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BANCROFT


LIBRARY



MEXICO ON THE VERGE
E. J. DILLON



MEXICO
ON THE VERGE



BY

E. J. DILLON

Author of " The Eclipse of Russia," " Ourselves
and Germany," "Russian Characteristics" etc.




NEW ^JP YORK
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



Copyright, 1921,
By George H. Doran Company



Printed in the United States of America



Bancroft Library
7376



TO MY FRIEND

FERNANDO TORREBLANCA

A TYPICAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE NEW PROGRESSIVE ELEMENTS

OF REGENERATE MEXICO WHO DRAW STIMULUS FOR SOCIAL

ENDEAVOR FROM INTENSE FAITH IN THEIR COUNTRY'S

CAUSE, UNFLAGGING HOPE IN ITS DESTINIES

AND A HIGHLY CULTIVATED SENSE OF

DUTY TO THEIR FELLOWS





CONTENTS



CHAPTER



PAGE



I INTRODUCTORY ........... U

II MEXICO'S TRANSFORMATION ....... 14

in MEXICO IN CARRANZA'S DAYS ....... 21

IV MEXICO'S LAST DICTATOR ........ 3!

V EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE ....... 37

VI PREPARING THE ATMOSPHERE ....... 48

VII THE WHITE MAN'S PRECIOUS BURDEN .... 69

VIII THE FOREIGN PIONEER ........ 79

IX THE OUTLANDER AND THE MEXICAN ..... 88

X OIL AND WATER .......... IOI

XI TAXATION OR CONFISCATION? ...... 112

XII CASTING OUT DEMONS BY BEELZEBUB AND SAVING

MEXICO IN SPITE OF HERSELF ..... I2O

XIII MORAL GUARDIANSHIP ......... 127

XIV FLAWS IN THE CONSTITUTION OF 1917 .... 137

XV OIL AND POLITICS .......... 15!

XVI THE NEO-MONROE DOCTRINE ....... 165

xvii MR. FALL'S MEXICAN PROGRAMME ..... 182

XVIII RECOGNITION BY TREATY ........ 2OI

XIX THE PUBLIC DEBT AND NATIONAL CRIMINALITY . . 225

xx OBREGON'S TASKS AND DIFFICULTIES ..... 245

XXI THE FALL FROM GRACE IN HAITI ...... 265

XXII CONCLUSION 286



MEXICO ON THE VERGE



MEXICO ON THE VERGE



CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTORY

THE following pages offer a brief presentment of the main
factors of the Mexican situation which is now entering upon
a critical stage. The subject is tabooed by the average student
of contemporary politics on the ground that it is purely re-
gional, devoid of interest and without noteworthy bearings on
the principal currents of the world's history. As a matter of
demonstrable fact, it is the reverse of all that. Mexico to-day
is the subject of an experiment which, whatever the upshot,
bids fair to link it for all time with one of the most fateful
and far-ranging changes in the basic relations of political com-
munities with one another. In sooth it is no exaggeration to
say that the first deciding move in the work of transfiguring
those relations and setting the State-systems of the world upon
wholly new foundations is now being made in that Republic.
And this essay is scarcely noticed by statesmen or politicians
while its trend is not realised even by the races and peoples to
the course of whose life-history it is about to impart a new and
chartless direction. Thus the tide of cosmic innovations which
some observers are anxiously watching in Eastern Europe is in
reality rolling away from that quarter of the globe to the
shores of the Mexican Gulf and the southern banks of the Rio
Grande where new precedents are being forged and strange
doctrines promulgated which the near future may see eagerly
adopted in the older Continents with results which it would be
idle to forecast. It is the little beginnings that call for the
closest attention but unhappily the statesmen who could and

should scrutinise those which are certain to lead to the most

11



12 MEXICO ON THE VERGE

momentous consummations are at present absorbed by futile
wrangling and barren enterprises.

In attempting to determine the forces now at work, to
measure their intensity and foreshadow some of their probable
effects, the writer strove to purge his mind of bias and his find-
ings of blame and praise. The latter aim was all the more
easy of attainment in that the law of cause and effect takes no
account of morality and that the principal politicians, the re-
sults of whose follies and failings are now being visited upon
the ill-starred Mexican people, have passed beyond the reach
of censure, bequeathing to others, as they departed, the fair in-
heritance with the heavy curse attached. For the course of
Mexican history, every page of which is framed with a black
mourning border, bears a curious likeness to that of ancient
Greek tragedy wherein grim requital fastens upon the innocent
with the deadly grip of cruel fate.

The following analysis of the national and international
difficulties which Mexico in the person of General Obregon has
now to tackle will be found to differ from the views current in
the United States which stand for the real beliefs of some and
for the ardent wishes of others. Whether this non-conformity
of the writer is a defect or a merit, coming events will show.
Despite strenuous efforts he cannot claim to be absolutely im-
partial no historian has ever reached this ideal. But at least
he is sincere and disinterested. No sensible person imagines
that all the evils which a decade of lawless orgies has inflicted
on the Mexican people or all the vices engrafted on certain sec-
tions of it can be dislodged in a twinkling. There are some in-
deed which cannot be displaced by ordinary methods at all.
Some devils, we are told, it is impossible to exorcise even by
prayer and holy water. The circumstance should also be borne
in mind that in public affairs there is one kind of slowness which
ripens and another which rots, and that the latter was a charac-
teristic of the Carranza regime while the former marks the
methods of Obregon.

Foreigners who possess material interests in Mexico gen-
erally wear blinkers, keep only their particular goal in sight,
believe in their own methods to the exclusion of others and are



INTRODUCTORY 13

impatient of contradiction. If some of the remedies which
they confidently propose are specifics at all, it is often only
against imaginary diseases, or artificially implanted vices.
Such readers may well take exception to much in these pages
and indeed to any study of the subject emanating from a de-
tached onlooker, and if they would read an expose of the mat-
ter entirely to their liking they must write or dictate it them-
selves, as not a few of them are wont to do. Among them are
many who, in their haste to pass judgment on the general prob-
lem which they confound with their own particular interest
in it, take no pains to understand its deciding elements, while
the credulous and easy-going are misled by the wild stories de-
liberately circulated not only in the United States but also
among the foreign residents of Mexico.

"Is it a fact," several distinguished Americans asked me in
Washington last April, "that Villa insists on being represented
in Obregon's cabinet by one of his partisans, and what effect
will that have on Mexico's foreign policy?" I answered "It
is just as likely as that Eugene Debs is about to pitchfork one
of his comrades into the Harding administration." "Yes,
but here is the American newspaper that makes the statement.
What do you say to that?" "Only that paper endureth all
things which publishers or capitalists pay to have printed on
it." My interlocutors frowned and fell silent.



CHAPTER II
MEXICO'S TRANSFORMATION

THE Turks, of all races on the globe, have a proverb which
says that fire and faggots, bloodshed and banditry, are sorry
reformers. And what to English-speaking peoples may seem
stranger still than the nationality of that saying is that its
truth has at last been brought home to Mexico, to that restless
republic which for years has been, seemingly, endeavouring
to heat her house with sparks. And she has already begun to
profit by it. A new spirit is springing up everywhere and
new men are embodying it, a spirit of justice on the part of
the country's leaders and an incipient respect for law and or-
der among the rank and file, and the outside world takes no
note of the change.

The bulk of the nation the people who paid and still are
paying the heavy cost of all the revolutions, rebellions and ris-
ings needed no arguments to convince them. They, indeed,
had seen and suffered enough to convert them to pacificism
long ago, had they stood in need of conversion. The obstacles
in the way of law and order were never of their making. The
main difficulty, which until quite recently seemed insuperable,
was to inoculate the leaders of the people with that salutary
doctrine of peaceful evolution and to render them immune
against the bait offered by interested foreign mischief-makers.
And of effecting this even optimists despaired. For, when-
ever some semblance of a Government emerged from the reek
and gore of civil war, there always remained a nucleus of agi-
tators who, egged on by outsiders, continued the subversive
work and played the part of a Bickford string, connecting
make-believe ideals with bombism and bloodshed. Ideals?
They knew not what they are. The English Revolution was
mainly religious. The French Revolution was largely social.
Most of the Mexican "revolutions" were neither, and as a

14



MEXICO'S TRANSFORMATION 15

consequence they often 'degenerated into a sequence of high-
way robberies. The last change of regime was a noteworthy
exception. For it was the work of a few upright, selfless men
who voiced and executed the will of the inarticulate people
and satisfactorily answered the question so often put by for-
eigners: "If the Mexicans disapprove their Government, why
do they not overturn it and set up a better one?" This has
now been effected by a truly progressive group of democratic
leaders whose watchword is law, justice, equal opportunity for
all, and whose moving spirit is General Obregon.

Anarchy and violence are apparently now at last about to
pass into the history of an epoch that is no more and are to be
followed by a period of strenuous building up, of moral, in-
tellectual and economic development, of friendly intercourse
with foreign peoples whose co-operation is openly recognised
as an indispensable condition of success. For the governing
body is at last of one mind with the bulk of the people and is
determined to turn the sword into a ploughshare and the battle-
fields into pastures and corn-growing lands.

While war is still destroying the achievements of civilised
man in Europe, Asia and Africa, it looks then as though Mex-
ico had really inaugurated an era of internal reconstruction
that Mexico of which it was recently and truly said that its
normal condition was internal strife and anarchy. Even the
casual observer can entertain no doubt that a vast change has
recently come over the people and what is more to the point
over those who now shape its destinies. To determine in
advance the final outcome of this change, especially in view of
the system of obstruction with which it has to cope abroad, is
a task for a prophet. The utmost that a conscientious chron-
icler can undertake is to describe and characterise its principal
signs and tokens. And such a one will have no hesitation
in qualifying these as eminently favorable.

My opportunities of observation have been exceptionally
great. I have journeyed with General Obregon over thou-
sands of miles of the Republic, considerable portions of which
were already known to me under the Carranzist regime, when
soldiers had to escort the trains; when we had to spend the



16 MEXICO ON THE VERGE

night at Saltillo or San Luis Potosi lest brigands should de-
rail or blow up the carriages and kill, rob, or hold to ransom
the passengers.

In the month of March, 1920, the late President Carranza,
in the course of an interesting conversation I had with him,
assured me that he could not return the railways to their
owners because no private company could run the trains in
the face of such constant perils. All trains had to be accom-
panied by escorts of soldiers supplied by the State. But in
lieu of rooting out the pests which thus preyed upon the
people, he was preparing to have a line of blockhouses con-
structed along the principal railway routes with a view to re-
ducing the number of outrages and rendering travel less in-
secure. That reminded me of the method applied by a Rus-
sian Commune to combat the cholera; they purchased five
hundred coffins! The idea of defeating Villa, for example,
never seems to have entered his head as a plan to be speedily
realised. Neither had he any grounded hopes of quelling
General Pelaez's rebellion in the South where the proprietors
of the oil fields were compelled to pay tribute for their protec-
tion to the leader of the insurgents. And when I, an un-
armed foreigner, desired to cross the Sierra from Oaxaca to
Salina Cruz, it was to the rebel General Mexueira that I had
to apply for a safe-conduct. But although I had absolute con-
fidence in that General's good faith, I had none at all in the
value of his safe-conduct outside his own district. For I was
warned that there was a bandit zone between his troops and
those of the Federal Government through which I must pass
and where the highwaymen not only took the property of the
travellers but completed the work by taking their lives as well.
A journey of six or seven days across the mountains in those
conditions was not particularly attractive. And as I could not
get any one to accompany me I had to give up the plan and
alter my route.

Whithersoever I journeyed, I found the people ground
down by crushing exactions, terrorised by rebels, bandits, Fed-
eral soldiers and in perpetual dread of what the morrow might
bring. In the State of Michoacan and elsewhere I visited



MEXICO'S TRANSFORMATION 17

manor houses on large estates haciendas is the Spanish
name which a few years before had been luxuriously fur-
nished, but having been gutted by a succession of bandits,
were now in an advanced state of decay. They had no baths,
hardly any furniture and that of the most primitive kind.
The walls in some of the rooms were riddled with bullet holes,
the roofs open to the rain. And the proprietors told me that
they were afraid to spend a peso in repairing their homes lest
they should be wrecked again. Some of these great landed
proprietors, beggared and desperate, were preparing to go
into voluntary exile in order to escape worse misfortunes than
those which had already overtaken them. And since then they
have emigrated to England, Spain or the United States.

Thus a dense cloud of depression overhung the country
and paralysed the people. Enterprise was throttled. No capi-
talist except the oil companies would invest money or labour
in any undertaking, however promising, because he could never
be sure that the fruits of his labour would be his to enjoy.
Indeed, the experience of the recent past had taught him to
feel that he was working for others for those who neither
toil nor reap but merely harvest in what they have failed to
destroy. And not only the products of the soil, but the land
itself was occasionally taken from its lawful owners and given
to favourites of the Supreme Chief. I saw several houses,
which, together with orchards and fields, had been disposed
of in this way, and I was told that the man to whom they had
been presented, fearing lest they should be restored by some
subsequent government with a conscience, had made hot haste
to sell them. While I was in the State of Jalisco an acquaint-
ance -a European told me that he had lost his house and
land in this way and his appeal to the Supreme Court had only
elicited a confirmation of the arbitrary decree. He added,
however and this is the point of the story that a proposal
had recently been made to him to spend three thousand pesos
in bribing a certain individual who undertook to have the
irrevocable judgment of the Supreme Court reversed. Thus
justice, the basis of all human society was turned into its
opposite by the very men who were justifying their revolu-



18 MEXICO ON THE VERGE

tion and their tenure of power by the necessity of establishing
it on a solid foundation.

A severe judgment has been passed upon the Carranza
regime by the Mexican press of to-day. They describe the
late President as a self-centred dictator who violated the laws,
oppressed the people and was responsible to no one. Indeed,
"there were no responsible persons anywhere," writes one of
the press organs of the capital. "A few of the independent
newspapers did, it is true, call loudly for a return to morality
and integrity in public departments and demand that the chiefs
of the bureaucratic gang be called to account for their mis-
deeds. But their cries were in vain. Nobody was answerable
for anything. . . . From the Minister to the usher each one
nudged the other and gave a look of mutual understanding
at his neighbour, casting a side glance at Don Venustiano
the while, as much as to say: The Chief has to answer for
us.' And the Chief . . . never deemed himself bound to
offer explanations to any one of the good or bad use and it
was almost invariably bad, of his versatile powers. . . . Be-
lieving himself, in virtue of the Constitution of Guadalupe,
to be exempt even from the last judgment he was content to
contract his nostrils. . . . Mexico's peril lies in the camarillas,
in the parasites, in the abject and degenerate types who eschew
fair play in the strenuous struggle for life and support them-
selves by selling their flattery." 1 And one must add that it
was precisely such types as these that were courted, "atmos-
phered" and bribed by foreign interests for their own purposes.

Such was Mexico's condition down to April, 1920, and
Carranza expected it to last. To my question whether he dis-
cerned any clouds on the political horizon, he gave answer:
"None." Then added after a brief pause: "Possibly a few
tiny cloudlets in the guise of local riots after the elections.
But nothing more serious. The population is contented."
That was the President's mature judgment in the latter half
of March. Nor did he modify it until he set out with a cargo
of gold and a multitude of parasites on his journey to Vera
Cruz which led him to the end of his earthly career. As for

a Cf. La Revolution, 14 de junio, 1920.



MEXICO'S TRANSFORMATION 19

his tragic death, everything possible was done by the leaders
of the revolution, and in particular by General Obregon, to
save his life. But in vain. A plain-speaking, straightforward
Mexican whom I met in Sonora thus explained the sad incident
epigrammatically : "Carranza had with him a great quantity
of gold and was surrounded by a gang of robbers. Is it a
wonder that he was killed ?"

Since May, 1920, a complete transformation has been un-
dergone by the country, and it is interesting to note the people's
mental reactions with the purer and exhilarating moral atmos-
phere created by the new regime. I had observed the benefi-
cent change everywhere among all classes and in all walks of
life. I accompanied General Obregon on his various journeys
from Mexico City to Guadalajara, Colima, Manzanillo, Mazat-
lan, Culiacan, Guaymas, Hermosillo, Nogales (Sonora) ; then
on his electoral campaign to Puebla, Tlascala, Atlizco, Tehua-
can, Oaxaca, Orizaba, down through the States of Chiapas,
Tabasco and Yucatan, and back through Vera Cruz to the capi-
tal of the Republic. Our trains were not escorted by soldiers,
we generally travelled in second-class carriages, 2 mingled
with the people, listened to what they had to say, observed
their demeanour towards the new authorities, and learned their
grievances and aspirations. The reflections suggested by what
we saw and heard were not unlike those which Arthur Young
received during his travels in pre-revolutionary France.

Already the Government is assiduously repairing the dam-
age caused by its predecessors and their enemies. The rail-
ways are being returned or about to be returned to their
owners. Rebellions have ceased. Even Villa, who for years
was the ineradicable plague of the country has repented and
found salvation, and he and his partisans have become ardent
tillers of the soil. The Government is dealing magnanimously
with all its enemies. Gambling hells have been closed peremp-
torily and without a day's grace, wherever the writ of the

2 There are only first and second-class carriages in Mexico. We occu-
pied carriages filled with workmen and peasants. We ate and slept when
and where we could. On one occasion I induced the head of a railway
company to offer a special carriage to General Obregon, but the privilege
was gratefully declined.



20 MEXICO ON THE VERGE

Federal Government runs. The liquor laws are being rigor-
ously enforced. The autonomy of the individual States de-
spite the undesirable results which it occasionally produces
is being respected by the central Government. The army has
been materially reduced. The law everywhere is being left to
take its course. Travelling is once more perfectly safe, and
it looks as though in truth a new era had already begun. In
a word, this is the first of Mexico's recent revolutions after
which, to use one of Obregon's winged words, it is not neces-
sary to liberate the nation from its liberators.



CHAPTER III
MEXICO IN CARRANZA'S DAYS

THE task which confronted Obregon and his fellow- work-
ers as soon as they took over the reins of Government was
truly formidable. Even a past master in statecraft might well
shrink from undertaking it when surveying the situation, tak-
ing stock of the available instruments and drawing up a plan of
action. To my thinking the two easiest problems of all, which
might be settled speedily and satisfactorily with a reasonable
measure of good will and readiness to give and take on both
sides foreign relations and finances bid fair to become the
most arduous, because complicated by a number of extrinsic
issues. Foreign relations really mean intercourse with the
United States Government, and that connotes compliance with
the principal demands of the American oil companies.

As for the task of internal reconstruction, it is literally de-
terrent in virtue of its magnitude. On the part of the prin-
cipal reformer it calls for a resourceful brain, an iron will and
a considerable number of years in which to carry out a settled
policy. And even these conditions are hardly sufficient. The
man of destiny who has embarked on the venture requires to
be seconded by a staff of honest, eager lieutenants who under-
stand and sympathise with his aims and can adjust means to
ends. And they are not easy to find. Hitherto in Mexico
the best intentions of a leader were baffled and his programme
altered by the exaggerated zeal, ignorance or personal ambi-
tion of his followers. An instructive example is afforded by
the pristine agrarian plan drafted by Emilio Zapata, the pedan-
tic construction put upon it by his adviser Palafox, and the
utter fiasco in which it ended. The bulk of the Mexican people
are relatively easy to govern. They are peaceful, patient, for-
bearing, industrious, moral and on the whole better than many
more fortunate communities scattered over the globe. They

21



22 MEXICO ON THE VERGE

possess a normal number of gifted individuals, and if they
enjoyed the benefits of a stable, honest administration and effi-
cient educational establishments, their country would undoubt-
edly be among the most prosperous on the planet.

But for the moment they lack these requisites and much of
what they imply. And one of the consequences is the extreme
difficulty of finding a capable, honest and well trained set of
men to form the rank and file of the administration. As Gen-
eral Obregon often remarked to me : "To make a code of good
laws is child's play as compared with the selection of men who
will administer them impartially and in the right spirit. It is
of infinitely greater moment to have high-minded officials to
apply the laws than to have legislators well versed in the in-
tricacies of Roman jurisprudence to draft them." No matter
how clear visioned the Chief of a reforming Government
may be, he is powerless to help his people without efficient
instruments. If the instruments break in his hands, he is no
better off than a tyro. And that, in my opinion, is the stand-
ing danger in Mexico where communications are difficult and
the representatives of the local Governments necessarily enjoy
the full measure of discretion connoted by the term "State
sovereignty/' Hence, unless the authorities of the individual
States are actuated by the same spirit as the President, they
may baffle, instead of furthering his most beneficent schemes
of reform. And that has already come to pass. As the Bul-
garian proverb picturesquely puts it: "The lesser saints are



Online LibraryEmile Joseph DillonMexico on the verge, by E. J. Dillon.. → online text (page 1 of 25)