File No. 822.5048/2.
The American Minister to the Secretary of State.
Quito , August 30, 1913 .
Sir: In reply to the Department’s instruction No. 3, of July 21st, I regret to say that there is no further information available here regarding the subject of labor conditions in the Oriente of Ecuador, than that supplied the Department in the despatch from the British Chargé d’Affaires in this city to his Government, which was transmitted to the Department by the British Embassy.
It is known here in a general way and regretted that the condition of the Indians practically throughout Ecuador is very bad and that they are living in a practical state of slavery or peonage on the large estates of the rich Ecuadoreans. While this would be difficult to prove in any satisfactory way, the fact exists and is condoned by all concerned as a necessary evil. The usual method of procedure is to have some sort of store at which the “employees” of a ranch or farm are expected to do their trading and in which their needs are supplied at “special” prices. The object, of course, is to get them into a state of indebtedness to the proprietor and keep them there so that their wages are never quite enough to pay their “debts” and consequently they are practically unable to leave for some other employment as there is an understanding among the owners as to taking peons from other properties. Conditions in the Oriente are believed to be still worse than in the more civilized portions of the country on account of the distance from the central government and the bad character of a majority of the small officials in that region. In many places there are no officials of any kind and there are large tracts of what is really a savage territory, of which the sovereignty is claimed both by Ecuador and by several other countries.[Page 523]
I believe that the central government is sincerely anxious to do what it can for these unfortunate beings, and latterly, the “Junta de Beneficencia” has resolved to appoint a commission to look into the matter of relieving them from what is termed the “savage tyranny” of the proprietors.
As a humanitarian measure, the United States Government could very properly join with Great Britain in a friendly invitation to the Ecuadorean Government, as suggested by the British Government, looking towards the suppression of a slave traffic, but I am extremely doubtful as to the practical results which such a proceeding would have. Undoubtedly the Government of Ecuador would be, in principle, favorable to the suppression of such traffic and to the amelioration of the condition of the natives, but the practical execution of any projects of that kind would be most difficult. It must always be remembered that the Oriente of Ecuador when taken in connection with the similar regions in Peru, Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela, forms an enormous extent of wild territory over which there is only a very uncertain sovereignty and almost no attempt at enforcing any kind of laws. The population or rather settlers which such a region attracts are naturally not of a kind to be over sensitive to sufferings of the natives and the officials, even if their intentions were of the best, would be unable to offer any substantial relief. Conditions in the Oriente are probably much like what they were in the Kongo before investigation had brought to light the illegal and inhuman happenings which were being carried on there.
I regret that the British Chargé d’Affaires in this city is out of town at present for his health so that I cannot consult with him in this matter and under the circumstances I have thought it better not to ask for information from Ecuadorean sources of an official nature.
I have [etc.]