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country, is by no means solely responsible for the extreme depression now existing. The natural characteristics of Venezuela are such that the coast at present produces nothing for export except hides and skins, which, as compared with agricultural products and the vast riches of the yet undeveloped forests, form but a small proportion of the national wealth. The articles upon which the prosperity of the Republic is dependent are found only in the interior, and the wretchedness of the means of transport and communication is the first of the various causes tending to hamper the producer and the exporter.
I am indebted to the very zealous consular agent at San Cristobal, Mr. E. F. C. Henckel, for data respecting the cost of production and transportation. San Cristobal is in the very center of the coffee district, and Mr. Henckel's statements may be taken as authoritative. In that city about 3 cents in American money is paid to the growers for each pound of coffee, which barely covers the cost of gathering.
The transportation to Maracaibo (which at present is very indirect, necessitating entrance into Colombia, and from there again into Venezuela), and the various expenses for bags, insurance, &c., amount to ten pesos, or $7.69 United States gold, for every 250 pounds, as detailed in the following table:
Add to this the first cost of 3 cents per pound, and the coffee laid down in Maracaibo has already paid $16.44 United States gold for every 250 pounds.
This is bad enough, but now is exemplified an ingenious way of adding to the burdens of the agriculturist and exporter. By the constitu tion of this Republic all export duties are prohibited, but in every invoice presented for certification at this consulate a formidable item for export duties is invariably included in the costs. These duties are not officially denominated export duties, but they are virtually such, the constitutional requirement being evaded by the use of other terms, which, however, do not make them any the less burdensome. For example, upon each cargo of coffee (250 pounds) there are the following imposts:
1. For the hospital...
2. State duties, explained as being for the use of the wharf
3. "Terrestrial" custom-house, as in Venezuela there are both maritime and land customs..
4. Stamps and stamped paper..
5. Drayage, which is a Government monopoly.
Making a total of............
in American money for each cargo, or 80 cents per bag, more than 10 per cent. of the cost upon arrival at Maracaibo.
Business houses are agitating the question of a removal of 70 cents per bag of these imposts, but although even this trifling reduction might
be almost the salvation of the coffee industry in the present crisis, yet it is doubtful whether Government will consent.
Add to this the freight to New York and the various incidental costs of disembarkation, the coffee at present prices in that city will not give returns equal to the expenses incurred.
It will be seen from the foregoing statements that the first and great drawback is the want of roads; and although many schemes are talked of for the building of railways and opening commodious means of communication, I fear it will be years before their realization.
Mr. Henckel reports that the railway project recently approved by Congress for a narrow-gauge road from the village of Santa Cruz, at the southern extremity of the lake, to the agricultural regions of the interior, a distance of about 250 miles, has been taken in hand by a French company, and it is hoped that it may become an accomplished fact. This would reduce transportation to Maracaibo about 50 per cent. at least of the present cost, and in that case, even should coffee prices not improve in foreign markets, its cultivation would at least pay expenses and give a moderate profit.
It is often remarked with surprise that although the wholesale price of coffee in New York has fallen to $7 or $8 per 100 pounds, yet the same article is retailed by the grocerymen at 25 and 30 cents per pound. This seems to be an anomalous condition of trade where, upon an article of such general demand and utility, retailers are able to make a profit of more than 200 per cent.
Two other circumstances may be mentioned as affecting most unfavor ably the prosperity of the country, one of which, however, is remediable at the pleasure of Congress.
This is the imposition of 30 per cent. additional duties on all goods imported by way of the Antilles, as referred to in my dispatch of the 25th of April last.
This measure, which was intended to punish the islands of Curacao and Trinidad for their alleged unfriendly action in allowing conspiracies to be fomented within their territories for the subversoin of the actual Government of Venezeula, has reacted against the commercial interests of this Republic, more particularly in the east, where Trinidad has been the supply reservoir for the immense tract of country included in the valley of the Orinoco and its tributaries.
Much discontent prevails on account of the continuance of the measure, and the people at large can see no reason for its further enforcement, especially as the Venezuelan Government is constantly proclaiming that the country is in a state of profound peace, and that there exists no possible danger of a revolution.
The continuous plague of locusts during the past two years has also had a most depressing effect upon agriculture in all its branches. Mr. Carl Colsman, the consular agent at Valera, one of the most important interior centers, gives in his annual report a vivid idea of the calamities caused by the invasions of these insects, which have so discouraged the agriculturists that in many cases they do not take the trouble to plant the usual crops, believing that they would only be providing for future generation of locusts instead of for their own ne
As nearly all the farmers are deeply in debt to the merchants for goods, to be payable in produce, it will easily be seen that the present situation is stringent in the extreme, various agriculturists having been compelled to cede their lands to their creditors as the only extrication from hopeless embarrassment. Government might much benefit
the country by a judicious removal of certain imposts, and by assisting the construction of roads; but for some reason this section of the Republic has not received any benefit from the large sums which are yearly expended nominally in the interests of progress.
The agent at Coro, Mr. Ramon Seijas, reports substantially the same as the other gentlemen already quoted. The Coro district, however, being situated on the seaboard, does not suffer so much as the interior sections. Its chief article of export is goat-skins, which are highly valued in the United States as being of a markedly superior class, and always command prices in advance of ordinary quotations.
I beg to give a brief résumé of the more important exports from Maracaibo during the past year.
Shipments of cacao have increased, with, however, a slight reduction in price, and the latest advices show considerable dullness in foreign markets.
In the district of Perija, less than 100 miles southwest of this city, are found the finest lands for the cultivation of this product, and in former days Perija cacao was reputed to be the best in the world. Now, however, all industries in that neighborhood have fallen into decay, a speedy remedy for which would be the construction of a cart road from the city of Perija to Maracaibo, giving an easy outlet for the many productions of one of the richest portions of South America.
Concessions have been granted for the opening of this highway, but years have elapsed, and the privileged parties have done nothing; and unless it should be taken in hand by the Government as a necessary public work, the project will no doubt remain in abeyance for years to come.
HIDES AND SKINS.
Hides and skins are yearly being shipped in greater quantities, the exports for 1882 largely exceeding those of 1881, with steady and good prices.
Shipments of quina bark have greatly decreased, probably because new ways of communication have been opened in Colombia, making the Magdalena River the more advantageous outlet.
This product shows an increased exportation, though by no means commensurate with the unbounded supply existing in the forests of Perija and other localities of this district. This article is one of the most profitable exported, and might easily be handled on a larger scale.
The supply of fustic, boxwood, lignum-vitæ, and other woods is practically inexhaustible, and there are always several foreign vessels loading in the lake with this cargo. By far the greater part of the wood exported goes to Europe, although during the past year there were increased shipments to the United States, making a total, however, of only about 2,000 tons.
With the abundant supply of many classes of hard woods, which can be obtained here cheaply and with but little trouble, it would seem to be to the advantage of block-makers, manufacturers of fire-arms, and others of similar occupations in the United States to turn their atten.
tion to this country as the exporter of the woods best adapted to the nature of their work.
This would relieve to a great extent the constant drains upon the forests of the United States, and I do not believe that the expense would be greater than is now incurred in securing supplies of American wood.
Divi-divi for tanning purposes is largely exported to Europe, but during 1882 only 200 tons were shipped from this port to the United States. It is not likely that this article will come into favor with American tanners so long as a sufficient supply of oak and hemlock bark can be ob. tained. It may be interesting to note in this connection that much of the divi-divi comes from the Goajira peninsula, where the Indians, who. have always been a most intractable and savage race, are commencing apparently to appreciate the advantages of labor, and bring in large quantities of divi-divi to exchange at the frontier settlements for products of civilization.
Experimental shipments of a coarse brown sugar have been made to the United States, but I believe they have not given satisfactory returns. Proper machinery has not as yet been introduced, the sirup being boiled in open pans and in no way elaborated. For the protection of this industry the Government has prohibited the importation of foreign sugars, which measure, however, has not caused any improvement in the system of manufacture.
The sugar exported has been of a low grade and inferior quality, and, after paying import duties in the United States, can hardly be sold at a satisfactory price.
Asphalt abounds in this district, and an important business could readily be built up in this branch of export. The shipments hitherto have been mainly experimental, but as the article has been found by analysis to be of a superior character, it is believed that ultimately large quantities will be exported to meet the increasing demand in the United States.
METALS AND MEDICINAL PLANTS.
A great source of future wealth is to be found in the mountains of this consular district, where both the precious and useful metals can be extracted. On account of the lack of both capital and knowledge, these have been entirely neglected, but should peace continue and confidence be established, the possibilities of the country seem almost limitless. There are also vast tracts of unexplored forest, abounding in all species of medicinal plants, and which, when cleared, will make an unrivaled agricultural region. Wisdom and patriotism in government and industry on the part of the people are all that are needed to confer upon Venezuela almost unexampled prosperity.
TRADE WITH THE UNITED STATES.
As regards imports from the United States, there has been a gratifying increase during the past year, many articles which formerly were brought exclusively from Europe being now steadily introduced from New York.
Compared, however, to what it should and must be in the future, our export trade to this country is still very infantile and needs careful nursing for its development.
Many mercantile houses of the United States, almost exclusively however of New York, are constantly seeking to open extended commercial relations with this section, and are now meeting with encouraging
It is pleasant to note that our exporters are beginning to appreciate the peculiar exigencies of this trade, and are gradually agreeing to the liberal terms as to payments, &c., which the European merchants were wise enough to offer when establishing South American connections.
There is no reason, however, why New York should continue to be the only American port patronized by the exporters and importers of this country.
New Orleans offers many advantages which New York does not possess, and with the great Valley of the Mississippi from which to draw the supplies needed in Spanish America, and which also offers a ready market for the productions of the southern continent, I believe that the establishment of direct trade with New Orleans would be of great advantage to the commercial interests of the country at large.
I have been in communication with prominent citizens of that city as well as with the various mercantile corporations, and have received encouraging replies, leading me to hope that the scheme may be speedily realized.
An excellent idea, which may soon go into effect, is the establishment of a permanent bazaar for the exhibition of all classes of American goods suitable for this market.
I have both spoken and written upon this subject at various times during the past four years, and it will now be taken in hand by Messrs. R. Krauss & Co., an enterprising firm of this city. Judging from the results which have followed the establishment of similar exhibitions in other countries, the project cannot be too highly commended and encouraged. I have written to the United States minister at Caracas, requesting him to use his kind offices with the Venezuelan Government in order to secure the free entrance of these samples, which are not intended for sale, but only as a means of calling attention to American goods.
Too much emphasis, however, cannot be laid upon the frequently mentioned necessity of sending agents of ability and push to look after our interests. Illustrated catalogues, profuse advertisements, and, when possible, samples, should constitute a generous part of an agent's outfit, and our past indolence in this respect has been the means of throwing the trade into the hands of Europeans.
The mercantile journals of the United States have done and are doing good service, which is bearing fruit, but our merchants must do their own personal part and force South American traffic into its natural channel.
UNITED STATES CONSULATE,
Maracaibo, January 10, 1883.
E. H. PLUMACHER,