The Global Zeitenwende
How to Avoid a New Cold War in a Multipolar Era
A WAVE of revolutions has during the past six months swept over the Latin-American world, from the Pacific to the Atlantic and from the Peruvian highlands to the prairies of Buenos Aires. The backwash has been felt in Cuba, Chile and Ecuador, and even from Uruguay have come reports of threatened upheaval. It is a curious phenomenon, this epidemic of political violence. It has infected nations widely separated in the scale of political and social progress, states which are still semi-Indian in racial complexion and political deportment, and others where change of government by revolution has long been believed to be an anachronism. The contagion, after an early outbreak in the Dominican Republic, spread with startling celerity from Bolivia to Peru, to Argentina, and to Brazil. It has affected over three-fourths of the area of South America, and almost as great a proportion of its population -- fifty-eight million people in an expanse of five and a half million square miles.
To more than one observer it has recalled that distant revolutionary year of 1848 on the continent of Europe, or the toppling of monarchies at the close of the World War. The liberal revolutions of '48 had a common origin in the system of political repression which, after the overthrow of Napoleon, became the policy of the legitimist monarchies under the inspiration of the Austrian chancellor, Metternich. They reflected a common aspiration toward democracy and nationalism. The revolutions of 1917--18 in Germany, Austria, and Russia were the result of a crisis in world affairs too recent to require elucidation. And so it is natural to seek for some explanation which will fit all these South American upheavals, to try and discover some factor by which all are divisible or some general moral to be drawn. Newspaper reports have sometimes stressed the element of student agitation in the several countries concerned; and the revolutionary leaders themselves have invariably represented the uprisings as a liberal protest against the selfishness and egotism, the corruption and arbitrary rule, of those in power. Such protestations of high motive, however, are no novelty in the history of Latin-American revolutions. No matter how personal and sordid may be its impelling causes, each is always a crusade for liberty, "legalism," the constitution, or the sacred rights of the people!
The rôle played by students in recent events in Bolivia, Peru and Argentina is at least a sign that the governments overthrown had become generally unpopular. University students in Latin-American countries are much more politically minded than those in the United States. Interest in politics is for them a major extra-curricular activity, and they do not hesitate to express themselves as a group upon public questions, national or international. Fired with the crusading ardor of youth, they are inclined to radicalism, and it is to be expected that they would be impatient of arbitrary government and the machinations of the "hard-boiled" politician.
To attribute these recent revolts to the supposed instability of the Latin temperament is an explanation too simple and naïve. Latin Americans are a peace-loving and law-abiding people, to at least the same degree as are the people of the United States. When they are weighed down under the burden of a corrupt administration which completely controls the ballot box, they are apt to remove or alter it by swift and passionate methods. Sometimes a real step forward on the road to democratic control is achieved; sometimes the people discover that the only result has been to put another equally corrupt cabal in power, and that the weary process must be repeated. In the long run, however, progress has been achieved, in every one of the Latin-American republics.
Another matter is clear at the outset: the common denominator in such revolutions is not to be found in the relations of these countries with the United States, whether political or economic. If there is a moral to be drawn, it does not concern the attitude of Latin America toward the northern "colossus." The president overthrown in Peru in August was strongly pro-American -- indeed that was one of the reproaches hurled at him (for local, popular effect) by his enemies. But the president overthrown in September in Argentina was held to be just as pronounceably anti-American, and one of the first public acts of the military leader of the revolution was a gesture of friendliness toward the United States. Revolution in each instance had its origin in political and economic circumstances of a purely domestic sort. In no case were elements of a social revolution involved, although, as in this country, the word "communist" was frequently bandied about by the vested interests to disparage the violence of their adversaries. And if, in the course of the argument, these adversaries retorted with charges of collusion with the Yankee capitalist or "imperialist," it was to be taken about as seriously as mutual party recriminations in political campaigns in the United States.
In Bolivia the government of ex-President Siles more than once sought credit with the nation by the "exposure" of alleged secret plans of the Third International at Moscow to organize a communist revolution in the country. And when in the middle of June 1930 a small group of Bolivian political exiles crossed the frontier from Argentina and seized a customhouse, it was reported as the work of a few extreme radicals supported by "Indian farmers and communists." Yet Dr. Abdon Saavedra, the exiled Vice-President, and his associates had about as much in common with Moscow as have most of the readers of this article.
President Siles, on the other hand, was often accused by his opponents of selling the country to North American capital, and there was bitter criticism of the steps taken in 1929 to put into effect the scheme of a Central Bank recommended by the Kemmerer Commission in the previous year. Yet, although it was the Saavedra faction which supplied most of the opposition, it was in the administration of Siles's predecessor, Bautista Saavedra, that the program of large foreign loans to finance public improvements was inaugurated.[i] Only then the rôles had been reversed. And the Opposition throughout was ably seconded by the press of Chile; for Chile has well-defined designs upon Bolivia as a field for economic penetration and a market for her products, and the intrusion of American capital was not wholly to her liking. It is also interesting to observe that although Colonel Sánchez Cerro, the revolutionary leader in Peru, played upon the chauvinism of the people by accusing President Leguía of having given over the country to the foreign banker and monopolist, once in power he made it clear that acquired foreign rights would be scrupulously respected.
If relations with the United States, then, were not a factor of importance in the Latin-American revolutions of 1930, are there common elements to be discovered elsewhere as an explanation of this general impulse to insurrection? The answer that springs at once to mind is economic depression, with its resultant suffering and discontent. But economic depression is universal, and it has happened before. It is very severe in Colombia and Chile, to name only two important countries, and these are not threatened by political upheaval. Mexico too is hard hit, but Mexico, mother of revolutions, seems at this moment to be unusually quiescent.
Certainly the prevailing crisis in world production and distribution figures in the diagnosis. Unemployment, reduction of the national income, decline in the price of staple exports, have developed a physical and psychological temper favorable to political disorders. The body politic is in a run-down condition, below par, and as would be the case in physical bodies, the situation is fraught with danger. The normal lines of defense, the usual restraints and inhibitions, are lowered, and signs of latent derangements come to the surface. Economic depression is only a contributory cause, the real infirmity must be sought for elsewhere; and in the nations recently afflicted the infirmity is not in every case the same.
Bolivia and Peru are semi-Indian countries. Of Peru's estimated population of nearly five millions, over 50 percent are aborigines, perhaps 2 percent are white, and 30 percent are a mixture of the two, the mestizos. The rest are Asiatics, negroes, or crosses other than mestizo. The population of Bolivia is divided between Indian, white and mestizos in about the same general proportions; there are virtually no Asiatics and few negroes. In both countries the Indians are by law citizens, but they have no share in the political life of the nation except the doubtful privilege of providing cannon fodder. They are ignorant, exploited, the hewers of wood and drawers of water. The dominant, ruling class has been a numerically small, white, landowning aristocracy, inheriting from Spanish times pride of birth and breeding, but little political experience. In the early days of independence they and their natural allies, the educated professional class, were versed in current political literature, held high resolves for the future of their country, and aimed to give it an ideally perfect government based upon principles of democracy and equality. But in actual practice they frequently fell short of early promise. Motives of altruism and public service, which are the fruit of long exercise of self-government and without which no popular régime can survive, were too often notable for their absence. The spirit of compromise, willingness to submit as a minority to the majority's decisions, or as a majority to respect the rights of a minority, had not been learned. The separation from Spain involved a political revolution, but the old social order survived. Intolerance and personalism obtruded themselves to the exclusion of a genuine patriotism. In the new-found equality, each leader was as good as his fellow, and convinced of his special capacity to run the embryo state. In Spanish and Portuguese times, the public service had been notoriously and prevailingly corrupt. Officials high and low, generally underpaid, looked upon office as a heaven-sent opportunity to provide for their future at public expense. Not that this was peculiar to the Indo-Latin communities of America. A right to the "perquisites" of office was taken for granted in most of the countries of Europe. But in the new Latin-American states the tradition too long survived. Rival political groups have been largely actuated by one aim -- to control and dispose of the public funds.
Under such circumstances the military came to play a dominant rôle in national politics. The struggle for independence a century ago covered a period of a decade and a half. During that time these countries were completely militarized; they fell under the power of chiefs who were cast up to the surface by the stress and turmoil of civil conflict, and who exercised in their respective communities a despotic authority. For the struggle for freedom was essentially a civil war, like our own Revolutionary War; and with a house divided against itself a policy of Jacobin ruthlessness was often the only recourse. When victory was achieved, the generals were unwilling to forego the sweets of power and aspired to the control of the entire nation; and the people at large, accustomed to despotism, whether that of a distant Spanish sovereign or of these upstart usurpers, knowing nothing of the ways of democratic government, easily acquiesced. The early presidents of Bolivia and Peru were all of them generals. While submitting to the forms of constitutional procedure, they controlled elections in their own interest and remained in power until a rival snatched it away by means of a cuartelazo, or barrack uprising. Behind the generals were the political factions into which the dominant social caste was divided, but which inevitably depended upon the military for support.
Not that all dictators have been mere selfish tyrants. Many of them doubtless have pursued personal ends, or have thirsted for the pomp and circumstance of power; but, given the turbulent epoch in which dictatorship developed, it is difficult to see how even the best-intentioned leaders could avoid the appearance of arbitrary power. And some of them were men of fine intellect and splendid energy who in a real democracy would likewise have been leaders, statesmen, public benefactors. Given their short terms of office and their lack of resources in money and trained subordinates, some of them accomplished wonders in administrative and economic organization, in educational and legal reforms. And by the institutions they created, and by their spectacular appeals to "fellow citizens" against foreign perils, they frequently helped to create a national consciousness in what had been a backward and disunited people. They forged them into a nation.
These general considerations have applied at one time or another in the nineteenth century to all the states of Latin America. And they are in some degree applicable to a number of them today, especially to the semi-Indian states of the Andes. In Bolivia and Peru the presidents since the beginning of the present century have been civilians, and militarism of the earlier, cruder sort has been eliminated. But as yet there is no broad basis of an intelligent popular electorate. Little or no effort has been made to raise the living standard and provide educational facilities for that submerged part of the nation, the Indians. True, the social order is not static. The older aristocracy everywhere finds its political monopoly slipping -- such was in part the significance of the Leguía régime in Peru. A white and mestizo middle class is increasing in numbers, wealth and education, and demands political and social recognition. It far outnumbers the "old families," tends to become identified with them, and even, in some countries, to supplant them. Standards of academic education are slowly rising; and political education has come with enlarged experience in self-government. With the growth of foreign contacts and increased participation in international affairs has appeared a greater moderation and a sense of social responsibility, a desire to figure well in the public opinion of the world at large.
Yet in Bolivia and Peru government remains government by oligarchy. Political control continues in the hands of a relatively few men, and free elections are rare. In one way or another they are manipulated by local henchmen in the interest of a central executive; and arbitrary use of administrative power to suppress opposition and stifle any appeal to the country is the rule. Occasional revolution is therefore inevitable, when the exasperation of the Opposition rises to the boiling point. But whatever may be true of past generations, revolution in South America today is rarely a bloody affair. It is "simply a short cut to the same results that are arrived at in less volatile and more patient communities by election." And it becomes so because of "the conceded uselessness, or hopelessness, of the electoral machinery in expressing the will of actual or probable majorities." It is an accepted, extra-legal procedure, and it has come to be exercised with increasing efficiency, and with a minimum of bloodshed and disorder.
In these two mountain states one serious obstacle to the early attainment of national and social solidarity has been the difficult topography, with a consequent inadequacy of communication. Distances are great (Peru is nearly twice the size of Texas and seven times as large as New England) and railways are few and far between. From the Peruvian capital, Lima, there is no direct railway connection with Arequipa and Cuzco, the principal cities of the south, and none with the centers of population in the north. To reach Arequipa one must travel a day by sea and climb another day by rail to an oasis high in the Andean desert; thence the line continues to the Bolivian border on Lake Titicaca, and north to Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital. From Lima a railway rises over fifteen thousand feet to tap a great silver mine of Cerro de Pasco. But that is practically all. With the north communication is also by sea, or through the Andes by mule and in river launches. Under President Leguía's patronage, service by air was being rapidly developed. Indeed the airplane in the future will be a factor of incalculable importance in binding together these disjointed countries. But even airplanes cannot transport armies, and the quick suppression of disorder or disaffection in distant areas has always been a difficult problem.
In Bolivia the situation is much the same. Railways climb to the high plateau in three directions, from Argentina, Chile, and Peru; but some of the oldest cities, such as Santa Cruz, Potosí and Sucre, have as yet no rail connection with the capital. Lines are being constructed, and loans have been negotiated abroad for their completion; but there is many a slip between promise and fulfilment. Today the airplane, and in some directions the motor car, serve as the readiest means of communication.
But these geographical factors are of more fundamental significance. They have served to perpetuate an inherited and deep-seated provincialism. Ancient towns in Bolivia and Peru, and in the other Andean republics, widely separated by mountains and deserts, retain a local and particularistic sentiment that is scarcely transcended by the newer and super-imposed nationalism. The feeling is in part a legacy from old Spain, where regionalism has always stood in the way of a genuine national unity, and survives in the perennial Catalan question today. But it has been reënforced by generations of isolation in the heart of the Andean highlands. During President Leguía's long rule of eleven years in Peru, it was Arequipa which was usually the danger spot. Mistress of the south, and jealous of the political group which dominated in the capital, she lent a readier ear to the seductions of the malcontents; and it was there that the recent uprising had its source and inspiration.
To know all the circumstances which were the immediate occasion for the revolutions of 1930 is of course at this distance impossible. The general political situation which preceded them, however, is not so obscure.
In Bolivia the so-called Republican Party had been in power since 1920, when by means of a bloodless revolution it replaced an older Liberal Party which had dominated the country for several decades. The two groups differed little in political principle; but the new party in its origins represented especially the interests of the important town of Cochabamba. Both were progressive and civilian, in contrast to earlier régimes. The victors, however, split into two factions when in 1921 Dr. Bautista Saavedra used his interest in Congress to capture the presidency, against the wishes of the party's founder and leader, Dr. Daniel Salamanca. President Saavedra was accused of being a dictator, resorting to strong-arm methods, and corrupting the public service in the interest of his own following. By negotiating the Nicolaus loan he vastly increased the public debt, but he introduced many public improvements in La Paz and Cochabamba, in the way of paved streets, water systems, boulevards and public buildings. In 1925 he secured the election of J. C. Villanueva, but when the president-elect showed signs of independence, had Congress quash the elections. He then made a deal with a former Liberal, Dr. Hernando Siles, whose choice as president he procured in the following year. But Siles also proved a disappointment. He recalled Villanueva from abroad, invited Liberals and Legitimists into his government and soon revealed that he intended to be master in his own house. Bautista Saavedra went into honorable exile as minister to Paris.
What proved to be President Siles's undoing was his scheming to continue as the head of the state -- "continuism" has been the nemesis of numberless Latin-American presidents. The Fort Vanguardia incident and consequent crisis in Bolivia's relation's with Paraguay at the close of 1928 was for a time a godsend. It stirred up the latent jingoism of the people, the youth organized for defense of the patria, and the President was able to pose as the champion of the nation's sovereignty. In January 1929, although the quarrel had been submitted to a commission of neutrals at Washington, Siles assumed dictatorial powers, asserting that force rather than law was needed to preserve order and safeguard the country's interest. When the final recommendations of the neutral commission were made in the following autumn this artificial war scare collapsed, and the Opposition began preparations to oppose Siles in the next national elections. Agitation for the return of ex-President Saavedra was used by the President as an excuse for continuing the dictatorship. Ismael Montes, a former Liberal president and one of the country's most distinguished citizens, was forced to seek refuge in the Chilean legation on account of his outspoken frankness. The Vice-President, Abdon Saavedra, brother of Don Bautista, had for over a year been in exile, along with a number of other prominent Bolivians. In October 1929 it was freely predicted that there would be a movement to overthrow the President if he refused to permit a regular election.
It was the political comedy of last spring which drove the Opposition to extreme measures. In April Dr. Siles announced that the presidential election, due in May, would be postponed for reasons of national welfare. On May 28, meeting resistance from a large group of army officers,[ii] he unexpectedly resigned and instructed the newly appointed cabinet, which assumed charge of the government, to call elections for a national convention to reform the constitution. It was interpreted as a coup d'état designed to provide means of escaping the legal provision which forbids a president immediately to succeed himself in office. Bolivian political exiles declared that the provisional government by a council of ministers was illegal, and the deported Vice-President announced his intention of returning to La Paz to complete Dr. Siles's term.
Complicating these purely political manœuvres was a serious economic crisis induced by the steady decline for over a year in the price of tin, the country's principal export and chief source of revenue. The result had been a slump in trade and a steady rise in commodity prices. Mines were closed down, labor agitation increased, and there were threats of a general strike. President Siles had resorted to the necessary but unpopular measure of reducing government salaries and increasing taxes. Under such conditions, the government bore most of the blame for the impoverishment of the country, and the people were ready to welcome with enthusiasm new rulers who promised improved conditions and an easier standard of living.
Events came to a head in June 1930. Demonstrations by students and workmen in La Paz were suppressed by force, and some scores were reported to have been killed or wounded. The garrison of the important mining and railway center, Oruro, declared for revolution,[iii] other cities followed suit, and Dr. Siles sought asylum in a foreign legation. By June 25 the movement was in full swing, and within forty-eight hours the revolutionaries were in possession of the capital. The military junta which assumed control has made promises of free elections, an independent judiciary, the autonomy of the municipalities: in short, a speedy return to constitutionality. A coalition ticket has been reported, including the leaders of the three principal political parties, and its election in January 1931 is assured. Whether the new group in power can make much headway against the economic depression which helped to undermine the position of Siles is, however, another question.
In Bolivia the army, students, and financial interests revolted, for one reason or another, against a threatened presidential despotism. In Peru similar elements combined to end a despotism long established.
The election of Augusto Leguía to the Peruvian presidency in 1919 represented in a measure a victory of middle-class interests over the Civilista Party of the hacendados, or landed proprietors, who inherited from colonial days the tradition of social and political leadership. Leguía felt it necessary to seize the government by a military coup d'état, lest his predecessor prevent his inauguration by having Congress throw out the election. And to maintain himself against the powerful interests which he had supplanted, he instituted a frankly dictatorial régime. The forms of the constitution were observed, but individual guarantees were suspended, and those who raised a voice against him were arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned or deported. As there was no secret ballot, and chairmen of local electoral boards were appointed by the government, Congress became merely the rubber stamp of the President's wishes. He created a special mounted constabulary trained by Spanish officers -- a sort of praetorian guard -- which was dissociated from the army and the police. Espionage was ubiquitous.
"Dictatorship," Leguía said, "is more popular than anarchy." The old factions put personal and class interests before the pressing problems of the nation. So Leguía suppressed all parties except his own following, the Democratic Reform Party, and devoted himself to national reconstruction.
A new constitution was put into force, with the sanction of the National Assembly, which provided among other things for three regional legislatures with limited powers, a number of "social guarantees" for labor similar to those in the Mexican constitution of 1917, and (for the first time in Peruvian history) liberty of public worship. The President's program included large irrigation projects, road building, aviation, municipal improvements, and education for the Indian. Water and sewage systems were introduced in Cuzco and Arequipa, at the expense of the national government; and Lima was transformed with new boulevards and suburbs into a capital worthy of a modern Peru. A more intelligently conceived penal code was issued, and the navy was effectively reorganized with the aid of a Naval Commission lent by the United States.
Reconstruction, however, was chiefly of a material nature. It was carried out by means of foreign concessions and large loans placed with New York bankers. Most of the contracts were let to one or two American construction companies, and the President was accused of selling the country to American capital. To what extent the mass of the population benefited by these public improvements, by labor legislation and by better educational facilities, is a debatable question. The constitution was amended to permit Leguía's reëlection in 1924 and again in 1929, and on each occasion there was considerable popular unrest. The dictatorship, however well-intentioned -- and that Leguía is a man of great ability, patriotism, and unimpeachable moral and physical courage few will deny -- like most dictatorships, made no real provision for the political future of the nation. It could not, in the very nature of things, become a school of citizenship and train the people in the practice of that popular control which was the common ideal. Moreover, as time passed it became more rather than less arbitrary, which was almost necessary if it was to escape the accumulating wrath of its enemies.
That there was some connection between the revolution in Bolivia and the military uprising two months later in southern Peru is not improbable. Peruvian political refugees made their way to La Paz, and Bolivians deported by President Siles frequently found an asylum in Arequipa. Relations between individuals of the two malcontent groups must have been close, and the rapid success of the Bolivian movement would naturally bring to a head plans of a similar nature in the neighbor republic. After the June revolution the Bolivian press was reported to be agitating so vigorously against the Leguía dictatorship that the Peruvian consul at La Paz made an official protest. And a revolutionary committee in La Paz was said to be active in allying Bolivian students with their Peruvian confrères. The university students at Lima for years had quarreled with Leguía over his summary treatment of some of the intellectuals opposed to him, and over his encroachments upon the university's autonomy. And they were doubtless moved by the example of the students in La Paz to declare for the Arequipa rebels and strike a blow for freedom.
The elimination of Leguía probably means the return of the old Civilista Party to power. Whether that spells reform of a genuine or lasting nature the future alone can show. Meantime a Revolutionary Tribunal has been set up, before which anyone may denounce those believed guilty of malversions in connection with the fallen government -- a gesture of political revenge from which the Bolivian revolution has been free. And the economic depression, which helped to swing the revolt, continues. Its ultimate causes lie outside Peru, in world prices for cotton, sugar, wool, copper and other minerals. The slackening of discipline has been reflected in anti-American demonstrations in various parts of the country and in newspaper attacks on American corporations. Confidence in government credit has not been restored; and in the face of declining revenues the new administration, like the old, resorts to the foreign banker.
Within less than a fortnight of the fall of President Leguía, a revolution in the city of Buenos Aires had added another to the toll of South America's deposed presidents. It came as a jolt to many, who fancied Argentina in a different category from other, more temperamental, nations.
Argentina is in a different category, which makes the September revolution the more remarkable. Education is widely diffused, modern communications by air and rail are highly developed, and democratic government is a reality. The introduction of the secret ballot a decade and a half ago brought into power a middle-class, popular party, and into the presidency the picturesque figure of Hipólito Irigoyen. The party aspired to be a progressive party of "reform." But in its political methods it showed no improvement over the old Conservative Party of the "interests" which it displaced. It devoted most of its energies to securing control, by dubious methods, of the various provincial administrations, and gave little to effective and maturely considered legislation. Under its aegis there entered into political life a new lot of men, inexperienced and lacking a tradition of public service. Popular government in a raw democracy does not necessarily mean good, or honest, government; and it was so in Argentina. In the administration of President Alvear, from 1922 to 1928, the party split into two factions -- the followers of the President and the followers of the party chief Irigoyen -- and all legislative action was paralyzed. Irigoyen was returned to the presidency two years ago by an overwhelming majority. This represented partly the working of a loyal and effectively organized political machine, partly a general popular acclaim. There was no doubt, however, that Irigoyen had received a mandate from the people such as has been vouchsafed to few presidents in Latin America. Yet within a year his prestige was gone, and within two he had been repudiated outright.
As in Bolivia and Peru, the issue revolved chiefly about the personality and methods of the president himself. Hipólito Irigoyen, one of the founders and the "platform, whip and standard bearer" of his party, was a man of mystery for the masses, over whom he exerted an extraordinary fascination. He rarely appeared in public, virtually never made a public address; even photographs of him were scarce. To his enemies he was El Peludo, the mole, to his followers El Hombre, the paladin of the people. Abhorring luxury, he lived for years in a simple second-story flat in the lower, unfashionable side of town. Although not wealthy, he gave over all his presidential salary to charity, and devoted his time and energy without stint to the country's service. But Irigoyen's leadership was always a domineering and personal one. He was called the last of the caudillos, those military chieftains who were a product of the gaucho civilization of the pampas, and whose rivalry and ambitions explain so much of the early history of the republic.
Cabinet ministers under Irigoyen were largely figureheads or mere bureau chiefs. The strong-willed president absorbed all of the executive and some of the legislative functions of the government. Most of the shortcomings of his second administration were probably traceable to the fact that, disillusioned by the irregularities of government officials he had trusted in his former term, he tried to concentrate even more closely in his own hands all political and administrative decisions. But he was well along in years, over seventy-five, and he had never been outside his own country. The narrowness of his experience had not fitted him to cope with the pressing national and international problems.
In consequence a slow paralysis crept through all the Argentine national administration. Numerous federal judgeships and other important posts, including embassies abroad, remained vacant, largely because pressure of routine work prevented Irigoyen from giving personal attention to these matters. And thousands of office seekers promised jobs by local bosses were left without their expected reward. Government bills remained unpaid, and contractors were seriously embarrassed, because the President insisted upon reading every authorization to pay out public funds. Yet he was charged with dispersing millions without legal warrant. In the general economic depression caused by decreasing exports of the country's staples, agrarian and industrial organizations called upon the national government for assistance in their difficulties, but Congress devoted its time to playing petty politics, and to reviewing and rejecting election certificates of new deputies unfavorable to Irigoyen. In December 1929 the President took the ill-advised step of closing the Conversion Office to stop the outflow of gold. It temporarily aided the exporter, but depressed the peso below par and raised domestic prices.
Had business conditions been prosperous, the administration might have survived. But, justly or unjustly, all the country's difficulties were charged against the President and his immediate entourage. The situation became intolerable, and early in September 1930, following the apparent success of liberal movements in Bolivia and Peru, the lid blew off. It seems that when the coup occurred in Lima, the cabinet in Buenos Aires already believed that the army was wavering, and on August 28 the first precautionary measures were taken. The following week some of Irigoyen's own ministers tried to persuade him to resign. On Thursday evening, September 4, there was a demonstration of university students against the Casa Rosada (Government House) in the Plaza de Mayo, in which one student was killed and several were wounded by the police. Public sentiment was deeply shocked, and the next morning thousands of students marched in solemn, funereal procession through the streets carrying white flags stained with the blood of the victims. Feeling was so tense that at six in the evening the President was prevailed upon to delegate his power to Vice-President Martínez. But the public expected resignation; Martínez was but a screen behind which remained the dominating figure of Irigoyen. Friday night prominent civilians went outside the city to persuade the armed forces and the military school to join them. The navy concentrated in the harbor refused to defend the government. On Saturday morning General José Uriburu delivered an ultimatum demanding the President's retirement. Troops from the suburban barracks started toward the center; cadets from the military academy were joined in Palermo by students of the university; with the rector and professors at its head, the gigantic demonstration moved through the principal avenues down to the central Plaza, and the government unfurled the white flag of surrender. A few casualties occurred at the Plaza del Congreso and before the offices of a semi-official newspaper where the crowd was fired upon. But it was virtually a bloodless revolution, and in every sense a popular and democratic one. It was no barrack uprising, but a spontaneous movement by the people at large. It is probably the only urban revolution in which the street-car service functioned and the taxis ran as in normal times.
Irigoyen's was a one-man government, but not a dictatorship in the accepted Latin-American sense of the term. He leaves the stage an aged and disillusioned idealist, in large measure the victim of politicians who kept from him the growing estrangement of the nation. The new government is composed almost exclusively of men whose names carry aristocratic connotations. It has the support of a coalition of anti-Personalists, moderate Socialists and members of the old Conservative Party. But the revolution will doubtless mark the beginning of a new era in the party history of the republic.
In Brazil, the social and political conditions lying behind the most recent and involved of these South American revolutions are not so dissimilar from those in the Andean republics. The country is vast, the topography along much of the seaboard is very broken, and there is a marked inadequacy of interior communications. Between one section of the republic and another, the sea and the Amazon remain the most important highways. Indeed, the defensive strategy of the Brazilian navy is based upon the principle that the country constitutes a group of islands between which water communications must be maintained intact. The climate of the southern states is temperate, that of the northern decidedly tropical. The south is the region of cattle and coffee, with a future as an industrial area; the north will always be a plantation country. Geographical factors of distance, isolation and climate have made sectionalism a serious problem since Brazil's early days as a Portuguese colony. It has been increased by racial divergences and by the processes of political decentralization.
As in Bolivia and Peru, Brazil's population contains a large admixture of non-European blood. Whites predominate in the south, but mixed races prevail in the center and north, with the negro strain most evident in Bahia and Pernambuco, the Indian elsewhere. Primary education is free but in most states not compulsory, educational facilities are very inadequate, and it is estimated that three-fourths of the population is illiterate. The government in form is republican and federal; but popular control in a democratic sense exists in only a few of the more progressive states.
The two most important states in population, wealth and enterprise, have been São Paulo and Minas Geraes. They played a prominent rôle in the overthrow of the empire in 1889, and they have generally dominated the national government since. All the presidents of the republic except two have been either Paulistas or Mineiros. Of the two exceptions, one came from Rio Grande do Sul, and the other from Parahyba, in the north. This means that Minas Geraes and São Paulo have worked together for political control, and the smaller states have either found it convenient to play with them or have been unable to unite against them.
Since the establishment of the republic, organized national parties as we understand them can scarcely be said to exist. Their place is occupied by the rivalries of various state organizations. Public affairs in most of the states are controlled by an aristocracy of wealth, or by a political oligarchy, which dictates the local administration and chooses the representatives to the national Congress. The candidate for the presidency is selected in a caucus or convention composed chiefly of members of Congress, who are the supporters or the creatures of the state administration. Nomination therefore "resolves itself into an understanding between the controlling political forces of the more important states." If an opposition candidate is put forward, he generally represents the dissatisfaction of some of the minor units; but these have never been able to unite in sufficient numbers to defeat the "official" candidate.
During the past decade there has been a marked tendency to give the protest against the Paulista-Mineiro combination a violent turn. After the election of President Bernardes in 1922, adherents of the defeated candidate, Nilo Peçanha,[iv] attempted to create disaffection in the army and navy, and in July of that year the garrison of one of the forts at Rio de Janeiro, led by the son of a former president, Marshal Fonseca, staged a twenty-four hour revolt. Opposition persisted, inspired in part by the discontent of the military, in part by the autocratic tendencies and vindictiveness of the President. In July 1924 the garrison of São Paulo seized the city and held it for three weeks, until expelled by federal troops; and in the following year there were plots and rumors of plots, in which both officers and civilians were involved. Consequently, during a large part of Bernardes's administration a state of siege was maintained in most of the republic.
Behind the 1924 revolt was a small military cabal whose motives were probably personal. In certain respects, however, the movement was a popular one. Many of the younger officers who really "put it across" believed that they were fighting to overthrow a corrupt oligarchy and to set up a cleaner and more democratic régime in the republic. The revolt failed, but in its wake was organized a young liberal party in São Paulo, which made its influence felt in state elections and allied itself with the Opposition in the presidential contest of 1930. To that extent, at least, the recent revolution represents a demand for political reform.
The uprising of this past autumn was doubtless inspired in part by the recent success in Bolivia, Peru and Argentina, and by the state of mind induced by bad times. But its roots lie deep in Brazilian politics. The state of Rio Grande do Sul, whose president, Getulio Vargas, was the opponent of Julio Prestes in the 1930 elections and the leader of the recent armed uprising, is not unaccustomed to diversions of this sort. Early in the nineteenth century it maintained itself for nearly a decade as a republic independent of the Brazilian Empire, and in 1923 and 1924 it staged local civil wars of its own. Vague rumors of a concerted attempt to put Dr. Vargas into the presidency by force were heard almost from the day of the elections, in March 1930; and as early as August 27, over a week before the Argentine situation became critical, reports of rebellion of the state against the federal government were current.
The revolution was a protest against the continued domination in national affairs of the state of São Paulo, and its success was assured by the support of Minas Geraes. The recent president, Washington Luis, was a Paulista, and in the accepted order of things his successor should have been a Mineiro. But he contrived the nomination of Julio Prestes, another Paulista, for the presidency, and Minas Geraes threw its weight into the opposition, both in the election and in the subsequent revolt. It is true that the recent collapse of the coffee valorization plan for maintaining prices by control of exports, which was chiefly a Paulista enterprise and in which the federal government was indirectly involved, supplied a ready grievance against the administration. In spite of huge loans abroad to finance the scheme, after the break in the coffee market in July 1929 coffee stocks were larger than ever and prices lower.[v] And Brazil's prosperity today depends chiefly upon coffee. But the Coffee Defense Institute was organized under Luis' predecessor, a Mineiro, and the state of Minas Geraes was a party to the scheme. The real motive behind the revolt was political, the vexation of Minas Geraes, and the ambition of Rio Grande do Sul, in the face of São Paulo's attempt to monopolize the federal government.
The Opposition made a number of charges. They accused President Luis of military intervention in Minas Geraes and Parahyba to insure the election of his candidate. Congress, controlled by the President, was declared to have fraudulently deprived these states of their legally elected representatives, by rejecting the electoral returns and seating opponents favorable to the President. So the revolution made the elimination of Dr. Prestes and the dissolution of Congress its immediate aims. And resentment was vastly increased by the assassination in July of João Pessoa, President of the state of Parahyba, who had been the running mate of Dr. Vargas as candidate for the vice-presidency. This crime, too, was charged against the federal administration.
The revolution has been featured by its leaders as a liberal movement, a protest against the conservative "Republican" oligarchy which ruled Brazil since the fall of the empire. Its aims are to maintain states' rights and respect for the constitution, to introduce the Australian ballot and reform electoral laws. Its success may be a hopeful sign that an enlightened public opinion has begun to develop in the country and to demand recognition. But there are also some who feel that the young liberal movement has stultified itself by alliance with the politicians of the old school, and that as the various political elements, from the north and from the south, each demand their share in representation and power, the new government may prove to be only another chapter in the contest for control between the several state machines. Rio Grande wanted her place in the sun, her right to share with the other two major states the privilege of controlling the nation, and for the time being she has it.
That these recent revolutions in South America are evidence of social progress rather than of retrogression, cannot be seriously denied. There is much to show that they were largely inspired by sincere patriotism. True, a real democracy is not possible as yet in two, and perhaps three, of the four republics, and whether the new governments will bring a greater liberalism time alone will tell. But they have at least done lip service to the demand for democracy and for a purer and more genuine nationalism. With wider and more effective communications, public opinion has come into play as never before; and the appeal to freedom and democracy, even if these ends are not wholly and at once achieved, serves to stimulate the latent political consciousness of the people. A well-conducted revolution, after all, may cost no more than a presidential election, nor need the casualties be any greater.
[i] The foreign debt of Bolivia, slightly over $4,000,000 in 1920, was increased by the Saavedra administration (1921-25) to over $32,000,000, the major part being a loan of $29,000,000 obtained in 1922 from a consortium headed by Stifel, Nicolaus and Company, and secured by the proceeds of various taxes. And it was in connection with this loan that a Permanent Fiscal Commission (of two Americans nominated by the bankers, and a Bolivian) was created to protect the interests of the bondholders. The government of President Siles negotiated two loans with Dillon, Read and Company for $13,000,000 and $23,000,000 respectively, used in part to refund outstanding obligations, in part earmarked for road and railway construction.
[ii] The National Defense League, organized during the Chaco war scare to arouse patriotic sentiment and obtain subscriptions for the purchase of armaments, also issued a manifesto informing President Siles that it would not tolerate his efforts to remain in office after the expiration of his legal term.
[iii] The military movement was also directed in part against General Hans Kundt, the Chief of Staff. General Kundt had been a German instructor in the Bolivian army before the World War, returned to Germany during the conflict to become a major-general, and after the accession to power of President Saavedra was recalled to Bolivia, naturalized by presidential decree, and appointed first, Minister of War, and later Chief of Staff. His name was associated with many of the arbitrary acts of Saavedra's administration, and at its end his contract was not renewed. After the severance of diplomatic relations with Paraguay, and with war threatening, Dr. Siles cabled General Kundt to return again to La Paz to his old post as Chief of Staff. The dissatisfaction among army officers caused by his return helped to undermine the Siles régime. After the revolution General Kundt sought refuge in the German Legation, and was later allowed to retire to Europe.
[iv] Supported in the election by the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and Pernambuco.
[v] According to an official bulletin issued by the Coffee Defense Institute, the accumulated stores of coffee in the states of São Paulo and Minas Geraes, as of September 30, 1930, amounted to 22,000,000 sacks.