Casting Out Demons By Beelzebub And Saving Mexico In Spite Of Herself
( Originally Published 1921 )
ALL the vexatious acts of which foreigners could reasonably complain and the quibbles by which it was sought to justify them belong to the past. Even under Madero, Huerta and Carranza the oil companies continued to earn enormous profits. Since General Obregón took over the reins of power the last of the blameworthy practices and dubious doctrines which marked the Carranza régime have ceased to bear sway. A wholly new spirit is incarnate in the present Administration and no country, party or individual sincerely desirous of seeing friendly relations established between Mexico and her neighbours would deliberately ignore its presence or underestimate its significance. It consigns to history those forcible arguments and impassioned appeals by which the self-constituted champions of American rights sought to fulfil their mission and justify their propaganda. Their legitimate claims are now recognised by a man whose words are acts and it only remains to settle the details. Further agitation and propaganda seems superfluous. It would be fatuous to knock at an open door. And yet the knocking is louder now than ever before.
Some Americans—and they are among the most influential —have made up their minds that Mexico is incapable of independent national life and growth, complain of the slowness of Obregon's advance on the path of reform and clamour or intrigue for American tutelage. To this there is a simple answer. In all countries the politician who acquires power is allowed a reasonable time to exercise it beneficially by unfolding and applying his reform schemes, and it would be alike unfair and dangerous to make an exception for the dislocated Mexican State whose President, although never a dabbler in politics, is gradually proving himself to be a first-class statesman and organiser. It would be still more unfair and dangerous to seek to block General Obregón's way by raising international obstacles to domestic reform. For it should be remembered—if indeed it has ever been forgotten—by those who expect immediate wonder-working measures on the part of Obregón, that in Mexico today no President can precipitate things without precipitating himself and his administration,—a dénouement which would embarrass even those who forced him to rush on to destruction. But although it is poor policy to jump into the fire in order to escape the smoke, some politicians have adopted it.
Why, one may reasonably ask, if Mexico and the United States are agreed upon essentials—as they manifestly are—should there be a deadlock in their present relations and a grave danger in their future intercourse?
The answer to this query is given by those Mexicans who are familiar with the strivings of the little plutocratic State within the great democratic State. It is because the demands made upon Mexico have never yet been fully and openly propounded. Some of them being esoteric are but vaguely hinted at and remain for the time being in petto. Hence the issues are being publicly dealt with in misleading statements while a movement is being fomented in secret which has quite different objects in view, and the men who are' directing it are the very last who should put their influence and standing to such a sinister misuse.
The world recognises Secretary Hughes' rectitude and plain dealing. Nobody imagines that a man of his character and standing would consciously lend himself to any group of men or to any pushing politician interested in modifying Mexico's international status. Hence no one can have been bold enough to propose to him the plan of Cubanisation cherished by the conclave in the shade. What they have, however, succeeded in proposing and having accepted is a condition antecedent to recognition which may be made to appear in the abstract harmless enough to an eminent lawyer who has no experience of international affairs, but which when applied in the concrete to international and national politics turns out to be a wedge capable of splitting and shattering the Mexican State. Mr. Hughes' demands for protection and compensation are legally just; and his desire to see a treaty of commerce and amity signed is comprehensible ; but insistence on the latter requirement as a condition antecedent to recognition changes their character fundamentally. Fresh earth is good in itself; crystalline water is also good, but mix them together and you have nothing but mud.
In the United States the machinery of Government may from one point of view be likened to the workings of the human intellect. Countless impressions are made by external objects on the senses every day and hour, but of these only a limited number reach consciousness and are passed on to the intelligence. In like manner innumerable demands are laid by influential individuals and corporations before the State Department and are fortified by arguments, complaints, accusations and statistics, but only a very small percentage of them at a time are stamped with the hall-mark of governmental approval and inserted in the official programme. The others may or may not be adopted later on. In the case of Mexico Mr. Hughes has set aside all Mr. Fall's recommendations but one. But that one has produced the present dead-lock and may engender further-reaching and more sinister con-sequences.
No branch of foreign intelligence is so well equipped with vigilance committees, volunteer watchmen and amateur prompters as that which has Mexico for its object. The wealthy corporations and associations have also a political programme for its good ordering and a series of records to prove their case. They likewise possess their agents, their "eyes" and "ears" and their secret propagandists whose zeal at times defeats their aims. It is no exaggeration to affirm that the Mexican Republic is honeycombed with spies after the manner of Russia under Tsar Alexander III. They are in the Post Office, the Telegraph Office, the University, the lodges of Free-masons and in the State Departments. Those foreign corporations are primed therefore with information—oftentimes invented—about politics, the army, economics, the Church, every group of malcontents and about the disaffected generals who are ready to rise against the Government. It is no wonder that those corporations are the first and best informed respecting imminent revolts and coming rebellions.
All these streams of information, opinion and sentiment flow into a central reservoir which is at the disposal of the most powerful unofficial body in the world to-day, a body whose influence makes itself felt continuously and almost irresistibly, in the financial, journalistic, economic and political spheres of the United States. One of these Associations represents all the manifold interests of American citizens in the Southern Republic and is rightly or wrongly believed to be able at will to adopt or have adopted measures of such stringency as would bring the population of that Republic to financial and economic downfall. It can likewise to a marked degree, it is affirmed, enlist public support in the United States on the side of intrinsically unpopular measures. Nowhere is such a task easier than in a young democracy.
"We do not know," writes a distinguished American publicist, "what public opinion really is, or who really supports it. It is so unformed and disorganised, so lacking in real leader-ship, so unsupported by disciplined thought, that almost any well conducted propaganda can. seize it and temporarily control it to almost any end. The reason is again that we are not in the habit of thinking in terms of public life. We are thinking in terms of individual opportunity."
One of the favourite expedients adopted towards Mexican public men by the various groups of capitalists promised heavy returns, provided that their discrimination, intuition and tact should prove equal to its execution. It was this : to seek out among prominent politicians and revolutionists in that Republic the individual or individuals who seemed most likely to attain to the presidency in the near future, to cultivate their friendship with assiduity and, if possible, to obtain from them binding promises respecting their future dealings with them.
In this way there were a number of pet candidates in this or that camp whose capacities and patriotism they extolled and blazoned abroad and whose friendly cooperation they endeavoured to secure in advance. Victoriano Huerta was one, Francisco Villa was another, Pablo Gonzalez a third and Robles Dominguez a fourth. Some of the presidents in petto actually pledged their word to pursue a certain line of action towards American investors, to give them preference over the British and other foreigners in matters of concessions, to abolish the Constitution of 1917 and to realise various other postulates once they had reached the goal of their ambitions. Commitments were also entered into respecting the treatment of the religious question for the benefit of those bodies, American and Mexican, who were especially concerned with this matter. Those stipulations were no secret. I heard them discussed on several occasions. Of these secret conclaves and their covenants the American people knew nothing, neither of course did the Federal Government.
Those Presidents in petto included civilians and military leaders, and the circumstance that a man's escutcheon was not wholly free from blots was not regarded as a disqualification. According to an interesting document, a facsimile of which I possess, one of these substitutes for Carranza actually at-tempted to enlist the services of a stranger representing a foreign Power and to secure his assistance for the purpose of helping him to the Presidential chair. And he promised him a round sum in case of success. A foreign diplomatist when the first elections were at hand made bold to sway the electors by holding out to them the perspective of immediate recognition by his Government if one of these favourites were chosen for the vacant post. Another candidate laid himself open to a criminal charge which if proven—and the incriminating evidence, of which I also possess a facsimile, is in his own handwriting—would put him out of court for alI time. But in the eyes of the schemers these taints did not disqualify the chosen one. If he stood for property rights all his sins were forgiven him.
The various candidates were supplied with funds by the groups whose protégés they were, and besides promises for the future they sometimes conferred favours without further de-lay. One of the companies purchased lands for exploitation but was unable to obtain the title deeds. It appealed to its own candidate for the Presidency, a well known Mexican at present residing abroad, and asked him to interpose his authority or use his influence on its behalf. He made answer : "When I am President, all will be well with you. My future attitude is known to you. In seven or eight months from now your title deeds will be in order and in your possession." But the company's spokesman would not take this answer. He said : "While grateful for your assurances and promises we are now in need of immediate help and you and I know that it is within your power to give it. Unless we receive the title deeds at once we shall be plunged into a sea of troubles. Help us as we are helping you." And after some further parley the protégé started off for the National Palace and obtained what the Company desired.
Those are but a few of many incidents which reveal how far undue foreign ascendency over Mexican politics can go and how incompatible such a condition of affairs is with the normal relations which ought to prevail between the two Republics, and which the great people of the United States is led to believe do actually prevail. There is no doubt that if it realised the extent to which these schemes go to concentrate power in the adjoining Republic in the hands of a few multi-millionaires and ambitious politicians and to demoralise the prominent public men of that Republic, it would make short work of the system. Americanism, in its highest form, is sensitive, scrupulous, self-respecting, and it cannot but lose its worthiness, self-respect and its power for good in an environment of mean purpose and corrupting tactics. The circumstance that the Mexicans chosen for these degrading experiments were sometimes the flotsam and jetsam of a society in the melting pot provides neither a justification nor an excuse for those who in the name and under the agis of a glorious and progressive people use them as tools for a purpose that cannot be openly avowed.
One of the most popular Mexican leaders who was inaccessible to such influences and on whose 'scutcheon there was no blot was General Obregón. No overtures of the character described were ever made to him. And yet the legend was studiously spread that he was like the others, venal, ambitious and unscrupulous, although the contrary was known to be true.