Shops Of Buenos Aires
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
"The shops of Buenos Aires are many of them very fine ones. One can find the latest Parisian fashions sooner than one could find them in New York. In truth, this country is nearer Europe than are we, in effect, for the influence of Europe is here paramount. One can hardly say that there is much that is Argentinian, unless one goes to the camps or country. Literature, arts and fashions find swift transportation from Europe, and the influence of Paris is supreme."
I must here mention the curious misconception that we North Americans have of the relation that we bear to the. South American countries. We often assumé that we are elder brothers, friends, protectors and all that. We feel that their civilizations and their governments are much like our own. We assume that they look at us with mixed feelings of reverence and affection. I do not see how we could miss the truth wider than that. We are not older than they. Sao Paulo, in Brazil, was a city in 1533. Buenos Aires and Montevideo also are old cities. True, the greatest development of these countries has come within recent years and there are yet immense areas awaiting settlement, especially in Brazil and northern Argentina. They have had a civilization, too, that to their mind was in some ways ahead of ours, although they admit lacking material things, railways and all that. Then their governments do not much resemble ours except in theory. Their constitutions are often modeled nearly like ours. It is said that their laws are beautiful laws. They have, too, in some things a profound respect for law.
GOVERNMENT IN SOUTH AMERICA
In the conduct of the affairs of the country, how-ever, they take into account the fact that the common people are hardly fit for representative govern-ment. Elections in some of these South American States are things to make one smile, and sometimes a president is exceedingly hard to dislodge from office. Argentina does not indulge in revolutions ; the leaders have too much invested in lands and stock—too much at stake to permit revolutionists to ravage; nor does Brazil indulge much in revolutions. Insurrections are unhappily too common in some of the smaller states like Paraguay and Uruguay, and they represent usually only the desire of some strong, selfish man to gain power and some other strong, selfish man to retain power that he already has. I cannot see that the people are ever considered except as means to further the selfish ends of the revolutionists.
I met many of the men in the government of Argentina, chiefly those under the minister of agriculture. These men correspond with the men in our department of agriculture. Some of them were uncommonly intelligent, earnest and sincere, eager to do things to advance Argentina. I suppose it is al-ways the way that the best men find themselves placed in this class of work and its pursuance develops the best that is in one. Some of the men had been educated at our agricultural colleges. They would like to do things and do them well. The minister of agriculture at the time that I was there was Dr. E. Lobos. Keenly intelligent and alert, deeply earnest, with high ideals and ambitions, he was a man of whom we would be proud in the United States. He told me of some of the things that. he dreamed of doing for Argentina—improvement in the cultivation of corn, alfalfa, oranges and apples; the installation of a bulletin service ; the reform of the land laws, so that the poor man could have as good a chance as the rich. His program in-eludes many other capital suggestion's.
If Dr. Lobos could have been given power and continuance in Argentina he would have accomplished great good. I think he angered their congress by some sort of investigation into the affairs of the land office and that his term was cut short.
Differing from our custom, the cabinet officers are sometimes called in before congress and publicly questioned. It is in a way a censure, and it may compel the minister to resign. I must tell a little story of my relations with Dr. Lobos; it will serve to illustrate a deplorable situation.
AN OFFICIAL AND A BIG PEAR
Early in my Argentine life I got in touch with the minister of agriculture, and he, very courteously, ordered an interpreter to be placed at my disposal and every kindness be shown me. In return he made this request: "Señor Wing, when you are out in our camps, if you see anything that might be of interest or value to me, will you not kindly communicate it to me?" I assured him that this would be a pleasure and proceeded to so do. I sent him a long communication on the possibilities of apple-growing in Chubut, another on cotton-growing in the Chaco, on a better method of corn culture in Santa Fe and so on, a number of rather carefully prepared papers. Also down in Chubut I secured for the minister the most enormous pear that I ever had seen. I carried it in my bag for weeks until at last I came to Buenos Aires, when I sent it to him as illustrating the fruits of Chubut.
Now I had not sent my various communications directly to the minister, but to one of his offices, where they were to be translated and handed to him in Spanish, as he does not read English perfectly. One day, after weeks and months had passed, the minister, hearing that I was in the city, sent for me. We had a pleasant conversation about my journeys, during which something impelled me to ask, "Dr. Lobos, did you find the pear good?"
"The pear, Señor Wing; what pear?"
"Why, the enormous pear of Chubut that I sent to you."
"Why, Señor Wing, did you send me a pear? I had not heard of it." A dreadful thought flashed over me.
"Dr. Lobos, did you receive the communication on fruit-growing in Chubut?" -
"No, señor; I did not."
"Nor the letter on cotton-growing in the Chaco?" "Assuredly not, senor."
"Why, Doctor, have you then received no communications at all from me on the development of your country?"
I could see that he was growing angry. He pushed a button with great vigor; a clerk appeared; the doctor gave orders that at once all my letters be rescued from the files, translated and brought to him. The pear could hardly be rescued. Later the man who should have before done all this took occasion sorrowfully to tell me that the doctor was mistaken ; that all of my communications had been promptly translated and sent to the minister. I tell this story to show the difficulties- that even a good man like Dr. Lobos labors under. In justice to his subordinates, I add that with office hours as short as they are, it is a wonder that they get as much done as they do.
WE ARE NOT ELDER BROTHERS
The South Americans do not look upon us as elder brothers; they do not especially like us; they do not know very much about us. The Spanish war affair and our annexation of Porto Rico caused them grave apprehensions. They do not understand us. I read in their newspapers during the early weeks of the Mexican revolution, when it appeared possible that we would intervene in Mexico, the prophecy that we would send our armies to Mexico, if we dared do so; that it was doubtless our policy to absorb the countries of Central America one by one and by the time the Panama Canal was finished rest our southern boundary on its shores.
The newspapers of a land are responsible for much that is pernicious. What informing reading must have been in some of the South American newspapers during the Spanish war. A young Argentine remarked compassionately to me, "Your navy did not come off very well during the Spanish war, did it?"
"Why, I do not know; I thought we did fairly well; just what do you mean?"
"Why, that your guns could not hit anything," he replied with perfect sincerity. I smiled ; it was not a cynical smile either.
If the Spanish newspapers slightly err in regard to North American doings, what can one say of the English newspapers of Buenos Aires? During the discussion of a possible intervention in Mexico by the United States, I learned from the "Standard" that it was most improbable that we would intervene for the following sufficient reasons: We had no army. We had no capable officers. We had no courage. We were, in short, so rich, so fairly besotted in wealth, through no virtue of our own, but because the inherent riches of our land made us so without our effort, that we were mired in sloth and effeminacy, and were incapable of putting an army of fighting men in the field or of officering them if we put them there. Much more that was equally uncomplimentary could be condensed from the same source.
Newspapers in all lands are the great . teachers of the people. I would that they were always true and kind. I realized how little interest is taken in the United States in this land when I read the scanty news items. If there was a railway accident with a considerable loss of life a few lines were cabled down. Some political news also was printed, but I read every word and went always hungry for real news from home. However, I hoped that President Taft would not intervene in Mexico. Let them fight it out. The entrance of our army into that land would cost us dear in trade in South America. It must have taken rare courage on the President's part to write that proclamation advising our citizens along the border to hide themselves from Mexican bullets and thus make it not imperative to intervene. It required far more courage than to have sent an army over the border. I must here give a bit of experience in securing an interpreter.