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Transportation Conditions

In her gift of transportation conditions Nature has been much more kindly to North America than to South America. In North America the mountains on the whole have been low lying, and comparatively easy of passage, or, where high, have been reduced by long gently sloping plateaus, as from western Nebraska to the Rockies. South America, on the other hand, has a mountain system which hardly with design could have been made more of an obstacle to cheap transportation from coast to coast, or from any distance in the interior of the west coast to its ports. There is one stretch of the Andes that for over thirty degrees of latitude, or 2000 miles, has not a pass under 12,000 feet altitude, except that of the trans-Andean between Argentine and Chile, where a long tunnel has reduced the pass to under 11,000 feet altitude; but this railroad has fifteen miles of cog-rail, and is not a freight road but a mail, express and passenger road.

These western ranges rise abruptly from the coast or near the coast, with practically no alleviating slopes to lengthen out and lessen the steep climbs to the divide. Cog-roads, switch-backs, 3 and 4 per cent grades, are the rule on the west coast, with the exception of southern Chile. One range such as the Andes makes an ample transportation problem, but throughout most of their length they are a double range, and in Colombia they are triple, almost a quadruple range. These parallel ranges are such as frequently to double and triple the through transportation problem, almost as much as if one range were piled upon the other.

The Andes are the greatest single fact in South America. Not only do they form the transportation barrier that they do, but they have much to do with the climatic conditions. They are responsible for the west coast throughout Peru, and the northern third of Chile, some 1500 miles in extent, being gray and barren and dependent upon irrigation for the vegetation it has. The Andes, again, as they turn back the humid winds from their cold sides, are responsible for

much of the country on their eastern slopes and beyond, being drenched with excessive and torrential rains.

Even the much lesser ranges of the east coast have been placed with irritating perversity from an economic standpoint. In Brazil, for example, the mountains, although not averaging over 3000 feet in altitude, are peculiarly abrupt at the very edge of the coast. No railroad, English or Brazilian, has succeeded in getting an economical freight grade over them. As far north as Bahia they form a veritable screen, shutting off the interior and rendering much more difficult the opening up, for example, of the tremendous iron deposits of Minas Geraes. In Argentina again alone, do we find ideal conditions for land transportation corresponding to those of our own prairie states.

It is true that South America is gifted with a wonderful river system. Two of her rivers, the Amazon and the Plate, are greater than our own Mississippi, and navigable for a far greater length because of their slight gradient and the heavy rainfall at their headwaters. There is also a physical possibility of effective canalization to connect the Orinoco, Amazon, and Plate Systems, should such canalization be sufficiently desired. These rivers give access, however, to the tropical basin already noted. That same slight gradient indicates a basin still unsufficiently developed geologically so that a large portion of it is submerged or subject to submergence at times.

Lack of Coal

Perhaps where Nature has been least kindly of all to South America is in denying her adequate deposits of coal. Although coal is mined at various points it is of inferior quality, and South America today is essentially a coal importing country. Chile, the greatest coal producing country of South America, imports half of its supply from the British Isles and Australia. Cardiff coal, for the Bolivian railroads, is taken up over the Andes, reaching a cost of some $40 per ton at its final destination. English coal at La Guaira, Venezuela, one of the nearest ports of South America, costs $12 per ton on the dock. Coal has to be brought

over the seas for the iron deposits of Brazil. This, together with the coastal grades already referred to, have neutralized to a large degree the exceeding richness of that iron ore. Norfolk coal, from the United States, is beginning to enter Brazil and the Plate. South American railroads have spent thousands of dollars prospecting for coal of good quality and commercially accessible. Up to the present time their efforts have not been successful.

Water power there is on the west coast and especially in Brazil. The cities of Lima, Peru, and La Paz, Bolivia, Rio Janeiro, and São Paulo, Brazil, have their public service corporations supplied with hydro-electric power, and the end of the railroad descending into La Paz has been electrified. Just how much water power there is on the west coast, how constant it is, just how harmoniously it can be operated in competition with the use of water for irrigation, which is always a superior use, is decidedly conjectural.

In Brazil, in the drainage basin of the Paraná, there are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of horsepower of water power. But the fundamental difficulty in the development and employment of water power is the necessity of a large fixed capital investment at the very beginning. It cannot have the gradual increase in capacity, horsepower by horsepower from ton by ton, as in the case of energy derived from coal. Consequently, a large market for the power from water power is needed at the outset. With few exceptions there are not markets in South America yet for large blocks of power. Petroleum produced in northern Peru and more recently in northern Argentina is increasing, but the position of importance of coal and petroleum in the import statistics of South American countries still remains most significant.

My strokes have been few and broad. Many exceptions in detail could be cited-Argentina has already been mentioned. In general, the strokes have been accurate, in portraying South America as not nearly the country naturally for economic development that North America is. In climate, in topography, in power supply, Nature has dealt much more kindly by us than by our southern sister.


Let us now turn, and even more briefly, to a feature which happily is much more dynamic, much more subject to change than those physical features which we have just considered. I refer to the population. As you know, the population of South America is much mixed, being of three distinct racial stocks the native stock, which here it will suffice to call Indians, although of many different strains and qualities; the European, originally from Spain and Portugal, and more recently from those same countries again, and from Italy and Germany as well; the negro, brought in by the Spanish and Portuguese as slaves, but now long since freed and mixing with the other racial stocks.

The proportions in which these stocks make up the population of the various countries vary greatly. In general, it will be found that in tropical, hot and humid lowlands (tierras calientes), the negro strain is prominent, and as the higher lands are reached the Indian and European strains increase, and in the temperate regions, to the south, the European decidedly predominates. In the northern part of the continent, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and northern Brazil, the mulatto (black and white), mestizo (red and white), and zambo (red and black), are much in evidence. In Peru and Bolivia probably 50 per cent of the population is pure Indian, and a large portion of the balance mestizo. In Argentina it is probable that over four-fifths, and very likely nine-tenths, are of pure European stock.

Much of the Indian population of South America is of a type far different from our own. Of a considerable degree of civilization, when the Spanish came, and of an industrious and faithful nature capable of development, the Indians of Peru, for example, have been called Peru's greatest single asset. The railroads, mines, and other industries could not be at present operated without them. In Bolivia and Chile, Indians of a sterner fibre were encountered by the Spanish, which has resulted in a virile mestizo population.

With this as a preliminary statement regarding the population in general it is possible to make some generalizations.


First, in regard to the social stratification. The observant traveler is struck by the lack of a middle class. There is an upper stratum of population amounting to approximately some 2 or 3 per cent of cultured people most delightful to meet, who have traveled much abroad and have usually been educated abroad, and then there is an abrupt descent to a class that is, on the whole, and according to our standards, backward and illiterate. This upper stratum of population is usually concentrated in the cities, and especially in the capitals, so that the cities and capitals of South America are by no means fair criteria of the countries of South America. For example, on the west coast the cities of Lima, La Paz, and Santiago would give one who had sojourned only in them an incorrect idea of the stage of development of those countries. There are shop windows and streets in Lima that will compare with those of any city in Europe or in the United States. The electric traction service between Lima and its port, Callao, is most modern and adequate. It is not until one has been into the back country of Peru and seen the high proportion of Indian population and the conditions in which that population is living that one can judge the development of Peru more fairly.

This state of the population has been reflected in political conditions. Governments have not been representative as we understand that word. This does not necessarily mean that the rules of these unrepresentative rulers have always been beneficial. In Chile it has long been said that a hundred families were the government, but, on the whole, Chile has progressed under this oligarchical sway. Though it may be true that through the government ownership of the railroads they have made themselves low freight rates, it is also true that for the rest of the population they have established low passenger rates, for example, of about 1 cent a mile. Another country could be cited by name, the government of which, it is pretty well known, is under the domination of one man, yet he is an able man, and under him the country is forging ahead. But, happily, these conditions are steadily changing for the better, as the character of the popula

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