Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XVII: the republics of spanish america - Modern Democracies, vol. 1.
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CHAPTER XVII: the republics of spanish america - Viscount James Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 1. 
Modern Democracies, (New York: Macmillan, 1921). 2 vols. Vol. 1
Part of: Modern Democracies, 2 vols.
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the republics of spanish america
The Western hemisphere contains (besides the United States) twenty Republics, in all of which (except French-speaking Haiti and Portuguese-speaking Brazil) Spanish is the language of the dominant white race.1 None of these States has had one hundred and thirty years of life, but into that short period they have crowded a series of vicissitudes and experiences which, for their number and the light they throw upon certain phases of human nature in politics, find a parallel only in the republics of ancient Greece and in those of mediaeval Italy. They have, however, received little attention from European historians, and still less from political philosophers. Most writers have been content to refer to them as awful examples of what befalls people who have cast themselves loose from monarchical institutions. Even Sir Henry Maine in his ingenious but elusive book on Popular Government (published in 1885) did not hesitate to make them the basis of his case against democracy. Now, whatever one might call them, they were certainly not democracies thirty-five years ago, and only two or three could be called by that name now. Plato and Aristotle would have described them as forms of Tyranny, i.e. illegal despotisms resting on military force. An account of them may, therefore, seem to lie outside the province of the present treatise. Nevertheless they deserve attention here, for they indicate what happens when an attempt is made to establish popular self-government where the conditions necessary for its working are absent, and they also show, per contra, how a change in economic environment may bring about an improvement in political capacity, and lead communities towards a peaceful constitutionalism, even where intellectual and moral progress lag behind the advance in material prosperity.
When the colonial dominions of Spain began from A.D. 1810 onwards to throw off the yoke of the old Spanish monarchy, which had governed them with incomparable selfishness and stupidity, there were only two regions in which the bulk of the population was of European stock. These were the regions which are now Argentina and Uruguay, in each of which the native Indian tribes, though warlike, were few in number and so unfit to resist their conquerors that they had before the middle of the nineteenth century been either killed off or imperceptibly absorbed into the whites. In all the other States that arose on the ruins of the old Viceroyalties the pure European element was small, ranging from 5 to 10 per cent, the rest of the population being either pure Indian, speaking native languages, or of mixed blood, speaking Spanish. Political action existed only among the first and last of these classes, for the aborigines were either serfs working for Spanish masters on plantations or in mines, or else had remained in a tribal state, some of them practically independent, like the famous Mapoches (Araucanians) of Southern Chile and the warlike clans of Northern Mexico. Thus for the purposes of politics, those who may be called “the citizens” were only a small fraction, and in some regions an extremely small fraction, of the whole population.1
Since 1810 there has been much progress in parts of tropical America. But the population, such as it was and is, remains, in most States, scattered thinly over a vast area. Those of European stock, and those of mixed blood called mestizos, live mostly in small towns, lying far apart and separated by arid deserts or by densely-wooded tropical wildernesses in which man can scarcely make head against the forces of Nature. Railways (except in the temperate and well-peopled south 1 ) are still few, and some large tropical areas remain almost unexplored. Not only the natives but a large part of the mestizos have continued in unlettered ignorance. They are citizens only in name, knowing nothing and caring nothing, except in a few cities, of what passes in the sphere of government.
There is no marked social distinction between the families of European race and the educated mestizos, and these two classes have little in common with the much larger mass of the aborigines. Every now and then an Indian of exceptional gifts, like Benito Juarez in Mexico, rises out of that mass to the top, and shows himself the intellectual equal of the white man. But otherwise the severance is complete, for the mestizo reckons himself a white, while the Indian remains an Indian, and in many districts practically a heathen in his beliefs, though he may worship saints and go to mass.2
The inhabitants of these Spanish colonies began their career as independent States without political training or experience. There had been no national and very few local institutions through which they could have learnt how to manage their own affairs. Spain had not given them, as England had given to her North American colonies, any town meetings, any municipal councils, any church organizations in which the laity bore a part. Associative bonds to link men together did not exist, except the control of the serf by his master. There were regions in which society, hardly advanced from what it had been in mediaeval Europe, did not possess even tribal communities much less any feudal organizations, such as those out of which European kingdoms developed. There was, in fact, no basis whatever for common political action, so the brand-new constitutions which a few of the best-educated colonial leaders had drafted on the model of the United States Constitution did not correspond to anything real in the circumstances of these new so-called republican States.
The long guerilla warfare, in the course of which the insurgent colonists had worn out the resources of Spain till she gave up the contest in despair, had implanted in all these countries military habits, had made the soldier the leader, had accustomed the inhabitants to the rule of force. No one thought of obeying the law, for there was no law except on paper. Force and force only counted. The constitutions had provided elected presidents and elected legislatures, and courts of law, but what were such institutions without the sense of legal right, the means of enforcing it, and the habit of obedience to legally constituted authority?
These things being so, nearly all of these new States, except Chile, lapsed into a condition of chronic revolution. The executive head was of necessity a soldier, obliged to rule by the sword. If he ruled badly, or made himself otherwise unpopular, it was by the sword that he had to be overthrown. Military talent, or even fierce and ruthless energy without conspicuous talent, brought men to the front, and made them, under the title of President, irresponsible dictators. They were not necessarily wicked men, as were most of the Greek tyrants. They were what most fighting rulers almost inevitably become in such conditions, hard, selfish, and unscrupulous, because they live in the midst of violence, and can prevail only by a severity which in the more brutal natures passes into cruelty.
Although these Presidents were mere despots, the newly-formed States continued to be called Republics, and purported to be living under their formally enacted constitutions. The farce of electing a President was observed. The reigning potentate who bore that title usually secured his own re-election, or might occasionally put in a dependant to keep the place warm for him till he resumed official control. Sometimes, when he had accumulated and invested in Europe a sufficiently large fortune, he transferred himself, like Guzman Blanco of Venezuela, to Paris, to enjoy the evening of his days by spending there his ill-gotten gains. So, too, there was a legislature, usually of two Houses, elected for the prescribed legal term, but at the bidding of the President, who made sure of an ample majority, either by force or by fraud. The judges were his creatures placed on the bench to do his bidding, and allowed, when he had no orders to give, to levy toll upon or accept “gratifications” from the suitors. It was seldom necessary to lay heavy taxation on the citizens, because the dictator found it easier to raise, by loans in Europe at high rates of interest, the money wherewithal to pay his troops or, if he cared for the development of the country, to construct harbours and railways. That a load of debt was thus imposed on his successors was of no concern to him, though it sometimes embroiled them with European governments unwise enough to take up the cause of the creditors. Meanwhile, what of the people? The great bulk were indifferent, for the recurring revolutions scarcely affected them, and administration was no better and very little worse under one dictator than under another. Politics were left to knots of intriguers and adventurers in the capital and a few other towns, while the rest of the better-educated class pursued the even tenor of their way on their plantations or in the petty commerce of the interior, since overseas trade was in the hands of foreign merchants, at first mostly British, afterwards German also, established at the seaports. The great mass of the aborigines and the poorer mestizos scarcely knew of the political changes except when some army or marauding band swept past them, levying contributions on its way. The small armies who followed a revolutionary leader and maintained an intermittent civil war were chiefly composed of Indians, forced into the ranks or taking service at low pay, and officered by men of Spanish or mixed blood. They fought fiercely, as was shown by a loss of life in the battles which was large in proportion to the numbers engaged.1 Military habits were kept up not merely by internal but also by international strife, for some of the republics were often at war with their neighbours, the Northern States fighting on land, while Chile and Peru fought at sea also, each bringing its ironclad warships from Europe. The civil war involved no political principles except to some extent the interests of the Church, which divided men in the Caribbean States, and to some extent also in Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, and Uruguay. I say “the Church” and not Religion, for as the whole population was, till a comparatively recent time, Roman Catholic in outward profession, the strife had nothing to do with doctrine but only with ecclesiastical privilege. In Mexico there was a strong clerical and latterly also a strong anti-clerical party. Not till the overthrow of the Austrian Archduke Maximilian, whom Louis Napoleon had in a luckless hour placed on the tottering throne of Mexico, did the anti-clericals under the native Indian Juarez win a decisive victory. Strangely enough, the racial issue between Indians and Europeans was hardly at all involved. The aboriginal populations, though they had retained a sullen aversion to the descendants of those Conquistadores who had followed Cortes or Pizarro, were too depressed and too unorganized to be able to act together or find capable leaders. Their last effort had been made in the great insurrection of the Peruvian Tupac Amaru (in 1781), which was suppressed with hideous cruelty by the Spanish viceroy of that now distant day.
Through this long welter of revolutions and dictatorships there appeared no men comparable for statesmanship or military genius, or for elevation of character, to the two heroes who won independence from Spain, the Venezuelan Bolivar and the Argentine San Martin. Conditions did not favour the growth of large minds animated by high purposes. But there were plenty of men of force and daring. Francia in Paraguay and Rosas in Argentina are conspicuous examples of strong dictators ruling by terror, who did nothing to help their countries forward. Barrios in Guatemala, who, like Louis XI. of France, is said to have carried his captives about in cages, has left the greatest reputation for cruelty; and Zelaya of Nicaragua, driven out by the United States a few years ago, is probably the last who maintained the tradition of torture. The lowest depth of savagery was reached in the Republic of Haiti, an almost purely negro country since it was lost to France in 1803.1
This state of things has lasted down to our own day in most of the twenty Republics, though of course in very varying degrees. The Caribbean States of Central and Northern South America (excepting Salvador and Costa Rica, but including Ecuador) have, together with Haiti, been on the lowest level. Salvador, Bolivia, perhaps Colombia and Peru also, and now even Paraguay, slightly affected by its southern neighbours, are better. Cuba and San Domingo, under the protecting and steadying influence of the United States, are better still. Whether better or worse, however, and by whatever name the governments of these States may be called, none of them is a democracy. But it is one of the oddest instances of the power of a word that the less educated and even many of the more educated persons among the free nations have continued, especially in the United States, to believe them to be, because called “Republics,” entitled to a confidence and sympathy which would not be given to a military tyranny under any other name. Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil belong to a different category. They are true Republics, if not all of them democracies, and each requires a short separate treatment.
Chile has had a history unlike that of the other States. She has been from the first a constitutional Republic, some of whose features recall the oligarchy that governed England during the reigns of the two first Georges. Blessed by a temperate climate, a long stretch of sea-coast and (in her southern regions) a continuous cultivable area sufficient to support a large agricultural and pastoral community, every part of the country being in touch by sea with every other part, she has also enjoyed the advantage of possessing both a native and a Spanish stock of unusually sound quality — the Spanish settlers having mostly come from Northern Spain, many of them Basques, while the native Indians, though less advanced towards civilization than were the Peruvians, were of stronger fibre, as was proved by the valiant resistance of the never-conquered Araucanians. There is a good deal of pure European blood left in Chile, and the mixed race is both manly and industrious, with much independence of character. The leading families, holding considerable estates, have formed a sort of territorial oligarchy, keeping the government in their hands and getting on well with the peasantry, who, content to be guided by them in political matters, usually vote with their landlords. Though public peace was sometimes troubled in earlier days, the last sixty years have seen only one serious civil war, that of 1891 between President Balmaceda and the Assembly, in which the latter prevailed; and the Republic has seldom had to fear conspiracies or revolts. The army and navy have been kept highly efficient. The machinery of the constitution, under which the suffrage has been extended to include practically all adult males, an experiment which some Chileans have deemed premature, seems to work pretty smoothly. The President appoints and dismisses the ministers who are nevertheless held responsible to the legislature. Votes are honestly counted, but there is said to be a good deal of electoral corruption, though, as it is not confined to any one party, it does not prevent the general result from conforming to public opinion.1 A system of proportional representation adopted some time ago appears to give satisfaction. The public credit has always been carefully guarded, so much so indeed that, during the civil war above referred to, both the contending parties tendered to the European bondholders the interest due upon the national debt. The men who lead in public affairs have been, as a rule, persons of standing and reputation in the country as well as of statesmanlike capacity. Neither Senators nor Deputies receive a salary.
Argentina, which had made a good beginning in the early days of the War of Independence when led by San Martin and Belgrano, relapsed after a time into a long period of disorder, and has now emerged therefrom mainly through the working of economic causes. She possesses in her Pampas a vast area of pastoral and arable land, equalled for its productive capacity only by that part of North-Western America which lies between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Lakes, and by the vast plain between the Irtish and the Middle Yenisei in Western Siberia. She has the further advantage of being peopled by men of an almost pure European stock, two-thirds Spanish, one-third, through recent immigration, Italian. The climate, hot in the tropical North and too cold for cultivation in the Patagonian South, is through most of the territory sufficiently temperate to enable these two South European races to work under the sun, and the industry of the Italians is now emulated by that of the immigrants who have recently flocked in from Spain. While the tyranny of President Rosas lasted, material progress was slow, because internal communications were wanting, and foreigners feared to provide capital for creating them. But in the year that followed his expulsion in 1852 revolutions and civil wars became less frequent, the wild half-Indian Gauchos, from whom the bulk of revolutionary levies had been drawn, having begun to vanish, or be transmuted into peaceful cowboys. Immigration by degrees increased, English companies began to construct railways, the fertile lands were brought under cultivation, exports of hides, wool, and meat grew apace, and the growing trade brought the country within the range of European influences, intellectual as well as commercial. The value of agricultural land rose swiftly, especially after it had been found possible to obtain water from artesian wells in regions without surface streams. Its owners acquired with their accumulating wealth an interest in the tranquillity of the State. Everybody who felt the touch of prosperity — owners, traders, work-people — saw, as they watched a network of railways constructed by British capital spreading over the land, and Buenos Aires expanding into one of the great commercial cities of the world, that prosperity could remain only under stable conditions, which would draw more and more of foreign money and of foreign immigrants to supply the labour needed for the development of the country. The more industry there was, and the more prosperity, the smaller became the proportion of those who joined in revolutions, as men had been wont to do, from the love of fighting or to better their fortunes.
The long-continued antagonism of the provinces to the commercial centre of Buenos Aires gave rise to armed struggles which seem to have now died down. Since 1890 there have been some troubles, yet no serious or widespread disturbance of public peace, and the minds of men have accustomed themselves to constitutional methods of government. The change was marked by the fact that political chiefs who here, as in the other disorderly republics, had been mostly soldiers began to be mostly lawyers. Whoever looks through the annals of South American States will find that nearly every leader bears the title either of General or of Doctor of Laws. After Rosas, arms began to yield to the gown. The Presidents, if not always elected by unimpeachably legal methods, have not been installed by force. The constitutional machine works imperfectly, but it works. The old factions have gone: generals do not plan pronunciamentos: violence is going out of fashion.
The President is chosen by an electoral college modelled on that provided in the United States, and enjoys similar powers, including a veto on legislation which can be overridden by a two-thirds majority. He holds office for six years, is not immediately re-eligible, appoints the ministers who, being responsible to the legislature, countersign all his acts. They cannot sit, but can speak, in either Chamber. The Legislature consists of a Senate of twenty-eight, chosen by the provincial Legislatures and a Chamber of Deputies of one hundred and twenty members, elected, as are the Presidential electors, by universal suffrage, the term of Senator being nine, that of a Deputy four years. The elections used to be largely made by the Government in power, who respected forms by allowing a certain number of their opponents to be returned to the Chamber to discharge the functions of an Opposition, and recently a clause in the Constitution has been severely strained by the practice of what is called Intervention, i. e. the replacement of existing Provincial officials by Federal appointees, so as to enable a majority in the Legislature to be secured for the party to which the President belongs, there being a strong tendency in Spanish America to vote for the party which holds executive power. There seems to be now no taint of force and not much of fraud in the making up of lists and counting of votes; nor does bribery seem to prevail largely. Parties are still fluid and imperfectly organized. They are based less on principles than on attachment to leaders; and the bulk of the citizens showed no great interest in their civic duties until voting was made compulsory by a law of 1912.
The legislators (salary $1500 a month) are not very zealous in the discharge of their duties, and leave much to the President, who is at least as powerful as his prototype in the United States. Countries with only a short experience of constitutional government are apt, as has been recently seen in some of the new kingdoms of south-eastern Europe, to allow the Executive to overtop the Legislature. Municipal administration is described as fairly honest, i.e. there is not very much peculation but plenty of jobbery in the granting of contracts and the execution of local improvements.
The dispensation of justice is a weak point in South American as well as in South European countries. Legal proceedings are dilatory, and the Bench not always trusted, though it sins less by accepting pecuniary inducements than by yielding to the influences of family connection and personal friendship. Order is now tolerably well maintained throughout the country by a police as efficient as can be expected in vast and thinly peopled regions. Dynamite outrages were frequent in Buenos Aires some years ago, but the extremists who resorted to them have latterly been pursuing their aims by means of strikes on a very large scale. Labour unrest is, however, no greater than in Europe and North America, and needs mention only for the sake of indicating that so far from being due to economic distress it is now common in new countries where there is still unoccupied land, and wages have long been high.
The respect for legality and the general tone of public life have been sensibly rising in Argentina. Few of the recent Presidents and ministers have incurred suspicion of malpractices. Whether this can be said of the deputies seems more doubtful. Seditions arising out of angrily contested elections are now confined to cases in which the National Government intervenes because a provincial election is alleged to have been unfairly conducted, and such disturbances do not necessarily spread beyond the particular province. There has been little discontent except among the Socialists and Anarchists of Buenos Aires, for employment and prosperity abound. The increase in the number of small landholders, due partly to the equal division of estates passing by inheritance, partly to rise in the value of land which has led to the breaking up of purchasable estates into lots by industrious immigrants, is making for the stability of government, as it enlarges the class which has a motive for supporting public order.
Nevertheless, although the Government is democratic in form and not palpably undemocratic in practice, the rule of public opinion is not yet fully established. Men's minds are perhaps too much occupied by material considerations, the small cultivator thinking of produce and prices, the rich landowner enjoying the luxurious life of the capital, to give heed to politics. Under such conditions no high level of administration or legislation can he looked for. But this does not reduce the interest which the student of politics finds in watching the growth of institutions, and the development of what used to be a military tyranny into what is becoming a pacific self-governing community. The Argentine democracy, whatever may be the standard of public virtue they maintain, will possess the advantage of being free from external dangers, so that little of the revenue need go to military and naval armaments, and free also from pauperism, so that economic and social problems may be handled without the passion engendered by suffering. Here, as in the Australian States, the predominance of a single great city is too marked. One-fifth of the whole people dwell in Buenos Aires, whose excitable radicalism or socialism is apt to prevail against the more conservative provinces. It is to Argentina what Paris is to France, the centre of literature and the chief maker of public opinion by its ably written and powerful press.
Uruguay is another South American country in which a true republican Government, professing to be, and gradually becoming, a democracy, now exists. Its racial and physical conditions resemble those of Argentina 1 (of which it was at one time a part), and the broad outlines of its history, since it achieved independence, are not dissimilar. It is, however, very much smaller, and is a Unitary, not a Federal State. Its population is almost entirely of European stock, and its national sentiment extremely strong. In it also the progress of material development and the consequent growth of trade with Europe have worked for good. The creation of an excellent railway system, the influx of immigrants from Italy and Spain, the extension of education through a people now settling down to work, have begun to give the inhabitants, who were, till late in the nineteenth century, distracted by civil wars, an interest in order, and honest administration. Thus government has become more constitutional,2 and elections a better expression of popular sentiment. The Constitution is no longer a sham, though the initiative and power of the President still overshadow the Legislature. The factions that divided the nation since 1825, adherents of two rival Generals, are not yet extinct, one of them having become a more or less clerical, the other an anti-clerical party. In 1910 (when I visited the country) the Whites, enraged at the manipulation of the elections by the Reds, who then controlled the Government, started a short-lived insurrection. But clericalism is fast dying out, and the hereditary traditions of the Whites cannot keep it long alive. The statesman who has practically dominated the country, whether in office as President or out of it, is a person of advanced opinions, eager to try bold experiments which will take the wind out the sails of the (comparatively few) Socialists of Monte Video.
Brazil is (except Cuba, which was abandoned by Spain in 1898) the latest born of all the American Republics, for it retained its connection with Portugal till 1822 and did not dismiss its learned and amiable Emperor Dom Pedro II. till 1889. The change from a monarchical to a republican form did not mean much in substance, for the Crown had exercised very little power, and the masses have exercised quite as little under either name. The chief difference has been that revolts, unknown before, have occurred since, though none has risen to the dimensions of a civil war. The hereditary monarchy had the advantage of offering no occasion for attempts by military adventurers to seize the Presidency by violence, and the ties it maintained with Portugal had enabled European influences to play more freely on the country than was the case with the rest of South America after 1810. Material development has moved faster and political life has been more active under the new Republic, but the country is as far as ever from being a democracy.
Its area (3,300,000 square miles) exceeds that of the United States, but the population (estimated at 26,000,000) is extremely sparse, except in parts of the south and along the Atlantic coast. Most of the interior is a forest wilderness, in which a few towns, chiefly peopled by Indians, stand here and there along the great rivers. Of that population about one-sixth are aborigines, nearly one-third full blacks, another third blacks with more or less admixture of white blood, and a little more than one-sixth pure whites, about half of these of Portuguese stock, the rest Germans and Italians. The vast majority of the negroes and half-breeds are uneducated and below the level of a comprehension of politics or even of their own interests in politics. I mention these facts because they show why government cannot in such a country be really democratic, whatever the electoral suffrage. Power inevitably falls to the intelligent minority.
Brazil is a Federation, and properly so, considering not only its immense extent but the distance from one another of the few more thickly-peopled regions. The State Governments enjoy large powers and pursue their own policies, which are more or less wise according to the character of their respective legislatures, whose composition is better in the temperate Southern States, where the population is mostly white, than in the tropical regions, where a handful of whites control a multitude of coloured people. The Central Government consists of a President, elected for four years by direct popular vote; a Senate, elected for nine years; and a Chamber of Deputies, elected for three years. The suffrage excludes illiterates. The ministers are appointed by the President, are responsible to him, and do not sit in the Legislature. Elections are conducted with little respect for legality, and, when fraud fails to secure the desired result, a resort to force may be looked for. Not long ago the ballot-boxes in one of the greater States were, because it was feared that they would show a majority for a candidate opposed to the Government, seized by a body of police disguised as rioters, carried off to a distance and destroyed, whereupon the Governor of the State exercised his constitutional right of providing for the contingency of a loss of ballots, and appointed a Governmental candidate to the office which the election had been held to fill. There is plenty of ability, and an even greater profusion of oratorical talent, among the legislators, but intrigue rules, and, as M. Clemenceau observed after his visit some ten years ago. “the Constitution enjoys a chiefly theoretic authority.” An exceptionally skilful intriguer may, like the strong leader who lately fell a victim to assassination, be effective master of the country.
The Republic is in fact an oligarchy, not of land-owning families, like that of Chile, but of such among the richer men, whether landlords or heads of industrial, financial, or commercial enterprises, as occupy themselves with politics. Like all oligarchies they use their power for their personal benefit, yet with some regard to national interests also, for the Brazilians are intensely proud of their magnificent country, and claim for it the leadership of South America. But between soaring patriotism and self-regarding schemes the welfare of the masses receives less attention than it needs. Something might be done for local self-government, unfavourable as the conditions are; and a large extension of education is urgently required. The traveller is surprised to find that in a country rich in poets and orators there does not exist any duly equipped university. One is sometimes reminded of the Slave States of the American Union as they stood before the Civil War, where a government nominally democratic was really the rule of a planter oligarchy. It is only thirty-two years since slavery was abolished in Brazil. Were the States of the temperate South, where an industrious population, mainly of European stock, has attained prosperity, to cast themselves loose from the tropical regions in order to form a separate republic, they might create in time a real democracy.
It remains to say a few words about Mexico, the greatest of the northern republics and the one whose prospects of peaceful progress have been most suddenly darkened by recent misfortunes. Much of the country, indeed nearly all the northern territory, is a desert, being part of that arid region which occupies a long strip of North America from Canada to the Tropic of Cancer. Southern Mexico, however, is a land of wonderful natural resources, with a delightful climate on that high tableland where the barbarous tribes of ancient Anahuac were passing into civilization when the process was arrested by the invasion of Hernando Cortes. Nearly two-thirds of the present inhabitants are Indians, many of them still in a tribal state, some few heathens. The rest are mestizos, with about 250,000 of pure or nearly pure Spaniards. The country adopted its first constitution, a Federal one modelled on that of the United States, a century ago; and this instrument, amended in some points, has remained nominally in force ever since, though never put into effective operation. The extinction of the rule of Spain was followed by a long series of civil wars, in which one adventurer after another contended for power, the authority and possessions of the Catholic hierarchy being often involved. The capture and death in 1865 of the unfortunate Maximilian, when the French army that had supported him retired from the country under the menace of interference by the United States, sealed the defeat of the Church, which has never recovered from the blow. Juarez was presently replaced by Porfirio Diaz, who under the title of President ruled as a dictator (with one short interval) for thirty-five years, upholding the Constitution in form, and causing elections to be regularly held, on which occasions the soldiers were directed to drop a few voting papers into the ballot-boxes, lest they should be found empty.1 Administrative work was conducted, better than ever before, by the Governors of the States under the President's general directions, while the political management of each district was entrusted to a person called the Political Chief (Jefe politico). In blood Porfirio was one-half or three-fourths an Indian, but no Spaniard of the Cortes type could have shown higher practical gifts. The country was pacified, brigandage, which had been rife for many years, sternly suppressed, and such of the brigands as survived turned into an efficient local gendarmerie (Rurales). Railways and harbours were constructed, mining developed, foreign capital attracted, the finances prudently handled, whatever could promote material development encouraged. The country became safe for travellers, for troops were always promptly despatched to any spot where the telegraph announced an outbreak, and when a robbery occurred the bad characters most likely to have had a hand in it were forthwith shot without trial. Every one extolled the wisdom as well as the energy of the now benevolent autocrat who had outlived the enemies of his earlier years and had ceased to need the methods by which he had reduced their number. He was one of the great men of his time, resolute, clear-sighted, swift in action. He even tried to induce his Legislature to pass measures on its own initiative, but found before long that it was unsafe to leave with them a power they were likely to use unwisely. Unfortunately he did not discern, or at any rate did not attempt, one task of supreme importance. In Mexico, as in most parts of Spanish America, the land (except where occupied by Indians in a quasi-tribal condition) has been since the Conquest in the hands of large proprietors, who work it by native labour. The Indian “peon” is a sort of serf, ill-paid and often ill-treated, discontented with his lot, but not knowing how to improve it. He and the poorer half-breeds, who are landless and little better off than the peon, are the material out of which robber bands and insurgent troops are easily made. It should have been the first aim of a wise policy to settle these people on the land as owners or as peasant cultivators with some security of tenure. The Mexican Indians are intelligent as well as good workers: the Spanish conquerors noted their superiority to the South American aborigines. But Diaz left this problem unsolved. The result was seen when the standard of revolt was raised in 1911, and he, being then over eighty years of age, allowed disorders to spread till he was himself obliged to quit the country, which then relapsed into an anarchy of general pillage and murder by revolutionary bands such as had prevailed before the days of Juarez. Could Diaz have found a successor who while following out his policy with equal energy would have given the land to the people and brought education within their reach, Mexico might within half a century have begun to be fit for constitutional liberty. Now, however, its first need is for a government strong enough to restore and maintain order, and when that has been done, and industry has revived, to remove the causes of economic unrest, give security for the employment of capital, and lay the foundations of local self-government.
The general moral of Spanish American history, for the sake of which these descriptions have been given, is almost too obvious to need stating. Why confer free self-governing institutions on a people unfit to comprehend or use them? The very notion of establishing a government by the votes of citizens and controlling the action of a legislature and an executive by holding the representatives responsible for the use they might make of their power, was not within the horizon of the vast bulk of the colonial subjects of Spain; much less could they work the elaborate machinery of two legislative Houses with an elected President and his Ministers. In such circumstances, power inevitably fell to the Executive head, the person whom the people could see and know, and to whom belonged the command of the army. The interest of the community required that this power, needed for the maintenance of order within and defence against aggression by violent neighbours, should be lodged in one strong hand. To subject it to a legislature of inexperienced and short-sighted men, probably selfish and practically irresponsible, because controlled by no public opinion, was to invite confusion and disaster. The people did not rule in these republics because they could not rule. Whatever the plans of theorists and the exhortations of the wise, every people comes sooner or later to that kind of government which the facts prescribe. Thus a nominally elective Presidency became a dictatorship. As each President was obliged to exceed his strictly legal authority because it would not have enabled him to cope with the situation, the distinction between his legal rights and the powers he was actually exercising was obliterated. He passed into a usurper, ruling and compelled to rule by force, so that those who attacked him by force, with or without a moral justification, could claim a title little worse than his own. The very conception of power de iure had no time to spring up and establish itself in the popular mind, for all power was de facto only. As the generation that had been accustomed to obey the Spanish Viceroys passed away, a new generation grew up accustomed to a régime of force. To create afresh that idea of obedience to duly constituted legal authority which is essential to a democracy was a slow process in a population a large part of which was in every State ignorant and semi-barbarous. In most of the tropical States this process has hardly yet begun; in none, except Chile, has it been quite completed. Regarding the more backward republics, such as Venezuela and Ecuador, and those in Central America, it is difficult to make any prediction. If the Western hemisphere were to-day in sixteenth-century conditions, these countries would probably be seized by some naval power and ruled as subject dependencies, as Holland rules Java and France Madagascar. Since that cannot happen now, we can but put our trust in that vis medicatrix naturae which slowly brings the public opinion of the world to bear upon the regions where its action is most needed. If the political prospects for tropical America seem somewhat more hopeful to-day than they were seventy years ago, it is because economic conditions are improving.
What form of government would have been best suited to these communities after they had expelled the Spanish Viceroys?
Those who look back with the experience of a century can see that the form which was adopted, suggested by the example of the United States Constitution, was unsuitable. No wonder it failed, for the conditions were entirely unlike those which the founders of English colonies in new lands had to their hand. In the temperate parts of North America and in Australia there was no large aboriginal population living in a barbarous or semi-civilized state. The colonizing communities destined to spread out and replenish the regions to be settled were English, carrying with them the habits and traditions of an old political system.
What would have happened if things had been left to take their natural course and no attempt made to imitate the United States Constitution? Among the various lines along which some sort of political organization might have developed itself I may mention three, any one of which might have better conformed to the social and economic conditions of the aboriginal peoples in the tropical regions.
One of these lines would have been the growth of small local, loosely connected or practically independent, communities, some with an urban centre, some semi-tribal, each ruled by a chief (native or mestizo) or by a group of the wealthier and more capable Spanish colonial landholding families. Such families represented the civilizing forces, and would have been obeyed by the Indians, some of whom were their tenants, some otherwise dependent upon them. The rule of the chiefs or oligarchic groups would have been harsh and not very progressive, but there would have been some sort of order, with the chance of a peaceful aggregation of the communities into larger wholes as the country began to be developed and opened up to commerce.
Another possible line of development would have been the transmutation of each Viceroyalty into a sort of monarchy, the head of which would have had a legal power, thus continuing the tradition of obedience to duly constituted authority. Law and Fact would have been in a truer relation than under a government professing to depend on a popular election, which must obviously be a farce under the existing conditions. For the success of such a scheme there would have been needed in each country a man not only of force but of some statesmanlike quality and some military talent. It might have failed, as it failed when tried in Mexico. But it would have had at least as good a chance as the plan of representative bodies nominated by presidents who were usurping dictators.
A third form would have been that of an oligarchy composed of the leading families of the country. This came to pass, and has worked with comparatively little friction, in Chile, where no doubt the conditions were exceptionally favourable. It would have been difficult in Peru and Bolivia and Venezuela, owing (among other things) to the wide empty spaces between the small centres of population, and impossible in such a country as Haiti, where there were no families superior in knowledge and vigour to the ignorant and semi-savage masses. But in most of the countries it would have corresponded better to the elements of strength which the actual conditions presented, elements capable of governing and interested in good government, than did a sham Republic under the pretended control of an nominally elected Legislature. Such an oligarchy would have been likely to pass naturally, in the fulness of time and under the influence of the Time-Spirit, into a more popular form of government.
These are speculations. But about the moral of the whole story there is no question. Do not give to a people institutions for which it is unripe in the simple faith that the tool will give skill to the workman's hand. Eespect Facts. Man is in each country not what we may wish him to be, but what Nature and History have made him.
One question remains. What is likely to be the future of these new republics, and what the prospect that they will in time become true democracies? To answer this question let us see what have been the forces which have enabled some among the Republics to achieve real progress during the last half-century.
Chief among these has been the development in each country of its material resources. The growth of wealth through agriculture and mining has increased the number of persons interested in order and good government, and has led to the improvement of roads, railways, internal steam navigation. Education has followed, though slowly; universities have been founded; an indigenous literature has sprung up. Intercourse with foreign countries has grown, and has brought not only those loans which, though perhaps indispensable, were often a source of temptation, but also the ideas and mental habits of Europe and the United States into the Spanish American population. As the traditions of violence and disorder died down, free institutions and the way to work them began to be understood. Power passed peaceably from one president to another. The General is being replaced by the Doctor of Laws, and the man of law, even if he be tricky, is less dangerous than the man of the sword. Fraud is better than force, because fraud, however odious, does not disturb public order, and it is easier to prevent its recurrence than to break the habit of insurrection. It is in this way that Argentina and Uruguay have within the last forty years become politically civilized, and indeed more civilized than some States of Europe. In Mexico material progress had gone so far that if Porfirio Diaz, or a ruler of equal gifts, could have reigned for another forty years, and had grappled with the Indian question, the country might have been where Argentina and Chile are now. Bolivia has advanced, and in Brazil the southern states at least are capable of working a genuine popular government. Those who understand what South America had been under the Viceroys and what she was when she emerged from the long struggle for independence will not despond of her future.
These may be classified under three heads:
With three insular Republics also tropical — Cuba, San Domingo, and Haiti (French-speaking).
Slavery in the proper sense was practically confined to the negroes, a small element even in Peru and along the coasts of the Caribbean Sea. Brazil is the only country where the coloured people are a large element.
Including Southern Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Southern Brazil.
The purely heathen population is small, existing chiefly in the tropical regions on both sides of the Equator; but even in Mexico Christianity is only skin-deep among the aborigines.
In the long war which Lopez, dictator of Paraguay, an almost purely Indian State, maintained against Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil from 1865 to 1870, nearly the whole adult male population of Paraguay perished.
Haiti has recently fallen under the influence of the United States, with a consequent improvement in its social as well as its economic conditions.
There is an educational qualification, but it is not strictly enforced.
The climate, tempered by the ocean, has less marked extremes than Argentina, and the surface is more undulating.
An interesting experiment in Government is now being tried under the new Constitution (1919) in the creation of a body called the National Council of Administration, consisting of nine persons elected for six years by direct popular vote, one-third retiring every two years They appoint the ministers, and exercise all powers not expressly given to the President, who is popularly elected, and not re-eligible till after eight years. His veto on financial proposals may be overridden by a two-thirds majority of the Council. Manhood suffrage and proportional representation are established.
So I was told when visiting Mexico in 1902.