Stories of South America - E. C. Brooks

The Christ of the Andes

At the fall of Juan Manuel Rosas, Argentina determined to have a representative government founded on a constitution. It was very difficult to establish such a government until the people had become educated in the ways of self-government. In 1862, General Bartolome Mitre was elected president after a bloody civil war. His administration covered a period of industrial progress. Railroads were built, and within a comparatively short period, Argentina, which had been a backward nation, became prosperous. This was largely due to the development of its agricultural resources.

Domingo Sarmiento, the "School-master President," succeeded Mitre in 1868. His election is said to have been the freest and most peaceful ever held in the republic. President Sarmiento established public schools and normal schools and even sent to the United States for a number of teachers to aid him in reorganizing the educational system of Argentina. He was a close friend of Horace Mann, and as a result of the foundation laid by him, Buenos Aires today has excellent schools. It is said that Argentina spends more money per capita on the education of its children than any other country in the world.

The people were at last learning to govern themselves, though they did not yet know how to live in peace and harmony with neighboring republics. Few of the first seventy-five years of the nineteenth century passed without war or rumors of war in the Argentine Republic. This was true of all South American nations.

The trouble usually grew out of disputes over boundary lines or claims to territory. It is a singular feature of human nature that nations incompetent to rule the people already within their borders will go to war for more territory. Such has been the history of mankind since the beginning of time. This was particularly true of South America. Nevertheless, the nations which set the example of settling disputes without war, not only for South America but for the whole world, were Chile and Argentina.

If you will take the map of South America and look at Argentina and Chile, you will see that the boundary line of these two nations is the Andes Mountains. Chile, a narrow strip of land between the mountains and the coast, is nearly three thousand miles long, but nowhere more than one hundred and thirty wide. The last stretch of seven hundred miles southward is for the most part a series of islands, many of them unpopulated. The extreme southern end of Chile is inhabited by a few scattered tribes of Indians so uncivilized that they do not even wear clothes, although it is very cold. They live on roots, wild berries, and shellfish. These Indians are the lowest kind of savages known to exist. They possess no horses, have no tame animals, and have learned little from civilized man except to use tobacco, of which they are passionately fond.

Christ of the Andes


On the Argentine side the Rio Negro was the southern boundary line of civilization so late as 1878. In that year a tribe of fierce Indians was driven south of the river by General Julio Roca, who became president of Argentina in 1880 after another civil war. The people of Argentina thought that President Roca had done a wonderful thing when he expelled these Indians from the country north of this river and opened vast areas of rich land to settlement, extending the boundary westward to the mountains.

It was in General Roca's administration, also, that Argentina had its first wave of material prosperity. Great cattle ranches developed, and the republic became recognized as one of the leading agricultural countries of the world. Its expanses of fertile land were discovered to be equal to the best anywhere. Vast wheat fields were planted. The grazing prairies were converted into stretches of corn, oats, and alfalfa. Near the foothills of the mountains grew some of the finest vineyards in the world.

The land-owners took much pride in their stock and imported the finest breeds to be found. The gauchos began to disappear rapidly. Many became stockmen and superintended large estancias or plantations. Italians came over and settled in large numbers and grew wealthy in cultivating vineyards. French colonies were established, likewise English and German. North Americans also settled in this country. All joined to make Argentina one of the great nations of the world; Buenos Aires, its capital, became one of the world's largest cities, resembling New York in its business bustle and Paris in its gay social life.

General Roca was an able executive, and in his administration the outside world began to respect the Argentine business man. Railroad lines were built, and the country began to grow very prosperous. Later the country south of the Rio Negro was opened, and that part of Argentina has become one of the main sheep-raising regions of the globe. Both Chile and Argentina thus grew into prosperous agricultural nations. Yet as this new territory southward was opened, the two countries were constantly contending over the boundary line along the ridge of the Andes, which had never been determined. Through the wisdom of President Roca, who was one of the really great rulers of the world at that time, war was averted, and the two countries continued to prosper, though there was much ill-feeling between them.

General Roca retired from office in 1886. He was succeeded by men who were not so able as he, and the country was again thrown into confusion. Civil war once more broke out, and the prosperity of the nation was much lessened. Again, in 1898, General Roca was elected president.

For ten years Chile and Argentina had been on the verge of war over the boundary line. Though the southern part of Argentina was being opened for settlement or being explored, where did the dividing line between the two nations run? No one knew. This was the question to be settled. Both countries were spending large sums of money in preparing for war. Each was purchasing battle-ships and raising a large standing army.

A few weeks before Roca was elected president, Chile sent an ultimatum to Argentina demanding arbitration. Many factions in Argentina advocated war. On the other hand, the bishops made fervid appeals to both governments to avert war; and it is said that the women pleaded with their husbands not to join the army but to compel the rulers to submit the question of the boundary line to arbitration. People believed that if the nations went to war it would mean the ruin of both.

The two countries were proud. The people of both came of fighting stock, and it seemed that war would occur in spite of all efforts to avert it. The wisest men of Argentina, however, still looked to Roca to carry them safely through this crisis; furthermore, Europe and the United States became greatly interested in the effort to preserve peace. There had already been far too much warfare in South America. The world asked whether it was indeed possible for these countries ever to rise above the primitive instinct to fight on any provocation.

This question became serious when it began to appear that Chile would also go to war with Bolivia; many thought that war between Argentina and Chile might involve South America in a general conflict. Just when it appeared that the continent would be plunged in a great struggle, the British government, which had once arbitrated a dispute over the Chilean boundary line, again offered its services, and the offer was accepted. There were many British subjects in the two countries, and much British capital was invested in South American enterprises: all might be ruined in case of war. The British ministers to Argentina and Chile submitted the claims of the two nations to King Edward VII., who rendered a decision a few months later; and, to the relief of everybody, this decision was accepted without controversy. It was largely due to the calm resourcefulness and level-headedness of President Roca that the most critical period in the history of the two nations and, perhaps, of South America thus passed without war.

The two countries did not stop here. They proposed to make it impossible for them ever to go to war, if such a consummation could be reached. Therefore, they agreed to erect on the boundary line of the two nations a great statue of Christ, the Prince of Peace, as a symbol that disputes should be settled in the Christian way as well as a memorial to their common faith. The statue was cast at the arsenal at Buenos Aires from cannon taken from an old fortress near the city.

The site selected for the statue was the crest of the Andes, on the Cumbre ridge, which is hardly a quarter of a mile across. The spot was one hallowed both to Argentinians and Chileans by its historic associations. There, at a high altitude and in intense cold, one may stand and look down westward into Chile, or eastward into Argentina. There a part of San Martin's army camped in 1817, on that memorable march across the Andes when Argentinians and Chileans stood side by side to wrest Chile from the tyranny of Spain. There, on the great highway between Argentina and Chile, in the Uspallata Pass, a little stone house had been built many years before to afford protection from the cold for Argentinians and Chileans crossing the mountains. All these sentiments counseled peace. On the level summit of this pass was erected the heroic figure of Christ, a bronze statue twenty-six feet high, standing on a pedestal rough-hewn from the natural rock of the mountains, twenty-two feet high, which in turn rests on a huge base of stone.

March 13, 1904, was the date set for the unveiling. Thousands of men, women, and children from Chile and Argentina came to witness the ceremonies. Many were weeks making the trip, and hundreds camped below on the mountain side for days preceding the dedication.

On the appointed day the crowd was separated. Argentinians were arranged on Chilean soil and Chileans were grouped on Argentine soil. Between them was the great statue of Christ, facing northward and guarding the peace of both countries forever. His left hand supports the cross, while the right hand is outstretched as if in the act of blessing the multitude. On the granite base are two tablets, one presented by the working men's union of Buenos Aires, and the other by the working women. One gives a record of the making of the statue; on the other is inscribed these words:

"Sooner shall these mountains crumble into dust than shall the Argentines and Chileans break the peace which they have pledged at the feet of Christ the Redeemer."

The statue was dedicated to the whole world as a practical lesson in peace and good will. Immediately afterward Chile sold her warships for 1,000,000 ($5,000,000), a sum sufficient to pay her debts and make some needed improvements. The next year a dispute with Bolivia was settled in the Christian way. Moreover, a much-needed railroad was built across the mountains from Chile to Argentina; this is the Trans-Andean railway, connecting Valparaiso and Buenos Aires, one of the world's wonders in railroad construction. The peace of the two nations watched over by the Christ of the Andes is a fine example of a Christian and patriotic purpose to end strife and promote good will.

[Illustration] from Stories of South America by E. C. Brooks


The two nations have prospered greatly since that memorable event. Argentina and Chile, following the path of peace, have become great agricultural and commercial nations. Their boundary lines are now clearly marked out, and their climate and resources afford an opportunity for a mighty development.

Argentina is one-third the size of the United States, or about equal to that portion of it east of the Mississippi River. Its population, however, is only a little more than that of the state of Pennsylvania. This gives some idea as to the vast resources not yet developed. The country has variety of climate, ranging from tropical in the extreme north to almost arctic in the extreme south, though the larger part of Argentina is in the temperate zone. Its government is similar to that of the United States. The nation is divided into fourteen provinces or states, ten territories, and one federal district, corresponding to the District of Columbia.

Buenos Aires, its capital, has prospered greatly since the beginning of the era of peace. It is now one of the largest cities in the world, having a population of about 1,700,000. Only two cities of the United States are larger, New York and Chicago. Visitors who see Buenos Aires for the first time marvel at its beauty. Its broad, clean streets, its ninety-seven parks, its underground railway system, its museums, theaters, libraries, art galleries, hotels, public schools, and government buildings are a marvel to those who have not kept up with its progress.

The life of the young people is similar to that of the young people of the United States. The boy scouts may be seen taking their long hikes. The seacoast has delightful pavilions and bathing resorts; horseback riding is a popular sport, and the free outdoor life makes for health and pleasure.

The prosperity of the country is emphasized in the growth of other large cities: Rosario with a population of 250,000, Cordoba, with over 100,000, Mendoza with 60,000. These and like towns, connected by great railroad lines and supported by a rich agricultural country, tell of the great development that has taken place since the Christ of the Andes raised his hand over the boundary.

Chile also has prospered since it declared for peace and sold its warships to pay off its debts and establish the confidence of the world in its financial integrity. This nation is divided into twenty-three provinces, or states, and one territory. As was said above, it stretches along the Pacific coast for more than 2,600 miles and its climate, like that of Argentina, varies from semi-tropical in the north to frigid cold in the south.

The capital, Santiago (from Santo Iago, meaning St. James), has grown greatly in the era of peace. It is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in South America, with a population of more than 400,000. Situated in a lovely plain and surrounded by fine farms, it has probably a great future in store for it. Its handsome shade trees, beautiful parks and driveways, beds of gorgeous flowers, fountains and statues and costly public buildings give the city an attractive picturesqueness.

Chile has other important cities that have prospered likewise. Valparaiso (Valley of. Paradise), a city of nearly 200,000 inhabitants, is the most important seaport on the Pacific coast next to San Francisco. It is situated about the center of Chile. If you will look at your map, you will doubtless be surprised to learn that Valparaiso is due south of New York city. This is due to the extension of South America toward the east.

Chile is noted in the commercial world for its mineral products, especially for its nitrate of soda, which is so valuable as a fertilizer that every agricultural nation must use it or some substitute.

Argentina and Chile, having prospered so greatly from this era of peace and good will, were anxious to lend their services to the United States and Mexico a few years ago when these two nations seemed about to go to war. The story of their services in this respect will be told in a later chapter.