United States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign Commerce.

Consular reports, Issues 188-191 online

. (page 55 of 102)
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urally follow the oi)ening of the canal would eventually bring the leading
towns and districts of Central America into close commercial intercourse,
but while the canal would hasten the development of the resources of these
countries, natural conditions indicate that the development would be gradual
and so shaped as to favor the modest growth of many towns rather than the
sudden growth of one great commercial and manufacturing city.

•All prit« and values mentioned in this report arc expressed in United States currency.

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The time may come when certain towns in Nicaragua situated from three
to seven days nearer than New Orleans and New York to the markets of the
East and to those of the western coast of South America may manufacture
and send forth large quantities of sugars, liquors, ground coffees, canned and
evaporated fruits, ice, lumber, furniture, leather, and even cotton goods.
This, however, notwithstanding the alleged water-power advantages, is beyond
the expectations of the most sanguine Nicaraguan, and it maybe considered
as fairly probable that either with or without the canal the manufactures of
Nicaragua will not speedily assume large proportions.

Whole districts of rich lands remain unoccupied because of their inac-
cessibility. Mining and lumbering interests have not been properly devel-
oped for the same reason. Without highways, these lands, forests, and
mines will remain practically worthless, and without the canal, there will be
but few railways and wagon roads in Nicaragua in the near future. The
establishment of a fair system of highways in the country would afford many
opportunities, not perhaps for sudden fortunes, but for safe and profitable

But whatever may be the future of Nicaragua, however fair afield it may
be for the pursuits and operations of American agriculturists, tradesmen,
and capitalists, there is but little to encourage the hope that the wages, com-
forts, and advantages of workingmen in the United States may be duplicated
in Nicaragua. The native workingman believes that he was born to labor
and he is satisfied with his lot. He has no household effects but rude chairs
and cots, a blanket or two, an iron kettle or small stove for cooking pur-
poses, a little cutlery, and a few jDans and dishes. His fare is homely and
uninviting, but he is accustomed to it, and from one end of the year to the
other, he lives on plantains, frijoles, tortillas, and coffee. Meat and fish
constitute but a small part of his diet. Wages are correspondingly low, and
while there is no occasion in Central America to struggle for wood and coal,
blankets, shoes, woolen garments, and something to put in the cellar for a
long winter, northern laborers have too many other requirements to be able
to live on Nicaraguan wages.

However superior American workmen may be in the skilled branches of
labor, it is not at all certain, when it comes to common or unskilled labor,
that Nicaraguan workingmen are their inferiors. The native laborer may
be shiftless and be without ambition, but he is not lazy. The work he is
accustomed to perform is not only well done, but is willingly done. He is
physically strong, and with conditions and surroundings similar to those of
his northern brother, would not be behind the latter in intelligence.


As bearing upon the rates of wages in the vicinity of San Juan del Norte,
a poster is inclosed calling for 2,000 laborers for the Panama Canal.* One
dollar (silver) per*day is guarantied. A Colombian dollar is worth just 40

♦ Filed in Bureau of Staiisiics, Department of Sute.

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cents (gold) in San Juan del Norte. In July last, a railway construction
comi^any in Jamaica offered laborers 50 cents a day.

In July, 1890, a paper entitled "The Nicaragua Canal** was read at the
Fourth International Congress on Inland Navigation. The paper was written
by Mr. A. G. Menocal, chief engineer of the Nicaragua Canal Construction
Company, and, as published, contains the following passage in relation to
the employment of laborers by the company :

Another contingeney which may cause a marked increase in the cost of the work is the
physical inability of the imported workmen to perform the ordinary labor as compared with
that accomplished in a more temperate climate. The laboring classes of Nicaragua, when
under proper control, are capable of an activity and endurance under great fatigue and ex-
posure to the elements scarcely equaled in any other country, and with no apparent injury to
health ; yet the same capabilities can not be expected in unacclimated foreigners accustomed
to different conditions of life. It is believed that not less than 6,000 excellent laborers can
be obtained from the Central American States, and that with a judicious management, all the
help needed can be had from the Gulf States in this country, where the climatic conditions
are in many respects similar to those prevailing over a large portion of the canal route. The
number of skilled laborers employed will be comparatively small. On the west side of the lake,
where the greater number of laborers will be employed, the climate is not excelled for salu-
brity by any other portion of Central America, and in that portion of the eastern section from
Ochoa to Greytown, which is the only locality where trouble from climatic causes might be
expected, the unexceptional good health enjoyed by the employees of the company during
more than two years of constant exposure to the influence of the climate, while undergoing
all kinds of hardships and privations, seems to be an evident demonstration that no apprehen-
sion need be entertained as to the climate.

What Mr. Menocal noted in regard to the activity and endurance of
these laborers may be observed by any traveler in Nicaragua, if he does not
entertain a prejudice which he is unwilling to dismiss.


Assertions that the Nicaraguans are hostile to foreign immigration are
sometimes tainted with this prejudice. Native merchants may not look upon
the growth of resident foreigners* trade with extreme complacency, and the
Nicaraguan |:)eople may be unwilling to change many of their laws and
customs and adopt those of other countries, but like jealousies are very apt
to be nursed by tradesmen in other parts of the world, and our own institu-
tions and laws are very dear to us.

The increase of duties in what was once known as the Mosquito Territory
has been cited as an evidence of hostility and of an apparent desire to drive
foreign merchants from the coast. The effect of the law has been to lessen
the sale of imported goods. This naturally injured the trade of resident
American, German, and British merchants, but whatever may be said regard-
ing the expediency of the policy, the law is not a discriminative one, and
there is no reasonable ground for the opinion that the increase was made for
any but the legitimate purpose of national revenue. The wisdom of other
laws may not be as apparent to foreigners as to Nicaraguans, but it is certain

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that the latter are fully alive to the importance of the canal and to the bene-
fits its construction would shower upon their country.


To make of Nicaragua all that its natural resources and advantages entitle
it to, the leading men of the Republic realize that it is necessary to enact lib-
eral immigration and colonization laws, and, but a short time since, the Gov-
ernment addressed circular letters to many foreigners in the country soliciting
suggestions touching legislation and measures best calculated for the speedy
. development of the resources of Nicaragua.

The people of Nicaragua are naturally conservative, and it may take a long
time to bring about desirable changes, but everything points to the conclu-
sion that the representative men of the Republic are not blind to the neces-
sity and wisdom of legislation insuring the permanency and inviolability of
personal and property rights, the uniformity of taxation, the curtailment
of official power, and the enlargement of the people's voice in the govern-
ment of town and district municipalities.


In the following description of San Juan del Norte, mention is made of
certain local laws, the reading of which may suggest the thought that how-
ever appropriate they may be for the place as it is to-day, they are hardly
adapted to the conditions of a growing city and the requirements of a '* hust-
ling'* population.

What is known as the free port of San Juan del Norte formerly extended
3 miles to the east and 3 miles to the west from the central point of the city.
The town itself is built on a spit of black sand at the eastern end of San Juan
harbor. The sand spit is three-fourths of a mile long and has an area of
about 150 acres. The distance from the harbor entrance to the center of the
town is 6,000 feet. The limits of the free port were changed by the decree
of November 18, 1889, and the central line now extends from the San Juan
River, on the east, to a point 2,250 feet west of Victoria Plaza, the estab-
lished center of the town.

The western boundary line of San Juan del Norte marks the eastern limit
of the so-called city of America, which was incorporated in 1889 and for-
mally dedicated January i, 1890. Between the eastern edge of the new town
and the canal, a distance of about a mile, there is a dense jungle, with no im-
provements but a horse-railway track and a rude wagon road, each leading
from San Juan del Norte to the canal.

On the west bank of what is called the canal — a narrow cut less than a
mile in length — are a few wooden buildings, one of which was the machine
shop of the construction company. The company's main buildings stand
on the east side of the cut. The canal and all of the company's buildings
are within the limits of the town of America.

The last census was taken in January, 1895, ^"^ showed a population as fol-
lows: Nicaraguans, 1,010; Americans, 19; Germans, 8; French, 4; Cubans,

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3; Italians, 6; English and Scotch, 20; Jamaica negroes, 220; other nation-
alities, 190; total, 1,480. Of those reported as Nicaraguans, fully 75 per
cent are either negroes or half-breed Indians.

The Government supports three schools. A fourth school, having an
attendance of from 15 to 25 pupils, is kept by a French lady. The public
school has an average attendance of 30. Of the two other schools supported
by the Government, one was established by tlie English Church and the
other by two enterprising young women. The former has an attendance of
65 and the latter of 45 pupils.

There are two churches, the Roman Catholic and the Episcopal.

The town is without sidewalks, pavements, waterworks, sewers, gas, and
electric lights. There is not a light-house on the eastern coast of Nicaragua,
and the Government has never appropriated a dollar for the improvement of
an Atlantic harbor.

There are but few buildings of two stories and none of greater height,
and all are constructed of wood. Iron and shingle roofs are common, but
many of the houses are palm thatched. Wooden shutters are more popular
than glass windows. There are no chimneys, and, owing to the town being
but little above sea level, there are no cellars.

A horse railway, owned by a private corporation, was built some years
ago. It extends from the eastern side of San Juan del Norte to the canal,
a distance of about 2 miles. As the town of America is practically aban-
doned, the road is operated merely to keep alive the franchise. The steam
railway built by the canal company and extending from the town of America
about 12 miles along the projected canal route has not been operated since
the company abandoned work on the canal.

The telegraph line constructed by the canal company and afterward ojier-
ated by the Government has been out of repair for months and will probably
remain so until the resumption of work on the canal.

With the exception of a cart track to the canal and from thence running
northerly a few miles along the beach, there are no wagon roads leading from
the town, and all travel to and from the place is confined to either the sea or

There are but two steamship arrivals a month — a Royal Mail from Colon
and Limon and a ** tramp" from New York. Small schooners of from 3 to
20 tons burden are engaged in the coasting trade.

Mails from the United States come by way of New Orleans and Bluefields,
and generally arrive twice a month, but intervals of from twenty to twenty-
seven days are not infrequent. There are three sailings a month to and from
Granada. The river steamers do not go above San Carlos, at which point
transfer of freight and passengers is made to and from the small steamers
employed on Lake Nicaragua.

Although, in the Vanderbilt days, passengers were seldom more than
forty-eight hours in crossing from one ocean to the other, it now takes from
three to five days to make the trip from San Juan del Norte to Granada and
from thirteen to eighteen days to make the round trip

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Between January and May, the river boats can not reach San Juan
del Norte, owing to the low water in the San Juan below where the Colo-
rado leaves it, and during this period the boats run to the mouth of the
Colorado. During this dry season, the only steam tug in the harbor plies the
Caribbean between the mouths of the Colorado and San Juan rivers. Meals
are furnished without extra charge, but other accommodations on these river
boais are very simple. Passengers get bare slats if they take staterooms
and bare cots if they prefer to sleep in the cabin or on deck. They must
carry their own pillows, sheets, blankets, mosquito bars, and crockery. The
same rule obtains on the coast schooners.

There are no manufactures. A Chicago firm arranged some months ago
to manufacture ice, but the scheme has been abandoned.

The temperature ranges from 78° to 95°. The nights are generally cool
and the heat is seldom oppressive during the day, as the trade winds are almost
constant. From February until June and during August and September, the
average temperature is 84°. During other months the average is 80°.

The average annual rainfall is not less than 260 inches and there are not
to exceed twenty dry days in the year. The so-called dry seasons are from
the middle of January to the middle of May and the middle of September
to the ist of November. The rainfall is generally local, seldom extending
toward the interior of the country more than 8 or 10 miles.

Yellow fever has never visited the town, and smallpox cases have been
rare. Mild fevers are common, but are no more dangerous than ** fever and
ague" in the United States, and are usually brought on by undue exposure
to the sun, rain, or night air.

The well water is bad and most of the people drink rain water.

During 1895, deaths occurred as follows: Malarial fever, 23; infantile
fever, 7; dysentery, 5; phthisis, 5; whooping cough, 4; dropsy, 3; pneu-
monia, 3; dyspepsja, 3; worm fever, 2; snake bite, 2; gunshot wound, 2;
drowning, 2 ; scrofula, 1 ; cancer, i ; blood vomit, 1 ; brain fever, i ; ca-
tarrh, I ; paralysis, i ; gangrene, i,; total, 68.

The early breakfast is tabooed. In the morning, the industrious laborer
fares as well as the banker, each being satisfied with bread and coffee.
Breakfast is served at 11 and dinner between 5 and 6 o'clock. Laborers
work from 7 till 11 in the forenoon. The afternoon work is from 12.30 to
5.30. All Government offices are closed between 11 and 2.

Wild, but very coarse, pasturage is abundant west of the canal. Cattle,
however, are scarce. During the entire year not to exceed 3 or 4 tons
of grass is cut; this is carted to town and sold in small bundles. Nothing
is grown in town but small quantities of lemons, limes, oranges, bread-
fruit, cocoanuts, and red peppers. Cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, and
pumpkins have occasionally been grown, but it is said that ants and other
insects make it almost impossible to raise anything in gardens.

The Indian River empties into the Caribbean about 6 miles above San
Juan del Norte. A few acres of land have been cleared 8 miles up the

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river, and between there and a point 6 miles above, are a few other small
clearings upon which are grown plantains, bananas, and different varieties
of yams. A few miles up the San Juan, there is also an occasional acre
patch of plantains and bananas.

When harvest or digging time comes, the settler canoes his little crop to
San Juan del Norte, a lagoon or series of lagoons between the two rivers
enabling the Indian River settler to do so. The small quantities thus grown
are barely sufficient for the local market. Cabbages are imported from
Costa Rica and potatoes from Costa Rica and the United States.

The much-talked-of rights of the inhabitants of San Juan del Norte
under the treaty of January 8, i860, between Nicaragua and Great Britain
are simply that San Juan del Norte shall be a free port under the sovereign
authority of Nicaragua and that its inhabitants shall enjoy religious freedom
and the right of trial by jury. Whatever other peculiar privileges they may
enjoy have been granted them by the Government of Nicaragua indef)end-
ently of any treaty; Regulations for the port and town were adopted by
Nicaragua February 20, 1861, and this special code, as amended from time
to time, is still in force. The instrument may be called the city charter.
Like any other town charter, it is subject to the control of the body grant-
ing it, and although the statement may be challenged by certain persons
domiciled in the place, the general laws of the Republic control in regard
to matters concerning which the charter is silent.

The regulations provide that the officers of the town shall be a governor
intendant, justice of the peace, city clerk, health officer, and police agent.
The governor intendant, justice of the peace, and city clerk are each
appointed by the Government for a term of two years; the health officer
and police agent are appointed by the governor intendant. There are neither
aldermen, trustees, nor commissioners, all the powers of government being
confided in the person holding the office of governor intendant.

Popular elections are never held and the only voice the inhabitants have
in the conduct of municipal affairs is such as may be raised by either petition
or protest. Fortunately, with but one or two exceptions, the governors
sent to San Juan del Norte have been fair-minded men, and the inhabitants
generally agree that the (iovernment has invariably manifested a disposition
to give to the people a clean, capable, and popular administration of munic-
ipal affairs.

The governor intendant is given supervisory control of local tribunals
and judges and is authorized **to prevent individuals subject to his jurisdic-
tion from residing outside of the city limits if not fully satisfied that they
are persons of well-known honesty and able to provide their subsistence."
He may cause such new public buildings to be constructed and such repairs
and public improvements to be made as shall appear to be necessary; he
may cause all lots to be fenced, and if, in his judgment, any house "menaces
ruin," he may order the owner to rebuild it within such time as he shall
determine; he is authorized to make reasonable provisions looking toward

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the supply of pure water and unadulterated food, and is charged with the
duty of ** seeing that sales and other contracts are carried out with the great-
est liberty, especially in regard to provisions, when there is scarcity thereof.'*
Primary schools may be established by him **by means of taxes or by sub-
sidy given by the householders.'* The collection of the city and port rents
and the making of all disbursements are confided to him. The regulations
provide that he shall be "punctually respected and obeyed and that he may
impose and demand a fine not exceeding ^25 in the case of each person who
either disobeys him or fails to duly respect him." In case he shall deem it
advisable to adopt any measure or measures not expressly mentioned in the
regulations, he may do so if not in conflict with the constitution.

The regulations provide that the justice of the peace shall '* try civil and
criminal cases in the manner determined. ' ' All judgments are final, the reg-
ulations providing that ** the jury shall try the action and its verdict be based
on the evidence, and be without appeal.*' Either the governor intendant or
justice of the peace may charge the jury, article 18 reading as follows: **The
governor intendant or justice of the peace shall make an exposition of the
points litigated, withdrawing afterwards that the jury may deliberate.*'

The regulations provide for the trial of criminal cases by jury and of civil
cases by jury and by arbitration. Civil cases are tried by five jurors, the
judgment in each case being entered in accordance with the verdict of the
majority of the jurors. Seven jurors sit in criminal cases, and the verdict
must be unanimous. A list of jurors is made every six months by the gov-
ernor intendant. A juror must be "in the exercise of civil and political
rights," be over 25 years of age, have resided in the place at least one year,
and possess real estate of not less value than ^100. If the jurors fail to reach
a verdict within twelve hours they must be discharged. Jurors are not en-
titled to fees. Fees are not paid to witnesses in criminal cases.

The most important duties of the police agent are to "watch over the
security of the inhabitants and their properties, prosecute the malefactors and
scandalous, and with particular care enforce the laws regarding order, orna-
mentation, and salubrity, according to orders received from the governor
intendant." He is required also to "see that minors attend school, that
they shall not play at billiards or other prohibited games, and to keep a record
of foreigners who come to the place with intention of remaining more than
a month."

All shops are required to be closed at 10 o'clock p. m., and billiards,
pool, cards, and other games are not permitted in public places before 4
o'clock in the afternoon. These laws are strictly enforced. There are no
Sunday laws.

The annual expenses of the town formerly averaged about ^24,000, but
were ^33,819.65 in 1895 and ^32,131.29 the year before. This includes the
expenses of the post and telegraph offices. In 1895, the salaries and expenses
of the officials, clerks, teachers, and police amounted to ^27,501.60. Public
buildings were repaired at a cost of $556, but no other public improvements
No. 190 4.

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were made, except the cutting of grass, reedy vegetation, and jungle growths
in the plazas and cemeteries and along the banks of the creek. This work
is naturally expensive, as everything is cut with machetes.

To help meet the municipal expenses, all fines and official fees and the
proceeds of sales of sealed or stamped paper and of licenses issued for dances,
entertainments, auctions, etc., are turned into the city treasury. Slaughter-
houses and markets are required to pay I2.50 per head for animals slaugh-
tered, which fees also go to the public treasury.

Provision is made for the separate appraisement of lands and houses by
the governor intendant and two inhabitants, and for a tax of one-half of i
per cent of such valuation, to be paid January i and July i in each year, but
although buildings are assessed at something like their real value, the land
valuations are nominal and the taxes comparatively nothing. The assessed
valuation of all the land and buildings in the town amounted in 1895 ^^ ^^ss
than ^125,000 (gold).

About the ist of May and the ist of November in each year, the gov-
ernor intendant submits to the President of the Republic a budget showing
the amount of moneys on hand, the probable amounts to be received during
the half year by way of licenses, official fees, and taxes on lands and build-
ings, and his estimate of the amount which, over and above such moneys on
hand and probable receipts, will be required to defray the municipal expenses

Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 188-191 → online text (page 55 of 102)