Echo Daily Newsletter 11

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Atrocities In Peru


Outlook,  28th June 1913

The Committee of the House of Commons on the Putumayo atrocities has made its report. The atrocities had aroused the British Government, and it appointed Sir Roger Casement, British Consul-General at Rio de Janeiro, to go to the Putumayo district on the upper Amazon district to investigate.

This district lies mostly in the eastern region of Peru. It is only some four hundred or five hundred miles, as a bird flies, from Lima, the capital of Peru. But because the as yet impassable Andes Mountains lay between, it could be reached only by a journey north on the Pacific to Panama, thence across the Isthmus and by the Atlantic south-east to the mouth of the Amazon, and then west 2,300 miles up the river to Iquitos.

Iquitos is the main Peruvian port on the Amazon, and is the administrative center of the district. Throughout this region Peruvian authority has unfortunately been very shadowy; the Government seemed to be unable properly to police the district.

Seven years ago a firm of South Americans arranged with the Peruvian Government for the monopoly of the rubber industry in the Putumayo. The only labor to be obtained was native labor.

But as rubber had to be secured and the natives were compelled to secure it, and as some of them seemed lazy, a slave trade was introduced in its worst guise, in order to force the natives to unremitting toil in tapping the rubber trees for the most immediate profit, apparently without much reference to the future either of the country or of the industry.

In order to spur those natives deemed to be “no good”, flogging was introduced. Sir Roger Casement says:
“Indians were frequently flogged to death. Cases were reported to me where men or women had died actually under the lash, but this seems to have been infrequent. Deaths due to flogging generally ensued some days afterward … Deliberate starvation was again and again resorted to, but this not only where it was desired to frighten but where the intention was to kill. Men and women were kept prisoners in the station stocks until they died of hunger … One of the witnesses declared that he had seen Indians burned alive more than once."

Other evidence revealed an appalling category of crime. It was no uncommon practice, it was finally shown, to pour kerosene oil on men and women and then set fire to them, to burn men at the stake, to dash out the brains of children, to hack off both arms and both legs of Indians, leaving them to a slow death.

The world was horrified. The revelations of atrocities in the rubber districts of the Congo, also investigated for the British Government by Sir Roger Casement, had been bad enough, but this was worse. It also shocked the British to think that the company in question had been reorganized under British law and that some of its directors were Englishmen.

The directors protested their ignorance of actual conditions.

The House of Commons thereupon appointed a committee to investigate the directors. Its report holds the Peruvian director of the company responsible for the atrocities. It absolves the British directors from any personal acts for which they could be punished. But it justly charges them with culpable negligence and declares them “deserving of severe censure”.

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