Stories of South America - E. C. Brooks

Other Republics of South America

The story of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile has been presented somewhat in detail. An account of South America would not be complete, however, without a view of those other nations, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, `and Bolivia, whose destinies were shaped so largely by that great patriot, Simon Bolivar; and of the two southern nations of Uruguay and Paraguay.

The United States of Venezuela, as it is called, occupies a prominent place in the history of South America. Caracas, its capital, must be regarded as the cradle of South American independence, since it is the birthplace of Francisco Miranda and Simon Bolivar. The people of Venezuela are proud of this distinction. As an evidence of it, in the streets of Caracas may be seen two fine statues: one of George Washington, the Liberator of North America; the other of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of South America.

Venezuela includes twenty-two states and a federal district. The government of each state is somewhat similar to that of the states of the American Union, thus showing again what effect the example of the United States has had on the organization of the South American republics.

Caracas is a city of about 100,000 population, with many attractive buildings and streets. It is situated in a beautiful valley surrounded by lofty mountains. Its elevation, about 3,000 feet, is so great that, though it lies within the tropics not far from the equator, the climate is delightful. The beauty of the landscape is unsurpassed by that of any capital in the western hemisphere. Since the world has learned the cause of malaria and how to destroy the mosquito and since the opening of the Panama Canal, Caracas and Venezuela in general are becoming not only healthful but prosperous.

Like most of the other republics of the continent, Venezuela's most important industries are agriculture and cattle-raising. It is also famous for its minerals, especially asphalt. The value of asphalt is well known in the United States. It has many uses in our daily lives, and is known by several names asphalt, asphaltum, bitumen, maltha, mineral pitch. The chief sources of this mineral in the western hemisphere are Venezuela, Cuba, and the island of Trinidad. In the Orient, it is found on the shores of the Dead Sea and in other places in Asia. It is said that bitumen was used to cement the stones of the Tower of Babel, that early eastern navigators calked their vessels with it, that the ancient Egyptians preserved their illustrious dead with it and used it in building the pyramids. It is extensively employed in every civilized country today in erecting large buildings, in street paving, and in a variety of other ways. Thus, Venezuelan bitumen is used to protect the tunnels of the New York subway from moisture.

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


The "pitch lake" of Trinidad is one of the wonders of the world. This is a lake of pure asphalt about a mile and a half wide. It has been mined for years, but as fast as the viscous substance is removed the lake fills up again, and apparently the supply is as inexhaustible as when it was first discovered. The asphalt of Venezuela is equally as valuable and is found in even larger quantities, and as the country develops great prosperity will spring from it, as there is a growing demand for the material in the United States.

Venezuela has made remarkable progress in recent years. The government has become more stable since revolutions are no longer annual events. Venezuela has established a system of public schools, colleges, and universities, and the population, although composed of a mixture of races, is gradually learning the ways of self-government. It has a promising future.

The country that should profit most from the Panama Canal is Colombia. Until Panama revolted and set up an independent government, the zone through which the canal passes was Colombian territory. It is believed by the people of that republic that the United States aided Panama to achieve its independence in order to secure the strip of land through which to cut the canal. Consequently, Colombia is still not well disposed toward the United States. However, the development of the latter country will probably come as a direct result of the digging of the canal, and so its hostility will vanish.

Colombia, unlike the neighboring republics, is not composed of a federation of states. It has a centralized form of government, established in its present form in 1831 after the death of Simon Bolivar. It is largely undeveloped, having an area of nearly 500,000 square miles, which is about equal to that of the United States south of the Potomac and east of the Mississippi River. Its capital, Bogota, has a population of 150,000, and is situated on a high plateau at an elevation of nearly 9000 feet. The coast, or hot region, produces tropical fruits, plants, and wood, while the uplands yield many of the staple products of the temperate zone. Colombia has rich deposits of minerals, such as gold, copper, platinum, and coal. It leads the world in the production of emeralds, one of the most valuable of precious stones.

South of Colombia is Ecuador, so named because it lies on the equator. It was Simon Bolivar's dream to annex Ecuador to Colombia. Although he succeeded temporarily, immediately after his death it became an independent nation. Ecuador is one of the smaller republics, being about the size of Virginia and North Carolina, with a population about half that of North Carolina. Its capital is Quito, which has a population of 75,000. The largest city, Guayaquil, has 85,000 inhabitants. It was here that Simon Bolivar and San Martin met to decide the destiny of South America a hundred years ago. For generations Guayaquil was a pest-hole of yellow fever and other plagues, but now that yellow fever is on the road to extirpation Guayaquil will probably become one of the great ports of the Pacific.

The treasure of Ecuador consists in the groves of cacao trees, from which cocoa and chocolate are derived. This country largely supplies the world with these products. The cacao tree was originally a wild evergreen growing from twenty to forty feet high. It has become so valuable, however, that it is now carefully cultivated, and the cacao groves are to Ecuador what the coffee plantations are to southern Brazil.

Chocolate and cocoa, used in so many ways, are derived from a cucumber-shaped pod, five to ten inches long, three to four inches thick and containing a number of seeds that resemble an almond in size and shape. The pods are cut from the trees and' cured for a few days. The flavor of the chocolate depends upon the degree of skill with which the seeds are cured when they are being prepared for commercial use. "Cocoa butter" is a fat derived from the bean. It forms the basis of toilet pastes and pomades.

Ecuador is also famous for the fine straw hats its produces. These are the so-called "Panama" hats. The raw material comes from a shrub from six to ten feet high, resembling the saw palmetto. The fan-shaped leaves are cut from the trees and stripped of their outer filaments, dipped into vats of boiling water, and hung up in the shade to dry. A day or two later the leaves are put in the sun to bleach. Lemon juice is added to the hot water bath to complete the whitening process. A skillful weaver will complete one hat in five or six months, working only in the late twilight or early dawn. This, of course, is true of the best grade of hats, not the cheaper. Some of the best hats sell for as much as $100 apiece. They are so pliant and flexible that they can be folded and carried in the pocket without injury. One woven for the Prince of Wales was so fine that it could be folded into a package no larger than a watch. The natives have achieved a world-wide fame for their skill in making these hats, and so valuable is the trade that schools have been established to teach the art of hat-weaving.

Bolivia is the third largest republic in South America. Through the instrumentality of Simon Bolivar, it was separated from Peru and made into an independent nation. It is so far removed from the coast and so shut in by mountains that it has not kept pace with the more progressive republics. Notwithanding that it has an area almost as great as that part of the United States east of the Mississippi, it has only about 3,000,000 inhabitants, a little more than the population of Virginia. Its capital, La Paz, has 110,000 people. So mountainous is this republic that its largest cities are located on plateaus of an average altitude of 12,000) ?> feet above sea-level. Here, also, is found the highest navigated lake in the world, Lake Titicaca. Its banks were the scene of a very ancient civilization. The ruins of palaces and temples may be seen today by travelers.

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


Bolivia is chiefly noted for minerals. Its gold and silver mines have been famous since the days of Pizarro. Its rubber industry is also valuable. The soil on the plains and in the valleys is very fertile, and recently the government established agricultural schools to encourage farming and the stock industry, since cattle, sheep, and llamas abound in the country.

Two other nations remain to be mentioned Uruguay and Paraguay. For many years after the colonies won their independence from Spain and Portugal, it was a question whether or not these two countries would be able to maintain their separate existence. They lie between Brazil and Argentine, and both of those large nations desired to annex them. In consequence, war was chronic. However, Uruguay and Paraguay have successfully maintained their independence, and nowadays they are, like the other republics, making great progress.

Both Uruguay and Paraguay are rich in agricultural resources, and their stock industry is attracting the attention of the markets of the world. Moreover, the cities of the two countries are turning to manufacturing on a large scale.

Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, has a population of 400,000 and is one of the principal seaports on the Atlantic. Asuncion, situated on the Paraguay River, is the capital of Paraguay. It is one of the largest inland cities in South America, with a population of 100,000.

In studying the South American republics, certain features stand out prominently. In the first place, the population is composed of many races differing much in color, blood, and customs. As a rule, the aristocracy is composed of one race and the middle class of another, while the lowest classes belong to a third race, or to a mixture of races. This mingling of races produces a condition of affairs difficult for Europeans and North Americans to understand.

In the second place, the South American republics have built large cities near the coast, while the interior has been little developed. This also has its effect on population. Few travelers know anything of this back country; the civilization of the cities of South America is much better understood. The primitive condition of the natives, both in the cities and in the back country, is a serious handicap. However, this undeveloped continent and its unexhausted resources offer immense opportunities to the people who have the skill and courage to take possession. No region in the world possesses finer agricultural lands, which are almost always the basis of a great development, and no continent on earth equals South America in mineral resources.

Travelers who have studied the progress of that continent and have reached a fair understanding of its tremendous possibilities declare that it is destined to become "The Future Land of Promise," for the following reasons:

(1) Its soil and climate make it habitable from the equator to the southern extremity; (2) its unused resources are the greatest of any part of the world and afford opportunities for every variety of adventure and heroic enterprise; (3) it is forming stable governments under which immigrants find opportunities to grow and develop and secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity; and (4) only the coastal regions and comparatively small parts of the interior have been touched, leaving the greater part of the continent still to be settled and developed.

With the establishment of good school systems, the application of modern knowledge of sanitation and health preservation, the wise use of natural resources, and an understanding of self-government, South America will become "the land of promise," one of the most magnificent regions in the world.