Page images


Who among

CAN any good come out of Mexico? European statesmen would willingly burden his overstocked memory with the unfamiliar geographical names and grotesque revolutionary freaks that are commonly supposed to constitute the essence of its history-a history which long lay far out of the beaten track of progressive nations and had no organic nexus with Western civilisation? If the practical Yankee, whose economic interests bring him into daily contact with the greatest Latin-American Republic, can still afford to ignore offhand the annals, psychology, and language of its people, can there be any motive powerful enough to draw the attention of the bewildered European to that quarter of the globe, the fantastic political aberrations of its inhabitants and their exotic requirements? There are but few individuals in this era of specialisation qualified to reply to this query, but they would probably all give an emphatic answer in the affirmative.

In truth, there is hardly any point of view from which contemporary Mexico is not well worth careful study. The political economist, the parliamentarian, and even the two or three super-statesmen who talk in terms of world reconstruction, calculate with astronomical figures and tirelessly travel from Conference to Conference in quest of a magic formula that will ward off a catastrophe and save a Continent, might discover in the latest phase of Mexican history helpful hints and fruitful parallels. As the exact observations of the aborigines of that country enabled them in prehistoric ages to frame a calendar in strict accordance with scientific astronomy and, therefore, more accurate than any which has ever yet been adopted in the civilised world, so the unwonted political and economic straits into which the country has recently been plunged by civil war, anarchy, and the violent pressure put upon it by the action of selfrighteous American politicians, led its rulers to venture upon unwonted experiments and break fresh ground. And, as it happens, some of the problems thus tackled are on all fours with those which the victorious Entente has been laboriously striving to settle at Cannes,

Boulogne, Genoa, and the Hague. Russia's present plight, for instance, offers striking points of resemblance to that in which Mexico floundered helplessly a couple of years ago. And the heroic remedies, which her present Chief Citizen has been systematically applying since December 1920, took their rise in statesmanlike conceptions which make a fuller allowance for the needs, and more completely dovetail with the highest interests, of the drooping, war-palsied communities of the world, than any yet acted upon or even seriously suggested by the superstatesmen of Europe.

The vexed subject of nationalisation and its bearings upon the title-deeds and subsoil rights of foreigners, narrowed down by the Mexican Constitution to the parcelling out of extensive landed properties and the State-ownership of oil wells; the vexed question of the responsibility of a post-revolutionary Government for the debts contracted by the overthrown regimes that preceded it, and the losses sustained by foreigners during the Revolution and civil war; its own correlative right to compensation from those neighbouring States whose private citizens fostered and financed armed opposition against it; its claim to de jure recognition without being compelled to assent to conditions derogatory to its dignity or destructive of its sovereignty-all these and more are included among the pressing issues which the Mexican Government, isolated and left to its own slender resources, has for two years been quietly striving to work out to satisfactory solutions by methods which deserve widespread recognition.

Incidentally, too, the latest turn in Mexico's history affords the student of world politics an insight into a curious aspect of the vast process which is also going on in other quarters of the globe steadily but almost imperceptibly—and which I feel tempted, for want of a better word, to name the Americanisation of humanity. In Europe, where respect for form and for measure is ingrained in diplomatists and where the vested rights of many States have to be scrupulously reckoned with as checks to masked aggression, the working of this new force, although perceptible enough to the eye of the practised student of politics, is so slow and so closely interwoven with other movements as to pass unnoticed

by the many. But on the new Continent, where there are no such distracting side issues, and where diplomacy scorns to encase in velvet glove the iron hand, the progress of Americanisation is clearly visible and the tactics of those who further it lie open to analysis. And a study of the aims and methods of these world-reformers reveals the circumstance that the 'White Man's burden' is now being made to include all those backward races of mankind whose countries are rich in natural resources. The others may possibly be gathered into the true fold later on; but for the present they must wait. It is not merely the Russian and the German that the stewards of Providence are eager to help to their feet; they are devoting their energies to the moral upbringing of all those communities whose native soil offers attractions to capital and whose military and financial weakness deprives them of an alternative to submission. Barren countries like Armenia, therefore, are not ripe for salvation and must remain exposed to the tender mercies of their enemies.

Those, then, who would fain gauge the force of the waters which bid fair one day to inundate the world and sweep away many of the characteristic institutions of its various civilisations and races, must turn their attention to the remarkable condition of things in Central America and to the lingering agony of the political communities there which are being steadily and systematically sapped by forces from without. It is but fair to remark that some of those States themselves are to a considerable extent responsible for the wretched plight in which they find themselves. It is a case of saying that, if the tree had not provided the hatchet with a handle, the woodman could not have hewn down the forest. Disunited in the council chamber, ignorant and heedless of the dangers which encompass their respective countries, consuming their energies and resources in aimless civil wars, they supplied the wood for the handle of the Yankee hatchet, and now they watch helplessly and hopelessly the absorption of their countries by their great self-righteous neighbour. Haiti and Santo Domingo are classical examples. At no time was their condition irremediable. Haiti, indeed, was well on the way to permanent betterment when the United States Government intervened in

the name of morality and despatched troops thither whose amazing cruelties excited pity and loathing in the callous, imparted energy to the feeble-minded, and goaded even the venal and corrupt to feats of patriotism.

Among all the Latin-American Republics Mexico occupies a place apart. It has the largest population and the widest range of climates. It is an almost inexhaustible storehouse of everything that the mechanised world of to-day most urgently needs: raw stuffs and agricultural produce, oil wells, silver, gold, iron, copper, rubber, sugar, coffee, tobacco, and every variety of fruit and fish. Administratively the Republic is divided into twenty-eight sovereign States and three territories, each State with its elective Governor, its parliament and its own laws, which often differ widely from those of its neighbours. And of all those States there are only three which do not possess mines. Of copper mines alone there are more than a thousand in the Republic; and the State of Durango can boast the largest solid mass of iron on the globe in the shape of a great iron mountain. Cotton and maize are indigenous plants and were cultivated extensively and with success in prehistoric ages. Long before the Spanish invasion the natives wove artistic mantles for their potentates and chiefs, and contrived to make arrow-proof breastplates of cotton for their warriors. This plant, perennial in some parts of the Republic,* does not require to be planted oftener than once in ten years. Henequen fibre, also known as Sisal grass, conferred material well-being upon the inhabitants of the Peninsula of Yucatan until the working men, holding out for wages which the planters were unable to pay and not receiving them, struck work permanently and reduced their employers and themselves to indigence. To-day a German invention is about to be employed throughout Mexico for the extraction from henequen and other kindred plants of a fibre much superior to cotton and at a mere fraction of the cost, whereby a new source of riches will be tapped, which may have far-reaching consequences, not only in the Republic but throughout the world. Mexico can

* In the States of Coahuila and Durango.

successfully compete with Cuba in the production of sugar and with Egypt in that of cotton.

In a word, the country is a small replica of the planet produced by the hand of the same Maker. It abounds in mountains and valleys, virgin forests of precious timber, lakes and rivers teeming with fish, a coast-line of nearly nine thousand kilometres, oil wells that are reckoned among the richest on the American Continent, countless mines, valuable coal measures, vast tracts of pasture land, moderate stretches of fertile arable districts, vast deserts, temperate zones, snowbound hills, volcanoes, and hot mechanical springs. It could easily be made self-sufficing. All it needs in order to become the most thriving country on the American Continent are the funds to provide irrigation and extend ways of communication by land and water. And this it could receive at any moment under normal conditions. But the relations between the United States of North America and the Southern Republic are unhappily the reverse of normal, and have been so, with brief intervals, ever since the second decade of Mexican independence. One of the consequences of the attitude of the politiciansnot of the great and noble-minded people-of the United States has been the annexation, within the memory of persons still living, of more than half of Mexico's territory to that of the English-speaking Republic.

The fact is that great potential wealth in a militarily weak State is at once a temptation and a stimulus to its more powerful neighbours-a temptation to the evergreedy foreign capitalist, and a stimulus to the selfrighteous politician which supplies him with a highly moral shibboleth and a humanitarian flag. The capitalist covets the land, the oil, the mines; while the politician feels impelled to take the whole population in hand, re-educate it according to the highest principles of morality as he understands them, and distribute its goods to feed the poor and covetous of his own country. That would seem to be an essential part of the process of civilising the backward which is now going forward in China, Syria, Georgia, Adzerbeidjan, Mesopotamia, Colombia, and Cuba. It has had a tremendous and baleful influence on the destinies of Mexico, the country which Humboldt termed the 'Treasure House of the

« PreviousContinue »