accompanied the dispatch just cited, he stated that the information desired was beyond the province of his office; but his letter to Señor Rey de Castro, although it bears a date anterior to the one he addressed to me, conveys exactly the information asked for by me.
On our arrival at La Chorrera, Mr. Michell and I politely, but firmly, declined to stay in the company’s house. This position was [Page 1267] fully understood by the company manager and taken without offense. For what meals we had on board the launch after arrival and at the company house, when unavoidable on account of the delay in unloading our food supplies, we paid and hold receipts.
In addition to several others, I visited all the posts referred to in the Casement reports as having been the scene of outrages except Matanzas and Abisinia. The former has been abandoned, and to visit the latter would have meant spending two months more in the region at an expense to the Government that I did not consider would be justified by results.
The British Consul also visited Oriente and Sur, in the La Chorrera section of the company’s property, and Argelia, in the El Encanto section. At the first named there were at the time no Indians to be seen. Indians from the second were our carriers to La Sombra. Both are small posts near to La Chorrera. I could not see that the additional expense would be justified by any possible results, as I could get all information from Mr. Michell and the Indians themselves. It also seemed to me a tactful policy to omit a few of the places so as not to appear too completely identified with the British Government measures, and I chose these, as the least important, to be omitted. As to Argelia, I felt that my time could be spent to better advantage in El Encanto.
Throughout the trip we were so carefully watched and hedged about that if there was anything to hide we could not possibly have seen it. In fact, as stated in my dispatch No. 13, of July 1, anyone traveling through here is of necessity entirely dependent on the company. None but their men know the roads, there is no food but what they have, there are no facilities for water transportation but what they own, carriers can only be obtained through them, and all the time one is traveling on their private property.
The Peruvian Consul General and his suite were far from being of any assistance to us. At the very start, on his request, the departure was postponed five days, as he said he wished to see that certain prisoners were really sent back on the Liberal. When we suggested going on ahead by land it was not possible to secure the necessary carriers. On the trip he succeeded in delaying us in one way and another, apparently on purpose, to such an extent that the river trip, where, for lack of facilities, we had no choice but to go all together, was extended from the proposed three days to a week. He insisted on stopping at unimportant places, where he apparently did nothing but take meaningless photographs of Indians.
He continually attempted to take the direction of the whole thing into his hands and ordered the company’s men about to suit his convenience, apparently with the intention of conveying the impression that this was an inspection tour under his sole direction.
We particularly did not wish to be identified with this party that insisted on accompanying us, and, though always courteous, we took care to emphasize our independence by living separately, except on the launch, where it was not possible, but where we paid for what we had. We also paid our own carriers separately in every instance.
I am sure that it was not Mr. Tizoirs intention to delay or interfere with us on the trip, as his personal man in charge of the launch arrangements chafed at and complained of the delays, had not provided [Page 1268] sufficient food for so much time in transit, and told me that Mr. Tizon had told him to press on as quickly as possible, that we might have the opportunity of seeing as much as possible in the time at our disposal. It was quite clear that the direction of affairs was taken out of Mr. Tizon’s hands by Messrs. Arana and Rey de Castro. Difficulties as to securing carriers at La Chorrera, where Mr. Tizon had immediate charge, did not arise until after Messrs. Arana and Rey de Castro had stepped in and were not suggested before.
It was quite evident throughout the trip that not only ourselves, but even our interpreter were the subjects of a close espionage. It was not possible to go anywhere among the natives without being followed by employees of the company. Whenever we tried to talk privately to the Indians an employee of the company familiar with the Huitoto language always approached, with the result that the Indians invariably ceased to be communicative.
At Emeraes, on August 27, Mr. Michell and I, accompanied by our interpreter, had engaged in conversation in the Indian house with a number of Indians of more than average intelligence. They were talking quite freely, when suddenly the spokesman, a chief, turned off the conversation, saying, with indifference: “Yes; we are quite contented. We are well paid and the white men are very good to us.” The change was so striking that we looked around and saw there the cook of the Arana party, who must have left his work to listen to our conversation. He immediately pushed forward and volubly assumed the office of interpreter, plainly putting his own words into the mouths of the Indians. We dropped the subject and the cook left, but no sooner did we again start a conversation with other natives than a station hand ran over to the house where the Arana party were and brought the cook back, again to interfere in a similar manner. Immediately afterwards Julio Arana appeared and we were unable to continue. This cook told our servants that he was acting under instructions to hear and repeat everything that we said to Messrs. Arana and Rey de Castro. This same sort of thing was repeated in the other posts, and the fear among the Indians of speaking frankly or of making any complaints was marked. In a letter which he addressed to me on my return to Iquitos, Señor Rey de Castro states that he considered this sort of surveillance a part of his duty.
We only managed to get in three days without this constant surveillance by altering our arrangements at Ultimo Retiro suddenly in the middle of the night, arranging independently with the section chief, an Englishman, who had incautiously said that there would be no trouble to get carriers, before the Peruvian Amazon party or Señor Rey de Castro had had the opportunity of warning him against extending any facilities to us. Even then two so-called guides, for whom we had not asked, were sent along to keep an eye on us.
Except on the trip from Ultimo Retiro to Entre Rios, it was not possible for us to see the Indians in their native homes, for, when we were coming they were all called into the section center by the signal drums, given a dance, provided with food, and evidently enjoyed themselves hugely. Interesting as this was, it conveyed no idea of the real situation nor of the relations between the Indians [Page 1269] and the company. All it went to show was that such lavish treatment on the part of the company is distinctly unusual, though pleasing to the Indians. Though these displays were stated to be for our benefit, we were carefully prevented on all such occasions from having any independent conversation with the Indians.
I have discussed thus in detail the treatment that we received for two reasons. It throws an interesting light on the protestations of the company and of the local government that they have nothing to hide and no fear of unprejudiced publicity; and it also goes to show one phase of the problem that confronts Peru in attempting to do something toward the government of the region. A Government officer, to become conversant with the local situation in the Putumayo, must be prepared to stay in the district a year or more, well and independently provisioned and equipped, and having back of him ample authority from the Peruvian Government. Such a man would have to be absolutely honest and well paid (to remove the possibility of temptation). He must also be prepared and unafraid to risk his life in many ways while he is there. Men of this kind are hard to find.
Throughout the trip, both my British colleague and myself were careful to avoid even the appearance of interfering in the internal affairs of Peru. My position was as stated to the Peruvian consul general, and detailed above, and Mr. Michell based his action on the following grounds:
- The responsibility of an English company, still in existence, though in process of liquidation, for the atrocities of the past and their share in the responsibility for conditions in the present.
- The presence in the region of British subjects.
- The collection in Great Britain of subscriptions with the object of sending missionaries to the region.
- The general idea of serving humanity by reporting to his Government the true conditions, to be published if they see fit.
As to the Indians themselves, whatever they may have been in past generations, I am satisfied that they are not now, and were not at the time when the atrocities took place, wild, untamable, cannibal savages, but mild, docile, inoffensive, and childlike, just as they are reported to have been by Robuchon the explorer, by Consul Eberhardt, and by Sir Roger Casement. It is practically impossible to estimate the total number to be found in the Putumayo region. A personal visit to every Indian house would be necessary to this end.
These natives can not count over 20, and many not over 10. They have no idea of time or of dates other than that some can count moons and a few recognize the equinoctial changes. They have no idea of their own ages.
As to conducting business, they simply know that if they bring in rubber they get guns, hammocks, and other things from the white man. They could not possibly calculate quantities or debts, nor would they realize what peonage means.
I doubt whether they know the difference between proper treatment at the hands of the whites and maltreatment, for the simple reason that the first idea of the white man they had was bad usage. In case of any trouble they would not be likely to appeal to the authorities. [Page 1270] They would not understand how, and they have no conception of government. The only way to protect them is to watch over them and their interests.
The natural supply of food for these Indians comes from their chacaras or farms, and consists of cassava and yucca and some maize, sugar cane, and plantains. There is very little game in the forest, but they get an occasional monkey or bird. The soil is so poor, despite the luxuriousness of the forest, that they are obliged to move these chacaras every two or three years to get crops. They clear a new place in the forest, let the fallen timber dry, burn it over, and then plant between the stumps. It is plain to see that if prevented in any way from working their farms, the Indians must of necessity starve. They state, and so do the employees of the company, that in former times they were so pushed by the company for rubber that their chacaras were neglected and they often found themselves at the point of starvation.
All of the Indians that we saw looked well fed and vigorous. The photographs which accompany the present dispatch, and which were taken by the writer, will give an idea of what they are like. Our interpreter, who’ was in the district at the time the atrocities were being practiced, says that there is no great difference between their appearance then and now. They are a small people and not over strong physically. We saw a considerable number in the various posts who bore the scars of old floggings.
The Indians all knew who Arana was. They called him “Captain of the Peruvians” and evidently stood in great awe of him. He is much more to them than the whole Peruvian Government.
Mr. Tizon, the manager at La Chorrera, states that on the books of his sections there are at the present time about 2,600 working Indians. He admits that it was all forced labor in the beginning, but believes that it is now retained by the growth among the Indians of the desire for European articles, guns, hammocks, etc. He states that all goods are furnished on the advance system. While he deprecated peonage, he said he did not see any way out of the system of advances at the present time. He says that if more Indians were needed in addition to those already working rubber, he has the hope that the desire for goods would bring them to work, but he was inclined to touch rather lightly on this phase of the question.
As to the Peruvian Government, it is plain that they apparently leave the whole zone to the company to do as they please, the occurrences of the past notwithstanding. I saw nothing whatever to support their repeated protestations as to the measures they were taking to improve conditions.
In fact, the total absence of any attempt at government up to the present time was freely admitted to both the British Consul and myself by Señor Rey de Castro. There was no other position he could take, when once he was on the ground.
Señor Rey de Castro stated that Peru was not in a position to take any action in the Putumayo region prior to 1910, on account of her modus vivendi with Colombia, by virtue of which Peru was to have jurisdiction of the Napo, Colombia of the Caquetá, and the Putumayo was to be a region alias where neither party was to attempt jurisdiction. If any such arrangement was entered into by Peru in 1908, [Page 1271] when this agreement was stated to me by Señor Rey de Castro to have been entered into, it is a sad commentary on the position of both of these nations toward the exploitation of the Indians by ruthless and unprincipled rubber gatherers, for the horrors of the Putumayo were then, and had been for some time, a matter of common knowledge, and the character of the white inhabitants of the region was no secret to either Colombia or Peru.
Señor Rey de Castro also stated that no action had been taken by Peru against the criminals at an earlier date, because it could be proved that the crimes were committed almost exclusively by early Colombian settlers, and to admit this would support the claim of effective occupation set up by Colombia. This, however, does not excuse the supineness of the Peruvian Government after the establishment in the district of the Arana House, a Peruvian enterprise, which by 1906 controlled the region entirely.
Up to the time we arrived in the Putumayo, the sole representative of the Government for the entire region was the comisario, Señor Buenaño, at La Chorrera, and a justice of the peace, Señor Torrico, the latter an employee of the company and with jurisdiction limited to civil suits and those of the most minor importance. This is what the prefect informed me and what I found to be a fact.
The prefect also informed me that the comisario was actively engaged in traveling throughout the region, continuously inspecting the country under his charge. At every post I visited I inquired how often Comisario Buenaho had visited there in the course of his year in office. At some of the posts he was not even known by name. One section chief was surprised to learn of his existence. All were surprised at the idea that a Government official might visit their posts. It developed, as a result of these inquiries, that Señor Buenaho did some traveling, but only to sections about which little or no question had been raised. He visited Oriente, Sur, Sabana, and Santa Catalina. He also visited El Encanto four times, where he traveled to two or three of the subsections. At Sur he spent nine months, living with the section chief, an old school friend of his.
The strength of the Government’s hand and the extent of their control is indicated by the fact that Consul General Señor Rey de Castro found it necessary, in order to secure information in regard to his mission, to rely entirely on the company.
The fact is that this vast territory was handed over by the Peruvian Government to a private business enterprise, at first Peruvian and later British, while the Government made no effort to exercise sovereign rights or establish law and order therein. The sole officials—two in number—were Government officials in name only, being employees of the company. It is only now, after repeated exposure of the maltreatment of the natives, extending over a period of some eight or nine years, that the Government has even made a pretense of doing anything.
The pressure brought to bear in Lima has evidently borne some fruit, in that just before my British colleague and I left Iquitos, and apparently only after we had announced our intention of making the trip, the organization of a force of constabulary for the region was hastily undertaken. As men could not be secured in the day or two available, 25 of the soldiers stationed at Iquitos were drafted for the [Page 1272] service. These men were selected on the day that we left and sent up on the launch Liberal with us. They were ill equipped and the facilities necessary for their efficiency were totally lacking. They have had no training in their new duties and even the manner of utilizing them is still in doubt. Reenforcements, consisting of three boys of from 16 to 18 years of age, reached Chorrera by the second voyage of the Liberal. Twenty-five more men have been sent up with a military expedition by the launch Adolf o in the last few days, but there seems to be some question whether they are to be used as troops or as gendarmes.
The company feels that the establishment of constabulary forces through the district will interfere with their business, scaring the Indians, whom it will take a long time to teach that these gendarmes are their friends. This is doubtless true.
Another argument advanced by Señor Rey de Castro to account for the failure of the Peruvian Government to establish any form of administration in the region, was that the whole district (it is about the size of the State of Maryland) is private property, on which, according to law, Government forces may not enter except at the request of the owners. This would not account for the presence of Peruvian troops and it is absurd to deny the police power of the state under the existing circumstances. A slightly different view is taken here at the prefecture. The secretary states that as the company’s title to the property is not complete the forces of the Government may enter at will, and adds that it is proposed to make this a condition of the final confirmation of the proposed grant.
Throughout the region, up to the present time, the administration of any justice that has been administered has been in the hands of the company’s section chiefs. Several of these admitted frankly that they put in the stocks both Indian and white employees for minor offenses and to maintain order, and, indeed, it is hard to see what other course was open to them under the circumstances. Señor Loayza, at El Encanto, says that he has encouraged the Indians to come to him with their disputes and troubles, for the reason that the sole method of treating these known to the native is so cruel and drastic. The only penalty they know is death and they have been known to impose this for the theft of no more than a few bananas.
In the statements’ made by the Peruvian Government officials regarding the region there is a great tendency to confuse the military forces there with civil administration. Although Señor Rey de Castro insisted that the troops were instructed to assist in the administration of government in the region, the officer in command on the ground and the officer in command in Iquitos assured me that the military had nothing to do with civil matters, their sole business being to guard the frontier.
Señor Rey de Castro stated to me that when the present commandant of the Putumayo region came there to take over command he found the troops working rubber for the company, and was obliged on this account to alter the arrangement of the posts—an important comment on their value in protecting the Indians. At the present time they are all posted well away from the company’s workings, in small detachments of 15 to 25 men each, at points on the borders, I do not believe that there are more than 125 in the whole region.[Page 1273]
A great deal was said in the region about slave trading raids along the borders made by Colombian freebooters and there is little doubt that such take place. I could not see, however, that much had been done by the Government to protect the Indians against these.
As to the prosecutions for the crimes of the past it will be recalled that, although their existence had been a matter of common knowledge for years, nothing was done until Sir Roger Casement brought them officially to the notice of the prefect in November, 1910, representing them as having been committed by the agents of a British company operating in the zone. It was shortly after this that the Paredes judicial commission went up, resulting in the indictment of over 200 persons. Of these, some 75 of the more insignificant were captured and are still in jail at Iquitos. Most of the principal ones were allowed to escape. In all the time since the authorities have been in possession of the facts presented by their own commissioner no punishments have been imposed and the cases have been allowed merely to drag along. It was stated to me by the prefect and the acting prefect that this was largely due to the fact that the indictments of Dr. Paredes were faulty; but, apparently, no effort had been made to perfect them or to strengthen the Government’s case and, in the meantime, the difficulty of securing reliable witnesses is increasing. In fact, it is quite possible that the indictments were purposely drawn in such a way as to make prosecutions difficult, if all that is said of them by the acting prefect be true. In view of this it is hard to see why the Government should have again chosen this gentleman to assist in the task of drawing up a plan of government for the Putumayo.
I can not see now, after visiting the region, any more than I could when writing my dispatch No. 19 of July 15, what can be accomplished by the roving commission of Dr. Paredes or by a commission sitting in Iquitos (none of whom I believe have ever visited the region in question) toward assisting in a plan of administration. Dr. Paredes has not gone up and it is stated by his friends that he does not intend to go. So far as I have been able to ascertain the commission has not yet had a sitting.
The fact is that no change was made in the district until the gendarmes were hurriedly sent up with us and a new comisario appointed. The proposals now put forward’ by the Government are the very minimum for the insurance of order and protection to the Indians. They depend for the least degree of success on the active, costly, and sustained efforts of the Government themselves, now suffering serious financial embarrassment, and on the loyal and self-denying cooperation of a bankrupt trading company exposed to the temptation of working out the last pound of rubber while the price wall still enable them to sell at a profit.
The plea of distance and difficulties of communication advanced by the Peruvians is an admission, in reality, that the region lies without their natural sphere of administration, an acknowledgment that Colombia would promptly meet by undertaking to administer this territory, to which she has never relinquished her claim.
As to public opinion, it stands just where it did when I first got here, as outlined in my previous dispatches. Considerable resentment has been aroused by the agitation that has taken place abroad, [Page 1274] but it is fear for the political sovereignty of Peru in the region that has been aroused rather than solicitude for the welfare of the Indians.
As for the company, I believe that, having followed the policy of forcing everything out of the native labor that they could, they are now resting on their oars until the Indian population can recuperate and the rubber sources replenish themselves; but, believing (as a result of the way in which the Government has handled the pending prosecution) that they would be immune from interference, they would not hesitate a moment to repeat the past were it necessary to make a big showing preparatory to unloading the property. In fact, it is hardly good policy for those in control to force the property while the company is in liquidation, but, rather, it is advisable to conserve the resources until after the settlement of the receivership.
It was about 1898 that the Colombians began working in the region to any considerable extent. Since 1906, as the Department will recall, it has been controlled by the Arana house and their successors, the Peruvian Amazon Co. The company operating there now is still the British company, but in liquidation, with three bodies of creditors, the Peruvian, Brazilian, and European. The Peruvian creditors demanded the appointment of Julio C. Arana as liquidator, in lieu of which they threatened to close everything up, and the Brazilian and European creditors could do nothing but agree. Señor Arana states that the European claims have now been largely settled and that there is only a small European interest now in the liquidation. He says that he has from three to five years to complete it.
The property, for administration purposes, is divided into two parts, the La Chorrera section and the El Encanto section. The management of each of these is independent of the other, the heads reporting to the main office in Iquitos. The La Chorrera section is the larger and more important and was the scene of the atrocities described in the Casement reports. The El Encanto section includes the territory which was first worked by the early Colombian rubber gatherers.
The administrative staff for the La Chorrera part of the property consists of a chief manager at La Chorrera and 85 white employees, located in 10 posts and La Chorrera itself. The section is divided into subsections, at the head of each of which is a section chief. The present chief manager, Señor Juan A. Tizon, states that he feels he has removed all incentive to the abuse of the Indians by abolishing payment to white employees on a commission basis, depending on the amount of rubber produced in their respective sections. He states that he stopped this practice on taking charge in January, 1911, and that no commissions have been paid since. He says that the section chiefs have no knowledge of the accounts for their sections and do not know whether they are showing a profit or not; that five of them receive £25 per month and five £30, all being fully found. He states that only one of the old chiefs of section, Señor Seminario, is left, all the others having been discharged.
The El Encanto portion of the concession is stated by the section manager, Señor Miguel A. Loayza, to have a staff of 55 white employees. [Page 1275] He says that he also abolished payment by commissions in January, 1911, though he claims that no bad results had come of it under his previous administration of the section. He has been chief manager at El Encanto for six years. He says that all his subehiefs date back to 1908; that he had gradually discharged the previous chiefs, as he could, in 1906 and 1907 on account of their ill treatment of the Indian population. There are nine subsections in this part of the property.
Señor Tizon at La Chorrera, I believe to be sincere and honest and trying to do the best he can. His ideas are good, and if allowed to work them out he should in time accomplish much for the good of the Indians. I am inclined to believe, however, that his authority at present is limited and that he will only be allowed a free hand with his reforms so long as they suit the business purposes of those in control of the company. If the company were recapitalized and the necessity for paying dividends on a heavy stock issue were to arise he would likely go.
He has a difficult task and realizes it. The situation in the La Chorrera section is such that the chief manager at La Chorrera might easily and without blame to himself be unaware of maltreatment of the Indians at the outposts.
He offered to show me his books, but I stated that I did not care to see them, being neither a Peruvian nor a British official, but that if my Peruvian and British colleagues examined them I should be glad to be present. This examination took place. The books apparently showed no commissions; but it would be easy, if the company were paying them, to credit salary only at La Chorrera and commissions on the main books at Iquitos, thus deceiving both Mr. Tizon and anyone who might base his opinion on the La Chorrera books alone. It is a little hard to believe how some of the section chiefs are induced to undertake the work for the same salary that is paid an ordinary clerk at Iquitos, unless it is with the hope of opportunities for substantial gain in the future.
While the two chief managers are men above the average, those in charge of the subsections (with a few exceptions) are very ordinary and, I believe, entirely capable of repeating the atrocities of the past if instructed to or offered inducements, such as commissions on rubber produced. In other words, the machinery is all there; and there is danger that the temptation to make a big showing preparatory to seeking new capital might bring about a return to old conditions. The sole value of the property lies in the labor. The product is inferior and I believe, worked out to a considerable extent, and the only possible way to make a showing is to push the Indians.
Not much can be said for the morality of the white employees. Now, as when Sir Roger Casement was there, all the whites live with native women without the formality of marriage, and change these consorts at wall.
The atrocities of the past were everywhere admitted throughout the regions, and there can be no question of the substantial truth of the Casement reports. Only one attempt at palliation was made to me during the whole trip.
As previously stated, payment for the labor-of the Indians is all on the advance system, with the exception of a single tribe in the El [Page 1276] Encanto section. The company states that the manner of utilizing and directing the work of the Indians is as follows: The neighborhood of an Indian house is divided into three parts, two near the house and a third fairly well removed, which are assigned to the tribe inhabiting the house. These three parcels of land are worked in rotation, three months being devoted to each. After sojourning in: the two nearer sections for three months each, living in tambos or temporary shelters that they build for the purpose, the tribe is allowed to return to their house and work chacaras or plantations for three months, and then proceeds to the far section again to work rubber. It was stated that no effort is made to keep the natives at work in the division allotted to a special time, but only to hinder them from working in those lying fallow. Each one of these working periods is referred to as a “fábrica,” In part of the property the year is divided into three instead of four periods, but the system is essentially the same. In some sections the time allowed to the natives to work their plantations is divided into periods of one month each at the end of their rubber-working periods. It will thus be seen that the time and place of his labor are determined for him by the company and he is not altogether free in any case.
It is not trade and can not properly be so called. The Indians, who can not count over 10 or 20 and can give no intelligent idea of quantity, are hardly capable of understanding trading on a system of advances. Say what you will, it is nothing more nor less than forced labor, whether it is secured and kept by the rifle or by a system of peonage based on advances of merchandise.
From their action while we were in the zone, it was apparent that the company either had something to hide or feared that we might confuse the Indians’ statements of the past with the present. I can see no other plausible reason for their having us, and particularly our interpreter, watched so carefully.
I believe that the Indians only work rubber in the fear of what might be done to them, based on the experiences of the not far-distant past. I am inclined to believe that “commissions” are still undertaken to get the Indians to work, though it was stated that no pressure is brought to bear on them. At present threats and reminders of the past would still be sufficiently effective to bring them in, but Comisario Lores indicated to me that he did not have full confidence in the measures adopted by the expeditions sent out, and intended as soon as his force was trained and organized to send a gendarme out with each such “comision.”
Another thing that is hard to believe is that valuable merchandise is handed out to these Indians, whose thieving propensities are very evident, without any security, and that nothing whatever is done if they fail to bring in rubber to cover.
There were cepos [stocks] in plain view at Oriente, Sur, El Encanto, and Argelia, and they were stated to be used. We heard of some flogging, too, but it was said by our informants to be limited to punishments of the Indians attached to the stations and not extended to those engaged in working rubber. Fears based on the past may account for the payment by Indians against advances to some extent, as may also the desire for more of the articles of barter’, but I am inclined to believe that these are necessarily reenforced by some additional [Page 1277] pressure, though I do not think that the company at present is engaging in the destructive methods of the past or doing worse than administering an occasional flogging.
The road between Ultimo Retiro, Muinanes, and Entre Rios was the only place where we had an opportunity to discuss with the Indians their relations with the company. The captains of the native tribes, who were considerably above the rank and file in intelligence, were not afraid to talk in our tent, where there was no company employee about, after we had made it plain to them that we were not engaged in collecting rubber or doing other forest work and were merely traveling through to see how the Huitotos lived. They stated that a white man, who had since run away, had treated the Indians very cruelly for a long time, but that the present man in the company’s house was very kind. They said that they now had ample time to work their plantations, though previously they had often been very short of food because they were forced to carry cargo and make roads in the time that they should have devoted to cultivation. They were emphatic and unanimous in saying that they wished the whites would go away altogether and leave them entirely alone, but that they had come to realize that this would probably never come about. They said that they felt they were now satisfactorily paid for their rubber and well treated. They had no conception whatever of the Peruvian Government, but regarded Arana as the chief of all the Peruvians.
These Indians were from the Ultimo Retiro section, which is managed by a young Englishman, formerly a storekeeper for the company in La Chorrera. It is the section which has been reduced from 2,000 working Indians to 200. It is the last section in which to expect maltreatment of the natives, for the simple reason that there are hardly any of them left to maltreat. I believe that here the company could see no other way to proceed except by kindness, in the hope of attracting back to their former haunts some of those who had run away. It was for this reason, I believe, that Mr. Parr was not prevented from giving us facilities (as was the case in some of the other sections when we wished to proceed overland through Indian villages by ourselves), the Arana and Rey de Castro party believing that it would be impossible for us to find here anything very derogatory to the company.
The amounts of rubber brought down by the company continue to increase. They brought to Iquitos 77.5 tons in August and 46.972 in October, making a total for the current year to date of 293.93 tons, as compared to 154.72 for the corresponding period in 1911 and to 225.53 tons for the whole year 1911. They will have one more cargo to bring down, which will make the total for the year 1912 at least 350 tons.
There is no doubt that the company is in a very bad way financially, and, as something will have to be done before long unless the price of rubber goes up, the temptation to abuse is imminent and strong. Considering the inaccessibility of the region (with consequent high cost of transportation for supplies and product), the unproductive nature of the soil (making food extremely scarce), and the very inferior quality of the rubber produced, it is hard to see how the enterprise can be made to pay without hard treatment of the Indians, forced labor to say the least.[Page 1278]
As to the past, the truth is that the district was the ash barrel of both Peru and Colombia, and the concessionaires, though cognizant of this, were so anxious to make money that they took into their employ without investigation any of the ashes who professed a willingness to work. The deplorable result is already known to the Department. It was due to the criminal negligence of the Peruvian and British concerns, who in turn controlled the district, and the total absence of Government supervision. The British directors who entrusted the conduct of their business here entirely to Peruvian hands can not rely on that as relieving them from responsibility in the matter.
Nevertheless, in the absence of government machinery in the zone, I question whether the withdrawal of the company would better the situation of the Indians, for the territory would then be thrown open to freebooting expeditions like those of the Yaguas and Yubineto, discussed in my dispatches Nos. 13 and 20 of July 1 and July 16, respectively, and in these slave raids the Colombians would be as much to be feared as the Peruvians.
As to the proposed establishment of missions in the district, the company representatives and Señor Arana state that they would not mind missions of Peruvians, but they are noncommittal as to what their attitude would be toward missions of foreign nationality. It is easier to understand this when one bears in mind the fact that the authorities of the State church in Iquitos do not favor the establishment of missions in the Putumayo, fearing that they will not be allowed a free hand. In other words, the company is willing, if they must have missionaries, to have those whom they can keep under their thumb.
Although little or no interest is generally taken in religion in Iquitos, the local press of late have been making a great outcry against the admission to the Putumayo of missionaries of any nationality other than Peruvian, and columns have been published on the subject. Throughout, however, the fact has been overlooked that in all trans-Andean Peru there are only two or three missionaries of Peruvian nationality. The apostolic prefect here, who is not a Peruvian, stated to the British Consul that it has been found impossible to get Peruvians to come over the mountains for the work; that they only come when forced to, and then leave as soon as they can get away.
I do not believe that foreigners coming here as missionaries would get a particularly pleasant welcome. They certainly would get no support. The establishment of such a mission would involve heavy expense. The launches they would have to provide for the carriage of the necessary food supplies would cost them at least $6,000 to $9,000 a year, as it is not probable that they could arrange with the company to transport their goods. In addition to this they would have to take into account the extraordinary cost of all the necessaries of life in Iquitos.
I regret that both the company and the Government adopted the course of preventing us from seeing the actual conditions wherever possible, but trust that the course I pursued in the matter may meet with the department’s approval.
I have [etc.]