Russia’s Missing Peacemakers
Why the Country’s Elites Are Struggling to Break With Putin
PERU has recently been celebrating, with appropriate solemnity, the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Ayacucho, which in 1824 decided the political independence of South America. Representatives of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia--the republics founded by Bolivar the Liberator--hastened to Lima to affirm their faith in the future of these democratic peoples; and yet there can be no doubt that the problem still presented by public order lingered uncomfortably in their minds. The Liberator himself, victor in great battles and maker of nations though he was, sometimes had doubts of his handiwork. It was in such a mood that he wrote despairingly: "South America is ungovernable. Those who have labored for the Revolution have been ploughing furrows in the sea." In the epoch that was then beginning he foresaw mob frenzies and the rule of tyrants of every race and color. Afterwards would come chaos and the dissolution of American life.
A hundred years have passed and still the same uneasiness disturbs these states, which fate seems to have condemned to anarchy. Is it possible for them to set up a stable rule without resort to despotism or revolution, to govern with the consent of the governed, to give political parties complete freedom, to assure material progress without injury to moral progress? Recent events have raised innumerable problems. After several years of domestic peace, which promised to be lasting, we today see almost everywhere in Latin America a sudden return to the struggles of the past. This is not so much due to spontaneous anarchy or clashing factions as it is due to a well-defined tendency toward dictatorship as a form of government.
There seem to be two distinct periods in the evolution of Latin America. The first is represented by the military tyranny which followed the death of Bolivar, when his lieutenants parcelled out among themselves the Liberator's political heritage, while those of San Martin and Belgrano were trying to organize in the south the nations that had scarcely been freed from Spanish tutelage. It was a bloody and picturesque period--innumerable revolutions, political charters stamped with a too ingenuous idealism, sundry tyrannies, and leaders who posed as regenerators and reformers. There was a long time when Herbert Spencer's theory was applicable to this development: after a rigid and despotic military era, a richer and more pliant industrial age was to follow. It was with this in mind that twelve years ago in my book "Latin American Democracy" I said: "Instead of writing the history of governments, we must study the economic evolution of the nations, their statistics, industry, and commerce. In tragedy, the chorus--the crowd--becomes the essential personage; it judges; it executes; it becomes spectator and creator whilst the ancient heroes, conquerors of destiny and founders of cities, disappear in the fog of years gone by."
Wealth has come to Latin America without bringing a restoration of order. Americans of Spanish and Portuguese origin have not succeeded in achieving the unity of their continent--which is, as Archibald Cary Coolidge wrote in 1906, a proof of their political inferiority. Still less have they been able within a hundred years to create a régime free from periodic revolutions and governments untainted by the passion for absolutism. The war of 1914 increased the wealth of these countries. Their industrial development seems more advanced than in 1914. And yet the tendency toward dictatorship appears quite as strong in most of the republics as it was in the darkest periods of American history.
Three South American nations--Argentina, Brazil and Chile --seem better organized, wiser, and stronger than the others. In international relations they have been able to set up the A. B. C. entente for common action without rousing jealousy among the republics which Bolivar created--Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. Lying closer to civilizing Europe, these three --especially Brazil and Argentina--have received Italian immigrants, British capital, and French intellectual sympathies. Their common interests have become stronger and more closely intertwined than elsewhere, and yet these peoples, in spite of their swift evolution, are undergoing the same grave crisis as the less developed and less wealthy republics.
Two recent revolutions have disturbed the political life of Chile. President Arturo Alessandri was at first exiled as a result of the coup d'état of September 6, 1924, and is now, as the result of one still more recent, invited to return. It was more than thirty years since there had been any disturbance of the domestic calm of this republic, which seemed to be devoting itself to peace and to that slow and sure evolution which overcomes anarchy.
The election of Alessandri to the Presidency five years ago ensured a speedy change. Alessandri, who was born in 1874, was a brilliant lawyer. He became extremely popular. A kind of mystic impulse drove him on to the higher positions in the state. People believed in and exalted him. He was a volunteer in the people's cause--a tribune of the Roman type. He fought against oligarchy and the patrician group which for a century had governed the country with prudence and firmness--the great landed proprietors, defenders of tradition and opponents of religious reform. Alessandri preached equality, criticized the established order and heralded democratic reforms.
Since 1891, the date of the fall of the Dictator-President Balmaceda, the country had lived under an exaggerated parliamentary régime for fear of a return to autocratic presidential rule. Desirous to secure the triumph of his ideas, Alessandri tried to make the laws and carry out a program. In an interview which he gave me in Paris, he did me the honor to explain for my benefit the dangers in the situation created in Chile by the exclusive dominance of Parliament. It had become impossible to govern. Chamber and Senate, much divided among themselves, rendered the lives of cabinets precarious. Congress was committing suicide by slow degrees. Knowing that they were condemned in advance, ministers never dared take the initiative, and the President, incapable of acting, became the powerless witness of group struggles.
A vigorous temperament like that of Alessandri rebelled against such a state of affairs, and his revolt amounted to a return of the régime which had been discredited in 1891. Holding his powers to be drawn from the people, the President made up his mind to govern. A kind of plebiscite at the time of his election had endowed him with full powers. Against the Senate, which always had been unquestionably the rampart of the conservative classes, the President opened a frank warfare and threatened to dissolve it. He met with defeat. He then assumed a demagogic attitude, appealed to the mob, and in fiery speeches condemned the influence of a power which was destined to perish in the new life of Chile. The Senate in its turn refused to pass certain laws and accused Alessandri of aspiring to dictatorship.
Since 1851 all the Presidents of Chile had belonged to the Liberal Party. But this now seems to have exhausted its program. As in the great democracies of Europe, so here it is two extreme parties, Conservatives and Radicals, that are struggling for power. Himself a Liberal, though his tendencies are Radical, Alessandri endeavored to base his reforms upon the middle class, which had hitherto taken no part in the government but which had grown larger and richer during the past twenty years.
Sure of his support and sure, too, of his hold on the crowd, the President appealed to the Chambers. For one thing, he wished to introduce a divorce law which was not approved. Considering the welfare of the working class, also, and in conformity with the intentions expressed in the Versailles Treaty, he brought about a vote on the social insurance law; it was his idea that the labor code ought to regulate conflicts between employers and workers. At the same time he proposed to establish a State Bank, and thus brought himself into conflict with the privileges of the Bank of Chile in which were represented the special interests of the conservative class. Finally, in its relations with Chile's northern neighbor, Peru, the new government took a pacific line, and Alessandri boasted of having imposed arbitration as a means of settlement upon political parties which regarded it as an evidence of weakness. In agreement with Peru, he asked the United States to arbitrate on and interpret Article III of the Treaty of Ancon relative to the possibility of holding a plebiscite to determine the nationality of the Peruvian provinces of Tacna and Arica which were in Chilean hands.
The President in this way incurred the enmity of too many interests. He was running contrary to prejudices. He could not attain his ends by the usual peaceful methods. No one had ever seen the chief of state in conflict with the Senate. The people loved this providential statesman who was afraid of nobody, who received everybody with perfect simplicity, who put down the mighty from their seats, who was a passionate democrat; but presently the army, which had hitherto held itself apart from political strife, forgot its formerly strict discipline and sought to interfere. A military junta, resembling the Military League in Greece during the last years of the monarchy, demanded the "purification of politics." It proposed radical measures and criticized the acts of Parliament. It professed itself weary of politicians and their intrigues. It became a power in the state. The President at first yielded, then once more showed fight, but did not dare dissolve this military organization which at length became so powerful that it summoned him to dissolve Congress.
By the coup d'état of September 6, 1924, Alessandri was invited to step down. Then the junta, reconsidering, finally requested him to leave the country without resigning his high office, but merely taking a "vacation" until the country should be pacified. The President thought it best to go and declared to his ministers that having had his democratic program voted--which had been approved, moreover, by the leaders and the officers of the army --he regarded his political career as ended.
General Altamirano thereupon became President of the Directory, in which Admiral Neff represented the navy. Certain politicians adhered to the new government, but the military committee did not dissolve. On the contrary, it exercised an oversight of the Directory and presented demands to it, like Mussolini's Fascio. New elections are presently to restore normal conditions, but already the bases of the old order are shaken. The army is forgetting its former faith, criticising the powers that be and extorting concessions from them. The parties have lost their prestige. But Alessandri is still the mentor whom the people heed, the presidential enemy of the oligarchy.
When a parliament is incapable of acting and political groups are indefinitely divided, governmental activity is frittered away in petty squabbles. Then comes the dictator with a kind of national plebiscite to support him. Such was Alessandri's moral situation. He exiled no one, he suppressed none of the opposition journals. He had faith in democracy and wished to introduce reforms without recourse to violence. Balmaceda was crushed by the oligarchy in 1891; the radical President Alessandri underwent much the same fate; but the struggle between the people and the ruling classes goes on and revolution is getting under way. The "radical" policies are after all nothing more than an effort to overthrow what might be called Chilian feudalism.
In Argentina President Hipolito Irigoyen has been called the "last dictator." A powerful personality, a caudillo in the traditional sense of the word, the chief who holds himself above the law, he wished to govern uncontrolled. The Radical Party, of which he is chief, was victorious in the elections, the compulsory and secret vote introduced in 1912 under the Presidency of Saenz Pena having enabled this party to grow while in opposition and to come into power in 1916. The group which thus won over the people had been founded in 1892 as a critic of the harsh methods of the Presidents of that time. It defended state autonomy (Argentina being a federal republic) and proposed to purify the administration, reform political methods, and bring a "new spirit" into the national life. A genuine suffrage, respect for institutions, strict morality in the country's business--such were the essential articles in its program.
The party desired "a strong power," and Irigoyen after his election in 1916 set to work to realize this ambition. His authority, thanks to his energy and his influence among the people, was despotic. No aspect of the nation's life escaped him. Congress had to obey and was reminded of its duty in frequent messages. In 1921 he addressed a message to the Chamber of Deputies to inform it "categorically that he would recognize in it no pretended constitutional powers to control the executive." Deliberately silent and mysterious, expressing himself in strange terms, delighting in archaic rhetoric, living quite simply, threatening some, appealing to others, always posing as the protector of the people, he tried to change what he called the "régime"--that is, the policy of his predecessors. He did not exile his foes as is the custom of other South American dictators, nor did he attack the freedom of the press; but where the life of the Argentine provinces was concerned, he assumed complete liberty. The cosmopolitan capital no doubt impressed him as more difficult to master, but in the interior of Argentina each state was subjected to "intervention" by the government for the purpose of establishing order--that is, to drive out a hostile governor on orders from Buenos Aires. Other Presidents had previously endeavored to exercise an absolute authority. After the period between 1861 and 1880, when such respected figures as Mitre, Sarmiento and Avellaneda distinguished themselves by their restraint, prudence, and respect for the laws, there followed another period in which the chief of state once more became a caudillo, brooking neither opposition nor criticism and governing by persecuting his opponents. Irigoyen pushed these perilous tendencies to the limit. He was the dark and haughty autocrat, sure of his doctrine and his methods. Rosas, the famous Argentine tyrant of whom Masefield writes, used to call his enemies "savages and dirty Unitarians." The modern radical chief did not hesitate to affront the parties worsted in 1916 with language which was less violent, it is true, but still calculated to produce civil war.
Irigoyen has been accused of emphasizing class divisions, stirring up hatred, and showing no respect for the country's past. The national budget, which in 1910 was 392,000,000 piastres (the Argentine piastre is worth about thirty cents) rose in 1920 to 482,000,000. The annual deficit was 100,000,000. The internal debt grew steadily, reaching a billion. Irigoyen intentionally surrounded himself with conservative elements. "The wealthy classes have lost their pride," wrote a deputy; but these were only a minority. The country's moderate opinion was against him. Though a Radical, he courted the Church, which is a power in the state. His enthusiastic admirers regarded him as a god-send. A group of the younger generation thought that the golden age, the period of great reforms, had arrived. Important newspapers, however, were quite ready to criticize him, and the most influential, La Nacion of Buenos Aires, more than once declared that the governments which the Radicals had set up in the provinces were sucking the treasury dry, that all the states except Santa Fé had fallen into the hands of the President's proconsuls. What would become of the federal régime if the interference of the central power continued to be so frequent? Economically the provinces are dependent on Buenos Aires. The capital and the state which is dominated by it largely control the national revenues. Now they, too, were brought into political tutelage. La Nacion declared that autocratic government, though once thought to have disappeared forever, had within the last five years displayed unexpected strength.
When the end of his term of office arrived, Irigoyen gave up the idea--which had been imputed to him--of reëlection, preferring to remain in the shadow and govern through the agency of his successor. But the expected did not happen. Alvear, elected President in 1922, though he, too, was a Radical, belonged to the patrician classes. A statesman of large views, he displayed great moderation in everything he did, though without abandoning his party. At a time when political passions seemed to have got beyond restraint, his appearance on the scene stayed the progress toward disaster.
At the present time Radical ranks are divided and include members who are hostile to the régime established by the "last dictator." Irigoyen seems to have lost a little of his prestige, while his successor is limiting his own party's exuberance and--without openly running counter to the Radical leader's course--is becoming an arbitrator between the traditional parties and the democrats who want to have done with the past. Personal rule is thus checked, though doubtless only for a time.
Brazil has been regarded as the country of wisdom. The Empire saved it from the crises that afflicted neighboring nations --anarchy, dictatorship, and the struggles of rival generals--and when in 1889 the Republic was proclaimed, life flowed along in its old channels without any very violent wrench. The liberty of the slaves had been decreed during the last years of the Empire and the basis of the social order was not suddenly transformed, as was the case in the South American republics that abolished slavery about 1850. A more gradual evolution was expected to result from this wise and far-sighted policy. The Republic for which the Monarchy under the philosopher-emperor Dom Pedro II had prepared the way, did not seem likely to be threatened in its development by weaknesses such as revolutions.
This, at least, was the hope. Did not the Senate provide a bulwark against the incitements of demagogues? Yet here in Brazil, too, in spite of these exceptional advantages, in spite of sixty years of order and respect for government, and in spite of the moral authority of the Emperor, the political personality of the chief of state is now dominant precisely as it is elsewhere.
Epitacio Pessoa, elected in 1918, was an extremely energetic President. He was an eminent jurist and had headed his country's delegation to the Peace Conference. Very active, and inclined to be dogmatic, he was no sooner in power than he began to display his love of authority. Was he really what it had been hoped he would be--an arbitrator placed above parties?
Political groups grew weaker in Brazil until none remained except the Conservative Republican Party, which likes strong administrations. Pessoa wanted to make the country progress, no matter whether Congress passed the laws he presented to it or not. He was accused of introducing arbitrary methods into the constitutional life of Brazil, for, being a very reserved man, he confided none of his grandiose projects to anybody. Important districts were set aside for cotton plantations and the material development of the country became the chief concern of the President, just as it had been that of other all-powerful chiefs of state. He went ahead with his work in spite of the laws and regardless of the way Parliament happened to vote. He organized the army and infused new life into it.
Now Brazil is a federal republic like the Argentine. The central government must have a powerful and trustworthy army to "intervene" in the affairs of the states and establish order in case of disturbance; for though revolution is rare in the capital, it is frequent enough in the provinces. The rebellions which have recently divided Brazil include military plots in 1922 and 1924, the mutiny of the dreadnought Sao Paulo not long ago, and revolutions in various states in the north and south. How is it possible to govern without appeal to the faithful legions in a land so divided against itself?
In 1922 Arturo Bernardes was elected President of Brazil. He at once showed himself another leader who likes unlimited power and will brook no opposition. Very pugnacious, he is thought to be too fond of proclaiming the existence of a state of siege, which after all ought to be a very exceptional measure. With a strong national army behind him, he is setting out to balance the budget and reëstablish the federal credit, which seems to have been somewhat shaken in recent years; and he believes that a central bank of issue will improve finances.
Bernardes has become almost a dictator. The parliamentary opposition to his government has been suppressed and in the present chamber (dating from July, 1924) the government can command a unanimous vote. The majority annuls the votes of elected deputies because they do not favor the administration. The President, an absolute chieftain with both legislative and executive power, is becoming more powerful than an absolute monarch,--and he is already said to be planning to have himself reëlected. In a recent message (November 15, 1924) Bernardes defends his policy on the ground that he is not moved by personal ambition but by the duty of preserving the established order. He wants to pacify, to organize, and to reform the Constitution, but unfortunately "negative endeavor" and "the spirit of hate" oppose his work. How can he abandon his country in her hour of danger? The struggle continues, though Bernardes is trying to allay it.
If Bernardes is reëlected nothing will be able to stand against his dictatorship. The political problem, from now on, presents itself to his mind quite simply. As he says in his message, there stand "on one side the men beaten in perfectly fair elections who are unwilling to submit to the will of the majority; on the other, the President, representing that majority, and the party called to govern the Republic, which owes a duty to the people." But who believes in the fairness of elections in Latin America? The minority is forced into revolution by a government that closes the doors of Parliament against it. In these countries with their imperfect political education, dictatorship and anarchy seem inevitably to succeed each other.
If highly developed states like Argentina and Brazil do not escape the general crisis, and if dictators there set up a "strong power" with all the consequences that follow administrations of violence and hatred, the tendency toward autocracy is still more sharply marked in the republics farther north where political experience is on a still lower level. In both Peru and Bolivia the President is exiling deputies and representatives belonging to the opposition. Liberty of the press is crushed, not because there is a censorship, but because the reprisals which follow even moderate criticism of the government's acts impose prudence on the editors of the big newspapers. The President of Peru, Augusto Leguia, caused the revision of the Constitution in 1919, which he himself had given the country--but which did not permit reëlection. Yet he has just been reëlected for a new term extending to 1929. Similar intentions are attributed to the President of Bolivia, Bautista Saavedra.
General Juan Vicente Gomez has for fifteen years been dictator of Venezuela, and when he is not directing affairs of state as President he continues to watch over them as the commanding general of the army, inspiring the acts of the government through his successor, the intermediary President, an alter ego wholly under his authority. His will is law in every department of public life. He has been called a tyrant guilty of the most refined cruelties toward his enemies, and the prisons are crammed with the foes of the administration. As dictator he maintains his influence and prestige by all means--even the most violent. He loves to entrust important positions to writers and ideologists and he is distrustful of foreigners. In his position of power he represents the people of the uplands, the andinos, a sturdy race who despise the people of the coast, whom they think weak and degenerate.
In the grip of dictatorships like these, political parties give up the idea of opposition and reorganize to suit the new condition of the country. Their influence is confined and limited unless it is devoted to the service of the established régime, and peaceful material progress becomes the object of all the government's efforts. In order to justify its illegal action, it devotes most of its activity to the development of national wealth, building roads and railways, attracting and protecting foreign capital, willingly placing itself under the tutelage of the United States and requesting technical aid in putting its finances straight. A positive view of things opposes itself to the old spirit and liberty begins to seem like a romantic prejudice. Peace, they say, and only peace, can save these threatened countries from going to pieces altogether; it alone can civilize them and make them rich. Moreover, add the defenders of these tyrannies, the United States has done nothing else throughout its history but work, increase the population, and heap up wealth. We must imitate that example. Never mind the democratic ideal which has deceived and divided us.
In Central America it is not the caudillos but the strong arm of the United States which watches over the destinies of the five republics. It would like to help them to union. Sometimes it supports dictators, sometimes it tolerates revolutions, and its policy has been severely criticized. Does it want peace or is it controlled by certain interests? In a statement which has elicited much comment, the United States Minister to Guatemala in 1920--prior to the defeat of the dictator, Estrada Cabrera--thus defined Washington's policy: "The steady policy of the Government of the United States is to encourage Constitutional Government and free elections in Central America." The sincerity of these declarations is not universally accepted, but evidence could be produced to support them as well as to disprove them.
Two republics, San Salvador and Costa Rica, have been models of steady political advance and, except for rare instances of personal government, have offered an example of order. As there are fewer half-breeds in these countries than in the other states, it is possible that racial homogeneity constitutes one of the requisites of progress. The intervention of the United States has been less in evidence here than elsewhere.
The case of Nicaragua has been much discussed by writers who condemn the methods of Washington. Since 1909 this republic has been under North American influence. By treaty, by military occupation, and by financial pressure its independence was undermined, until the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty, signed in 1914, set up what amounts to a protectorate. Washington complained that a dictator, José Santos Zelaya, was disturbing the peace of Central America, and in 1909 Secretary of State Knox asserted that under that leader's authority republican institutions had ceased to exist. In October of the same year Zelaya was exiled. He may perhaps have been a tyrant, but as a Mexican diplomat wrote not long ago, "it was his countrymen and not the United States whose duty it was to condemn him." And the revolution against him, instead of being prepared by North American agents, should have been "a manifestation of popular right against tyranny."
In Guatemala, the most important of the Central American republics, General Manuel Estrada Cabrera was dictator from 1898 until 1920. The power of this caudillo knew no limits. He was always reëlected, understood how to handle the United States, asked the advice of its government, and avoided all disputes with his powerful neighbor, Mexico. Since the Guatemalan Constitution of 1879 forbade reëlection, in 1899 he had it altered, and every attempt at opposition met with bloody repression. The conservative class seemed satisfied with its lot, and whenever the President was threatened with rebellion gave him its hearty support. There existed the same ruere in servitium that had characterized Roman decadence. Congress even declared that "the Spirit of Good" protected the President, and that "something supernatural" saved him from many perils! The dictator built a temple to Minerva near the capital and entertained the students there each year, but anything resembling free thought was kept under rigid control. In spite of this peace of violence, however, the material progress of the country was not the handiwork of General Estrada Cabrera; he wanted nothing but submission and did not encourage initiative. Leader of the Liberal Party, he nevertheless sought the support of the Church, although, on two occasions, priests--Father Gil and Bishop Pinol--condemned his policy. In spite of all this quiet and superficial order, however, great uneasiness prevailed in the country, and in 1920 the tyranny which had hitherto dominated by sheer terror seemed to be weakening. The dictator had lost his head and was indulging in practices of the grossest superstition. The National Assembly had voted for he union of Central American countries and the political parties were suddenly smitten with enthusiasm for the idea. "A new world" was expected to emerge from the European War. Might this not be the time of that transformation of Guatemala which had been awaited through so many dismal years? Slowly the Assembly became conscious of its power. It demanded reforms of the dictator--the release of political prisoners, freedom for the coming elections of 1922, and independence of the legislature and the judiciary. According to foreign testimony, an extraordinary restraint marked all these debates. The United States was asked to intervene with the President in favor of the "Constitutional Progress" of the country, and to gain time the dictator promised reforms. Then Congress requested him to leave the country and named Carlos Herrera as President. Part of the army, faithful to the tyrant, bombarded the capital, but the administration was completely defeated. Liberty was reëstablished and a new order began.
In Mexico dictatorship does not seem likely to become the method of government. After the long rule of Porfirio Diaz, reëlection was especially dreaded; but though the President may today retain his old powers and be practically a caudillo--often rough and rather inclined to despotism--nevertheless the principal leaders have given up the methods of earlier days and have renounced the idea of reëlection. They are now only temporary dictators, and the country is making some progress toward democracy.
But there are other problems for which the political parties must provide practical solutions. A form of socialism which is something better than a mere imitation of the Soviets, and which represents an effort at reform, is gaining ground. The new President, General Calles, who recently succeeded General Obregon, will doubtless continue his predecessor's work--the education of the Indians, the division of the latifundia, distribution of the land, and the strengthening of the small landholders. Will anarchy be avoided? Has Mexico's period of revolution and banditry come to an end? It was the heritage of the powerful dictatorship exercised by Don Porfirio Diaz, whose methods of government, known as "Porfirism," find imitators on every hand. Europe and America admired the complete peace of the country and its material progress under his leadership. No politics and much administration, that was the President's motto, and what he meant was the cessation of the old struggles, order guaranteed by dictatorial government, and the development of natural resources. A party whose members styled themselves "scientific" and who derived their inspiration from the French philosopher, Auguste Comte, supported the President in his efforts. An age of Positivism seemed to have arrived. There were to be no more clashes of ideas and no more metaphysical disputes, but instead order and wealth. Mexico's genuine progress amazed and attracted every one.
For thirty-one years--from 1876 to 1880 and from 1884 to 1911--Don Porfirio governed without knowing restraint. People had either to submit to his all-powerful will, hold their peace, or disappear. In 1876 he promised to make the "no reëlection" rule part of his program; but he soon forgot promises, and every four years when the time came to choose a new president, the old one, though he seemed weary and ready to lay down his high office, was always requested by the country to resume them. In spite of a few hostile voices, his zealous partisans forced him to remain. Was it not he who had built railways, established domestic peace, enriched the country, attracted foreign money, increased income and prevented deficits in the budget?
About the year 1900, however, after some twenty years of Porfirism, doubts of the future began to creep in, although the "silent" Parliaments did not dare to criticize the government's policy. A journal of the moderate opposition pointed out dangers. "There are many factors," it said, "which may in the future disturb the peace, especially the uncertainty which exists regarding the men who tomorrow must take over the reins, but who have had neither opportunity nor occasion to find themselves, to win attention, or to learn their own capacities. This uncertainty tends to give our domestic peace an altogether artificial quality and to rouse grave doubts of the future." The question, "After the President, what?" was always being asked. It was answered by the most tragic anarchy. None of Mexico's great problems were solved during that time of peace and quiet --neither public instruction, nor the organization of property, nor political education, nor the preparation of new men to govern. An historian of Mexico who studied the faults of Porfirism dispassionately wrote that a throng of flatterers led the President to believe that he was indispensable and that his personal interests and those of the nation were identical. These followers applauded everything--press persecutions, suppression of fundamental rights, contempt for public opinion, systematic falsehood. That is why, in spite of the fame of a deceptive quiet, the most terrible civil wars broke out when the dictator went into exile--wars in which the existence of Mexico and her civilization were menaced and public order seemed wrecked forever.
This latest development of dictatorial régimes in Latin America has been attributed both to the desire to imitate foreign examples and to the influence of the United States. Italy and Spain have given themselves over to dictatorship and their constitutional governments have undergone entire eclipse. This perilous policy is indeed being imitated in the New World, and the Chilean Directory appears to have taken the Spanish Directory as its model. But there the resemblance ceases. In Europe a social crisis, financial troubles, and the decadence of political parties, all due to the war, explain what has happened. But the Spanish régime is exceptional, and it is always announcing a return to normality. In America, on the other hand, it often happens that in a period of perfect peace, and after governing quietly for some time, a powerful personality who does not enjoy criticism or fears the free expression of opinion may place himself above the laws without any internal disorder to justify him. A lasting dictatorship is thus set up, with presidents for life, ruling by terror.
It is the fashion to say that these men who seize power "Americanize" the country, because they secure a peace which is lasting and genuine, though as a matter of fact far too quiet. "Americanization" in that sense is supposed to be a kind of pressure exercised by the United States over the states of Latin America, on the theory that order is a prerequisite to progress and that dictators are able to suppress anarchy. President Wilson in 1916, Secretary Hughes more recently, have declared that the great Republic will henceforth recognize no governments arising in Spanish America as a result of revolution, and that rule has already been applied to all the states of Central America. In Cuba the Platt Amendment (under which the Washington Government may step in if the native parties cannot reach agreement and armed revolt seems likely to break out) has greatly increased domestic tranquillity. Such intervention is correspondingly valuable. But, on the other hand, "strong" administrations profit by this policy, which is intended to serve the cause of public order. The United States, in spite of itself, is lending its aid to dictatorships, for in the undeveloped political life of these nations public opinion can often find no avenue of expression except revolution. The dictators offer a choice between silence and exile. They put down all opposition by violence and resist all limitation of their power. It has been maliciously observed that the administration of these republics consists of tyranny tempered by treason. If the United States in its effort to avoid anarchy tolerates the reëlection of presidents in countries which have no political liberty, they are enthroning dictatorship--that is, a kind of government out of which cannot emerge normal life, the untrammelled functioning of institutions, free discussion, and the development of a critical spirit. The rule that they have adopted must be made less rigid, adapting itself to the evolution of these states, and hindering the reëlection of presidents by refusing to continue diplomatic relations with them. Intervention of this kind is naturally open to dispute. But since intervention already exists, it ought to contribute to the development of these countries and not cause a recurrence of the worst aspects of the past.
Other causes, which lie deeper than imitation, may make the tendency to dictatorship more comprehensible. There is little political training, or indeed elementary education of any kind, in Latin America. The illiterate populace, except in some of the large cities, take no share in public life, but instead (in Mexico this is true of two-thirds of the people) obey submissively the instructions of a few leaders. A middle class develops very slowly. The agrarian rule of feudal times is still in force on the Argentine estancias, Brazilian fazendas, and the haciendas of other countries. Primitive industry and trade become a foreign monopoly. Everywhere there is a lack of equilibrium between social organization and the pretensions of political documents--on the one hand oligarchy, on the other a theoretically absolute democracy and equality.
Moreover, cross-breeding has unsettled the soul of these nations. Two races have mingled in the descendants of the Spaniards and the Indians; and there are also the other Europeans, the Negroes, and the Chinese. Pan-German writers have often written scathingly of this confusion, which they dub a chaos gentium. In the interior, where the European immigrant does not penetrate, the new classes show the stamp of the Indian's melancholy, of his idleness, and of his sullen grudge against a social order which has been established for three centuries and against the conquerors who changed his way of living. The Indian has always lived in servitude--he obeys his cacique. The proprietor of a big ranch is his overlord, just as he would have been in feudal times--more an exploiter than a protector, a local tyrant, an authority whom the Government would defend at need against a possible Indian revolt. Subject to the caprices of a man invested with all power, the Indian, by nature silent and resigned, has got used to "strong" governments and has come to like them. The popular caudillo and the dictator represent the caciques of the whole nation.
That is the reason why there have been tyrants in these republics almost from the time when independence was won a hundred years ago. But they used often to be men with higher aims than the dictators of today. Garcia Moreno, the President of Ecuador, wanted to found a religious despotism, a true theocracy, and consecrate his country to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In Argentina, Rosas preserved the unity of the country and has been compared to Louis XI, who overcame the barons and laid the foundations of the monarchy in spite of factions and disturbances. Morazan dreamed of bringing about a union of the Central American states, without which the existence of these little republics still seems doubtful. In Chile, Portales drew up an oligarchical Constitution which cared for the interests of the better classes and gave the land complete peace from 1833 on. Bolivar's lieutenant, Santa Cruz, dreamed of a confederation between the two neighboring republics of Peru and Bolivia. In Paraguay, the dictator Francia tried to civilize the people--or, rather, tried jealously to preserve the national characteristics--by isolating the country and by governing with a combination of justice and harshness. Carlyle loved this strange dictator "with his grim unspeakabilities," who might have been a Grand Inquisitor or an excellent Superior of the Jesuit order.
These men were great figures, ruled by one central idea--the unity of the nation, the defense of the traditional order, and the state religion. But in our days it is always the same passion which drives strong men into absolutism. They are ready to suppress every liberty in the struggle to enrich the country and attract foreign capital.
Some writers would have us believe that no other kind of government is possible. What may have been necessary a hundred years ago seems to them fixed, once for all. According to the Peruvian poet José Santos Chocano, dictatorship is the only kind of government that can enforce domestic peace in the "tropical" zone. How, then, shall we explain the prestige of "strong" governments in the more temperate zone? A Venezuelan historian, Valerilla Lanz, has maintained the same thesis. He thinks that in the history of these republics the caudillo responds to a social need. In earlier days the illiterate and barbarous people had no conception of liberty. Their idea of liberty was disorder. The dictator was the "necessary policeman," a kind of "representative man." It was he who should master the inclination to anarchy and ensure peace. But was there no way of transforming this kind of rule, and did not this temporarv peace pave the way for new dissensions?
However this may be, dictatorship as a method of political administration has by no means disappeared. As a great newspaper, La Nacion of Buenos Aires, sadly admits, "We were too optimistic; we thought our political progress was real." The ancient battle between barbarism and civilization is on once more, and an instinct hostile to solidarity seems dominant. These criticisms apply not merely to the Argentina of today but also, with a few exceptions, to all the republics. From north to south one may see primitive instincts being unloosed against order and culture.
Yet Latin America is not wholly given over to dictatorship and revolution. Interesting experiments in avoiding both anarchy and tyranny have been made in Colombia and in Uruguay, at the two extremes of the southern continent. There have been dictators in these countries too, but some of the caudillos have been able to change their political methods. Colombia has just celebrated a "festival of peace" marking the end of a period of twenty years without a revolution in a land where civil wars were once so frequent. The two parties, Conservative and Liberal, collaborate in the work of government, and the minority, always represented both in the administration and in parliament, never dreams of disturbing the domestic peace. In Uruguay a caudillo who is at the same time a patrician, José Battle y Ordóñez, has made better use of his prestige than to govern as dictator. He has tried to stabilize political habits and to ward off future tyrannies. According to his belief, the President has too much power. Batlle y Ordóñez first attempted to improve matters by introducing the secret ballot in 1916, though the governmental party was handicapped by this reform. Then the power was deliberately divided so that there might be opposition to the supremacy of the chief of state. The new Constitution which was voted in 1919 set up beside the President a National Council of Administration, and by an ingenious system the executive power was delegated to both at once. The rôles were carefully delimited. The President is entrusted with foreign affairs and domestic order. The Council, which is composed of nine members, watches over the national finances, public instruction, labor, and hygiene. In spite of natural conflicts, the new régime has been working for five years and any tendency to dictatorship seems obviated.
The reasons for the difficulty, then, are perfectly clear--excess of personal power, authority without counterpoise, and presidential rule which inevitably leads to tyranny. Some of the republics, as I have shown, have already extricated themselves from these conditions. Dictatorship seems to have the effect of arresting moral progress, but there is beginning to show a reaction against such a perilous kind of government--a government which, after a period of transitory peace, ends always in anarchy and disorder. The gradual education of the masses of the people, and a growth in the feeling of their common interests, will no doubt hasten the evolution toward peace.
How Washington Can Help Turn Things Around