DURING my stay in Santiago I had an interview with the President of Chile. His Excellency gave me an appointment and it was with our American Minister that I chatted with him concerning matters of mutual interest to our respective countries. The audience was held at “the Moneda,” or Presidential residence, a three-story building so vast that you could put the White House into one corner of it. Its ground floor is, I judge, as large as that of the Capitol at Washington. The building is constructed in Spanish style, with many rooms built about hollow squares, filled with flowers and trees, and in some of which fountains play. The Moneda contains not only the private apartments and offices of the President, but also the offices of several of his Ministers. It is one of the busiest places in Santiago, and its surroundings are quite imposing. The Chilean officials are fond of pomp and display. As we entered the Moneda we passed soldiers with drawn swords in their hands, and just outside were ranged the President’s military guard, of 200 cavalry, ready to accompany His Excellency on a drive he was about to take after my audience was over.
We went through long halls to the offices of the Secretary of State, who took us in and introduced us to His Excellency, President Errazuriz, who received us cordially and through an interpreter talked with us for about an hour. The President of Chile is a slender, courtly man of perhaps forty years of age. He has a dark, handsome face and a dignified manner. He is very enthusiastic about the prospective development of Chile, and a large part of our conversation was about the proposed Isthmian Canals and the possibility of an Inter-Continental railroad. He had many friendly words for Americans and American capitalists, and advocated closer social and financial relations between the United States and Chile.
During this interview and others which I have had with the leading men of the government, I asked many questions as to the political condition of the country. Though a Republic, it differs in many respects from that of the United States. The Chilean President, for instance, is elected for five years instead of four, as with us, and is not eligible for a second term. The Presidential election day is June 25, of the fifth year of each presidency, and Inauguration Day is September 18, of the same year. The 18th day of September is the Chilean day of Independence, corresponding to our 4th of July. The President of Chile receives a salary of $18,000, and has in addition an allowance of $12,000 annually for expenses. These sums, being in Chilean money, are equivalent to not more than $11,000 in American gold. The President has the veto power, as our President has, but his veto can be over-ridden by a two-thirds’ majority of the Members of Congress present at the time the measure is brought back; and the political situation is such that, when a Presidential measure fails, it is usually the custom for the Cabinet to resign, so that Chile has a new Ministry on an average of once a month or so. In addition to the Cabinet, which is made up of ministers much on the same lines as those of our own Cabinet, the President has a Council of State, consisting of five members appointed by himself and six chosen by Congress.
The Chilenos, if unmarried, cannot vote until they are twenty-five years of age, though married men can vote at twenty-one. Members of the House of Deputies, which corresponds to our House of Representatives, must have an income of $500 (£100) a year, and Senators must have incomes of £400, or $2,000 a year. Congress sits in regular session from June I until September I, but the President may call an extra session when he chooses. Congress is housed in the finest building in Santiago. It covers a whole square, and looks not unlike some of our public buildings at Washington, save that it is built of brick covered with stucco of a terra-cotta colour. The sessions of Congress are often stormy. The Chilenos are fond of politics, and usually one hears more political talk in a day in Santiago than in a week in Washington.
There are frequent ups and downs in political life. New cabinet ministers are chosen upon slight provocation, while other officials are also frequently changed. The country is divided up into provinces presided over by intendentes, and the provinces are divided into departments ruled by governors. A department consists of one or more municipal districts, each of which has a council elected by popular vote.
Most of the officials are appointed by the President, and the country is to a large extent ruled by him and his ring. The masses of the people have little to say as to the manner of government, about two hundred families or so controlling everything. There are, however, two great political parties, the Conservatives and the Liberals. The Conservatives are the more compact, but the Liberals are more numerous. The latter are the progressive party, advocating popular education, the elevation of the masses, and everything modern. The Conservatives are more than their name implies, and they include among them the clerical or church element, which in Chile has enormous influence.
The Chilenos are satisfied with Catholicism, though the educated Chilean man does not like to have the Church meddle with political matters. He does not go to church save on Sundays and feast days, and, like many men outside South America, leaves most of the church exercises to his wife and daughters. The women of Chile are the strongest upholders of Catholicism and its influence. They are very devout. You see them in the churches on week days and on Sundays kneeling on the stone floors, saying their prayers. You meet them on the streets going to confession or mass, each carrying a prayer rug in one hand and a prayer book in the other, and if you enter the churches, you may, perhaps, see a pretty devotee, who will look at you out of the tail of her eye as she mumbles her prayers, with a cross old duenna in the background. As in Peru and Bolivia, the women of Chile wear solid black when they go to Church. They cover their heads with black mantas, so that a church congregation makes you think of a nunnery, with all of the nuns clad in black. Indeed, to wear white at such times is a sign of grief and shame, rather than of purity and joy. It is the custom for women who have done wrong to put on white clothes and to shroud their heads in white shawls as a sign of penitence and of a resolution to be good for the future.
The Catholic Church of Chile is enormously wealthy. Its property in Santiago alone is said to be worth more than $100,000,000 in gold. It owns some of the best business blocks in the city. The whole of one side of the Plaza, which is the centre as well as the most valuable of Santiago business property, is taken up by the palace of the archbishop and the cathedral, and there is other property in the neighbourhood which belongs to the Church. It has acres of stores, thousands of rented houses, and vast haciendas, upon which wine and other products are manufactured and offered for sale. Nearly all is controlled by the archbishop, although much of the Church property is held by its different organizations.
The Carmelite nuns of Santiago are the richest body of women in South America, if not in the world. They have whole streets of rented houses near their nunnery, and also own large farms, which bring them in a steady income. These nuns never allow their faces to be seen by men, and if for any reason men must be employed in the nunnery, for the work of repairs, etc., the nuns shroud their forms and heads in thick black cloth for the time being. Of course no man is admitted to the convent proper, but through a friend, who has influence with them, I was shown the beautiful chapel which they have established for the use of their employees and outsiders. In obtaining permission my friend and I talked with the nuns, though we did not see them. Our speaking-tube was a dumb-waiter and the voice which came down to us was singularly sweet; as I heard its tones, of musical Spanish, it seemed to me a shame that it should, as is the rule in the establishment, be confined to a whisper.
The Dominican Friars also own millions of dollars’ worth of property in Santiago. I walked past blocks of houses, every one of which, I was told, belongs to them and pays them rent monthly. The Dominicans dress in black hats and gowns, with soft white flannel undergowns ; they look quite imposing as they file along the streets. Their Church is perhaps the finest in Santiago. It is cathedral-like in size and appearance, and its altar is one of the most beautiful on the Western Hemisphere.
Santiago is a city of schools as well as of churches. The schools are of different kinds, from the University of Santiago, which has more than 1, 000 students, down to the public primary schools, which are found all over the country, and are attended by more than 114,000 youthful Chilenos. This is, however, less than one-fifth of the children of school age, so that four out of every five remain at home. The National University has branches of law and medicine, as well as the ordinary collegiate departments. No tuition is charged, for the professors are paid by the State.
Chile is proud of her educational system and is doing all she can to extend it. She spends millions of dollars upon it every year. There are public schools now in all the towns and the larger places have liceos, or high schools, of which there are twenty-five in the country. There are two lycees for girls in Santiago maintained by the government. The national institute, or high school of Santiago, has more than i,000 pupils; while the private schools and colleges have an average attendance of 18, 000 pupils.
There are two American schools in Santiago, one for girls and another for boys. The girls’ school I should say the girls’ college, for it is as good a college as one will find almost any-where –has been in operation for years, and it has a great reputation in Chile. It is under the direction of an American, and has a corps of American girls as teachers. It has several hundred students, among whom are the daughters of many of the best Chilean families. This school is connected with the Methodist Episcopal Church, although religious instruction forms no obligatory part of its tuition. The boys’ school is under the control of the American Presbyterian Church. It is called the Instituto Inglese, and it proposes to give Chilean boys an academic and collegiate education. It has handsome buildings and grounds and is fairly well attended.
Chile has also its normal and military schools. It has an agricultural college and an experimental farm. It has a fish commission and a weather bureau, the latter furnishing forecasts of the weather, just as our bureau furnishes at Washington. The telegraph lines are owned by the Government, and one can send a ten-word message to any part of the country for about seven cents of our money. There are now in use about 9,000 miles of wire, and all the large cities can be reached by telegraph.
The postal service is good. More than 60, 000, 000 letters and newspapers are sent through the mails every year, and the mails on the whole are safe. Girls are employed as postal clerks, and when I register my letters for the United States it is a Chilean maiden who affixes the stamps and gives me the registry receipt. She charges me a sum equal to three and one-half of our cents for doing so, or less than it costs one to send letters from the United States to Chile.