South America: Chapter XXVIII

(by William Henry Koebel)

The Northern Republics


Such history as can be claimed by the remaining Republics of South America has been achieved, from the political point of view, on a far smaller and less conspicuous scale than that of the great southern and central states.

In many respects the happenings have been more strictly local, although, of course, there have been a certain number of incidents, such as that of President Castro in Venezuela, whose irresponsible conduct roused half the European Powers to take action against his country, and whose childish obstinacy was responsible for temporarily strained relations between Great Britain and the United States.

This may serve as an example of what weighty influences may be brought to bear by totally insignificant causes.


Of this group of lesser Republics, however, Venezuela may well enough be taken among the last, since that State still remains one of the rapidly declining number of Republics whose affairs continue in a really backward condition.

Of the remaining countries of the north, Bolivia is, it scarcely need be said, by far the most important.


That the interests of this country have up to the present not been of a more cosmopolitan character is due mainly to the fact of the great difficulty experienced in the establishing of modern communications in so wealthy yet so mountainous a land.

According to F. Garcia Calderon:


"Bolivia sprang, armed and full-grown as in the classic myth, from the brain of Bolivar. The Liberator gave to her a name, a Constitution, and a President. In 1825 he created, by decree, an autonomous Republic in the colonial territory of the district of the Charcas, and became its Protector.

Sucre, the hero of Ayacucho, succeeded him in 1826. During the War of Independence this noble friend of Bolivar resigned from power, disillusioned; he was the Patroclus of the American Iliad."


Sucre's name is one of those most intimately and gloriously associated with the history of the youthful State.
After his passing and that of Bolivar, Andreas Santa Cruz became the virtual ruler of Bolivia.

Santa Cruz was a powerful chief, who feared not to shed blood in the cause of civilization, as he understood it, and who, considering the circumstances in which he found himself, proved an extremely able and enlightened President.

Under his fostering care the national security became a little more assured, and the treasury of the Republic waxed.


Santa Cruz is said by some to have cherished Imperialistic ambitions.
It is certain that his talents were recognized to some extent in Europe, if from no other evidence than from the fact that he received the Order of the Legion of Honour from Louis Philippe of France.

There is no doubt that the new Chief-of-State realized to the full the benefits which the influx of foreigners must bring to his country.
On this account he encouraged immigration from Europe.

Santa Cruz, indeed, did his utmost to introduce every measure likely to increase the population of Bolivia, and, as has been explained in another place, carried his policy to the length of proposing the exclusion of celibates from all public offices.


Brigadier General Bartolome Mitre
Brigadier General Bartolome Mitre

The powerful personality of Santa Cruz soon enabled him to become the virtual Protector of Peru, in addition to President of Bolivia, and he now began to organize the fusion of the two Republics into a single State.

These measures were regarded with great uneasiness by the Chilians, who ultimately invaded the territory of Santa Cruz.

The first Chilian expedition was defeated, but the second gained a decisive victory at Yungai in 1838, and, as a result of this battle, the star of Santa Cruz became totally eclipsed in South America.
He retired to Paris, where he became the friend of Napoleon III., and where he died in 1865.


With the exile of Santa Cruz ended the first period of tranquillity enjoyed by the youthful Republic.
His powerful figure was followed by many others, the majority of whom were tyrannical, some incapable, and a few whose aims were really progressive.

Progress, indeed, in the vortex of the whirlpool of events which ensued was practically an impossibility.

It is said that from 1825 to 1898 more than sixty revolutions burst out in Bolivia, to say nothing of intermittent foreign wars!

In the course of these various struggles no less than six Presidents were assassinated, and it was not until the advent to power of Colonel (now General) Pando that the situation of the country changed definitely for the better.


In the year 1899 President Pando inaugurated civil government, and, having proved himself an able and powerful soldier, now turned his attention to the industrial and commercial status of the country.

These desirable features he fostered by modern and liberal methods, which proved eminently successful, and it was during the period of his office that the first really important plans were matured for the opening up of the remoter districts by means of the railway.


The most severe blow with which Bolivia has met since the foundation of the Republic in that country has been the loss of her coast-line, as the result of the unsuccessful war waged against Chile.

Negotiations have on several occasions been initiated with a view to an attempt to recover some strip of the lost territory, even if no more than sufficient for the building of a port and for the accommodation of a railway-line to connect this point on the seaboard with the interior of the Republic; but, so far, none of these negotiations have been brought to a favourable issue.

Bolivia thus remains an inland State.
But in spite of a disadvantage such as this, there is no doubt that the extraordinary natural wealth of the country, which must in the near future be exploited, will rapidly bring the Republic into the forefront of the South American nations from the commercial and industrial point of view.


With the exception of this and one or two other circumstances of the kind, the majority of the South American States have suffered very little frontier alteration since their first foundation.
Such, however, has not been the case with the Northern States of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

Here, for almost half a century after the liberation of the provinces, a process of alternate fusion and disintegration continued.
Thus, in 1832, the three States of Venezuela, Ecuador, and New Granada were formed.

In 1863 the latter country became the United States of Colombia; but it was not until 1886 that the Republic of Colombia as it now stands was instituted.


Colombia has suffered from as many revolutions as the majority of its neighbours.
General Santander, one of the many of Bolivar's lieutenants who became Presidents, was the first Chief-of-State of Venezuela.

A strong ruler, he governed in comparative peace until 1831. The next important President to follow him was General Mosquera, who likewise held the reins of power with a firm hand, and, with two or three breaks, ruled from 1845 to 1867.

Dr. Rafael Nuñez succeeded him, and proved himself an intellectual President, who became more and more autocratic as his years of office increased.
He continued, indeed, whether in the actual tenure of office or not, to exercise an influence of personal absolutism over the Republic until 1894, when he died.


His death was the signal for the breaking out of internal disturbances which his long rule had steadily kept in check.

It was in 1903 that, owing to the negotiations in progress for the enterprise of the Panamá Canal, the portion of Colombia which had been chosen for the purpose of the cutting seceded from the Republic, and established itself as a separate State - that of Panamá.

The new Republic immediately concluded arrangements with the United States of America, and granted concessions for the immense enterprise which is now in the act of being completed.


The history of Ecuador since the establishment of the Republic requires very little comment.
In this State the proportion of the white races to the coloured is unusually small; nevertheless, this has not had the effect of checking the revolutions, of which the Republic has been extremely prolific.

General Juan José Flores stands as the chief hero of Ecuador. He it was who actually founded the Republic in 1830.
Flores provides one more instance of the power of the men who stood at the helm of these new States when they were first of all launched on the stormy waters of their careers. When his fifteen years of power ended came the inevitable flock of revolutions, and Ecuador went the way of her neighbours.


A military Dictatorship endured until 1860, when Garcia-Moreno, being declared President, supported the clerical influence and established a species of Dictatorship.
His influence continued for many years after he had ostensibly resigned his office, and the sincerity of his acts was unquestionable.

Considering that the situation of the country rendered it necessary, he resumed power and arrested various attempts at revolutions. In 1875, however, he was assassinated.
A statesman of disinterested merit and high ideals, he was generally mourned by the populace.


Venezuela began its fateful career under the guardianship of General Paez, one of the principal heroes of the revolution.

It was Paez who had led his Llanero cavalry so often to victory against the Spaniards, and who, as already related in these pages, had achieved the unique feat of capturing a flotilla of Spanish gunboats - or, to be more accurate, gun-barges - by means of this very cavalry.

Those were certainly remarkable men who swam their horses into the river where the flotilla was anchored, and succeeded in this most extraordinary onslaught!


Paez, whose strain was half Spanish and half Indian, was intensely practical in his views of government.
Caring nothing for idealists and for those who indulged in abstract theories, he severed himself abruptly from Bolivar shortly after the final patriot victories, and in the end was the chief cause of the exile of the Liberator.

There is no doubt that both his views and those of the Liberator had changed considerably in the interval, for it is said that in 1826 General Paez had implored Bolivar to mount the throne of the new kingdom which it was proposed to found.

The career of Paez fluctuated between a tenure of the office of President and an apparent retirement into private life, in the course of which, however, his influence and actual power remained as great as ever.


Eventually José Tadeo Monagas, who had long enjoyed the support of Paez, revolted against the authority of the old chief. Paez, nothing loath, accepted the challenge, rallied his followers, and marched to battle.
Here he was defeated and subsequently exiled, while Monagas was left in power.

Paez eventually made his way to the United States.
In his absence the condition of Venezuela became chaotic, and its populace writhed in a ceaseless frenzy of civil strife.

Paez returned from the United States in 1861, and at the spectacle of the terrible condition of his country he resolved, though eighty years and more of age, to enter once again the arena of public life.

He succeeded in obtaining power, but only for a short while. The spirited but tottering old man was followed by Guzman-Blanco, and died in 1873.


Guzman-Blanco was a man of education, who had enjoyed the advantage of travel in various parts of the world, and proved himself an able leader.
It was not long, however, before the party of the Monagas rose in rebellion against his authority.

These adherents of the Monagas were now known as the "Blues," and the party of Guzman-Blanco was christened the "Yellows."

In 1870, after various victories and defeats, Guzman-Blanco caused himself to be declared Dictator. He enjoyed immense popularity until his resignation in 1877.
He was succeeded by General Alcantara, and left for Europe.

On his return he found that his influence and power had already been destroyed.
Placing himself at the head of a revolution, he again became chief of the State, which he continued to govern, either from within the Republic itself, or from the banks of the Seine, until 1889, when his power was finally overthrown.

Blanco himself made no attempt to return to the country. He remained in Paris, where he died in 1898.


In 1895, when President Crespo was in power, a diplomatic incident occurred between Great Britain and Venezuela, owing to the arrest of two British police officers, who had been detained by the Venezuelan authorities.

The actual cause of the dispute resolved itself into the question of frontier delimitation, and soon the excitement in Venezuela had reached fever heat.
This was by no means allayed when it became known that the United States were inclined to intervene on behalf of the minor Republic.

President Crespo himself displayed admirable tact, and it was largely due to his policy that the incident had a pacific ending.
It was in 1899, not long after these events, that General Crespo was slain in a skirmish with insurgents.


After a period of anarchy General Castro was elected President.
Not long after his accession this President succeeded in embroiling the State with Great Britain, Germany, and Italy.

The main reason for the breaking off of friendly relations was his arbitrary refusal to consider the claims of these nations on account of the damage done to the property of their subjects in Venezuela in the course of the numerous revolutions which had recently occurred.

The result of the obstinacy of General Castro was the establishment of a blockade of the port of La Guayra by the naval forces of Great Britain, Germany, and Italy in 1902.

The Custom-House was seized, and the three Powers signified their intention of retaining this until satisfaction could be obtained.
Upon this the matter was referred to the Hague tribunal, and awarded in favour of the three European Powers concerned.


International incidents of the kind have occurred, naturally enough, far more rarely in the history of South America than revolutions and civil war.
Indeed, in the popular mind the chief feature of the Continent was, until quite recently, represented by internal strife.

How far from the truth is this estimate can only be judged by one who enjoys a personal acquaintance with Republics such as Argentina and Chile.

The sole centres where the phase of revolution has lingered on with an intermittent flourishing are those of the Northern Republics referred to in this chapter and the inland State of the centre of the Continent, Paraguay.


A work of history, however slight and condensed though its form may be, is no place in which to indulge in prophecy.
Yet it may safely be supposed that even in these less settled Republics the age of tranquillity is now at hand.

In order to justify this assertion, it is merely necessary to take a glimpse into the past, and to investigate the actual causes of these numerous revolutions which have splashed their marks so thickly on the clear road of South American progress.

A country of great natural riches and of wonderful opportunities for mankind, a dearth of population, an unusual lack of facilities of communication, and, finally, an urgent need of ready cash in the midst of material plenty - all these circumstances must necessarily tend to unrest in a land populated by inhabitants whose temperament contains an unusual measure of imagination and theoretical creative power.


With the removal of these factors, the political situation tends to become tranquil, as has been proved in the case of the more progressive Republics.

It may safely be said that the South American temperament is, in itself, no more revolutionary than any other.
When the material circumstances of one of these States have been brought to resemble those which prevail in a European country, the conditions of politics necessarily grow to resemble each other as well.

Thus the difficulty with which the more advanced Republics are confronted is no longer one connected with rapid and disorderly changes of Government and Presidents.
The States in question are now too wealthy in themselves and too loaded with serious responsibilities for the possibility of such casual recurrences.


The strife, in consequence, tends rather to centre itself, as in Europe, to a contest between capital and labour, and, as elsewhere in the world, strikes have taken the place of more sanguinary battles.

All this, of course, applies with greater force to some of the South American countries than to others.


The vitality and power of the Continent in general is now, at all events, beginning to assert itself to the full, and in the minds of a certain number of its educated and intelligent inhabitants South America is destined in the future, however distant this may be, to become the rallying-ground of the Latin races.


Sketch Map of South America
Sketch Map of South America

THE END



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