By Mike Collis - Editor of Iquitos Times
Julio Cesar Arana del Aguila, (born 1864, died 1952) was arguably one of the most vicious and sadistic rubber barons of the early Twentieth Century. He was accused of genocide for his Peruvian Amazon Company's treatment of The Putumayo Indians, but escaped prosecution, going on to enjoy a most illustrious political career. The results of one investigation concluded that the mere four thousand tons of rubber his company had harvested in a ten-year period had cost the lives of around thirty thousand Natives. That's one kilogram of dead Indian for every two kilograms of rubber!! There is little wonder therefore, that there was a public outcry when the activities of the PAC and other similar companies were exposed in 1909, in a British magazine, "Truth", in articles written by Walt Hardenburg. Here is the history of Arana and "The Putumayo Affair", as the very sad story came to be dubbed by The British and European Press.
Julio Cesar Arana del Aguila was born in Peru, in the town of Rioja. By the time he was fourteen years old, he had followed his father into the "hat trade". When he was fifteen, his father directed him to take a job as a secretary, where he could learn all the administrative skills necessary to build a professional company. He trained as an accountant/book-keeper and business administrator for two years, before returning to The Amazon to continue trading hats. These were mostly traded for rubber, the most valuable commodity in the area at the time, with the exception of precious metals. By the time he was twenty-five years old, Arana had married his sweetheart, Eleonora and had established a rubber-collecting company in Tarapoto, partnered by his brother-in-law, Pablo Zumaeta. They soon started investing in land and had several "estradas" which were worked by Natives from Ceara. However, the "workers" were very soon little more than slaves, as their debts to the company increased unreasonably. When he was thirty-two, Arana moved the headquarters of his company's operations to Iquitos, where he could easily establish business relations with other international rubber suppliers. He moved into a ten-bedroom house on the corner of what is now La Plaza de Armas, Iquitos, which is locally known as "La Casa de Adobe", (The House of Clay) where "Mi Banco" now has business premises.
La Casa de Adobe or the House of Clay
After rapidly expanding his business using his newly found connections, Arana had a huge mansion built just outside of Iquitos that is no longer in existence and he sent his family to Biarritz in France, so that his children could receive a decent education with private French and British tutors.
Before long, Arana's rubber "empire" extended along much of The Putumayo River, which is 3000 miles long and does not join The Amazon proper until deep into Brazil. The Putumayo rises in the Columbian mountains on the West Coast and forms much of the borders between Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia. At it's height, Arana's empire is said to have been roughly the same size as Belgium!! At the peak of the rubber boom, Arana went to London to register The Peruvian Amazon Company, (PAC), valued in 1907 at one million pounds sterling. At this time, Arana's company had become the largest exporter of rubber in Iquitos, with many European associates and British employees. Bearing in mind the political instability of the region, registration of PAC in England was a shrewd business move. However, while he was in London, the exposure of "The Putumayo Affair" began. The seeds were sown by a newspaper editor, Benjamin Saldana Rocca, who sued Arana and his company for rape, torture, and murder of the Native Putumayo Indian workers, and their families. Although Rocca ran many newspaper stories and publicly campaigned against the activities of Arana for a long time, for some reason, the justice system and the courts did absolutely nothing. Rocca decided to enlist some help in order to reach a wider and more influential audience.
Through a strange quirk of fate, his son was acquainted with Walter E Hardenburg, an American, who had already encountered Arana, and had had "dealings" with him, which had turned out very badly. In July 1909, Hardenburg travelled to London, carrying irrefutable documentary evidence that a British Company was involved in the most heinous of slavery crimes, and this at a time when Britain was leading the world in anti-slavery campaigns and legal proceedings. Hardenburg met with representatives of The Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, and Sydney Paternoster of the British newspaper, "Truth", who continued Rocca's campaign of publicity against Arana. The allegations were too horrific for The British Foreign Office to sweep under the carpet, as they had done less than a decade before, concerning similar complaints about abuse of Native slaves in Congo by Belgians acting under King Leopold. The Foreign Office set up an investigative commission and, in 1910, sent Sir Roger Casement to investigate, Sir Roger having already had Consular and Ambassadorial experience in "The Congo Affair". He travelled widely through The Putumayo, returning in 1911 for a second time, and reported back that Benjamin Rocca's allegations were not only true, but worse than first reported. Children had even been placed in stocks for months alongside their dying parents. Casement, having had experience of The Congo "cover-up", first sent a copy of his governmental report to The Anti-slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, and then demanded from the government that justice should be seen to be done.
By this time, there were also complaints against Arana and PAC being raised in Ecuador, Columbia and Peru. Unfortunately, as so often happens, especially in these remote parts of South America, political corruption and counter-propaganda took effect. Columbia and Ecuador merely used the complaints to justify their claims on the border areas, while Arana ran a campaign to raise Peruvian support for his company, claiming patriotism and the good of Peru as the end to his evil means. The Peruvian Government however, appointed Judge Carlos Valcacel to discover the truth behind all the claims and counter-claims. For some reason, Valcacel was unable to fulfill the mission, and it was taken over by Judge Romulo Paredos in early 1911. The ensuing report took over four months to collate and ran to well over 1200 pages. Judge Valcacel confirmed the reports of Judge Paredos and subsequently issued two hundred arrest warrants. Arana put a bounty on the Judge's head and as a consequence he had to escape the country and flee for his life. Arana was by then so powerful that he somehow even managed to have the courts cancel the warrants.
In late 1912, a six-month long investigation by a Parliamentary Committee began, at which Arana denied all knowledge of events, and laid the blame with the employees of PAC, who had not informed him. He also tried to justify his company's actions by claiming it was helping to "civilise" the region!! He tried to bring the prosecution's witnesses characters into question, but had to accept their findings. The final report stated that Arana had showed "callous indifference and guilty knowledge" and also stated that the board of PAC were guilty of "negligent ignorance". In conclusion, The British Government, being unable to imprison Arana, sued Brazil and America to help close down the company, but the onset of The Great War and the ensuing continued demand for rubber held sway. PAC continued it's operation until 1920. Arana carried on his business interests until 1932 when he lost his lands and fortune in a war between Columbia and Peru over disputed borders, which was stopped by the intercession of America. Strangely enough, as sometimes appears to be the case with corrupt people of note, Arana went on to enjoy an illustrious political career as Senator in Lima. It would seem that the road called "Nauta" in Iquitos, used to be called "Julio Cesar Arana", judging by the old street signs near the freemasons' hall, (Cuadra/Block Two), the meeting place of the organisation, where "businessmen" like Arana, no doubt, made most of their contacts. He died penniless in Lima in 1952, aged eighty-two, some would say a ripe old age for one who had caused the deaths of so many people. Remember the figures: four thousand tonnes of rubber for thirty thousand dead natives. That equates roughly to one dead Indian per set of car tyres, a very sad fact, worth bearing in mind next time all you car-owners go to by a new set of "treads"!!