The Argentine Republic
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A BIRDS-EYE VIEW OF THE COUNTRY—ITS VAST WHEAT-FIELDS, SUGAR PLANTATIONS, AND EXTENSIVE PASTURES—How IT COMPARES WITH THE UNITED STATES—ITS PEOPLE, AND THEIR CHARACTERISTICS--THE LATIN-AMERICAN AS A NATIONAL TYPE—HOW ARGENTINA IS GROWING—ITS RAILROADS AND TELEGRAPHS—ITS NORMAL SCHOOLS, FOUNDED BY YANKEE SCHOOL-TEACHERS.
I CAME from Punta Arenas via the Falkland Islands to Montevideo, thence to Buenos Aires. I have now been several weeks in the Argentine Republic. The country amazes me: I expected to find it not unlike the United States.
It is, however, as different as lemons are different from pumpkins. We have in the United States a booming country. Things also boom in the Argentine, but the character and conditions of prosperity are entirely different. We raise some wheat; so does the Argentine. We raise some wool; the Argentine raises more.
We have the most land, but the Argentine has a territory which is almost all good for something, and in area it is at least one-third the size of our country, without Alaska and our new island possessions. The Argentine is longer from north to south than the United States. It is almost twice as long. If we could lift it up at the corners, turn it around and spread it upon the United States from east to west, placing the edge of Patagonia at New York, the borders of Brazil and Bolivia would be some distance beyond Salt Lake City. If we could cut it up into patchwork pieces and fit them upon our territory, every inch of the land east of the Mississippi would be covered, and the remnants would be larger than the area of several States west of that river. The Argentine Republic is twelve times as large as Great Britain. It is five times the size of France, and it is greater in area than the States of Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah, Colorado, and Kansas combined. This vast country is made up of mountain and plain, and its plains are among the largest in the world, extending from the hot lands of the tropics on the edge of Brazil to the cold, terraced pampas of southern Patagonia.
The best parts of the Argentine Republic have been built up by the great river systems which find their mouths in the Rio de la Plata. These rivers are the Uruguay, Paraguay, Pilcomayo, and Parana: they form a vast drainage system which for ages has been carrying down the soil from the mountains and building up the country. They drain a territory larger than the basin of the Mississippi, a territory, in other words, as large as half of the entire United States.
The best soil of Argentina lies along the rivers. Most of the country is a great plain gently sloping in the northern and central part from the Andes to these streams. If you could see the Rio de la Plata, you would realize what a great earth-builder the river is. It is an immense river 100 miles wide at its mouth and 180 miles long to the point where it is formed by the junction of the Uruguay and the Parana. It is so full of silt that it drops i o, 000 tons of mud every hour. This is a mass so great that were it loaded upon two-horse waggons it would take a line of teams sixty miles long to carry it ; it would require a solid line of such teams reaching from New York to Omaha to carry the droppings of one day.
I entered the Rio de la Plata on board the German steamer in which I sailed from the Falkland Islands to Montevideo. The waters of the Atlantic were stained by the mud long before we reached the mouth of the river. It took us all night to sail across it and in the morning we were still some distance from Montevideo. When I went to take my morning bath I found the tub filled with what looked like split pea soup, and when I let the fluid out there was in the bottom of the tub a sediment so thick that I left footprints quite as plain as those which frightened Robinson Crusoe in the sand of his desert island.
The sea captains tell me that these enormous deposits of mud are rapidly filling up the bed of the Rio de la Plata; its depth varies from 13 to 36 feet, but it has many banks and shoals. The silt has given it a bottom of fine sand. The large steamers that come to Buenos Aires often have to plough their way through the mud, and already the people are talking of a jetty system, similar to that which Eads built at the mouth of the Mississippi.
The best idea of the Argentine Republic can be given by comparing it with parts of the United States. Take the valley of the Rio de la Plata as you find it about here and for hundreds of miles to the west and north of Buenos Aires. If you will imagine yourself in Illinois, south of Springfield, along the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers you will be in a country much like this. You must, however, cut out the cornfields, leave out the woods, and make the lands all pasture. Take away forty-nine farm houses out of every fifty, tear down all the barns, and in place of our neat country homes erect huts of mud and straw and bricks, sometimes thatched and sometimes roofed with galvanized iron. Then put here and there a larger group of low buildings surrounded by flowers and trees belonging to the rich proprietor, and you have the basin of the Rio de la Plata. You must dot the landscape with sheep and cattle, in flocks of thousands, and imagine vast fields, for a single farm often includes ten thousand acres, and one man may own many square miles of land.
Farther south, the Argentine is a tableland not unlike north-ern Nebraska. It is covered with sand and grass; streams twenty feet deep and eight feet wide cut their way through crumbling banks. The land rises in terraces from the sea to the Andes; the soil is poor, much of it being a sandy plain on which nothing will grow save by irrigation.
Again, going from the basin of the Rio de la Plata westward the land rises gently to the Province of Cordoba, one of the seats of the old civilization, and still farther west to Mendoza, in the foothills of the Andes. Cordoba is devoted largely to grazing. It has a mountain chain running through it, and is much like West Virginia, save that it is not wooded. The Province of Mendoza is on the plateau of the Andes. It is a grape and wine country, its vines producing a ton of grapes to the acre and a gallon of wine to every twenty vines. Its general character is like that of Pennsylvania in the region about Lancaster and York.
Going farther northward the scenery of Argentina changes. You now get into the tropics. The Province of Tucuman has rich sugar plantations; it produces ninety-five per cent of the sugar consumed in the Argentines. Its soil will yield a hundred bushels of corn to the acre. Much of it is wooded with tropical trees. It is mountainous, having an average elevation equivalent to that of Denver and a general appearance much like the country along the Pennsylvania railroad at the Horse Shoe Bend. Here the streams are dry half the year and boiling torrents the remainder. The Tucuman valleys are hot summer and winter. Buenos Aires people go there to get away from the cold, a thing that seems ridiculous, for the city is never much colder than Savannah or Atlanta.
In addition to these sections there are other lands still nearer Bolivia, the Chaco and Formosa territories, for instance, which are heavily wooded; the inhabitants are half-naked Indians. This region has been little explored and is comparatively unknown. Farther west, in the Argentine Andes, is a country unlike anything in the United States. It is both mountainous and tropical. The timber disappears and mineral riches come to the surface. The finest of marble and the most beautiful onyx I have ever seen are to be found in this region. There are mountains rich in gold and silver, some of the mines of which are now being worked. The mining engineers of the Rothschilds and others are examining the deposits. The great draw-backs are the inaccessibility of the country, its lack of water, and the enormous cost of carrying mining machinery into it.
The wheat country of Argentina lies chiefly north of Buenos Aires and east of Cordoba, in the basin of the Paranâ, and also in the province of Entre Rios, between the Uruguay and the Paranâ rivers. This region, which is like Illinois along the Ohio river, is divided into comparatively small tracts, and is largely farmed by colonies of foreigners. Such is a bird's-eye view of the Argentine Republic: farther on I will fill out the picture.
Argentina has today a population of four millions, and is constantly growing. It has trebled within thirty years, and its people claim that it will have five millions in 1901, as over 100,000 immigrants come in every year. More than one-third of all the people in the country are foreigners, and seventy per cent of the foreigners are Italians. Eighteen per cent of the immigrants are Spanish and four per cent French : this makes ninety-two per cent of the immigrants of the Latin race : the remaining eight per cent is made up of British, Russians, Danes, and Swiss. Until lately there were so few Americans that they were hardly worth considering. Now Americans of the better class are coming, and they will soon form an important factor in the Republic. The Portuguese as a rule do not stay, though the men of other nations remain. In a generation or so they marry Argentine girls and become Argentines; out of the whole is being evolved the Argentine type of the future.
The inhabitants of the Argentines are not like the South Americans of the west coast; they have no great strain of Indian blood in their veins; they are of almost pure European extraction. They are not Spanish, nor French, nor Italians, nor Anglo-Saxons : they are evolving a combination of all these, with the Latin strain predominating, just as in America we are forming a type with the Anglo-Saxon strain in the ascendancy. I think, however, that our type is superior to any that can be produced here.
The change in Argentina goes on rapidly. At the beginning of the present century the old families were Spanish and Portuguese. Since then they have been intermarrying with the English, Scotch, Germans, Americans, and Italians. This can be seen in the names of the distinguished Argentines: Admiral Brown, one of their famous naval officers, was of English extraction; the Livingston family, whose ladies are noted for their wealth and beauty, is in the fourth generation from the Livings-tons of New York; Pelligrine, a former president, and one of the ablest men in the country, has English blood in him; the grandfather of the chief of police of Buenos Aires was an American ; the father of Tornquist, another prominent Argentine, was a New Orleans man; and there are many leading families in whose veins flow rich strains of Irish or of Italian blood.
Already the Spanish type has been materially modified. In-deed, with its large percentage of foreign born, this country is to-day as cosmopolitan as any in the world. If one could be blindfolded, and on one of the magic carpets of fairyland in the twinkling of an eye be transported to the business parts of Buenos Aires, it would be impossible to tell where one was by looking at the faces or the dresses of the people. If you could be dropped into the stock-exchange, for instance, you might, if you were deaf, imagine yourself in New York or Lon-don; you could not imagine yourself in Buenos Aires. If your ears were suddenly opened, you would still be at a loss; the cries of the brokers would be in Spanish, but from all around you would come a babel of Italian, French, and English. If you went outside, your situation would be even worse. You would hear the street-sweepers swearing at each other in Italian, English merchants discussing trade in Anglo-Saxon, and groups of Basques on every street corner gabbling at each other in Spanish. You would hear much French, and you might meet Russians, Poles, and even Turks.
This large mixture of foreigners keeps Argentina up to date. New ideas are coming in from everywhere and the latest improvements are to be found. Nearly all the large towns have electric lights, many have good streets, and there are excellent railroad connections with the leading centres. Argentina now has almost 10,000 miles of railroad, with a capital of more than half a billion of dollars. Buenos Aires has trains by which you can go to any of the larger cities in a night, and there are sleeping cars on all the lines. Buenos Aires is about as big as Boston. Rosario, the next city in size in the Republic, has a population of 150,000. You can go to bed in the cars in Buenos Aires and awake in Rosario. It is the same with Bahia Blanca, the metropolis of southern Argentina. The Tucuman trains have sleepers, and soon the traveller will be able to cross the continent via Argentina and Chile from the Atlantic to the Pacific without stepping from the cars.
The steamship accommodations are equally good. I came from Montevideo to Buenos Aires in a steamer much like those which run between New York and Boston. I retired at night on the vessel in Montevideo harbour, and awoke at the Buenos Aires docks. The fare was five dollars, and I think the Argentine steamers gave me more for the money than I get at home. I had a good stateroom; the ship was lighted by electric light, and it served an excellent dinner, with good claret and a button-hole bouquet without extra charge. In the morning the steward brought to my cabin a cup of coffee and a roll, and more than that, carried my baggage out to the customhouse. If I remember aright, the meals are charged extra on the New York and Boston boats.
There are several mail steamers plying weekly from Buenos Aires to Europe. There are others which go south through the Strait of Magellan and about the west coast. There are ships, moreover, that will take you 2,000 miles into the heart of Brazil, and twice a week you may ride upon one up the Parana. to the capital of Paraguay.
Four thousand vessels engaged in foreign trade go in and out of the ports of the Argentine every year. The volume of imports and exports in 1896 amounted to more than $227,000,000 in gold. One-fourth of this commerce was with Great Britain, the country that does more than half of the whole ocean-carrying trade of Argentina. England sent forty per cent of the imports, Germany coming next, then Italy; after these came France and Belgium, and then the United States. In buying of Argentina, France comes first, Belgium second, England third, Germany fourth, and the United States fifth. Our purchases amount to about $6,000,000 per annum, and our foreign trade is just about seven per cent of the whole. Nearly all the business is in foreign hands. The houses and companies handling the trade have capitais amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, and their establishments are run on business principles. The foreign banks alone have an aggregate capital of $25,000,000, and I am told that nearly all of them pay large dividends.
The Argentinas are also progressive in an intellectual way. The government spends $10,000,000 a year on its schools. It employs 8,000 teachers and has over 250,000 school children. There are a number of high schools, three universities, two schools of agriculture, a school of mines, and thirty-five normal schools. Both girls and boys attend these schools.
There are many women teachers in the Argentine Republic, some of whom came out from the United States years since to inaugurate the normal schools. When Sarmiento was president, a decade or so ago, he made a study of the public school systems of the world, and decided that that of the State of Michigan was the best. He imported a number of cultured Yankee schoolmarms, and now the Argentine has first-class schoolmarms of its own. Its normal schools, I am told, are producing more of the native variety than can be used, so that there is no opening here for additional American teachers.
The language used in the schools is Spanish—the language of the country. Everyone who has been in Argentina for a year or more speaks it, and the children, whatever their parents may be, lisp Spanish. There are private schools where not a word of Spanish is taught, but it is the language of the playground, nevertheless; and many a son of an English father and an Argentine mother can speak nothing else. Spanish is the language of the government, of business, and of society; though most Argentines can speak French, and not a few can converse fluently in Italian and English as well.
The chief literature to be found at the bookstores is that of France and Spain. There are also Italian, German, and English bookstores. The Argentine Republic reads the newspapers. Re-member, its population, all told, is now not greater than that of the combined cities of New York and Philadelphia: still, it has 24 dailies, and 146 weeklies. Fifteen of the dailies are published in Buenos Aires, the leading one, "La Prensa," having a circulation of 70,000 copies; another, " The Diario," an evening paper, has a circulation of 30,000. There are three dailies published in English, and one of these " The Buenos Aires Herald," is edited and owned by an American : the other twelve are in Spanish, Italian, French, and German.
The people of the Argentines are letter writers, and they use the mails. It is estimated that 177,000,000 letters passed through their 1,400 post offices last year, and their postal revenue was $30,000,000. There is a fair telegraph service under the government, and the telegraph lines, if linked together, would reach round the world.