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F. Hassaurek:

How to Conduct a Latin-American Revolution, 1865

A Latin-American revolution, to be successful, must originate with, or be supported by, the soldiery. The conspirators begin with bribing a portion of the garrison of an important post. Military barracks will never be attacked without a previous secret understanding with some of the officers and men who are in charge of the post. In the negotiations for such purposes the ladies take a most active part. They are passionate politicians, and very energetic secret agents. They carry letters and despatches, excite discontent, conceal political refugees, and facilitate their escape and keep banished friends posted as to the state of affairs at home. During my residence in Ecuador, several of these female agitators were banished from the country by President Garcia Moreno. They went, hurling defiance into his teeth. He could imprison or shoot the men, who trembled before him, but he could not break the spirit of the women.

The moment a revolutionary party has secured a foothold somewhere, they resort to the customary mode of Latin-American warfare. Its principal features are forcible impressments, and forced loans and contributions, in addition to which they seize all the horses, mules, cattle, provisions, Indians, and other property they can lay hands on. The Government does the same. There is no legal or equitable system of conscription or draft. By common consent, "gentlemen," (that is to say, white men of good families) are exempt from it; but the poor, the half- or cross-breeds, the journeymen, mechanics, and farm laborers, are seized and impressed wherever found, and without reference to age, condition, disability, or the time they may have served already. The appearance of the recruiting officers on the street always creates a panic among those liable to be "recruited." It is a pitiful spectacle to see those poor fellows run away in all directions, wildly chased by the officers and their men. Compulsory service in the army is a calamity greatly dreaded by the populace, and from which they will try to escape in a thousand different ways. They will flee to the mountains, and hide themselves in forests or deserts; they will take refuge in churches or convents, or in the houses of foreign representatives or residents, and they will not show themselves on the streets or public highways until the danger is over. When they are near enough to the frontier, they will leave the country to avoid impressment. In Peru alone there are over ten thousand Ecuadorians who left their own country to avoid impressment.

Ecuadorian soldiers are but poorly clad and poorly paid. Many of them have to go barefoot. When their services are no longer required, they are discharged without the means to return to their homes. Under these circumstances, it cannot appear strange that such soldiers should revenge themselves on society whenever an opportunity offers. When marching from one place to another, they will take from the poor people living along the public highways whatever they can find. Hence, when it becomes know that a regiment or company of soldiers will march through a certain district, the people living along the road, even in times of profound peace, will hide their valuables, drive away their horses, mules, cattle, or sheep, take their provisions, chickens, etc., to some out-of-the-way place in the mountains or forests, and make preparations as if they expected the arrival of a savage enemy. The houses along the road will be deserted; the men will carefully keep out of the way of the marching columns; and only now and then an old woman will be found to tell the soldiers how poor she is. Many a time when, during my travels in the Cordillera, I stopped at a hut to buy eggs or other provisions, the people told me with a sigh: "We have nothing to sell, sir; the soldiers were here and took all we had."

The first means of a party which succeeds in a revolution or civil war are generally acts of retaliation or revenge on the vanquished, who may congratulate themselves if only forced contributions are resorted to. The wealthy members of the losing party are notified by the new "Government" that within a certain number of days or hours they must pay a certain sum of money. If they refuse, the amount is sometimes raised, and even doubled, and the victims are imprisoned, either in their own houses or in the military barracks, until they "pay up." If they are storekeepers, their goods are seized as security. If they are hacienda owners, their cattle or horses are taken in lieu of money. If they are women, they are placed under a military guard, and not allowed to leave their rooms, or to consult with friends, until they comply with the arbitrary edict of the despot of the day. I shall relate but one instance of the many that came to my knowledge. In 1860 a contribution of several hundred dollars (I do not recollect the exact amount) was imposed upon a gentleman who had held office under the Government that had just been overthrown. He, being absent from Quito on his hacienda in Esmeraldas, on the coast, a detachment of soldiers was sent to his house with a command to his wife to pay the money. The lady protested that her husband had left her no money, and that she was unable to pay the money. Her answer was deemed unsatisfactory, and her house was surrounded by soldiers, who did not allow anybody to enter or to leave it. She was not permitted to send for victuals or for water, nor was she allowed to employ counsel or to see her friends. For three days and nights she was kept a prisoner, until, coerced by starvation, she yielded at last, and paid the amount which had been assessed without warrant of law by the caprice of the victorious party.

A political adversary is considered an outlaw, who may with impunity be treated in the most arbitrary and cruel manner by those in power. His haciendas are laid waste by soldiers quartered on them; his cattle and horses are at the mercy of a reckless Government. The greatest sufferers, however, are the owners of beasts of burden, whether they take part in political affairs or not. Their horses and mules are taken whenever they are needed for the transportation of military stores. They are used generally without compensation to the owner, who may congratulate himself id they are at last restored to him. Their galled backs and emaciated bodies are the pay he gets, all constitutional and legal provisions to the contrary notwithstanding. Those who own mules or donkeys which they hire out to travelers, or on which they bring their vegetables to market, keep away from cities in times of war or civil commotion, for fear of being robbed of their means of subsistence. Their beasts they send to the fastnesses of the mountains until the danger is over. Thus the city markets will be but scantily supplied, merchants cannot ship their goods, travelers find no means of transportation, and the whole country suffers and decays because Government will not respect individual rights and private property.

When the country is threatened with war, foreign invasion, or revolution, or when a violent change of government has taken place, the houses of foreign ministers, consuls, and other foreigners are eagerly resorted to by all classes of the population. Not only will ladies and gentlemen take refuge there, but such houses will be depositories for all sorts of valuables---goods, trunks, and boxes, belonging to merchants, mechanics, private citizens, and even the Government. During the war with New Granada, in 1862, when it was feared that General Arboleda, after his victory at Tulcan, would march to Quito and occupy the town, the Government made arrangements to deposit the silver bars belonging to the mint in the house of one of the foreign ministers. The houses of foreigners are respected, not only because the Governments to which they belong are expected to shield them with a strong arm, but also because even the victorious or ruling party are interested in maintaining the sacredness or asylums to which, perhaps tomorrow, it may be their turn to resort as the vanquished. In Ecuador, foreigners alone enjoy the rights and privileges which the constitution, on paper, guarantees to the citizen. The persons of foreigners are secure; their servants are not taken away from them; their beasts are never interfered with; their property is respected; and if they have a diplomatic representative in the country, they are favored in a thousand different ways. They are the only class of persons who can carry on business in safety. Of course, they will suffer from bad times, when the country is desolated by revolutions or civil war, but they have little to fear from the Government and party leaders; and while forced contributions of money or goods will be exacted from the native capitalists; while their servants and laborers, horses and cattle, will be taken away from them; the person, property, laborers, and servants of a foreigner will be secure. No wonder, therefore, that every extensive landowner, every wealthy merchant in the country, wants to make himself a foreigner. I was almost continually troubled by persons who wanted to know how to make themselves North American citizens. Everybody, almost, who has anything to lose is anxious to abjure his nationality, and place himself under the protection of a foreign flag.


From: Eva March Tappan, ed., Canada, South America, Central America, Mexico and the West Indies, Vol. XI in The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song, and Art, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), pp. 330-335.

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, July 1998

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