An Hour With The President Of Peru
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE ROMANTIC CAREER OF A SOUTH AMERICAN STATESMAN—HOW HE FOUGHT HIS WAY THROUGH REVOLUTION TO POWER-HIS NARROW ESCAPE IN A WOMAN'S CLOTHES--THE RESOURCES OF PERU-ONE OF THE RICHEST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD, WITH THE POOREST INHABITANTS-PERU'S WAR WITH CHILE, AND HOW HER TREASURE WAS STOLEN.
IT WAS in company with the secretary of the American legation that I called upon Nicolas de Pierola, the President of Peru. His Excellency had appointed two P. M. for my audience, and at that hour we entered the long one-story building which forms the White House and the government offices of the Republic. Soldiers in uniforms of white duck, with rifles at their sides, were at the door, and as we passed in we went by a company of infantry ready for immediate action in case of revolution. Additional rifles stood in racks against the walls, and we seemed to be in a fortress rather than in the capitol building of a country supposed to be ruled by the people.
Peru is a land of revolutions. Its present executive is a revolutionist, who gained his position after months of hard fighting. In the houses and churches of Lima you may still see the holes where the cannon-balls of his soldiers went crashing through. He besieged the city, and for days his army fought with that of the former President in the heart of Lima. They had Gatling guns trained upon one another, and swept the streets with them. The dead were carried out each morning by the cartload, and there were so many dead horses that they could not be buried, but were sprinkled with coal-oil and burned. The end of the revolution was the deposition of the old president Caceres, and the election of the present executive.
President Pierola's career is a typical one. It illustrates the ups and downs of South American politics, and shows us how republics are managed below the Caribbean Sea. Nicolas de Pierola is the son of a Peruvian scientist, his father having been a co-worker with Alexander von Humboldt, Sir Humphry Davy, and Von Tschudi, the noted Austrian philosopher and traveller. Pierola was born in southern Peru. He was educated in Paris, where he married the granddaughter of Iturbide, the unfortunate Emperor of Mexico. On returning to Peru at the close of his school days, he began his life work in Lima as an editor supporting the President. A revolution overturned the administration, and Pierola was banished. This revolution was succeeded by another, with one of Pierola's friends at its head, and the young man was brought back to the capital and made Secretary of the Treasury. He had hardly received his seal before the President who had been last driven out appeared before Lima with another army, and again Pierola and the executive whom he had been supporting had to leave. Then the war with Chile came on, and Pierola was called back to be one of the generals of the Peruvian army. His soldiers were defeated, but, the President having fled the country, he became dictator. After a short time, however, the Chileans conquered, and deposed Pierola. He was ordered to leave the country, and fled to France.
Later on, Caceres, who had been elected President, became very unpopular, and Pierola returned to raise a revolution against him. Caceres accused him of treason; he concealed some guns on Pierola's estate, and based his charge upon their discovery by the soldiers sent to find them. Pierola was arrested, brought to Lima, and confined in the palace. One day a French lady called to see him. She was admitted, and the two were left alone for a time in Pierola's cell. During this time they changed clothes, and an hour or so after it was supposed the lady had de-parted, the guards found that Pierola had passed out instead, and that all that was left of him were his brown whiskers, which he had shaved off in order to perfect his disguise.
Pierola fled to the mountains, raised an army, and declared war. He skirmished about the country for some time, and then attacked Lima. After three days' fighting' President Caceras was forced out of office, and a provisional governor was appointed until an election could be held. At the election Pierola was chosen President by an overwhelming majority.
Thus trained in revolutions, the President is too good a soldier to sleep upon his arms. He does not go about without guards, and during our visit to his residence we found soldiers everywhere present. As we went on through the palace, going through one room after another, we passed many officers in uniform, until we met the President's private secretary, who told us that the palace, the President, and himself were at my disposal, and that His Excellency would receive me at once.
He then went out, and a moment later he ushered us into a large hall furnished not unlike one of the reception-rooms in the State Department at Washington. In 'the centre of the room stood a straight, handsome man with a military bearing. It was Nicolas de Pierola, President of Peru. He stepped towards us as we came in and shook hands with me on my presentation. After we were seated he told me that he was glad to have an American journalist come to Peru, saying he felt that his country was not properly known in North America. He then went on to give me a description of the mineral and agricultural possibilities of Peru, describing its resources and the enterprises which are under way to develop them. He said he was anxious to see an in-creased trade between Peru and the United States, and that he hoped one of the Trans-Isthmian canals would be pushed to its completion as a means to that end. He said he was in thorough accord with the Monroe Doctrine, and that he believed the re-publics of this hemisphere should aid and defend one another in protecting their rights as free governments.
The resources of Peru are much greater than is generally sup-posed. Peru is about one-eighth the size of the United States; it would almost make nine states of the size of New York; and in it are vast areas of good land. In addition to the coast desert, with its numerous irrigated valleys, there are extensive pastures in the highlands; and over the mountains on the eastern slopes are valleys which will produce as fine coffee as any in the market. The Peruvian corporation, an English syndicate, has a grant of 5,000,000 acres of coffee land in this region, and other companies are setting out coffee trees. Parts of Peru are well adapted to the raising of the cacao, such, for instance, as the province of Cuzco, in which there are nine estates, having altogether 27,000,000 cacao trees, or an average of 300,000 each. The mines of Peru will be treated of further on. They include both gold and silver mines, some of them being exceedingly rich. In northern Peru, along the coast, are petroleum fields now being worked; and rail-roads have been projected to tap valuable anthracite coal deposits which lie across the coast range of the Andes.
From this description it might be thought that the Peruvians were one of the richest peoples of South America, whereas they are among the poorest. The small class of aristocrats, who were so wealthy before the war with Chile, are now comparatively poor ; and the vast majority of the people were never anything else. Peru has about 3,000,000 people, not more than Greater New York. Of these 57 per cent are pure Indians, about 23 per cent are of the mixed race, and the remainder are whites. Not one Peruvian in five is pure white, yet the whites have most of the land, and the others work for them. Three centuries ago the Spaniards subjugated the Indians and made them slaves. They worked them in the mines, and from their labour Spain became rich. The Spaniards carried away tons of gold and silver, taking from one Inca temple alone 42,000 pounds of gold and 82,000-pounds of silver. When the gold mines were partially exhausted, they tapped the silver mines of Cerro de Pasco and other places, out of which came so much wealth that one of the viceroys was. able to ride through Lima from the palace to the cathedral over a path paved with ingots of silver. The horse upon which he sat was shod with gold, and, if tradition is to be believed, every hair of its mane and tail was strung with pearls.
Later on the wealth of the guano islands was added to that of the mines, and Peru received hundreds of millions of dollars from her manure piles. Then the nitrate deposits were discovered, and other millions came. The bulk of all this money went to a few of the governing class and their friends, and the phrase, as rich as a Peruvian," was current in South America.
Such was the situation when the Chileans turned their covetous eyes to the north. They were poor, but brave and strong, and nationally without a conscience. They trumped up a boundary line as an excuse for war, and invaded Peru. They had an army of 25,000 men, with which they overran the country, laying it everywhere waste or demanding ransom for refraining from doing so. The outrages of this war are unsurpassed in history. At Chimbote a Chilean general demanded that a sugar-planter should pay him $100,000 within three days. The planter was un-able to do so, and the Chilean thereupon destroyed his sugar factories, blowing up the machinery with dynamite. He tore down the houses of the estate, and he killed five hundred sheep which his soldiers could not carry off.
The Chilean army destroyed the magnificent residences of the summer resorts below Lima. They looted Lima, occupying the university as a barracks. They destroyed the archives and sacked the public library, which contained 50,000 volumes and many valuable manuscripts. They even robbed the zoological' gardens, sending its elephants and other animals to Santiago. In their battles they gave no quarter, bayoneting not only the wounded soldiers, but the defenceless civilians as well. The war lasted three years, and when it was ended Chile annexed the nitrate territory which she coveted. Since that time Peru has had a series of revolutions. The people have been ground between the upper and nether millstones of personal politics, and until lately have had but little chance to do more than keep out of the way of bullets.
Since the inauguration of President Pierola peace has prevailed and business has been steadily improving. Foreign capital has been coming in, and the President is doing what he can to develop the country.
The President of a South American republic is a very important factor in its prosperity. He has more power in many ways than the President of the United States. He practically decides upon everything, controlling Congress, and having much to say as to concessions for public and private works.
Congress is constituted in the same way as in the United States. It consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives, the Senators being elected for four years, and the Representatives for two. All laws originate with Congress, and all appropriations are supposed to be determined upon by the two Houses. The salaries of the members of Congress are less than with us; they are paid $7.50 a day, and, as the sessions are limited to ninety days, each receives less than $700 a year.
After leaving the President I paid a visit to the two Houses of Congress. They are situated on the Plaza of the Inquisition, the site of the terrible trials and tortures of the past. They look out upon a square where scores of heretics were burned at the stake. The Senate has its chamber in the room where the Court of the Inquisition held its sessions, so that speeches in favour of free thought are made in the very hall where the bigots of the past tortured and slaughtered human beings in the name of religion.