Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Rubber Boom and the Rubber Barons of the Amazon Slave Trade (Part Four)

Charles Condamine was the first European to discover rubber, and Joseph Priestley was the first to make any practical use of it, as an eraser-- one of our greater inventions since the advent of travel writing. With the rise of the Industrial Revolution came the means to use rubber commercially, as waterproofing, and later for automobile tyres, among myriad other useful applications in fields left undiscussed here. Latex, the raw rubber from Amazonian trees, was less than commercially valuable until Charles Goodyear invented the process of “vulcanisation.” With practical commercial applications came the opportunity to make vast fortunes in the rubber business. In 1879, rubber was only found in abundance in the Amazon. Thus, men from Europe and America and South America went to seek their fortunes in the jungles. Some did get rich. Some lost everything: they lost their souls, and arguably, their minds.

In Conrad's novella The Heart of Darkness, “The Horror” Kurtz in engulfed in is the overwhelming success of Modernity, I think. We are so good at Modernity that we have fallen into its horror unknowing, and we have in the fall lost our minds to the faithlessness of our own beauty, a beautiful but cancerous Narcissus, man so focused on his own perfection that he loses sight of life beyond himself. Losing ones life might be unfortunate, but losing ones mind to ones self is a horror. The Belgian Congo of Conrad's book is close enough to the Rubber Boom years of the Amazon to show us that such a successful enterprise of Modernity is not a one-off disaster. That a man such as Kurtz is the same man as Arana lost in the horror of the Amazon is too clear. That we might not be so far behind is troubling. We succeed all too well in our pursuit of the Modern. When we become solely ourselves, rulers of all we survey, we might and some do become lords of flies. Our triumph is our doom, and it dooms others. Life becomes generally The Horror.

It's a favoured idiocy today among too many of the beneficiaries of Modernity to weep sentimental tears over atrocities from times past and to beat their chests in high emotations to show how sensitive to human suffering they are. The rote lines of this theatre of self-indulgence are always about the evils of capitalism, of how the drive for profit has turned-- mostly-- European and-- mostly male Europeans-- into savages who steal, rape, and murder with some kind of ethnically determined evil the gentle savages of anywhere other than Europe or the lands settled now by their descendants, i.e. the average White man, the evil capitalist.

Outside the simple barter system, most trade involves profit, to at least a minimal extent. Higher profit does not make capitalism. The highest profit at all is outright theft, and so slavery is outright theft, of labour and often of life itself. It is not capitalism. Unfortunately, too many critics of capitalism at the higher levels of discourse are intellectuals, and they are often mistaken de facto for intelligent people. When intellectuals decry capitalism and say, “Look at the slave trade in the Amazon during the Rubber Boom,” they commit the idiocy of confusing slavery with what it is not: capitalism. But who would dare contradict the intellectual who is clearly “intelligent”? Those who claim, like Proudhon, that property is theft are those who would have us, but not themselves, live in conditions akin to the average pre-Columbian native in the Amazon. No profit. Just the noble savage living a peaceable life in the selva. Such satisfies the Romantic longings of some intellectuals for the removal of others from their aesthetic experiences of life. We can be pretty and decorative figures in the far distance for the “intellectual” to coo over as he eats his sherbet on warm day while watching the farm animals labour happily for his benefit. Those peasants who would live a Modernist life are an affront to his aesthetic experience of life, an affront to the aristocratic sensibility of the high noble who looks benignly upon the savage noble. The risen peasant, the man who rises by the mode of capitalism is the horror of the elitist. And so in some cases is the aristocrat right in looking upon the risen peasant as horror itself. But he and we do not see in the rich peasant a capitalist: we see a man mired in the peasant world of non-profit economics, the universe of theft and scarcity. The capitalist trades for profit: the thief steals because he cannot make a profit. The peasant thief who is called a capitalist is in fact a hold-over from the world of the aristocrat, he who sees the world as limited, who must take from another because there is only the limited and nothing more, the very antithesis of capitalism. Thus, the “Robber Barons” are seen even if intuitively as aristocrats, and the “Rubber Barons” of the Amazon are aristocratic thieves as well. They are not capitalist; they are aristocrats of a holdover feudalism. Some such people made their ways to the Amazon during the Rubber Boom, and they acted in traditional aristocratic fashion. Most were nothing close to capitalist, as we shall see in the story of the Amazon Rubber Boom.

I'm not the first to have seen this, as below we read in a doctoral thesis by an anthropologist: 
According to Enock, [q.v.] the crimes [in the Putumayo district] were committed by the “Barbadian Negroes at the order of the Peruvian chiefs of sections”, who were chosen because of their “savage depth” (1913:39).

After the exposure of the scandal, the Peruvian government sent a commission of its own to the Putumayo, which confirmed what had been published. 237 warrants were issued against the criminals, but nobody was actually prosecuted (Goodman 2010).

The rubber boom also created a feudal system of relations in Amazonia that influenced the way indigenous people were treated even after the end of rubber extraction. Indigenous people remained trapped and subjected in a feudal system and came to possess the lower stratum of this system. Villages gave place to fundos or haciendas, where life revolved around the feudal house (San Román 1994:163).

[R]ubber extraction did not contribute to the development of the Amazon region. Instead, it made the area vulnerable to European influence and promoted patterns of dependence. This perspective is most evident in accounts such as San Román’s. According to this view, even though exceptional profits accrued from the rubber trade they were transferred out of the region and thus made unavailable for local development. Another view sees the main consequences of extraction, including that of wild rubber, to be the underdevelopment of Amazonia and marginalization of its rural people (Bunker 1985). Weinstein (1983) has argued that sustained economic development in the post- boom period was frustrated not by surplus drainage from Amazonia but by the persistence of precapitalist relations of production. Precapitalist relations effectively blocked regional development by stifling capital accumulation, modernization of the wild rubber industry, and the development of significant internal markets and other sectors (Weinstein 1983). According to Barham and Coomes (1994), the Amazon  rubber industry produced substantial surplus and that a significant portion of surplus, due to the very organization of the rubber industry, was retained by local economic agents that included the state. Large profits were accrued during the rubber boom but this did not result in their investment for the development of the area.
www.neip.info p.44
When the demand for rubber became so great that there was money to be made from it, then men to the risks involved in investing in the product and risked their very lives by moving to the Amazon to get it, often enough by any and every means needed, seemingly in some cases by whatever evil means appealed to them personally. The Rubber Boom attracted some nasty characters, indeed. Such men were not business-men: they were Huns, pillaging and raping and killing, and making money at it as well, no different from Muhammed, the Islamic prophet, raiding trade caravans in the desert in 625. But, in the long term there is now the benefit of the Rubber Trade in the Amazon, as we see in the existence of the city of Iquitos, for example, a city thriving under capitalism itself, not a city under the death spell of aristocratic theft by force and murder. The rubber trade, in spite of some of its worst aspects, created good in spite of the men who worked such evil in the jungles. The rubber boom benefitted mankind, and Iquitos in particular, though some aspects of how that industry ran are revolting.

In 1851 Iquitos had a population of 200, and by 1900 its population reached 20,000. In the 1860s, approximately 3,000 tons of rubber was being exported annually and by 1911 annual exports had grown to 44,000 tons, representing 9.3% of Peru’s exports.”

The most infamous of the colonial maniacs of the imperialist Western world is undoubtedly King Leopold II of Belgium [R. 1865-1909] whose atrocities still outrage the public world-wide. On a smaller scale, less famous than Conrad's fictional tale of the Congo, The Heart of Darkness, is W.E. Hardenberg's account of slavery, torture, and murder of Amazonian natives press-ganged into the rubber harvest.

Michael Collis writes this brief account:

During the 1880s Peru and Ecuador sent rubber samples to England and the United States, rubber very much in demand, for tyres and waterproof clothing, for example. When Charles Goodyear developed vulcanization, which made the latex rubber harder, the rubber boom really got started. Foreign companies surged to invest in securing vast amounts of latex (the raw rubber). One of the biggest rubber companies was the Peruvian Amazon Company.
Rubber Tapper and Rubber Tree

The elite "mestizos" who were of Spanish descent were recruited as caucheros or rubber barons. The work of the caucheros was to recruit, by whatever means, workers to harvest as much wild latex from the vast jungle as possible. The Amazon people were not used to working long hours but fished and hunted for the food they needed and then did not work again until they got hungry. Working all day, every day was not in their agenda. The caucheros found the docile and obedient temperament of the natives easy to overcome and easily made them into rubber slaves. The caucheros did not go out and find the rubber slaves, instead they recruited black men from Trinidad and Jamaica in the West Indies. They were paid to capture as many slaves as possible and to make sure the slaves collected sufficient amounts of rubber. These West Indian men were called muchachos and they captured natives from the rainforest. The muchachos were well-armed and always acted in an aggressive manner. The natives they enslaved would be required to collect rubber during 3 or 4 expeditions every year. Every 4 months they were required to bring into the rubber stations a fabrico which weighed at least 50 kilos. To get paid they had to do this at least 3 times a year. They were not paid in cash but one fabrico would provide them with a hammock, a cup, a machete and a pair of trousers. If they brought in 2 fabricos they were given a gun, but with very little ammunition it was not much use. If the natives failed to collect sufficient latex they would be punished severely. This punishment increased in its severity until they were killed. Women were also enslaved and rape was the usual penalty for low performance. If a male slave escaped, his wife and children were raped and tortured until the slave returned or they themselves revealed were the escapees could be found. Women and children were also sold to brothels where they were raped and tortured in bestialic ways.

Around 1912 the Rubber Boom ended and with it the enslavement of native people. Some researchers estimate the deaths of indigenous peoples in Peru and Brazil at 250,000 in the rubber trade, native tribespeople of the Amazon such as Witotos, Androque, Huitoto, Matses, Yagua, Karipuna and Boras amongst others. An example: In 1940 the entire Bora tribe consisted of only 500 people, but back in 1910 there were more than 15,000. The Huitoto tribe decreased from 50, 000 to 7,000 between 1900 and 1912. Some smaller less known tribes were completely wiped out

During this time foreign investors made fortunes, and the City of Iquitos prospered. At any time steamships could be seen anchored on the Amazon River. They were bringing in all the requirements the rich merchants needed for their millionaire lifestyles and the ships took away huge amounts of latex rubber. It was said that Iquitos was so awash with money that large wooden cases filled to overflowing with English silver sovereigns could often be seen on the street unattended. Fortunes were made and it is said some of the merchants lit their Cuban cigars with $100 bills. The wives of the merchants did not like their clothes washed in the Amazon water so their fine linens were sent on the steamships to Europe for laundering. …

Mike Collis, “The Enslavement of Amazon Natives During the Rubber Boom,” Iquitos Times. Iquitos, Peru. Month Year.

The rubber boom didn't suddenly end, it simply moved to other parts of the world where growing and harvesting were more favourable to commercial interests. With the rise of rubber plantations in Malaysia, for example, the rubber from the Amazon was too expensive to compete, and thus the Amazonian bubble burst. But this is not to say either that the inhuman if not insane conditions of the rubber trade would have continued as per usual had the trade continued in the Amazon. Part of a product is its pedigree, and most people will forego even the most useful and beneficial product if it comes from a poisoned tree. Most people, knowing the conditions of slave workers in the Amazon would boycott the product, thus bankrupting the producers, allowing others to move in to satisfy the moral market for a commodity in demand. Cocaine addicts have no such concern, but coffee drinkers do. Those wearing raincoats are as likely to be disgusted with a product created in a condition of slaughter as would be the average tea-drinker. The criminal drug addict has no moral priorities, whereas the average car driver does, in spite of the general slander toward oil companies so glibbly mouthed by those who have no idea in practice. People will pay a great deal for morality and purity, and will go to great lengths of suffering to avoid contamination with products deemed and known to be created by murder. It's not that hard to grasp, but the point is often not the pursuit of ordinary truths but the point of propaganda in pursuit of a a misanthropic agenda to further the regress of the German Revolution, a return to the eternal fasces of human experience. Not everyone actually accepts the purity of the noble peasant commune as promoted by the Romantic Prussian elitist of post Modernity. Most people want rubber tyres, they just won't pay for it if it means people are being slaughtered for it. To argue otherwise is to both lie about the human condition, and to malign the human for private reasons. Private companies understand this need to appeal to the public moral, and so do their competitors: if one can impinge rightly on another for corruption, then it will do so in full throated glee. The winner takes all. It is not, perhaps even a matter of moral but simply of good business, the point of business itself. All else, the conspiracies and the moralist preening be damned. People do not want to be tarnished with evil. So it was with the rubber trade in the Amazon.

We see below an account of how the rubber trade helped further the Public Relations industry, and too that public relations are essential to furtherance of the Moral, if one will. Without the restraint of society on the man alone, the man alone can and does at times revert to a previous state of moral monster. Power severs the bond of man to mankind. Man can and does fall into the Horror. Sometimes one man can come from nowhere to chastise or even destroy the power of the lunatic in his charnal realm. Then, in the seeing of it, the world stands in horror and condemns. Man against man; man against himself and losing; man winning Modernity while losing his mind. The rubber boom collapsed because it was a horror.

Bora Girls, Iquitos

The Peruvian Amazonian Rubber Company was eventually destroyed by the exposes of men like W.E. Hardenberg and Roger Casement, men who inquired into and wrote on conditions of slavery and murder in the Amazon. When the public in Europe found out about the near genocide of the Putumayo people, they and the companies involved, forced an end to the practices that were to nearly everyone morally unbearable.

Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Minister from 1905 -1916 lead a parliamentary charge against the Peruvian Rubber Company and eventually forced the company out of business.
Paul Seaman writes in “The rumble in the jungle: modern PR’s Edwardian birth,”
that the beginning of the assault on the Amazonian rubber trade for violence against the people began in 1907 as a newspaper campaign in Peru and later in America and England, where the London-based board of directors “were pilloried in the court of public opinion for orchestrating human rights abuses on a grand scale. Six years later they were found guilty by the British and American authorities, who in response set out the principles of corporate responsibility, accountability and governance that have influenced our expectations ever since.

The original newspaper campaign was carried on by W.E. Hardenburg, a young adventurer who turned to writing about the atrocities he witnessed practiced by Julio Arana's Peruvian Rubber Company. With his reports in the magazine Truth he was followed by a more official reporter assigned by the British government to verify the details, Roger Casement. Then, finally, the courts ruled against the company and bankrupted it, stopping not only the company itself but setting a near universal standard for other companies to follow or not at their commercial peril. A company's relationship with the public is a matter of life and death. The corporatist state can force a public to buy a company's product, but in a free market this is not possible. The public pays as much for morality as it does for product. A good name matters. Seaman write of the development of public relations during the rubber boom:
Mr. H. L. Gielgud was “the first PR spokesperson ever to be made ‘secretary and manager’ of a major international corporation during a major existential crisis that had global dimensions.”
To paraphrase Seaman,The Peruvian Rubber Company board of directors understood as well or better than most that a corrupt name is the death of a company, and as proof they paid to maintain their status. W.E. Hardenberg had hurt the rubber company to the point the company paid to improve its reputation, going so far as to libel Hardenberg and to gratuitously offer a gift to an otherwise sympathetic newspaper, the Morning Leader, the mistake of assuming all people are as corrupt as oneself backfiring when the paper publicly exposed the attempted gift in the next edition.

“Gielgud, an auditor ... was prepared to deny the allegations outright. The grateful directors immediately made him the company’s leading executive, hiking his wage from 150 pounds sterling to 1000 per year. This jumped-up-clerk and wannabe PR-spokesperson went on to represent his firm in the media and at inquiries and to earn 2500 pounds per year.”


Theft is not profit and rape is not romance, though too many are determined to play stupid and say so. The rational and successful company gives people what they want at a price they can afford over another and people reward the company with continued success, i.e. profit. A thief and a rapist is imprisoned or killed. An evil company cannot withstand the outrage of a moral public. Hardenberg proves it.

Hardenburg’s account of extreme immoral behaviour in the Amazon was almost beyond imagination in 20th century London and Washington. He claimed Indians were slaves who received no pay; they were kept naked; they were robbed of their women and children; there were floggings and killings, some of which involved crucification head downwards; ears, fingers, arms, legs and testicles were sometimes cut off as punishment; there was no medical treatment.
Such was the disbelief – and fear of libel actions – that mainstream British media initially refused to publish Hardenburg’s account. It was only London’s anti-slavery magazine Truth that was willing to take the first risk (backed later by the Manchester Guardian) of supporting his story. It opened its campaign in 1909 with the shocking headline, ‘The Devil’s Paradise: a British-owned Congo’. As Anthony Smith writes in Explorers of the Amazon: ‘Truth did not publish one article: it published the story for week after week, keeping it on the boil’.

In 1913 a House of Commons Select Committee delivered its findings... based mainly on statements by British Barbadians employed by the company in the Amazon, as well as by [abused Huitotos] natives. Arana was found to have had ‘knowledge of and responsibility for the atrocities perpetrated by his agents and employees in the Putumayo’. [B]ritish directors... were absolved of direct responsibility for the atrocities. However, they were censured in a way that remains a lesson and warning to company directors to this day. The MPs concluded that they had harmed the good reputation of England and that ‘Company Directors who merely attend board meetings and sign cheques… cannot escape their share of the collective moral responsibility when gross abuses under their company are revealed’.

In a free market economy no one tycoon, no corporation, no secret cabal of conspirators is capable of continuing indefinitely to corrupt the public. In a corporate state the public has little or no say; in a free market the public decides daily the life and death of commercial enterprise and services by willingly engaging with private money one could as easily spend elsewhere. A rotten and corrupt company has no chance of surviving a free market, whereas the corporate company has little to fear from anyone or everyone so long as the state controls the purse-strings of public spending. That was then.... The Peruvian Rubber Company was bankrupted.

This marked the beginning of the era of corporate responsibility and reputation management we are still in. It illustrated how public opinion, which had already abolished slavery in the British empire in 1833, and later rallied against King Leopold in the Congo, was now a force capable of expressing (in a manner that could not be ignored) its moral outrage against individual corporations on a global scale. There was no longer anywhere to hide, not even deep inside the Amazon. Directors in London and New York could no longer wash their hands of what went on elsewhere in their name.
Paul Seaman, 9 july 2012 21st century pr issues.

Hardenberg wrote a book about his time and campaign against slave labour in the Amazon, W. E. Hardenberg, The Putumayo, the devil's paradise.

From the introduction we read: “As a young man Hardenburg was imprisoned by Arana, and when Hardenburg got his chance of revenge he took it, turning to what journalists do best: muckraking. He published a book that helped eventually to destroy the Arana campaign of terror in the Amazon.

In the introduction to Hardenberg's work Enock inserts himself rather forcefully into the text, to such an extent that Hardenberg's work is now of interest only to specialists and those looking for myopic details over which to agonise after the fact. The catalog of horror is repulsive and need not be covered in any detail here. Enock indulges himself at length in sentimental philobarbarism and promotes a Romantic Utopian picture of happy natives in the Amazon oppressed and then enslaved and murdered by rapacious Modernists in pursuit of money at all expense. Perpetuating that story is still a thriving industry today.

To give useful geographical context and some idea of how a man such as Arana could flourish in a horror landscape of his own creation without rebuke from an outraged world Enock writes:

The Putumayo River rises near Pasto, in the Andes of Colombia, and traverses a vast region which forms one of the least-known areas of the earth's surface. This river is nearly a thousand miles long, flowing through territory which is claimed both by Peru and Colombia, and enters the main stream of the Amazon in Brazil. The river crosses the equator in its upper portion. The notorious rubber-bearing region upon the Putumayo and its affluents, the Igaraparana and the Caraparana, lies within a square formed by the equator on the north, the 2nd parallel of latitude on the south, and the 72nd and 74th degrees of longitude west of Greenwich. Like most of the Amazon tributaries, the Putumayo and its two affluents are navigable throughout the greater part of their courses, giving access by water up to the base of the Andes ; and the rubber traffic is carried out by means of steam-launches and canoes.
The Caraparana and Igaraparana rivers, both flowing from the north-west, run parallel for about four hundred miles through dense, continuous forests, discharging into the Putumayo, the first some six hundred miles and the second some four hundred miles above the confluence of that river with the Amazon. [T]he region is a considerable distance from Iquitos, nearly a thousand miles by water, the small, intermittent river steamers of the rubber traders occupying two weeks in the journey ; and a part of the course lies through Brazilian waterway. A much more direct route can be made by effecting a portage from the Putumayo to the Napo River, which enters the Amazon about fifty miles below Iquitos. The Putumayo region, therefore, must be regarded as an extremely outlying part of Peru, with corresponding difficulties of access and governance. The native people inhabiting the region are mainly the Huitotos, with other tribes of more or less similar character, but with different names.
The condition must be borne in mind that the region of the Amazon forests is in every way separate from the region of the mountains and that of the coast. The coast region of Peru, bordering upon the Pacific Ocean, is a rainless, treeless zone, upon which vegetation is only possible under irrigation, but upon which the modern Peruvian civilisation flourishes ; Lima, the capital of the country, being situated only a dozen miles from the sea. To the east of this Europeanised region arise the mountain ranges of the Andes, which cut off the forest lowlands so completely from the coast that the two may be regarded as separate countries. The mountain regions embody vast, treeless tablelands, broken by more or less fertile valleys, and overlooked by snow-clad peaks and ranges, and are subject in general to a cold, inclement climate, with heavy rainfall. The uplands lie at an elevation of 12,000 ft. and upwards above sea-level, and the dividing ranges are crossed at 14,000 to 17,000 ft., with only one or two passes between Western and Eastern Peru, at a lower elevation. The line of tree-life begins at an elevation of about 10,000 to 11,000 ft., this forest region being known as the Montana of Peru, merging by degrees into the great selvas or forests of Brazil, These topographical details serve to show how greatly Western and Eastern Peru are cut off from each other. The conditions similarly, affect Colombia and Ecuador, and, to a certain extent, Bolivia, but the last-named country does not extend to the Pacific coast. It is in the isolation of the cis-Andine from the trans -Andine regions that Peru may claim some palliation for the offences on the Putumayo, The river port of Iquitos is from thirty to forty days' journey from Lima under existing means of travel. The easiest method of reaching the one from the other is by way of Southampton, or New York, and Panama. A system of wireless telegraphy is now in operation across the six hundred miles of coast, mountain, and forest territory separating the two cities.
The topographical conditions described had influenced the human inhabitants of Peru before the time of the Spaniards. The aboriginal race inhabiting the highlands and the coast lived then, as they do to-day, in a manner distinct from each other. The highland and coast people were those who formed the population under the Inca government, and under whose control they had reached a high degree of aboriginal civilisation; whilst the indigenes of the forests were more or less roving bands of savages, dwelling on the river banks, without other forms of government than that of the Caracas, or petty chiefs of families or tribe. The influence of the Incas did undoubtedly extend into the forest regions in a degree, as evidenced by remaining customs and nomenclature, but the Incas did not establish order and civilisation in the forests as upon the highlands. The Incas and their predecessors built a series of fortresses which commanded the heads of the precipitous valleys leading to the forests, whose ruins remain to-day, and are marvels of ingenuity in megalithic construction.
In very different condition are, on the other hand, the aborigines of the forests, who live neither under civil nor religious authority. But there was probably no fundamental or racial difference between the upland and forestal Indians, and they resemble each other in many respects, with differences due to climate and environment. Remains of ancient civilisations, in the form of stone ruins and appliances, are found east of the Andes, in the Amazon forest regions, and the Chaco plains, arguing the existence of prehistoric conditions of a superior character. ... One of the principal tributaries of the Amazon is the River Maranon, which flows from the south for a thousand miles between two parallel chains of the Andes, and breaking through a remarkable canon, known as the Pongo de Manseriche, turns suddenly to the east and forms the main Amazon waterway. Above the Pongo, or rapids, the river is navigable only for very small craft, but below it forms the head of steam navigation. The upper Maranon flows down through a high, difficult territory, with many fertile valleys, and upon its headlands and the adjacent slopes of the mountains are freely scattered the ruins of the Inca and pre-Inca peoples, who inhabited the region in pre-Hispanic times and even contemporaneously with the Spaniards.* From this district, and from the valleys to the west of Cuzco and Titicaca, it was that the Inca influence mainly entered the forest regions of the Peruvian Montana.
So it was that a man from the Andes, Arana, ventured into the Amazon to make his fortunes in the rubber business. He descended into the selva to find people who had little to no defence against his superiour skills as predator. What Arana could not have realised is that he had no defence against himself once he left the highlands of his own life, once he severed the bonds of the past to pursue his own goals of wealth and power at the cost of all else. There were no others willing, more a long period at least, to stop him from descending into his own heart of darkness, and the result was slaughter and depredation that to this day sickens the moral world.
The Peruvian Government and the Press of the Republic have long been aware that the Indians of the forest regions were brutally exploited by the rubber merchants and gatherers. Reports and articles have been made and published both by officials and travellers. That Indians were sold at Iquitos and elsewhere as slaves and that there was a constant traffic in Indian women has been known to the authorities ever since rubber-gathering began. In 1906, in Lima, the Director of Public Works, one of the most important of the Government departments, handed the present writer an official publication … Documentos oficiales del Departmento de Loreto, Lima, 1905, of which extracts were published in " The Andes and the Amazon."
But knowing of evil events far away and intervening in such events is a matter of complete difference. There are as I write numerous equivalent horrors of man in conflict with the moral, man utterly unrestrained by anything more than his own will to power, and there is little to nothing the average man can do about it but feign sympathy as he pursues his own privacy in the hope of slowly improving the general mass by osmosis. Those few who take it upon themselves, men such as Roger Casement, to intervene on the side of the good too often find themselves hanged and hated by friends and foes alike, coming to the rope's end to dangle to no effective purpose, leaving Mr. Ellis to clean up the minor mess and carry on another day with another alienated life and a quiet corpse. What is to be done?
The Putumayo atrocities were first brought to public notice by an American engineer and his companion, Messrs. Hardenburg and Perkins.... Mr. Hardenburg and his companion suffered great hardships and imprisonment at the hands of the Peruvian agents of the rubber company on the Putumayo, and barely escaped with their lives. For these outrages some time afterwards they were awarded the sum of £500 damages by the Peruvian Government, due to the action of the United States. Mr. Hardenburg came to London from Iquitos in financial straits, but only with considerable difficulty was able to draw public attention to the occurrences on the Putumayo. Messrs. Hardenburg and Perkins's account and indictment of the methods employed by the company's agents on the Putumayo, under the name of "The Devil's Paradise," was a terrible one. It was averred that the peaceful Indians were put to work at rubber-gathering without payment, without food, in nakedness; that their women were stolen, ravished, and murdered; that the Indians were flogged until their bones were laid bare when they failed to bring in a sufficient quota of rubber or attempted to escape; were left to die with their wounds festering with maggots; and their bodies were used as food for the agents' dogs; that flogging of men, women, and children was the least of the tortures employed; that the Indians were mutilated in the stocks, cut to pieces with machetes, crucified head downwards, their limbs lopped off, target-shooting for diversion was practised upon them, and that they were soused in petroleum and burned alive, both men and women. The details of these matters were almost too repugnant for production in print, and only their outline was published.
What is to be done?
The first result of the publication of the Putumayo atrocities in the London Press was denial. The Peruvian Amazon Company denied the truth of the matter : the Peruvian Government denied the existence of such conditions ; whilst the Peruvian Consul-General and Charge d'Affaires in London denied them even more emphatically. … The Peruvian Consul in London wrote vehement letters of denial and re-denial to the London Press, among them the following, published by Truth in September, 1909:
"This Legation categorically denies that the acts you describe, and which are severely punished by our laws, could have taken place without the knowledge of my Government on the Putumayo River, where Peru has authorities appointed direct by 30 the supreme Government, and where a strong military garrison is likewise maintained." *
The Secretary of the Peruvian Amazon Company wrote in September, 1909, to the Anti-Slavery Society and Truth as follows:
"The Directors have no reason to believe that the atrocities referred to have, in fact, taken place, and indeed have grounds for considering that they have been purposely misstated for indirect objects. Whatever the facts, however, may be, the Board of the company are under no responsibility for them, as they were not in office at the time of the alleged occurrences. It was not until your article appeared that the Board were aware of what is now suggested."
None of these atrocities occurred; and besides, we weren't in the office when they didn't happen. It's not our fault. Furthermore, you could not possibly mean me because I am we. Good day, sir.

Bora girls,Iquitos
But the mysterious and invisible hand of profit comes to rescue even the seemingly hopelessly damned. If there is some profit in exposing and halting an atrocity, then there are those who will risk it and perchance do some oblique moral. For the puritan, this is not good enough. They, like Casement, might rather hang while all about are dead as well.
No one would publish the Hardenburg account, because as a book it might not have been a paying venture. Only when the way had been prepared for a successful book, by the public scandal which resulted after attention had been drawn to the matter, was it resolved to publish it. The London Press at first was equally negligent or timorous, with the exception of Truth. It showed little disposition to take the matter up, until that paper, whose business it is to expose scandals and abuses, exposed the horrors to public gaze. Then, when the matter had reached the stage of useful " copy," it appeared in all the papers — in some cases with startling headlines. The daily papers feared that they would incur risk of libel proceedings in attacking what was regarded as a powerful London Company, with a capital of a million pounds and an influential Board of Directors, and at first hesitated to take the matter up. Had it not been for the work of the philanthropic society already mentioned, the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society,* in London, and the courage of the Editor of Truth, to both of whom Hardenburg went, followed by the prolonged publications. in Truth the sinister occurrences of the Putumayo might have remained unrevealed....
Profit greases the gears of the moral. And as if by Providence, one sees the rise of the corrupt to show his face and prove the point of profit's right.
The Peruvian Amazon Company protested that the allegations were made by blackmailers. This was denied by Hardenburg, and by Truth on Hardenburg's account. There were, however, accusations of blackmail against others.* * The most serious charge was one brought by the Peruvian director of the Company, Julio Cesar Arana, against an English army officer who had travelled on the Putumayo and witnessed the atrocities committed upon the Indians. According to this charge, which was supported by a document, recorded in a minute upon the Company's books and issued in a printed circular to the shareholders in December, 1909, this officer called upon Arana in London, entertained him at the United Service Club and Cafe Royal, and offered to suppress a Report he had made for the British Foreign Office upon the subject, which was, he stated, of a nature such as would ruin the Company, if Arana and the other directors would pay him £1,000 to cover his expenses on the Putumayo. The directors refused and the officer sent in the Report. The travels of this officer are mentioned in Mr. Casement's Report. The matter is mentioned here in the interests of common fairness.
In fairness, too, one must note the Black slave-raiders in the Amazon, the muchachos, slaves brought to the New World to work feudal plantations-- not capitalist industries-- and their original slavery made by canonically ordained Islam, i.e. by Muslim slave-traders, of which I have written at great length in other works. No race is inherently “good.” It takes, if at all, sometimes, one man with a mission and good luck to stem the tide of evil and bring it to a halt whereafter one might find in the fullness of time a prosperous city on the riverside where previously blood flowed freely and men ran in fear at the sight of their fellow human beings.
In 1910, a British Consul, Mr. Roger Casement, well known for his investigations into the Congo atrocities, was instructed to proceed to the Putumayo, his locus standi being secured on the grounds that a number of British subjects, coloured men of Barbadoes, had been employed by Arana and the Peruvian agents of the company as slave-drivers. The securing of Mr. Casement for the work was due to the endeavour of the Anti- Slavery Society. The directors of the company, aroused at length by public opinion, or the representations of the Foreign Office, sent out a commission of inquiry at the same time. Both the consul and the company's Commission faithfully carried out their task, and Mr. Casement handed in his report to Sir Edward Grey in January, 1911. The conclusions reached were terrible and damning. The worst accounts were confirmed in the words of Consul Casement: " The condition of things fully warrants the worst charges brought against the agents of the Peruvian Amazon Company and its methods on the Putumayo."
We know of atrocities today across the world, and with little effort I could easily name one hundred nations in which horror is the norm at this moment, horror that pales anything seen in Putumayo then. What is to be done? Are we monsters? Are we lazy and stupid beasts with no concern for our fellow?
It may well be asked how it was possible that such occurrences could take place in a country with a seat of government such as Lima, where well a highly civilised and sensitive people, whose public institutions, streets, shops, and churches are not inferior to those of many European cities. The reply is, first, in the remoteness of the region of the Putumayo, as explained, and secondly in political and international matters. Peru is constantly torn by political strife at home, and between the doings of rival factions, the outlying regions of the country are overlooked. But Peru was largely influenced by its own insecure possession of the Putumayo region; and it had greatly welcomed the establishing of the Peruvian Amazon Company, a powerful organisation, in the debatable territory. Under such circumstances few questions were likely to be asked about such matters as treatment of the natives. The existence of the company was a species of safeguard for Peruvian possession of the region. Furthermore, a central Government such as that at Lima might be well-intentioned, but if distances are vast and without means of communication, and distant officials hopelessly corrupt, the situation was extremely difficult for the Government. Another circumstance affecting the action of the Peruvian Government is that, in the republican form of government, the judicial authorities are independent of the Executive, The educated people of the Peruvian capital and coast region must, in general, be exonerated from knowledge of the occurrences of the Putumayo .
I'd love to change the world, and ever one were to offer me a paying job at it I would certainly do my best. That's how things get done. So far, for me at least, no one offers, no one nods. It's a vocation for the seriously wealthy or those almost wholly dependent upon those who are. A trust fund, a government, a gaggle of old ladies pitching in from their pension monies, I, like most, have no such benefactors. Some do. Some act. But even terrible poverty costs money. And most people would rather live with what they have and make more than risk losing all of their little for the sake of nothing.
The difficulties of Peru in the government and development of their portion of the Amazon Valley, known as the Oriente, or Montana, must not be lightly passed over. The physical difficulties against what has been termed the Conquest of the Montana are such as it is impossible for the European to picture. Nature resists at every step. Hunger, thirst, fever, fatigue, and death await the explorer at times, in these profound, unconquerable forests. Peru has sent forth many expeditions thereto; brave Peruvians have given their lives in the conquest. The authorities at different points have frequently organised bands of explorers, and the Lima Geographical Society has done much valuable work in sending out persons to explore and map these difficult regions. Yet the possession of the Montana is a heritage of incalculable value to Peru. It is a region any nation might covet. The Peruvians are alive to its value and possibilities, but they are poor. Days, weeks, months of arduous travel on mule-back, on foot, cutting trochas, or paths, through the impenetrable underbrush, by raft and by canoe, suffering all the hardships of the tropics, of torrential rain, burning sun, scarcity of food — all these are circumstances of venturing off the few trails into the vast and almost untravelled trans-Andine regions of Peru, divided by the lofty plateaux and snowy summits of the Andes from the temperate lowlands where the Europeanised civilisation of the Pacific flourishes.
Money is power, but only the few relinquish their ties to humanness in its pursuit. Even among those who fall into corruption, the shame they endure from their peers is the currency that pays them back and they crawl away, lost and alone and in debt eternally. There is no ultimate gain in it. Crime is not, as they say, “sustainable.” Shame is everlasting.
After the exposure of the scandals the Peruvian Government sent a commission of its own to the Putumayo, which confirmed all that had been published. The principal official of this commission was Judge Paredes, the proprietor of El Oriente, an Iquitos newspaper; and he made a full report " embodying an enormous volume of testimony, of 3,000 pages involving well nigh incredible charges of cruelty and massacre" and "issued 237 warrants" against the criminals, as stated in Sir Roger Casement's Report. But between issuing warrants and actually making arrests and convictions, in South America, there is a wide gulf. Furthermore, Judge Paredes endeavoured, in a recent statement, to show that the "English Rubber Company" was solely responsible for the atrocities, and that the English Consul at Iquitos has been aiding the guilty parties in keeping from the Peruvian Government an exact knowledge of what was taking place, is the contention of Peru. Mr. David Cazes, English Consul in Iquitos since 1903, would have been in a good position to find out about the management of the rubber plantation. All the rubber gathered in the Putumayo is shipped from Iquitos. And yet he always swore that he knew nothing. No one can enter the territory of the rubber company without the permission of the Company's representative in Iquitos. The twenty one constables whom the Peruvian Government kept in the Putumayo in those days had all been bribed by the English traders and shut their eyes to what was happening in the jungle."
The Amazon rubber boom burst, the companies went bankrupt, many a man was ruined for eternity, and the dead are forgotten. Life carries on like the river. Perhaps mankind gained a small step toward the moral in his demand to the end of the slave-trade in the Amazon. A lesson paid in blood and death.
The occurrences on the Putumayo have at least tended to arouse the religious element, if not the commercial conscience, of the British people. A severe indictment of the directors of the Peruvian Amazon Company was made from the pulpit of Westminster Abbey, in August, 1912, in a sermon Canon Henson. The English directors were denounced by name, and the demand made that they should be arrested and brought to public trial, the preacher stating that he chose that famous pulpit for delivering the indictment in order that the widest possible publicity might be given to the subject. The directors, in the public Press, then made through their solicitors an emphatic and indignant denial of their responsibility, alleging that in the first place they were ignorant of the occurrences, and that when these were shown to have some foundation in fact they voluntarily dispatched a commission to inquire into the matter.
The occurrences of the Putumayo have aroused public feeling in Lima... for there has always existed a party protesting against the abuses practised upon the Indians. ... The subject must not be allowed to sink into oblivion, and the pressure of public opinion must be sustained.
Reginald Enock. “Introduction,”W. E. Hardenberg, The Putumayo, the devil's paradise; travels in the Peruvian Amazon region and an account of the atrocities committed upon the Indians therein." Edited and with an introduction by C. Reginal Enock, F.R.G.S. T. Fischer Unwin; London: Adephi Terrace, Leipsic: Inselstrasse 2C . 1912.

The rubber boom ended in Iquitos 100 years ago, and the city fell into ruin for close to the full century before tourism and oil brought people to the area again, to make money, to build, to last. The moral course is trod one step at a time, sometimes “One step forward, two steps back,” as Lenin notes; and as one of his more evil acolytes furthered, to circumvent humanness, one attempts a “Great Leap Forward.” Those steps often lead to entry into the heart of darkness where man stands alone as his own god, unrestrained by his fellows, pursuing his own idols built to honor himself, the result being the City of Death ruled by a toad. It must collapse. Murder cannot prevail. The boom must burst. Today Iquitos is a thriving city of half a million people, relatively prosperous, making money bit by bit without the burden of madness descending on the few who, unsupervised by ordinary morality among men, run amok in the wild and destroy. From a city of 20,000 in which some lit cigars with hundred dollar bills while others were enslaved and mutilated and murdered for the sake of theft, there is a city full of people engaged in the Modern, growing more prosperous daily, moving incrementally toward-- a new sewer system!

Theft, rapine, and murder enriched a few for a short few years. Honest industry enriches a large city forever. For that one might grudgingly thank the numerous hippies who arrive today in the city of Iquitos to take drugs. Capitalism and its spirit, profit, work miracles unknown to the man driven into himself alone. That man without other men held worthy of trust and dignity cannot be a man but only a monster is a lesson viewed clearly in the heart of darkness. That man will collapse into his own Hell.

In the aftermath of the Rubber Boom the city of Iquitos went from a population of 20,000 to roughly 200. Today the city is close to half a million people living in something approaching Modernity. It ain't so perfect. Some things could stand some improvement. We'll look at the sewer system first, and then we will end this book on Iquitos with a look at the ayahuasca trade that has such a great impact on the city. The robbery of the rubber trade was “unsustainable” and today it is replaced with private pursuit of happiness, i.e. the successful pursuit of profit, sometimes at the expense of those who seek enlightenment from the darkness of their alien Modernity. Here, Iquitos bounces back. 

 A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:


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