Rubber Atrocities. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the Congo Position
Sir A. Conan Doyle on the Congo Position
Sir, — I read in your issue of March 1st the terrible letter of Mr. D. MacCammond upon the Putomayo rubber trade, and I know well that no word of it is exaggerated. There is only one sentence to which I take exception, and that is "Tribes are held in a bondage that is grimmer and far more dreadful than anything which took place in the Congo." That cannot be true, for nothing which the human imagination could conceive could be more dreadful than the deeds of the Congo, and the roasting of the two small Indian boys which your correspondent cites differ only in being on a smaller scale from a great many incidents which one might narrate.
It would be a thousand pities if the presentation of one great wrong was made the occasion for depreciating or lessening our efforts to remedy another even greater one. Let us by all means bring all possible diplomatic pressure to bear upon the Peruvian Government, and let us do all that the utmost rigour of the British law permits to the erring company. It is, however, to be borne in mind that though it is a British company in the sense that is registered in London, it is in truth Peruvian both in its inception, its management, and to an overwhelming extent in the holding of shares. Those British investors who are in the unfortunate position of having put money into it had no possible means of judging from the prospectus what the real nature of the enterprise was or how its working was conducted. So long as they act upon the knowledge now acquired no moral blame can fairly rest upon them.
But the case of the Congo is very different. In Peru we have no direct responsibility. If any outside power has a direct responsibility it is the United States which, by her Monroe Doctrine, has assumed a position of tutelage over the South American countries. In the Congo, however, the call of duty is clear. We have sworn (in company, it is true, of the other great European Powers) that we would jointly guard the natives. The result of our guardianship has been that in more than thirty years this great country has lost at a fair computation about two-thirds of its inhabitants.
An attempt is made now to deal with the subject as if it were concluded. It would be a fatal and an inexcusable error if under such a delusion we were to relax our attitude of criticism and to give away our last lever for amelioration by recognising the Belgian annexation. For the moment things are better. But we have no guarantee that they would remain so if the pressure caused by our non-recognition were removed. On the contrary, no one can read the Rev. J.H. Harris's recent letters. after his travels through the country without seeing how delusive are the so-called reforms and how threatening the future.
They have given partial free trade, but with such taxes and restrictions upon the trader that it is practically inoperative. They have announced that they will collect taxes in francs instead of in rubber; but as there are no francs in the greater part of the country, they take the equivalent of francs in rubber, arbitrarily fixed, so that the end is much the same. They are starting vast Government plantations and other schemes which can hardly be run save by forced labour. Finally worst sign of all, they are retaining and restoring many of the old officials, accustomed to outrage and hardened to oppression. If in the face of all these signs we recognise the annexation, it will be to throw away at the last moment all that we have gained during the last ten years of agitation.
I hope that in nothing that I have said I have weakened the case made out by Mr. MacCammond for such action as is possible in the Putomayo district. But it would be a great misfortune if our attention to Peru should in any way relax our vigilance upon the Congo.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
Grand Hotel, Lyndhurst, New Forest, March 3.