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Three gringos in Venezuela and Central America online

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ness as though it were a veteran who was speak-
ing. The effect is not good, and the boys, espe-
cially of the university, grow to believe that
they are very important factors in the affairs of
the state, when, as a matter of fact, they are
only the cat's-paws of clever politicians, who use
them whenever they want a demonstration and do
not wish to appear in it themselves. So these
boys are sent forth shouting into the streets, and
half the people cheer them on, and the children
themselves think they are patriots or liberators,
or something equally important.

I obtained a rather low opinion of them
because they stoned an unfortunate American
photographer who was taking pictures in the
quadrangles, and because I was so far interested
in them as to get a friend of mine to translate
for me the sentences and verses they had writ-
ten over the walls of their college. The verses
were of a political character, but so indecent that
the interpreter was much embarrassed ; the sin-
gle^ sentences were attacks, anonymous, of course,



266 THREE GRINGOS IN CENTRAL AMERICA

on fellow-students. As the students of the Uni-
versity of Venezuela step directly from college
life into public life, their training is of some in-
terest and importance. And I am sure that the
Venezuelan fathers would do much better by
their sons if they would cease to speak of the
university in awe-stricken tones as " the hot-
bed of liberty," but would rather take away
the boys' revolvers and teach them football, and
thrash them soundly whenever they caught them
soiling the walls of their alma mater with nasty
verses.

There are some beautiful drives around Cara-
cas, out in the country among the coffee planta-
tions, and one to a public garden that overlooks
the city, upon which President Crespo has spent
much thought and money. But the most beau-
tiful feature of Caracas, and one that no person
who has visited that place will ever forget, is the
range of mountains above it, which no president
can improve. They are smooth and bare of
trees and of a light -green color, except in the
waterways, where there are lines of darker green,
and the clouds change their aspect continually,
covering them with shadows or floating over
them from valley to valley, and hovering above
a high peak like the white smoke of a volcano.

I do not know of a place that will so well re-
pay a visit as Caracas, or a country that is so
well worth exploring as Venezuela. To a sports-



THE PARIS OF SOUTH AMERICA 269

man it is a paradise. You can shoot deer
within six miles of the Opera-house, and in six
hours beyond Macuto you can kill panther, and
as many wild boars as you wish. No country
in South America is richer in such natural prod-
ucts as cocoa, coffee, and sugar-cane. And in
the interior there is a vast undiscovered and
untouched territory waiting for the mining en-
gineer, the professional hunter, and the breeder
of cattle.

The government of Venezuela at the time of
our visit to Caracas was greatly troubled on ac-
count of her boundary dispute with Great Britain,
and her own somewhat hasty action in sending
three foreign ministers out of the country for
daring to criticise her tardiness in paying foreign
debts and her neglect in not holding to the terms
of concessions. These difficulties, the latter of
which were entirely of her own making, were in-
teresting to us as Americans, because the talk
on all sides showed that in the event of a serious
trouble with any foreign power Venezuela looked
confidently to the United States for aid. Now,
since President Cleveland's so-called " war " mes-
sage has been written, she is naturally even more
liable to go much further than she would dare go
if she did not think the United States was back
of her. Her belief in the sympathy of our govern-
ment is also based on many friendly acts in the
past : on the facts that General Miranda, the sol-



27 THREE GRINGOS IN CENTRAL AMERICA

dier who preceded Bolivar, and who was a friend
of Hamilton, Fox, and Lafayette, first learned
to hope for the independence of South America
during the battle for independence in our own
country ; that when the revolution began, in 1810,
it was from the United States that Venezuela
received her first war material ; that two years
later, when the earthquake of 1812 destroyed
twenty thousand people, the United States Con-
gress sent many ship-loads of flour to the sur-
vivors of the disaster; and that as late as 1888
our Congress again showed its good feeling by
authorizing the secretary of the navy to return
to Venezuela on a ship of war the body of Gen-
eral Paez, who died in exile in New York city,
and by appointing a committee of congressmen
and senators to represent the government at his
public funeral.

All of these expressions of good-will in the
past count for something as signs that the Unit-
ed States may be relied upon in the future, but
it is a question whether she will be willing to go
as far as Venezuela expects her to go. Ven-
ezuela's hope of aid, and her conviction, which
is shared by all the Central American republics,
that the United States is going to help her and
them in the hour of need, is based upon what
they believe to be the Monroe Doctrine. The
Monroe Doctrine as we understand it is a very
different thing from the Monroe Doctrine as they



c a

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THE PARIS OF SOUTH AMERICA 273

understand it; and while their reading of it is
not so important as long as we know what it
means and enforce it, there is danger nevertheless
in their way of looking at it, for, according to
their point of view, the Monroe Doctrine is ex-
pected to cover a multitude of their sins. Pres-
ident Monroe said that we should "consider any
attempt on the part of foreign powers to extend
their system to any portion of this hemisphere as
dangerous to our peace and safety, and that we
could not view any interposition for the purpose
of oppressing those governments that had de-
clared their independence, or controlling in any
other manner their destiny, by any European pow-
er, in any other light than as a manifestation of
an unfriendly disposition to the United States."

He did not say that if a Central American re-
public banished a British consul, or if Venezuela
told the foreign ministers to leave the country
on the next steamer, that the United States
would back them up with force of arms.

Admiral Meade's squadron touched at La
Guayra while we were at the capital, the squad-
ron visiting the port at that time in obedience to
the schedule already laid out for it in Washing-
ton some months previous, just as a theatrical
company plays a week's stand at the time and at
the place arranged for it in advance by its agent,
but the Venezuelans did not consider this, and
believed that the squadron had been sent there

18



274



THREE GRINGOS IN CENTRAL AMERICA



to intimidate the British and to frighten the
French and German men-of-war which were then
expected in port to convey their dismissed min-
isters back to their own countries. One of the
most intelligent men that I met in Caracas, and




VENEZUELAN STATION ON THE CUYUNI RIVER
The Barracks and House in which the English Police were confined

one closely connected with the Foreign Office,
told me he had been to La Guayra to see our
squadron, and that the admiral had placed his
ships of war in the harbor in such a position
that at a word he could blow the French and



THE PARIS OF SOUTH AMERICA



275



German boats out of the water. I suggested to
one Venezuelan that there were other ways of
dismissing foreign ministers than that of telling
them to pack up and get out of the country in a




ENGLISH STATION ON THE CUYUNI RIVER

Inspector Barnes, Chief of the English Police who were captured by the Ven-
ezuelan troops, is seated on the steps



week, and that I did not think the Monroe Doc-
trine meant that South American republics could
affront foreign nations with impunity. He an-
swered me by saying that the United States had
aided Mexico when Maximilian tried to found an



276 THREE GRINGOS IN CENTRAL AMERICA

empire in that country, and he could not see that
the cases were not exactly similar.

They will, however, probably understand better
what the Monroe Doctrine really is before their
boundary dispute with Great Britain is settled,
and Great Britain will probably know more
about it also, for it is possible that there never
was a case when the United States needed to
watch her English cousins more closely than in
this international dispute over the boundary-line
between Venezuela and British Guiana. If Eng-
land succeeds it means a loss to Venezuela of a
territory as large as the State of New York, and
of gold deposits which are believed to be the
richest in South America, and, what is more im-
portant, it means the entire control by the Eng-
lish of the mouth and four hundred miles of the
Orinoco River. The question is one of histori-
cal records and maps, and nothing else. Great
Britain fell heir to the rights formerly possessed
by Holland. Venezuela obtained by conquest
the lands formerly owned by Spain. The prob-
lem to be solved is to find what were the posses-
sions of Holland and Spain, and so settle what is
to-day the territory of England and Venezuela.
Year after year Great Britain has pushed her
way westward, until she has advanced her claims
over a territory of forty thousand square miles,
and has included Barima Point at the entrance
to the Orinoco. She has refused positively,



THE PARIS OF SOUTH AMERICA 277




DR. PEDRO EZEQUIEL ROJAS
Minister of Foreign Affairs

through Lord Salisbury, to recede or to arbitrate,
and it is impossible for any one at this writing to
foretell what the outcome will be. If the Mon-
roe Doctrine does not apply in this case, it has
never meant anything in the past, and will not
mean much in the future.



278 THREE GRINGOS IN CENTRAL AMERICA

Personally, although the original Monroe Doc-
trine distinctly designates " this hemisphere," and
not merely this continent, I cannot think the




MAI' KXI'I.AINING VENEZUELAN BOUNDARY DISPUTE



principle of this doctrine should be applied in
this instance. For if it does apply, it could be
extended to other disputes much farther south,



THE PARIS OF SOUTH AMERICA 281

and we might have every republic in South Amer-
ica calling on us for aid in matters which could
in no possible way affect either the honor or the
prosperity of our country.

In any event the Monroe Doctrine is distinctly
a selfish one, so far, at least, as all rules for self-
preservation must be selfish, and I should prefer
to think that we are interfering in behalf of
Venezuela, not because we ourselves are threat-
ened by the encroachments of Great Britain, but
because we cannot stand by and see a weak
power put upon by one of the greatest. It may
be true, as the foreign powers have pointed out,
that the aggressions of Great Britain are none of
our business, but as we have made them our
business, it concerns no one except Great Britain
and ourselves, and now having failed to avoid
the entrance to a quarrel, and being in, we must
bear ourselves so that the enemy may beware
of us, and see that we issue forth again with
honor, and without having stooped to the sin
of war.

Caracas was the last city we visited on our
tour, and perhaps it is just as well that this was
so, for had we gone there in the first place we
might have been in Caracas still. It is easy to
understand why it is attractive. While you
were slipping on icy pavements and drinking in
pneumonia and the grippe, and while the air was
filled with flying particles of ice and snow, and



282 THREE GRINGOS IN CENTRAL AMERICA

the fog-hound tugs on the East River were
shrieking and screeching to each other all
through the night, we were sitting out-of-doors
in the Plaza de Bolivar, looking up at the big
statue on its black marble pedestal, under the
shade of green palms and in the moonlight, with
a band of fifty pieces playing Spanish music,
and hundreds of officers in gold uniforms, and
pretty women with no covering to their heads
but a lace mantilla, circling past in an endless
chain of color and laughter and movement.
Back of us beyond the trees the cafes sent out
through their open fronts the noise of tinkling
glasses and the click of the billiard-balls and a
flood of colored light, and beyond us on the
other side rose the towers and broad facade of
the cathedral, white and ghostly in the moon-
light, and with a single light swinging in the
darkness through the open door.

In the opinion of three foreigners, Caracas
deserves her title of the Paris of South America;
and there was only one other title that appealed
to us more as we saw the shores of La Guayra
sink into the ocean behind us and her cloud-
wrapped mountains disappear, and that.it is not
necessary to explain, was " the Paris of North
America," which stretches from Bowling Green
to High Bridge.

THE END



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Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisThree gringos in Venezuela and Central America → online text (page 11 of 11)