Page images

World' and which, under less adverse conditions, might to-day be the recognised leader of Latin America.

A large part of Mexico's treasures is already in the hands of English-speaking foreigners, mostly American, who within the short span of time that has elapsed since the opening up of the oil wells are said to have withdrawn from the country more millions of pesos and pesetas than did the Spaniards during their three hundred years' misrule there. A special attraction is exercised by the oil wells, the possession of oil being the main purpose of the civilising Powers of the world to-day. The high-flown phrases about peace and order, morality and righteousness, which mask the greed of capitalists and the ambition of politicians, embitter the Mexican mind and quicken it at times into active antagonism towards foreigners, who were at first welcomed as helpful pioneers. It is not denied that Mexico has reason to be grateful to certain of those hardy wrestlers with the brute forces of Nature, especially to those who devoted themselves to irrigation and land-reclamation and benefited the natives while enriching themselves; nor can it be questioned that her behaviour towards them in revolutionary times was occasionally actuated by sentiments which had nothing in common with gratitude. But one should bear in mind the decisive circumstance that most of those pioneers belonged to the great nation whose government had annexed over one-half of the Republic, strove to dispossess it of more territory, and labelled these acts of spoliation humanitarianism and zeal for God's law.

From the days of the Spanish Conquest down to the Revolution of 1917, a vast stream of wealth poured steadily out of Mexico, at first into Spain, and, when the Spanish yoke was shaken off, into the United States, England, and France. The benefits to the people in whose territory these treasures lay were practically nil. They were plunged in ignorance, poverty, and squalor, decimated by hardship and disease, and taught to regard their lot as part of the cosmic scheme of things, which it behoved them to accept with resignation. It is no exaggeration to describe their condition since they acquired their independence as considerably worse than when Hernando Cortés landed at Tabasco in the year


The repeated efforts of the various Mexican governments to divert a portion of that wealth to the betterment of the people's lot were fitful, extravagant, and invariably unfruitful. The law-givers lacked method, the local authorities were never at one with each other, the power of gold was overwhelming, and the Constitution, modelled on that of the United States, was prohibitive of a truly national system of governance. Like the ancient Greeks, the Mexicans lacked cohesion. The Greeks indeed attained something approaching to national consciousness, at least in religion; whereas religion in Mexico has never given of its best to the cause of national unity and has on critical occasions openly taken sides with the foreign enemy.

The federative system which has prevailed in the Republic since the year 1824 is a sheaf of disruptive forces converging in a Yankee lens and brought systematically to bear with baleful effect upon the vitals of the political community. Its contribution to the denationalisation of the Latin Republic has been, to my thinking, greater than the propaganda carried on by the various Yankee associations whose ultimate aim is the attraction of Mexico within the political orbit of the United States and its 'Cubanisation' by treaty. The federative system is the enemy within the gates, the Greek soldiers within the wooden horse. It keeps cross-currents continually sweeping athwart the political domain and scattering the highest national interests in confusing eddies. It fosters the racial instinct to follow a local chief in preference to the President of the Republic, to subordinate national law to local privilege, and to keep the nation permanently divided. In the end, if unchecked, it must lead inevitably to one of two consummations: the dismemberment of the nation which will become a ward of its virtuous and more powerful neighbour, or else the dictatorship either of a strong man like Diaz, or of a plutocratic group as in the United States, where democracy is a mockery and liberty a sorry misnomer. The most hopeful sign of Mexico's new birth as a fully independent State would be a root-reaching change of the federative structure and the adoption of a system in harmony with the spiritual and material interests of the ill-starred, peaceloving, and gifted Mexican people.

The worst evils emanating from that system of independent States were cunningly neutralised by one of Mexico's most famous rulers. Porfirio Diaz, religiously upholding its forms, deprived them of all real significance and employed the dictatorial power, which he thereupon usurped, to favour foreign capitalists and reduce the bulk of the people to the status of hewers of wood and drawers of water. Nothing more demoralising in the way of political innovation has been chronicled by modern history since Tsar Boris Godunoff issued his decree instituting serfdom in Russia. Among the results of Diaz' 'reform' were the influx of capital into the Republic, the bestowal upon foreigners of a privileged status to which the natives had no claim, the enrichment of the State, and the further impoverishment of the people.

A small group of public workers, impatient of the nation's political degradation, and a much larger number of the people stung by want, misery, and injustice, rose up against the hated regime. Diaz enjoyed the 'moral' support of foreign capitalists, of the clergy, and of all those who were admitted to a share in the good things of which he and his lieutenants had the distribution. But age having weakened his faculties, loosened his grasp of the reins of power and shaken his resolve, he yielded to pressure which, in the long run, he could not have resisted, and his disappearance from the political scene was followed by a series of revolutions, rebellions, and aimless local and personal struggles which plunged Mexico into anarchy and chaos. Those public events were the cause of dire calamities to the peaceful individual who was indifferent to politics and eager only to keep his family and himself from want. His harvests were devoured by human locusts, his cattle were lifted, his savings were forfeit, and too often his house was wantonly burned. Thirst of vengeance or sheer want lured many pacific citizens to the ranks of one or other of the armies where they could confidently reckon upon a livelihood, anticipate military promotion together with the emoluments that went with it, and qualify for the highest posts in the Republic. In this way a whole section of the population was weaned from private pursuits, detached from the State, and incorporated in one or other of the fighting units which, after a lost

battle or a shortage of booty, they would abandon without a qualm to enlist with its enemies. In these circumstances the qualities of the soldier became divorced from those of the citizen; in a short time the wealth accumulated by the State under Diaz melted away; land improvement schemes were abandoned, railway extension ceased, and American troops invaded the Republic, which was more than once within an ace of ruin.

The Revolution, planned and carried out by a group of public-spirited men, headed by a law-abiding private citizen, whose aversion from aimless bloodshed was manifested by his heroic resolve to put an end to it by the most efficacious methods within his reach, triumphed over native opposition and foreign intrigues. Alvaro Obregon, a genius who rose from the ranks of the people, untrained in the profession of arms, hating lawless violence and civil war, slowly built up a model army of his own, and led it to victory after victory without sustaining a defeat even at the hands of the one hostile commander who was popularly deemed invincible. But after the peace the people were cheated of the rights which they had purchased with the heaviest sacrifices, and they had soon to be, as General Obregon put it, emancipated anew from the yoke of their emancipators. For a man eminently unfitted for the difficult post of President of the Republic, Don Venustiano Carranza, thrust his claim forward, threatened the unity of the revolutionary party if that claim were disallowed, and was raised by the generosity and personal modesty of his colleagues to the highest post in the State. Thus the reformed Republic received as its first President a landowner and Parliamentarian, poor in social spirit, patriotic in intent and despotic in act, in whom obstinacy usurped the place of reasoned resolve, and the roots of whose political character lay deep in the soil whence Porfirio Diaz had sprung. Carranza's rule, unbearable to Mexico and odious to the United States, brought his country to the verge of the abyss.

But it is worth noting that respect for the life and property of the foreigner had become so ingrained among Mexicans of all social layers that, even when the revolutionary fires blazed most fiercely, everything possible was done to afford security to the outlander. The

Republic was still a mother to the stranger and a stepmother to her own citizens. Nor was this consideration abated when the Washington Government displayed its partiality towards the most bloodthirsty bandit in the Republic who was buoyed up with the hope that he would one day rule that Republic with an iron rod. To every political army and group of combatants the foreigner was inviolable. I, who travelled as a member of the public at a time when trains were being blown up and cities attacked, had no difficulty in passing through districts known to be dangerous; and when I applied to a rebel commander for a safe-conduct across the territory he occupied, I received it at once, together with the offer of various other unasked-for favours. This scrupulous attitude towards the foreigner gave rise to the pathetic complaint among the natives that they alone among all the elements of the population were abandoned to themselves without help or hope. The Englishman,' they said, 'is protected by his Consul; the Frenchman is cared for by his Chargé d'affaires ; the North American is inviolable under his flag; nobody dares to harm the Germans. In a word, every one in the Republic has his protector except ourselves. Who will give us a helping hand?' Here and there, no doubt, excesses were committed, and life and property sacrificed, by hordes of criminal moss-troopers who knew or recked naught of political or ethnic distinctions. It was a repetition on a small scale of what happened in the course of the French and Russian Revolutions, and what will probably recur in every civil war, wheresoever it be waged. A remarkable testimony, however, to the discipline of the various troops engaged may be found in the following figures, which proclaim the fact that, whatever other elements of the population was suffering, the foreign representatives of Mexico's principal industry -petroleum-were actually thriving. 'In the year 1917 the oil companies exported 42,545,853 barrels of oil; in 1918, 51,768,110; in 1919, 77,705,289; in 1920, 151,058,257.’* In 1921 the total was about 200,000,000 barrels.

The soil from which this liquid wealth has long been

[ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »