Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Talking to the Dead

"The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will..."

Entrance to the city cemetery, Iquitos, Peru

Many of us are going to spend a long time in a cemetery, and maybe we would like to know a little bit about the place before we go to stay. Yes, even people in Iquitos, Peru end up dead, nice place though this is; and if one stays here long enough, chances are one will die here. Then what? One might hope for a pleasant place to stay, a cemetery plot or a niche in a wall with lots of others to keep one company in an orderly and well-kempt if massive garden of the dead. Whatever it is, one might like to have something more than a random hole in the ground. There's a reason that such a place as a modern civic cemetery is the likely final resting place for most, a practical reason Iquitos has a general cemetery, one laid out to replace the original cemetery at Av. 28 Julio just out from the city centre but not far enough away to expand to meet the needs of an ever growing city. The reason for a modern cemetery is similar to if not exactly the same as the need Iquitos has for an upgraded sewerage system: It's a matter of waste disposal. Dead bodies, to be frank, are more or less sewage. We do have some respect for the person, though, and thus we lay out our dead in ceremonies that link them to us and us to life and the future. A cemetery is, in some sense, a memory bank for a people.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

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

3. The Rubber Barons:
"The horrendous atrocities that were unleashed on the Indian people of the Amazon during the height of the rubber boom were like nothing that had been seen since the first days of the Spanish Conquest."
Ward Davis, One River (1997)

"The crimes charged against many men now in the employ of the Peruvian Amazon Company are of the most atrocious kind, including murder, violation, and constant flogging."
Roger Casement, British Consul-general, (1910)

Roger Casement was hanged by John Ellis and his assistants at Pentonville Prison in London on 3 August 1916, at the age of 51.

Only twice in my life have I been tempted to get a tattoo. Once, the tempting offer to bond with a lunatic I was having a brief but unhappy relationship around and about. She, hoping to keep our relationship alive or sputtering, suggested we could get "his and hers matching tattoos." I gave this idea some thought as hard and heavy as lead, and considering the nature of love and stuff I finally agreed, basing my suggestion on her personality, her interests, her unmistakable charmliness that shone through an otherwise weird personality, and then my budget: I said, “Knowing you as I do, and loving you for all you are worth, I think we should get his and hers matching tattoos of a Walmart logo.”

[Just think "Walmart" and we won't have to post the logo itself.]

The other temptation to tattoo was an offer of “Bring Back Mr. Ellis.” I'm averse to gratuitous pain (against me, of course,) and as the best place for such a tattoo is on my neck, I declined. But was it ever close! 

In what has to be the coincidence of my long life I wrote the above without giving any thought at all to Roger Casement being hanged by "Mr. Ellis." But of course they would have met. And, as this story to come is about Roger Casement in large part and since the book I can't find, Vargas Llosa, Dreams of the Celt is about this story, the two come together in a way I had not considered till looking for a link to Mr. Ellis, finding an excerpt from the book in question.

"Could I take a bath today?" he [Roger Casement] asked before he went in.
The fat jailer shook his head, looking into his eyes with the same repugnance Roger had detected in the clerk's gaze.
"You cannot bathe until the day of your execution," said the sheriff, relishing each word. "And, on that day, only if it's your final wish. Others, instead of a bath, prefer a good meal. A bad business for Mr. Ellis, because then, when they feel the noose, they shit themselves. And leave the place like a pigsty. Mr. Ellis is the hangman, in case you didn't know."
It is no coincidence at all that the worst book ever written, the drivel by James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy, is set in an imaginary Iquitos and is in some part about coincidences. Were I only a slightly less moral man I might envision Redfield meeting Mr Ellis as well. Some folks beg to be hanged.
Yes, some folks are justly begging to be hanged, and when they go through an easy life that would shock Ecclesiastes with the injustice of it one truly longs for Mr. Ellis, the stage name, as it were, of British hangmen. That at least some of the Rubber Barons weren't hauled off and hanged is an outrage. Roger Casement was hanged instead. Such is life. Brutally unfair. And such, in a large but actually small part, is the life of early Iquitos, Peru. Some of the Rubber Barons were very bad people, and they acted so in Iquitos for a few decades, committing murder and bringing shame to humanity. Some of the Rubber Barons deserved to be hanged. Didn't happen. Too bad. I woulda got the tee shirt-- and the tattoo. Instead, we can look at the story in broad sweep and see what went wrong, and from there perhaps we can see our way clear of repetition. I suspect the nature of man will never truly change. There will always be Rubber Barons of one sort or another. In my secret heart I do feel the best solution is to bring back Mr. Ellis.
Historically, the most notorious Rubber Baron was Peru's Julius Cesar Arana, know to most who know of him at all in Vargas Llosa's novel. But the most widely-known is fictional in a different way. “Undoubtedly today the most famous of the Amazonian rubber barons is the fictional Irishman Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald Fitzcarraldo,” brought to the world on screen by German filmmaker Werner Herzog in 1982.

The real Fitzcarraldo was Peruvian rubber baron named Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald (B. 1862 – D. July 1897)

Fitzcarrald's grave, Iquitos, Peru

It is hard to tell which was more incredible, the true story of Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald or the making of the film Fitzcarraldo. Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald in no way resembled the benevolent character of the movie. He was a brutal rubber baron who when he encountered indigenous people gave them the choice to work for him under cruel conditions or die. Yes, if they refused to work for him, they were executed! Despite his brutality, he was a innovative explorer.
Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald died at the age of 35 during the accident that sank his ship.
Dan James Pantone, Ph.D. "The Myth of Fitzcarraldo"
Fitzcarrald not only has a major street named after him in central Iquitos, there is a Municipality of Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald. Not a good man, as we judge by the standards of our time; nor was he a good man by the standards of his own. But as bad as Fitzcarrald was, he is not near the monster as was Julio Cesar Arana, Rubber Baron par excellence.
Julio Cesar Arana
Arana (B. 1864 – D. 1952) was born Rioja,Peru. At 14 he was employed in the hat trade under his father. “In 1879 his father sent him to work as a secretary, where he learned business administration and bookkeeping, but by 1881 he was again trading on the Amazon, bartering a range of goods (including hats) for rubber. By 1889 he had established a rubber-collecting business with his brother-in-law, Pablo Zumaeta, in Tarapoto....
Arana is at the centre of the Putumayo Affair, a scandal of slavery and murder on a genocidal scale in the Amazon, propelled by the demand for rubber and a lack of moral restraint by some men who delved into the heart of darkness, longing for riches of the world, in the process becoming the jungle itself.

Arana founded the Peruvian Amazon Company (PAC) in 1907. “The company operated in the area of the Putumayo river, a river that flows from the Andes to join the Amazon River deep in the tropical jungle. This area was contested at the time between Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, while also being inhabited by large numbers of indigenous people.”
The Putumayo is a major river in is own right, some 3,000 miles long, which rises in the mountains on the west coast of Colombia and joins the Amazon in Brazil. For much of its length it forms the border between Peru and Columbia or Ecuador and Columbia. It was in this region, in an area about the size of Belgium, that one Julio Cesar Arana built his rubber empire.”
The territory in question is an area of some 12,000 square miles which is largely confined to a triangle of land formed by the Putumayo and two of its tributaries, the Cara-Paraná and the Caquetá (known in Brazil as the Japura). The easternmost point of this triangle lies some 400 miles up the Putumayo from that river’s confluence with the Amazon. It is the Putumayo which now delimits the frontier between Peru and Colombia. This region of tropical rain forest was inhabited by native peoples who were coerced into harvesting the local second-grade rubber known as sernambi, whose commercial value depended on the virtually free labour of the gatherers. The system had been set up by Julio Cesar Arana at the turn of the century, and in 1907 he took advantage of the rubber speculation on the London stock market to set up a limited company with a capital of £1,000,000. (The 12,000 square miles of forest that he had acquired by 1906 had cost him a total of £116,700.) The first English-language news of the atrocities perpetrated by the Peruvian Amazon Company was published in the magazine Truth in September 1909 and it was these accounts by the American railway engineer Walter Hardenburg, who had been held prisoner by the company, that prompted the British Foreign Office to request that [roger] Casement accompany the investigating commission sent to Peru by the London board of directors the following year.
"By 1896 Arana had moved the centre of his operations [and his international] business connections to Iquitos and was living in a ten-room house."

Casa de Julio César Arana y hermanos en La Chorrera. Fotografía de Eugenio Robuchon. En: El Putumayo y sus afluentes, 1905.

"In 1907, at the height of the Amazonian rubber boom, he [Arana] arrived in London,England to register his company – the Peruvian Amazon Company (PAC) - capitalised at £1,000,000."
The company participated in abuses and criminal actions against laborers in the area. A movement grew to stop the abuse and eventually led to the end of the company. The Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society was one of the activist groups working to stop the abuses.
W.E. [Walter Ernest] Hardenburg wrote a scathing article in the British magazine Truth. The British government in 1910 sent the consul-general Roger Casement to investigate. His report also denounced the activities of the company. A Select Committee of the House of Commons published a paper on the investigations in 1913. The British Board of Directors was considered not criminally liable. However, the Parliament and others moved to tighten up anti-slavery laws. World War I interrupted this work.
Among the findings by the various investigatory parties were wide spread debt bondage, slavery, torture, mutilation, and many other crimes in the Amazonian Rubber industry, with Putumayo area being but one example. Religious leaders such as Manuel Polit, Bishop of Cuenca in Ecuador, denounced these activities and worked to reform the system. There were also organizations such as the Sociedad Pro-Indigena. The area governments also attempted to implement measures to control the abuses, but it was difficult in the large countryside.

The company was forced into closure by a judge in 1913.
Whilst Arana was in London the scandal opened at the instigation of Benjamin Saldana Rocca who filed criminal complaints against Arana and his companies for rape, murder and torture of the Indian tappers, their wives and children. Even though Rocca ran his own newspaper and campaigned vigorously against Arana for many months, the courts were totally inactive so Rocca decided that his stories and the evidence he possessed needed a wider audience.
He was lucky to recruit, through his son, a young American, W E Hardenburg, to his cause. Hardenburg had been badly treated by Arana and was certainly after revenge although he was later to be described as “a man of simple Christian standards” and as an idealist by his biographer. Whatever his motivations, Hardenburg was happy to set sail for London in July 1909 with masses of documentary evidence that Britain, the world leaders in antislavery legislation in the 19th century, was home to a company practicing all the most terrible of activities associated with slavery in the 20th century!

In London he met the Revered John H Harris of the Anti-slavery and Aborigines Protection Society who had just finished his decade-long campaign against Leopold and the Congo rubber trade. Harris then introduced Hardenburg to Sydney Paternoster of the newspaper “Truth” who was able to confirm enough of Rocca’s story to continue the crusade in his paper. His allegations included rape, torture and murder of the natives and emphasised that the PAC was a British company. The uproar the articles caused could not be ignored and in May 1910 the Foreign Office asked Roger Casement, who had also been involved in exposing the Congo horrors, to investigate. He traveled throughout the Putumayo region and reported that the fundamentals of Rocca/Hardenburg’s allegations were based on fact. He demanded that the law should take its course and in order to prevent a Government cover-up, as he had experienced with his reports from the Congo, he copied his report to the Anti-slavery and Aborigines Protection Society. (This was probably sensible as it took until 1912 for the UK Government to actually publish his report).
At this point it should be pointed out that other voices were being raised against Arana with the governments of Columbia, Ecuador and Peru all being concerned with the tales coming out of the Putumayo. However, nationalism and politics were used to obscure the truth. Columbia and Ecuador used the stories to take the moral high ground and to reinforce their territorial claims on the area whilst Arana roused all patriotic Peruvians to help him, blaming soldiers from the other two countries for the atrocities. The Peruvian government had been continuing its investigations of Arana and spurred on by articles in the “serious” press it directed Judge Carlos Valcácel to investigate. This appointment fell through and it was left to Judge Rómulo Paredos to set off and initiate Peru’s formal investigation in early 1911. Four months later he returned with his evidence which, when documented, came to 1242 pages and confirmed all that had been said about the horrors of the Putumayo. Valcácel supported Paredos and issued over 200 arrest warrants but the pro-Arana camp was so powerful and vociferous that he [Paredos] quickly realised his life was in danger and fled the country. The courts cancelled the warrants.
Arana [argued that] his company was a strong civilising force in the wilds of the jungle and he was promoting Peru’s national interests and international position. To say otherwise was simply unpatriotic. At a national level this argument could appeal to a compliant government, but Peru was now facing a rising tide of anger in the UK and, perhaps more importantly, by 1912 the growth of Asian plantation rubber was starting to threaten the wild Amazonian material. The writing was on the wall for the Peruvian economy! America was sitting on the fence for fear of upsetting its South American neighbours whilst Brazil was keeping a very low profile as it was well aware that “the Putumayo Affair” was not unique but fairly typical of rubber collecting throughout the Amazon and related basins.
The publication of (now Sir Roger) Casement’s report in 1912 by the UK government contained figures which could no longer be ignored. Casement calculated that at least 30,000 natives had been directly murdered or killed by deliberate starvation brought about by crop destruction for a gain of 4,000 tons of rubber in the Putumayo region alone in the first 12 years of the century. On November 5th 1912 a UK Parliamentary Committee began six months of hearings into the affair. Hardenburg, Harris, Paternoster and Casement all gave evidence as did Arana himself and three members of the board of PAC. Arana’s defence was two-pronged – Nobody had told him what was going on, he had not witnessed anything himself and his accusers were all of bad character and unreliable. He had to accept Casement’s evidence but, as he had already said, he knew nothing of the atrocities himself.
The Committee’s report showed its opinion of Arana, accusing him of “callous indifference and guilty knowledge” whilst it accused the board members of “negligent ignorance”. It further concluded that the Putumayo affair was only one shockingly bad instance of conditions liable to be found over a wide area in South America.
The British courts could not imprison Arana who returned to Peru and continued his business. Britain tried to persuade Peru, Brazil and the US to close his business down but to no avail. In 1914 the First World War led to a sustained demand for all Amazonian rubber and the PAC survived until 1920.
Arana’s business interests continued however and in 1932 he, together with his son and daughter, were involved with a “Patriotic Junta” which attempted to reclaim land ceded to Columbia by Peru a decade earlier. This resulted in a full-scale but brief war between the two countries, stopped under pressure from the US. The losers were, as always, the Indians and, this time, Arana himself who lost the lands he was fighting to regain.
[Enter photo of tomb of Peruvian soldiers.]
Arana retired at 69 and lived until 1952 where he died in poverty outside Lima.

Roger Casement.

At a time in Britian when Irish novelist and playwright Oscar Wilde was being persecuted and imprisoned for homosexuality, Roger Casement was the British consul in charge of reporting to the government on conditions in the Putumayo district of the Amazon. Casement kept two diaries of his time in the Amazon, the official “White Diaries” and his personal “Black Diaries.” Casement, too, an Irish writer, was a homosexual. In today's parlance Casement would be known almost solely as a human rights activist.

[W]ednesday, 21 September 1910, found Roger Casement on board the Liberal, steaming rapidly up the River Igara-Paraná, one week after leaving Iquitos, and almost exactly two months after setting sail from Southampton on the Edinburgh Castle. The ‘White Diary,’ which records his findings in harrowing detail, covers the period from 23 September to 6 December, when he left Iquitos again, this time on his way downstream to Manaus and thence to Europe. The parallel ‘Black Diary,’ which includes details of Casement’s sexual encounters, covers almost the whole of 1910, from 13 January to 31 December. Those in search of prurient titillation will almost certainly be disappointed with the content of the ‘Black Diary,’ whose sexual information is largely limited to reports of penis sizes and shapes and accounts of associated financial transactions. Given that Casement’s homosexual preferences no longer arouse the horror expressed by his contemporaries, the diary is far more interesting for the light that it sheds upon the thought processes that are set down in its companion volume.

Roger Casement, Iquitos, Peru

Although he does not go as far as to equate the situation of his oppressed countrymen with that of the tortured indigenous people that he is investigating there are a number of indications that he perceives a parallel between the two.
Peter James Harris, From the Putumayo to Connemara

Roger David Casement (Irish: Ruairí Dáithí Mac Easmainn; (B. 1864 – D. 3 August 1916)
When he was attached as a consular representative to a commission investigating murderous rubber slavery by the British-registered Peruvian Amazon Company, effectively controlled by the archetypal rubber baron Julio Cesar Arana and his brother, Casement had the occasion to do work among the Putumayo Indians of Peru similar to that which he had done in the Congo. Public outrage in Britain over the abuses against the Putumayo had been sparked in 1909 by articles in the British magazine Truth. Casement paid two visits to the region, first in 1910 and then a follow-up in 1911. In a report to the British foreign secretary, dated 17 March 1911, Casement detailed the rubber company's use of stocks to punish the Indians:
Men, women, and children were confined in them for days, weeks, and often months. ... Whole families ... were imprisoned--fathers, mothers, and children, and many cases were reported of parents dying thus, either from starvation or from wounds caused by flogging, while their offspring were attached alongside of them to watch in misery themselves the dying agonies of their parents.
Sir Roger Casement was a humanitarian campaigner and an Irish patriot, poet, revolutionary, and nationalist.
He was a British consul by profession, famous for his reports and activities against human rights abuses in the Congo and Peru and also for his dealings with Germany before Ireland's Easter Rising in 1916. An Irish nationalist and Parnellite in his youth, he worked in Africa for commercial interests and latterly in the service of Britain. However, the Boer War and his consular investigation into atrocities in the Congo led Casement to anti-Imperialist and ultimately to Irish Republican and separatist political opinions. He sought to obtain German support for a rebellion in Ireland against British rule. Shortly before the Easter Rising, he landed in Ireland and was arrested. He was subsequently convicted and executed by the British for treason.
There has been controversy over a set of "black" diaries, copies of which were circulated selectively by the British authorities following Casement's conviction, which, if accepted as genuine, would portray Casement as a promiscuous homosexual with a fondness for young men. Given prevailing views on homosexuality at the time, circulation of the diaries helped undermine support for clemency for Casement.
After his return to Britain, he repeated his extra-consular campaigning work by organising Anti-Slavery Society and mission interventions in the region, which was disputed between Peru and Colombia. Some of the men exposed as killers in his report were charged by Peru, while others fled. Conditions in the area undoubtedly improved as a result, but the contemporary switch to farmed rubber in other parts of the world was a godsend to the Indians as well.
In the early hours of 21 April 1916, three days before the [Easter] rising began, Casement was put ashore at Banna Strand in Tralee Bay, County Kerry. Too weak to travel, he was discovered at McKenna's Fort (an ancient ring fort now called Casement's Fort) in Rathoneen, Ardfert, and subsequently arrested on charges of treason, sabotage and espionage against the Crown. He was taken straight to the Tower of London where he was imprisoned....

That some allowed themselves a full plunge into moral madness is not to say all did or that even many did. Nor is it to say that many turned a blind eye to the atrocities of the Rubber Boom. When people became aware of the conditions facing people they knew not nor anything about other than that their fellow human beings were mistreated, sometimes even tortured and murdered, they, the public, put an end to it. Such is the power of people in a commercial economy. an American brought some pressure to bear as well as did the Irishman Casement. One might someday wonder why the public is so lax in thinking about people of the Amazon today who are at least as harshly treated by drug lords as they were previously by Rubber Barons. Perhaps taking cocaine dulls ones moral sense to the point of oblivion in ways rubber tyres of automobiles do not.

Stuart Fuller, U.S. Consul at Iquitos, Peru reports atrocities in Putumayo district and levels charges against the Peruvian Amazon Company in three preliminary reports.

Fuller “found that natives had been burned alive for petty offenses, in some cases kerosene oil being poured on them. Spanish and West Indian men [Barbadians] acting as agents of the company exercised the power of life and death over the Indians.
In one case as many as ten men and women were decapitated because they were too weak to march and keep up with an expedition. Every kind of ingenuity in torture has been preacticed by the rubber agents. In some cases men and boys were held under water to make them agree to work. In others they were hung up in chains until they were unconscious.”
 2 Dec. 1912. New York Times.

For the Aranas and Fitzcarralds of the world there are Casements to rise up against them. There are W.E. Hardenburgs. We might never find justice on this earth but it is the dream of this Celt that we can do battle against evil and sometimes not hang for it ourselves.

Next time we'll have a look at W.E. Hardenburg.

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

And here are some reviews and comments on said book: