File No. 823.5048/109.
The American Consul at Iquitos to the Secretary of State.
Iquitos, Peru , November 20, 1912.
Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith a copy and a translation of the letter, with its annexes, addressed to my British colleague and myself by Consul General Rey de Castro at Iquitos, after our return from the Putumayo, and which was referred to in my dispatch No. 33, of October 28, 1912.
The letter and its annexes contain several inaccuracies and a number of statements which in themselves are not altogether clear and might even mislead the Department if not fully explained.
In the first place, Señor Rey de Castro is mistaken in stating that he informed us of the object of his journey immediately after boarding the Liberal. As stated in my dispatch No. 33 (referred to above), he said nothing to indicate that his mission was other than what the acting prefect had informed us until the night before we arrived in La Chorrera, or six days after he boarded the Liberal. This was his first intimation to the effect that he desired or intended to accompany us.
A copy of the letter of the acting prefect to Consul General Rey de Castro (referred to in the second paragraph of the latter’s note to us) accompanied my despatch No. 331 and was discussed therein, as was also my refusal to sign formal acts with our Peruvian colleague dealing with conditions of law and order in the various sections to be visited. The statement I made to Señor Rey de Castro as to the nature of my mission in the region was given in full in the dispatch No. 33 (referred to above), which, it will be noted, does not exactly agree, with the way in which that gentleman puts it in his letter.
As to collaborating with my Peruvian colleague, as suggested by him, without going through the formality of signing acts, I made it plain to him that I could not undertake this course of action—an interference with the internal affairs of Peru—any more than I could the other without definite instructions from my Government, but that there was nothing to prevent the Peruvian Legation at Washington from asking for a copy of my report if they should see fit to do so. Furthermore (though I did not state this to Señor Rey de Castro), I considered that his method of investigation, i. e., by calling in Indians to dances and relying on the company’s employees for all food, accommodation, information, and even for interpretation from the Indian language, was better adapted to cover up any shortcomings than to make possible any throwing of “light on the facts.”[Page 1282]
I did not make any “examination” of the company’s books at La Chorrera nor at El Encanto, as Señor Rey de Castro’s letter would seem to indicate, nor, so far as I know, was any real examination made. I was present at La Chorrera, but not at El Encanto, when the manager showed to Messrs. Rey de Castro and Michell certain entries which he considered substantiation of his statements with regard to the method of remuneration of the white staff. I do not consider that the books of a branch agency which does not pay the men in question are any corroboration of the claims made and in connection with which these entries were exhibited. The first I saw of any dispatches addressed to the managers at La Chorrera and El Encanto was after my return to Iquitos, from the copies which accompanied the letter under discussion.
It is true that Consul Michell and I drew up our own itinerary in the first place, but Señor Rey de Castro neglected to state that, once decided on, we were not permitted the liberty of changing it in the slightest particular; and he also omitted to say that at Atenas he and Señor Arana, for reasons of their own, saw to it that we were forced to abandon our original plan, drawn up “on our own initiative with entire liberty.”
The Department will recall that it was only by a stratagem executed in the middle of the night that we were enabled to travel without our undesirable escort from Ultimo Retiro to Entre Rios or to see anything of the real life of the Indians. The section chief who was responsible for furnishing us the facilities for this is now on board the vessel on which I am writing this dispatch and tells me that he was severely censured for it. In the effort to arrange for traveling overland through the Indian villages from Atenas to La Chorrera, in accordance with the understanding we had at the outset of our trip with Mr. Tizon (who had assured us it was entirely feasible), I went ahead of the main party to the first-named place. There I made all arrangements with the section chief, who told me the road was good and the trip would give us an excellent view of native life, for carriers and facilities to go on with. After the others arrived, however, and interviewed him, this gentleman found, though he had not had an opportunity to look into the matter, that the road was impassable, and that we could not get carriers for the three days’ journey because the Indians had to work their “chacaras,” or plantations. This, however, did not prevent their being called in to dance two days for Señor Rey de Castro and spend a third in carrying the baggage to Puerto Peruano.
As to the picket of gendarmes, we particularly did not want anything of the kind, and said so, seeing no necessity for it and fearing they might intimidate the Indians. Although they were a nuisance and scared away the section chief and all the Indians from the first place where we stopped, the Peruvian consul general insisted in retaining them, stating that they were necessary to support his dignity.
The photographer to whom Señor Rey de Castro refers was a Portuguese in the employ of Señor Arana. Señor Arana told me this himself, and added that the pictures were for the use of the company (presumably for illustrating a new prospectus).[Page 1283]
As the Department is aware, far from proving “the correctness of the particulars transmitted by the prefect of the Department of Loreto with regard to the persistent and active labor of the political, military, and judicial authorities of Peru,” the one thing that could not be concealed from us anywhere on the trip was the very absence of any governmental action worth mentioning.
Mr. Michell informs me that he never ventured to express any opinion of the present condition of the Kongo natives. He has not been in the Kongo for some five years or so.
As to the point made by Señor Rey de Castro relative to the possession of arms by the natives, he forgets that they were thus armed at the time of the atrocities and omits to state that the guns to which he refers are antiquated muzzle-loading shotguns, from which the employes, armed with modern rifles and automatic pistols and revolvers, have little more to fear than from the old native blowpipes, arrows, and spears, and that the company has absolute control of the supply of powder, by exercising which they could at any time they wished render practically useless all these trade muskets.
I do not consider that the evidence we saw justifies the formally stated conclusions in Señor Rey de Castro’s letter. As to the amount of rubber produced per man, I do not know what can be the source of his figure of 800 to 1,000 kilos per annum. Estimates of 250 kilos per man per annum in southern rivers are regarded in Iquitos as high. In the upper Madre de Dios and Inambari regions, where conditions do not differ greatly and where abuses of the Indian labor are freely stated to exist, the average is about 85 kilos a year. The figures given me by the company managers were 50 to 60 kilos for La Chorrera sections and 120 for El Encanto. The tables given in the annexes to the Peruvian consul general’s letter, it will be observed, do not by any means check.
The money value of goods delivered to the Indian, which Señor Rey de Castro derives from the tables furnished him by the company, is no measure of the Indian’s remuneration for his work. At the present time in the La Chorrera sections an Indian must bring in 20 kilos for a machete or an ax, 40 kilos for the cheapest grade of small canvas hammock, and from 60 to 70 kilos for a muzzle-loading trade gun. In other words, the average laborer can get for himself by working the average amount of rubber for a whole year in the La Chorrera sections a hammock and an ax or a gun without any ammunition.
Particular attention is called, in the letter under discussion, to the point referred to in my No. 33, that Señor Rey de Castro, after being introduced on the scene by a subterfuge and after having forced his company on us, considered the espionage practiced by himself and associates to be a part of his official duty.
I have gone thus into detail with regard to the letter addressed to us by the Peruvian consul general for the reason that it constitutes his effort, as a representative of the Peruvian Government, to put words of exoneration into the mouths of my British colleague and myself—an exoneration I do not consider justified by the evidence and the letter will doubtless be published with this end in view. I did not enter into any controversy with Señor Rey de Castro on the [Page 1284] subject for the principal reason that I have not yet received any intimation from the Peruvian Government to the effect that they wished him to be associated with me in the mission intrusted to me by the Department, and I did not think it advisable to address him in any way that might be construed as recognition of any authorized participation by him in my investigations. * * *
I have also learned that while we were in Ultimo Retiro there were employees working there who were under indictment for the old crimes. It seems strange that Consul General Rey de Castro, whose mission was directly connected with matters of this kind and who had shown me a list furnished him of those indicted and still at liberty, took neither notice of nor action in these cases.
I am also informed by the recent section chief at Ultimo Retiro, who was in charge when we were there, that human bones are much in evidence along the old trails and by-roads in that section. It will be recalled that here the working population was reduced from 2,000 to 200 in a few years.
As to public opinion in Iquitos, a large subscription dinner was given to J. C. Arana just before I left by the inner circle of the chamber of commerce. At this Consul General Rey de Castro and others made speeches lauding him and the company. Only one discordant note was heard. One of the speakers made the point that “throwing bouquets “was all very well, but that Peru and the whole civilized world were waiting to hear from Arana some word or proof to exonerate him from the charges under which he rests.
Local merchants in Iquitos state that the agitation abroad has greatly affected Iquitos credit in Europe in all lines, and under the present business conditions constitutes a serious question for them.
I have [etc.]