Mexico – Moral Guardianship

THE members of the oil and policy groups who believe with the Germans that the strongest defense is to take the offensive, being thus primed with detailed information about every Mexican event and episode of importance, past and present, about every leader and politician of distinction and about every coming man and his vulnerable points, know the particular motives to which each one is impressible. Hence they can play upon the right chords and could usually foretell a revolt or a revolution until July, 1921, when the upheaval planned in their own oil district under conditions which they are said to have foreknown was trampled out as soon as it began. They are also more fully conversant with every clause and every interpretation of the Constitutions of 1857 and 1917 and with the seamy side of the history of this period than most Mexican Ministers. They influence some of the principal journalistic sources of information and opinion. And they also boast that they have “enlisted” the sympathies and the services of some eminent Mexicans who are in voluntary exile. They in-vest considerable sums of money in propaganda. In a word, the Mexicans hold that if knowledge be power, this wealthy Junta is well nigh almighty, and if money be the open sesame to either, all its avenues and by-ways have been swept and garnished for their passage.

Some of the avowed objects of the Association at the outset commanded the respect of every friend of justice and equity. They were desired by Europeans as ardently as by Americans, being described as adequate protection for the lives and properties of outlanders in Mexico, and compensation for the financial losses inflicted in the past. That such an influential and well-equipped body should be exceptionally successful in the prosecution of these aims was only to be anticipated. For it pursued them steadfastly and ingeniously, unaffected by minor currents, and never once did it take an official step without having first assured itself of the support of the State Department in Washington. This precaution explains its formidable strength and went far to cause its avowed policy to be identified with that of the permanent element of every Government, Republican or Democratic.

But long before the pristine programme of the Association had been realised, Mexicans were in a quiver lest it should be stretched over more ground. And ominous signs and tokens strengthened their apprehension. Among these was the defection of some of the unprejudiced financiers of Wall Street who disagreed with certain of the objects of the Association as unwarranted. The Mexicans feared interpenetration accelerated by diplomacy, which is the latter day substitute for invasion and annexation. And this was unofficially confessed to by some private members. That was the policy of the late Russian statesman, Count Witte, in the Far East and it bade fair to bring forth the fruits which he anticipated, when it was thwarted by the disturbing action of the German Kaiser who preferred the old system of territorial annexation to the new. Interpenetration, as Witte understood it, consisted in first disclaiming any design upon territory, next in obtaining a firm economic hold in the country by advancing loans and then putting forward various demands for protection for nationals and special legislation as practical corollaries. It is an adaptation of the Arab camel’s way : he first puts his nose through the opening of the tent and then draws his body, hump and all, after it. Thus the Eastern Chinese railway which was Witte’s first standing ground had to have Russian officials to administer it. These required a Russian semi-military body to protect them against angry natives. The two sets of officials had to have Russian banks and schools. To avoid friction the Russians were allowed to select the Chinese local authorities and lastly to suggest the special legislation which best suited Russian requirements. But there was no intervention, no territorial aggression, no trace of force. The entire arrangement was but the building up of a “durable friendship” and by way of sealing the compact Russia generously undertook to defend China against her enemies with troops and money and to give sound advice to her friend in all cases of diplomatic difficulty with other Powers and to occupy her ports in case of threatened foreign aggression. The present writer was with Count Witte when this treaty of commerce and amity was concluded.

Mexicans are apt to dread similar developments as a result of the unofficial action and far-ranging influence of the Association and its political allies in the background. They feel instinctively that some of the political currents in the world are set in that direction to-day and that comprehensive aims, as friendly as were those of Tsarist Russia in China, may be —are in fact—believed by misinformed statesmen to fit the Mexican situation exactly. They have the examples of Haiti, and Santo Domingo before their eyes and they remember the French proverb qui a bu boira. They know that the struggle for the necessaries of economic life among the leading races of the globe will be characterised by a degree of ruthlessness hitherto unexampled. They are aware how attractive a prize is Mexico which has already absorbed forty per cent of all American capital invested abroad and will attract a great deal more as soon as outstanding political scores are wiped off the slate. Mexican oil has been publicly declared essential to the United States. That implies a fixed official attitude on the part of the United States Administration and may well entail in the long run a corresponding official adoption of further clauses of the programme of the Oil and Policy group. In silver production Mexico is ahead of all the world. Nearly every mineral worth exploiting is found in the Republic and can be worked commercially. It is able to vie successfully with Cuba in sugar and with Egypt in cotton production and representatives of every American branch of commerce and industry are already flocking thither to provide for their future wants and await the moving of the waters.

Thus a large part of the trade, commerce and industry of the Republic has passed into the experienced hands of the greatest business people on the globe who are eager for the rest and are being efficaciously seconded by their public trustees. And these workers or their spokesmen feel warranted in demanding adequate facilities for their activity in the shape of domestic legislation and foreign policy, this being a correlate of that. Such legislation, it is urged, must come up to the standard of those who are creating public opinion in the States with a view to the establishment of close permanent relations between the two countries. Prominent among them is the distinguished American’statesman—now a member of the Cabinet —whose programme is believed to include an arrangement with Mexico of the same order as that which the Platt Amendment established with Cuba. Another of the unofficial demands on Mexico formulates a series of reforms to be carried through on Church matters, as, for instance, the abolition of all the restrictions enacted against the Roman Catholic clergy, despite the circumstance that however stringent or inexpedient these statutes may be they are virtually identical with those in force in the democratic French Republic and cannot be made the subject of complaint by any foreign Power. In a word, Mexico’s Constitution is an eye-sore to these self-constituted reformers and they will not be satisfied until it is superseded by a charter which is in their opinion more conducive to the spiritual, social and political welfare of both Republics. And that is the Constitution of 1857. Only when this has been effected will the intimate union planned by these foreign friends of Mexico be possible between the two countries. They are aware that it would be as unseemly to demand the abrogation of the Constitution of 1917 as it would have been for the mild pacific Quaker to kill the dog that bit him, so they merely call for a series of measures which will oblige the Mexican Government to cancel it and will render that Government a puppet of the United States.

Men’s souls, a Russian proverb says, are dusky virgin forests, wherein motives are lost to sight. And in default of knowledge it is fair that the detached outsider should give those would-be foreign saviours of Mexico full credit for the friendship which they profess for it. At the same time, how-ever, one cannot affect surprise if the Mexicans appreciate it in the words of the saying: “The vulture kisses the chicken until there is not a feather left.” Has he not done this in Haiti?

Whatever one may think of the strivings of the Association and of the inaccessibility of Mexicans to its reasoning, one must admit that no adequate opinion of the situation can be formed without a clear understanding of the standpoint of each. Thus at any moment one of those unforeseen events of international import in which Mexican history abounds may occur to belie the soundest forecast. The utmost one can do therefore is to make one’s deductions from the data actually available and allow a broad margin for the freaks of circumstance.

The ostensible issues, then, between Mexico and the United States are the repeal of all the decrees which demonstrably encroached upon private rights of property, reparation for the past and assurances for the future. Legally and technically the United States Government is well within its rights in preferring these claims. And the Obregón Administration has recognised their justice in word and is satisfying them in deed. But behind these legitimate demands lurks the steadfast conviction of the capitalist interests that they cannot be satisfactorily complied with under present conditions nor so long as the Constitution of 1917 is allowed to stand, and that in case this were feasible it would be undesirable, because the resulting situation must be necessarily transitory and incongruous. One practical inference from this thesis is as good as drawn already; neither a legislative act by the Mexican Congress nor a decision of the Supreme Court will be accepted by the United States Government as a satisfactory solution because a judicial pronouncement and a legislative enactment are both liable to reversal each by the respective institution whence it emanated. What is postulated then is a solemn commitment of a comprehensive character which shall bind the Republic of Mexico, authorise the United States Government to keep it to its word and thus bring about a set of conditions propitious to pacific labour in harmonious fellowship,—conditions, in a word, such as obtain in prosperous Cuba. As for the binding force of any compact however solemn on the United States, Mexicans entertain their own settled opinions. And they base these on the recent tragic history of Haiti.

This consummation, it is discerned, cannot be effected at once. Mexico abhors it. An attempt to achieve it whether from within or without would provoke bitter resentment and resolute resistance. In fact it would plunge the country into civil war once more. It needs a peculiar kind of shameless daring in the Mexican worker which is never found in combination with any civic virtue and it can be entrusted only to those base products of all social upheavals who are willing to serve as the instruments of any sinister influence on conditions advantageous to themselves. And then it goes by an unpleasant name. If a man with such proclivities were in power in Mexico today not only would the ostensible issues be speedily revealed but likewise all the other unavowed desiderata would be disclosed by the docile leader congruously with the promptings of the friendly foreign Mentor. Is there such a tool? Rumor answers : Yes, and history awaits the promised proofs.

To advocate the moral guardianship of the United States, is to harp on a string which has no music for the Mexican ear. In all the other Latin-American Republics too the tide of national and racial feeling flows steadily against it. Could they think or feel otherwise, history’s records being what they are? They all regard the proposed treaty as the insertion of the thin end of a wedge destined gradually to break up their sovereignty. They apprehend that what is aimed at is the establishment of a permanent agency through which the breezes of salutary inspiration may blow steadily from Washington first to Mexico and then to all the Southern Republics. The past history of Mexico and the correct reading of the current history of Haiti and other little States they take as warnings and as omens. They regard the civilisation of the United States when confined to its own home with respect mingled with awe, but they resent having it superimposed on their own. They unconsciously echo the thought of that patriotic American publicist, W. G. Sumner, who wrote : “There is not a civilised nation which does not talk about its civilising mission just as grandly as we do. The English, who really have more to boast of in this respect than anybody else, talk least about it, but the Pharisaism with which they correct and instruct other people has made them hated all over the globe. . . . For each nation laughs at all the others when it observes these manifestations of national vanity. You may rely upon it that they are all ridiculous by virtue of these pretensions, including ourselves. The point is that each of them repudiates the standards of the others, and the outlying nations which are to be civilised hate all the standards of civilised men. We assume that what we like and practise and what we think better must come as a welcome blessing to Spanish-Americans and Filipinos. This is grossly and obviously untrue. They hate our ways. They are hostile to our ideas. Our religion, language, institutions and manners offend them. They like their own ways, and if we appear amongst them as rulers, there will be social discord in all the great departments of social interest…. Now the great reason why all these enterprises, which began by saying to somebody else, ‘we know what is good for you better than you know yourself and we are going to make you do it,’ are false and wrong, is that they violate liberty.”1 There one has the entire subject in a nut-shell. One must reluctantly admit that liberty is among those rights of peoples and individuals which is most imperfectly understood in the United States.

If it could be shown conclusively that the Mexican Constitution as a whole is what certain foreign corporations affirm that it is,—a nefarious charter which legalises confiscation,—there is no doubt that the President of the Mexican Republic would have refused to swear fidelity to it until and unless it was abrogated. Nay more, if it could now be demonstrated that any article of it conduces to a breach of international law, measures would be enforced to modify it. Already it has been amended in several details. Don Venustiano himself sponsored various projects tending to better it. Even lately certain projects have been drafted for the like purpose. But the ground taken by Mexicans who have scrutinised the oil companies’ complaints is that the origin of their grievances lies not in the Constitution itself but in certain presidential decrees which ran counter to its spirit and that they have since joined hands with the enemies of Mexico’s sovereignty.

Thus the more active protectors of American rights start with begging the question and fabricating proofs. They assume that the Constitution of 1917 is a perennial source of evil, keeps Mexico in a continuous ferment of turmoil, making her a nuisance to her neighbours, and that until it is done away with that country’s condition cannot change sufficiently for the better to warrant the moral and financial support of the United States, nor even to justify further forbearance. In plain terms, it must be abrogated if the Republic is to live. They forget that the past is not the present and ignore the new order of things. The United States, they further urge, can no longer tolerate the dangerous vagaries of a semi-savage neighbour running amuck, killing their citizens, destroying American property, trampling on American rights, sending the poison of bolshevism into United States cities and rendering it increasingly difficult for law-abiding people in either country to discharge their duties, and perpetrating these enormities in the name of constitutional law,—as though such excesses took place in post-revolutionary Mexico or indeed of late years at all.

This, it is argued by those who are intrepid in propagandist logic, is one of those cases in which the maxim—from a theory it is fast becoming a maxim—of “Manifest Destiny” is fairly applicable. When the United States quarreled with Spain in Florida and Louisiana—the argument runs—it had right on its side, because Spain was clearly unfitted to govern her dependencies in accordance with the dictates of humanity and over and above all was unwilling to discharge her international commitments and functions. Arrogating to herself extensive rights she shirked the correlative duties and implicitly claimed to be a law unto herself. And as this was merely one of the aspects of the case presented by savage tribes which strive to hold their territory against civilised colonists, it was very properly treated as such by the United States. Mexico is in a like plight to-day, say the would-be reformers from the great Northern Republic, well knowing that the statement is utterly at variance with the truth. Her pacific population is cruelly oppressed by a gang of thieves and cut-throats whose squalid and immoral policy cries out to civilised mankind for repressive measures. Obregón may be the honest man he is represented to be, but what is one sane individual among so many furious madmen? A foil and nothing more. And the Constitution to which Carranza appealed for his confiscatory decrees may be relied upon by Obregón’s successor for similar monstrosities. It is certain then that Mexico’s progressive and kindly disposed neighbour is invested with the natural right and bound by the moral obligation to shoulder the white man’s burden and assume the minimum degree of indirect jurisdiction adequate to enable it to bestow on the population peace, order and guarantees so that commerce and industry may be prosecuted there.

And the first step to be taken towards bringing back the country to the “normalcy” of the Diaz régime must be the abrogation of the obnoxious Constitution. This was also one of the moves made by the United States officials in their beneficent labour for the establishment of “tolerable conditions” in Haiti. Colonel Littleton Waller, commanding the United States expeditionary forces in Haiti, wrote to the President of the Haitian Senate demanding the general revision of the Constitution and the dissolution of the Senate, should this body decline to co-operate with the Constituent Chamber in this sense.

The President of the Haitian Senate resented this well meant exercise of fraternal authority and replied : “The attempt to abolish the Senate is a flagrant violation of the Constitution and is consequently tantamount to a. revolutionary act.”

None the less, the Senate was summarily and unconstitutionally dissolved, the lower house was illegally transformed into a constituent assembly and a dictatorship was established in lieu of the Constitutional Government.