Mexico - Conclusion
( Originally Published 1921 )
THE degree to which the sonorous phrases of American politicians about altruism, humanitarianism and righteousness are at variance with what appears to be the settled policy of imperialism originated and furthered by propagandist intrigue and subsequently acquiesced in by the responsible leaders of the great Western Democracy, is not realised by the American or European public. Nor can it be divined under the present system by which the wells of public information in the United States are controlled and "doctored." I have never during my various travels on the planet beheld any parallel to it in any country—the Tsardom included—with the sole exception of Bolshevist Russia, and there the press is gagged openly and professedly. The main characteristics of public opinion enumerated by the late W. G. Sumner hold good today. Were it otherwise the public would apprehend the real nature of the feelings entertained towards the great imperialistic Democracy, as they know it, by all Central American Republics and by almost all the peoples of Latin-America. But, unhappily, the bulk of the population, which has little in common with its political leaders, cannot see the Republic as others see it. Even French publicists, whose general bias is to flatter the United States, feel constantly impelled to apply caustic criticism to the political methods and principles of the candidate-nation for the moral leadership of the world, which "thrusts aside treaties and refuses to be bound by the word of its President." In this connection some of the outspoken comments of that press would amply repay perusal. Those of M. Saint Brice, for example—who upbraids the United States for having "repudiated the signature of her President," and reproaches her late President with having "craftily tried bias" in order to undo covertly what he had done openly in connection with the Shantung question : "Slyly he advised China to refuse her signature,"—impute sinister tactics to the nation of which one may be sure the nation itself would never have approved.
Without formally endorsing those grave accusations one cannot but see that vital interests are at stake in the vague new political doctrines of a group of men headed by Mr. Fall and in the very definite practices of the troops of occupation and of other public servants of the great Democracy. The general trend of contemporary civilisation is frankly hostile to those dogmas and practices and the thinking world is growing more and more suspicious of the moral tone and truthfulness of those who inculcate and practise them.
A system of double weights and measures is always odious and in a country which is to serve as the moral guide of nations it is superlatively so. And that such a system is a feature of the foreign policy of the United States will be gainsaid by no impartial student of contemporary history. Leaving on one side the Haitian atrocities and the imperialistic policy towards Santo Domingo, we need only take as an illustration "the doctrine of American property" as unfolded by Secretary Hughes. "Mexico is free," he says, "to adopt any policy which she pleases with respect to her public lands, but she is not free tò destroy without compensation valid titles which have been obtained by American citizens under Mexican laws. A confiscatory policy strikes not only at the interests of particular individuals, but at the foundations of international intercourse." Now if this be true it is just as applicable to the United States as to Mexico, and may be invoked with as much force by the State Department in Tokio as by the State Department in Washington. It might happen that Japan some day should turn to account in California the Hughes doctrine of "the safe-guarding of property rights against confiscation" and the Hughes denial that Mexico is "free to destroy without compensation valid titles which have been obtained by American citizens under Mexican laws." But of course Japanese rights on the Pacific Coast are another question. Our Mexican policy smells strongly of oil. Indeed, no effort is being made to conceal the odour.' Nor should it be forgotten that the property rights which are so sacred in Mexico are brushed aside by the State Department when they belong to foreigners in Mesopotamia.' If Mexico follows the example of many other independent states and for-bids foreigners to acquire lands within a certain number of miles from the land and sea frontiers, a deafening outcry is raised in the United States and the repeal of the obnoxious statute is peremptorily called for. But the circumstance is withheld from the people that Mexico has kept well within her sovereign rights in this and might go further without overstepping the bounds. Nor has due attention been paid to the fact that the Government of Jamaica introduced a bill into the Legislative Council to prevent aliens from holding lands in any part of the island—a measure which will seriously affect the American companies now operating there.' Down to three years ago and possibly still to-day Russia had a law of the same tenor as that of Mexico. Germany possessed another of the like character. In Finland no foreigner could acquire land anywhere without the enactment of a special statute in each case for the purpose by the Legislature—a procedure which was well nigh prohibitive. But no Government has thought or thinks of protesting against such limitations of "American rights."
In the France of today the alien restriction laws recently passed by the Chamber are drastic enough to warrant not merely diplomatic notes and protests but much more heroic measures on the part of a Government which objects to the mild self-protective legislation of the Mexican Republic. "Under the new law," we read, "no foreigner is permitted to exercise the professions of customs-broker, transport agent, information bureau, immigration and emigration agents, director of an employment bureau, proprietor of a hotel, café or cabaret, director, administrator or proprietor of a newspaper, unless express permission has been first obtained from the Government. Thousands of Americans living in Paris will be affected by the law." If an enactment of this tenor were entered on the Mexican statute book what a howl of indignation would be raised in the United States ! And yet the Mexican Congress would be merely exercising its sovereign powers. But what is meet and proper for all other independent States is to be forbidden to the Southern Republic. And the only intelligible principle on which such a curtailment of sovereignty can be defended is one which assumes that Mexico is become a "sphere of influence" of the United States.
Casting a hurried glance at the past and present relations between the two neighbouring Republics, one is forcibly struck with the broad gulf that sunders the magnanimous professions of the great Northern Democracy from its deliberate and systematic acts. The former appeal to sentiments of benevolence, humanity, brotherhood, while the latter seem rooted in greed of pelf and power and are carried out by - methods which may be explained, but can neither be justified nor excused—by the German militarist maxim that "necessity" knows no law. And in applying this maxim Mexico's would-be ethical Mentor does not recoil from the extreme of creating or fostering the appalling conditions in the sister Republic which would alone provide a warrant for regenerative action. Truth is stifled by disingenuous propagandists. Intercourse between the two peoples is craftily hindered, lest they should carry out Mr. Harding's fruitful advice and learn to know and respect each other. Excursions of America's business men are openly discouraged. Calumnies and poisonous half truths are scattered broadcast by the press, the cinematograph, books and pamphlets until the aver-age American's mental picture of the Mexican people bears as little resemblance to the original as to the Weddas of Ceylon.
There is, however, one true feature in that distorted picture : the conditions in which the great mass of Mexicans live and work and die are a disgrace to civilisation. But the remedy lies where the cause lurks. And most of those shocking conditions are traceable to a single source, the appropriation—one might aptly term it expropriation—by foreign corporations, mainly American, of the natural wealth of the country, in circumstances which would not be tolerated else-where. For the righteous indignation of those who stigmatise as iniquitous Mexico's lack of respect for the sanctity of private property is linked with the all-important fact that this property was originally acquired at a time and under circumstances which, without actually destroying its technical validity, considerably lessen the sacred and inviolable character claimed for it. The individuals who sold the lands in those days, as well as the legislators whose laws sanctioned the sale, were unaware of the value which the subsequent national progress of the world would impart to the wealth of the subsoil.
Today the Mexican people may be said to have no share in the marvellous riches of their native land. Their plight may be likened to that of Tantalus. The resources of their country go to enrich a group of affluent foreigners and to embolden these to intermeddle in every branch of government. This disinheritance which the Mexican Government is now summoned to sanction and perpetuate is at the root of the people's ignorance, of the dissatisfaction and the frequent bloody revolts—disastrous only to themselves—which stamped their impress on the recent history of the Mexican Republic. Systematic education, the maintenance of public order and the smooth working of national institutions have been made impossible by want of funds. The population is the poorest and most wretched in the civilised world. This is so true that the most effective way in which thé Mexican Government could make known its case would be—were it not derogatory to the dignity of the nation—to send groups of the misery-stricken men, women and children of the Republic around the globe and let their prosperous fellow-creatures be-hold how the inhabitants of the richest country on earth are condemned from their birth to a slow physical and spiritual death by suffering, disease and crass ignorance, in order that a few pampered foreigners should become multimillionaires.
And not contented with their vast monopoly in the present, the enterprising oil corporations are casting around for the means of increasing it in the future. Hence their quest of political, in addition to financial, power, their alliance with pettifogging politicians and the extensive use which they make of misleading propaganda. I In words they repudiate intervention, but the unswerving trend of the movement which they have called into being is intervention pure and simple. The history of Mexico for over half a century consists largely in episodes of intervention by the United States. During that brief period more than fifty per cent of Mexico's territory was seized and annexed by the sister Republic on pre-texts which are being diligently kept alive by the propagandists today who have earmarked what remains of the Republic for Cubanisation.
By her open-handed hospitality under Diaz, Mexico enmeshed herself in a fine network of international complications from which extrication is superlatively difficult. I By welcoming American capitalists she introduced American politicians within her gates and is now liable to become their ward. By admitting American clergymen to preach and teach she is deemed to have given away with her hospitality a portion of her sovereignty and to have renounced her right to legislate on matters ecclesiastical. By adopting freedom of the press she has exposed herself to the damaging charge of bolshevism and her government is held responsible for newspaper articles of which it has no cognisance.' If a supplementary tax is levied on the export of crude petroleum—a tax which the American Legislature was disposed to put on its importation—angry voices are uplifted in protests and the cry of confiscation is heard throughout the United States, whose citizens in the Transvaal silently endure the government tax of forty per cent on all gold and diamonds which they find in that country. If Obregón's government parcels out estates as vast as some European realms in order that Mexicans able and willing to till the land may receive suit-able lots, it is forthwith accused of communism or worse. When men obnoxious to the oil corporations are offered posts in the cabinet and the candidates of these corporations are passed over—for they too have their candidates—the President is said to be in the hands of bolshevists and the country on the high road to ruin. Labour legislation, too, in cases where it merely secures a living wage for Mexican workmen is denounced as bolshevist. And so on to the end of the chapter. Thus in whatsoever direction Mexico moves she is caught and tripped up by the fine meshes of international complications woven by those foreign guests on whom she bestowed hospitality, wealth and the power inseparable from wealth.
The legends created and spread abroad by professional propagandists about Mexico are, to use a simile employed by Joseph de Maistre, like counterfeit coin which is struck by unscrupulous individuals who know what they are doing and is afterwards uttered by honest unsuspecting folk who intensify the evil deed unwittingly. With such counterfeit coin the United States is now inundated.
Nor does Mexico's complaint against her neighbours end here. She roundly charges them with plotting against the legally constituted government, with aiding and abetting Mexican rebels, with sending their representatives to secret conventicles in which revolutionary plans of campaign are elaborated, with donating funds to those who undertake to make war on the authorities and with securing special preferential terms for themselves and their countrymen from pretenders to the Presidency. Those are damaging indictments which undoubtedly impair the value of the State Department's assurance that Mexico is free to have any government that suits her—although one must recognise the fact that that department is not responsible for the aberrations of American citizens, nor even of American officials. These damning charges, however, are so definite and circumstantial that in all probability a good deal more will have been said and written about them before these pages have seen the light. The reader has already been apprised of General Pelaez' arraignment of his former friends, the oil men, one of whom he names as having handed a large sum of money to the leaders of the abortive June "revolution" in Tampico for the cause of the rebels. On the 17th of that same month the Ministry of the Interior in Mexico City received an official telegram from one of its agents in Nuevo Laredo containing an account of a conspirative conclave held in Montull at which Pablo Gonzales, Robles Dominquez, Francisco Murguia and Esteban Cantu were present and "held consultation with a delegate of the oil companies who arrived expressly for the purpose from Washington."5 What degree of truth this message contained the writer of these pages is unable to determine and unwilling to discuss. He is concerned only with the fact that it was taken very seriously by the Secretary of the Interior, as were others of a still more compromising character that shortly afterwards followed. If the grim truth which will be disclosed in the near future should be found to tally with its presentment in those telegrams, the sympathy of right-minded people throughout the world for the ill-starred Mexican people will be increased a hundred-fold. In the meantime it will be wise to suspend one's judgment on this, the most sinister of the alleged features of the open and covert campaign carried on against the Southern Republic, under cover of the loftiest motives that inspire human endeavour.
Mr. Hughes enjoys an enviable reputation throughout the world wherever probity is appreciated in deed or by lip-worship, and if straightforwardness and fairness were identical with statecraft he would deserve to rank with the foremost statesmen of modern times. But honesty is only one of the many elements that go to qualify a man to govern a nation and its possession, as we see, does not dispense its fortunate possessor from the acquisition or inheritance of the others. Without committing himself to any scheme for disposing of the differences between Mexico and the United States, the student of history cannot but wonder at the line of reasoning by which such an upright public worker has reached the conclusion that he can best serve his country—and possibly further the best interests of the sister Republic as well by rendering financial credit inaccessible to the latter and thus condemning its sorely tried inhabitants to go on enduring hunger, disease and despair without visible hope of surcease or easement. Truly there is something supremely pathetic in the figures of the Presidents of the two Republics of whom both are sincerely anxious to combine the interests of their respective countries with the principles of truth, justice, human brotherhood, and yet one through his chief secretary is busy withal sapping the power of the other and strangling the Republic which this other is successfully endeavouring to save and regenerate. Mechanically one's mind wanders back to those days of yore when honest well-meaning men like Torquemada sent their honest fellow creatures to the rack and the stake with a reluctance the sincerity of which did credit to their fellow-feeling, and an anxiety to save their souls which testified to their profound religious sense. Their only drawback was what Pascal termed a false conscience, which is no uncommon phenomenon among some of the very best intentioned men of today. While hoping to further American interests which he appears to have partly identified with those of the oil corporations, Mr. Hughes has failed to take due account of those of humanity at large which occupy such a prominent place in his public utterances. This aspect of the American secretary's statecraft reminds one of what Turgot said of those who become the dupes of general ideas which are true because drawn from nature, "but which people embrace with a narrow stiffness that makes them false, because they no longer combine them with circumstances, taking for absolute what is only the expression of a relation." Their minds operate in vacuo.
If Mr. Hughes could but put himself mentally in the place of General Obregón and realise this President's tasks, difficulties and exertions, he would probably feel moved to help in lieu of thwarting him, and this quite as much in the interests of the United States as of Mexico. Meanwhile the unbiased outsider whose angle of observation permits him to survey both sides with equal comprehensiveness is amazed at the spectacle of the deplorable one-sided campaign that unfolds itself to his gaze. The North American statesman declares that he will recognise the Mexican Government only after it has given proof that it wields the power and possesses the will to fulfil its international obligations. Now the only proof conceivable is the experiment and Mexico is eager to make it. Mr. Hughes, however, declines to accept that and insists upon Obregón imitating President Wilson in Paris and signing a treaty which the nation will repudiate and which will have no more intrinsic worth in Mexico than that signed by the United States has had in Haiti.
The scrap of paper doctrine is gall and wormwood to Mexico, and if the Haitian Memoir signifies anything, it cannot have a particular relish for the United States. Nor does Haiti offer the only example of the kind. The treaty of amity still in force between Mexico and her northern neighbour as we saw obliges the two contracting parties to refrain from having re-course to arms and to submit their differences to arbitration. Yet that solemn obligation did not prevent Mr. Wilson from despatching an army under General Pershing to the northern provinces of Mexico, nor Mr. Harding from sending recently two warships to Tampico, congruously with Senator Fall's recommendations to the Senate. The binding power of treaties was seldom less effectual than it is today.
Further, the United States Government has asked Mexico to pay her debts, but refuses to allow her to raise the money. Taxation is termed confiscation and foreign loans are effectually vetoed in advance. Yet the liabilities cannot be met without having recourse to both expedients. Again the United States Government demands from Mexico full compensation for damage done to its nationals during the period of the civil war. Waiving all unsettled questions of liability and limitations, President Obregón assents and officially invites the United States and all debtor countries to send delegates to arrange the procedure and determine the amount due. But the United States refuses to accept the invitation and induces France and Britain to follow her lead. Thereupon the propagandists of the oil companies proclaim to the world that Mexico is a defaulter and President Obregón not a whit better than President Carranza. And the bulk of the unreasoning public believes them. Lastly, President Harding, through his chief secretary, Mr. Hughes, denies official recognition to President Obregón unless he first demonstrates that his word as President is indeed worthy of trust, and the only demonstration that will satisfy him consists in Obregón deliberately violating his oath as President and publicly violating the law which he solemnly swore to observe.
Meanwhile General Obregón undeterred by these formidable hindrances and dangers pursues his own course with perseverance and serenity, relying upon the approval of his conscience and the sympathy of right-minded men and guided in all his steps by high moral ideals. His is perhaps the first concrete example of governance by morality irrespective of political controversies, party interests and ephemeral success, and for that reason among others is well worth a careful study by those public bodies and private individuals throughout the world who are interested in the spiritual advancement of man-kind. His remarkable experiment, whatever may be the outcome, will leave a profound and salutary influence on the political and social thought of his generation which will make itself felt far beyond the boundaries of his native country.