Page:EB1911 - Volume 06.djvu/170

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HISTORY]
157
CHILE

The organization of the revolutionary forces went on slowly. Much difficulty was experienced in obtaining the necessary arms and ammunition. A supply of rifles was bought in the United States, and embarked on board the “Itata,” a Chilean vessel in the service of the rebels. The United States authorities refused to allow this steamer to leave San Diego, and a guard was stationed on the ship. The “Itata,” however, slipped away and made for the Chilean coast, carrying with her the representatives of the United States. A fast cruiser was immediately sent in pursuit, but only succeeded in overhauling the rebel ship after she was at her destination. The “Itata” was then forced to return to San Diego without landing her cargo for the insurgents. The necessary arms and ammunition were arranged for in Europe; they were shipped in a British vessel, and transferred to a Chilean steamer at Fortune Bay, in Tierra del Fuego, close to the Straits of Magellan and the Falkland Islands, and thence carried to Iquique, where they were safely disembarked early in July 1891. A force of 10,000 men was now raised by the junta of the revolution, and preparations were rapidly pushed forward for a move to the south with the object of attacking Valparaiso and Santiago. Early in April a portion of the revolutionary squadron, comprising the “Blanco Encalada” and other ships, was sent to the southward for reconnoitring purposes and put into the port of Caldera. During the night of the 23rd of April, and whilst the “Blanco Encalada” was lying quietly at anchor, a torpedo boat called the “Almirante Lynch,” belonging to the Balmaceda faction, steamed into the bay of Caldera and discharged a torpedo at the rebel ship. The “Blanco Encalada” sank in a few minutes and 300 of her crew perished.

In the middle of August 1891 the rebel forces were embarked at Iquique (where a provisional government under Captain Jorje Montt had been set up), numbering in all about 9000 men, and sailed for the south. On the 20th of August the congressist army was disembarked at Quinteros, about 20 m. north of Valparaiso, and marched to Concon, where the Balmacedists were entrenched. A severe fight ensued, in which the troops of President Balmaceda were defeated with heavy loss. This reverse roused the worst passions of the president, and he ordered the arrest and imprisonment of all persons suspected of sympathy with the revolutionary cause. The population generally were, however, distinctly antagonistic to Balmaceda; and this feeling had become accentuated since the 17th of August 1891, on which date he had ordered the execution of a number of youths belonging to the military college at San Lorenzo on a charge of seditious practices. The shooting of these boys created a feeling of horror throughout the country, and a sensation of uncertainty as to what measures of severity might not be practised in the future if Balmaceda won the day. After the victory at Concon the insurgent army, under command of General Campos, marched in a southerly direction towards Viña del Mar, and thence to Placilla, where the final struggle in the conflict took place. Balmaceda’s generals Barbosa and Alcérrica had here massed their troops in a strong position. The battle, on the 28th of August, resulted in victory for the rebels. Both the Balmacedist generals were killed and Valparaiso was at once occupied. Defeat and suicide of Balmaceda.Three days later the victorious insurgents entered Santiago and assumed the government of the republic. After the batile of Placilla it was clear to President Balmaceda that he could no longer hope to find a sufficient strength amongst his adherents to maintain himself in power, and in view of the rapid approach of the rebel army he abandoned his official duties to seek an asylum in the Argentine legation. The president remained concealed in this retreat until the 18th of September. On the evening of that date, when the term for which he had been elected president of the republic terminated, he committed suicide by shooting himself. The excuse for this act, put forward in letters written shortly before his end, was that he did not believe the conquerors would give him an impartial trial. The death of Balmaceda finished all cause of contention in Chile, and was the closing act of the most severe and bloodiest struggle that country had ever witnessed. In the various engagements throughout the conflict more than 10,000 lives were lost, and the joint expenditure of the two governments on military preparations and the purchase of war material exceeded £10,000,000 sterling.

An unfortunate occurrence soon after the close of the revolution brought strained relations for a short period between the governments of the United States and Chile. A number of men of the U.S.S. “Baltimore” having been given liberty on shore, an argument arose between some of them and a group of Chilean sailors in a drinking den in Valparaiso. Words led to blows. The Americans were badly handled, one of their number being killed and others severely hurt. The United States government characterized the affair as an outrage, demanding an indemnity as satisfaction. The Chilean authorities demurred at this attitude, and attempted to argue the matter. James G. Elaine, then secretary of state, refused peremptorily to listen to any explanations. In the end Chile paid an indemnity of $75,000 as asked, but the affair left bad feeling in its train.

The close of the revolution against Balmaceda left the government of Chile in the hands of the junta under whose guidance the military and naval operations had been organized. Admiral Jorje Montt had been the head of this President Jorje Montt.revolutionary committee, and he acted as president of the provisional government when the administration of the country changed hands after the victory of the Congressional party. An election was now immediately ordered for the choice of a president of the republic and for representatives in the senate and chamber of deputies. Admiral Montt, as head of the executive power, stanchly refused to allow official influence to be brought to bear in any way in the presidential campaign. The great majority of the voters, however, required no pressure to decide who was in their opinion the man most fitted to administer the affairs of the republic. For the first time in the history of Chile a perfectly free election was held, and Admiral Montt was duly chosen by a nearly unanimous vote to be chief magistrate for the constitutional term of five years. The senate and chamber of deputies were formally constituted in due course, and the government of the republic resumed normal conditions of existence. The new president showed admirable tact in dealing with the difficult problem he was called upon to face. Party feeling still ran high between the partisans of the two sides of the recent conflict. Admiral Montt took the view that it was politic and just to let bygones be bygones, and he acted conscientiously by this principle in all administrative measures in connexion with the supporters of the late President Balmaceda. Early in 1892 an amnesty was granted to the officers of the Balmaceda régime, and they were freely permitted to return to Chile without any attempt being made to molest them. The first political act of national importance of the new government was the grant of control to the municipalities, which hitherto had possessed little power to direct local affairs, and were not even permitted to dispose of the municipal revenues to any important amount without first obtaining the consent of the central government. Almost absolute power was now given these corporations to manage their own concerns, and the organization of the police was placed in their hands; at a later period, however, it was found necessary to modify this latter condition.

President Montt next turned his attention towards the question of how best to repair the damage occasioned to the country by eight months of civil warfare. The plan of public works authorized in 1887 was reconsidered, and the construction of portions of the various undertakings recommenced. The army and navy were reorganized. Additional instructors were brought from Germany, and all arms of the military service were placed on a thoroughly efficient footing in matters of drill and discipline. Several new and powerful cruisers were added to the navy, and the internal economy of this branch of the national defence was thoroughly inspected and many defects were remedied. President Montt then took in hand the question of a reform of the currency, the abolition of inconvertible paper money, and the re-establishment of a gold basis as the monetary standard of the republic. This reform of the currency became the keynote of the president’s policy during the remainder of