Gabriel Garcia Moreno--Regenerator of Ecuador - Mrs. Maxwell Scott

Efforts at Reform

Peace being restored to the country, the great task remained of forming an efficient and stable government. The representatives of the country, about forty in number, were all agreed in admiring Garcia Moreno, but apart from this nothing could be more varied than their opinions. Among them was General Flores, still brilliant though now ageing; his colleagues could not but remember his fifteen years' despotism and the defeat of Elvira; but his late noble patriotism and the influence of Moreno, who wished now to see in him only the old warrior of the War of Independence, caused him to be named provisional President of the Assembled Congress. His offences still rankled, however, in the minds of some, and on one occasion when Flores remarked that if a certain measure did not obtain a majority of votes he would quit, "not only the Congress but the country," a young Deputy boldly replied, "Senor Presidente, that is the greatest service you can render to the nation."

After the opening of the Chambers, which took place on January 16th, 1861, Moreno and his two colleagues rendered an account of their services and resigned their power. The recital of the events of the last fifteen months was received with cheers and acclamation, and on the spot it was declared that the Members of the Provisional Government had merited well of the nation, and that their busts should be placed in the Government Palace in perpetual memory of their services. Moreno was warmly congratulated and made acting President for the time. The Assembly confirmed the decree which declared Our Lady of Ransom Patroness and Protectress of the Republic, and affirmed its gratitude to the army, which, by its valor had saved the country.

Unfortunately this happy unanimity of opinion gave place to discord when the discussion on the new Constitution began. Moreno, as we know, ardently desired for his country a Catholic Constitution which, to use his own words, was the only way in which to "moralize the country by the energetic repression of crime by the solid education of the young, to protect religion, and bring about the reforms which neither the Government nor the laws alone can obtain." He saw, however, that public opinion was not yet ripe for all he planned, and for the moment contented himself with setting aside all measures which could interfere with the full liberty of action of the Church.

The proposed new Constitution, like those of the South America republics generally, declared the Catholic religion to be that of the country to the exclusion of every other. This clause, combated by some, was upheld by the people, who, shocked at the idea of heretical sects being placed on an equality with the Catholic Church, murmured against the Government. Garcia Moreno likewise threw all his influence into the scale, and this clause was maintained. After this law and others relating to the future executive powers of the Government, the Assembly passed to the question of the election of a President. While decreeing that in future he should be chosen by universal suffrage, it reserved its liberty of choice for the present election, and by a unanimity of votes chose Garcia Moreno; a choice enthusiastically welcomed by the whole country save by Urbina's followers.

At first Moreno refused to accept office, on account of the insufficient powers guaranteed to the Government. In words which proved only too true, he declared that: "To disarm Authority in the face of the Revolution was to decree perpetual anarchy." He, however, yielded to the solicitations of his friends, who, seeing in him the only hope of the nation, appealed to his conscience and self-devotion. To show him their good will, the members of the Assembly passed several important laws, and, above all, decided that a Concordat should be proposed to the Pope and put in execution without waiting for the ratification of a future Congress. The reorganization of the Treasury, of the Army, and of public education was also decreed, and Moreno entered office with the hope of effecting those changes for the benefit of the nation which had for so long occupied his thoughts.

His first care was a minute revision of the financial affairs of the country, which were in a state of hopeless confusion. For thirty years Ecuador had found itself unable to balance its accounts. Moreno created a Board of Financial Control, instituted a clear account of imports and exports, and insisted on strict economy. He made honesty the qualification for all public officials, and set a great example of disinterestedness by giving back one half of his salary to the impoverished exchequer and the other to public charities. An indefatigable worker, he set himself the ungrateful task of verifying the debts contracted by the State from the beginning of the Republic, before instituting a new and judicious financial system. The Army next occupied his attention, and he restored military discipline, which was sadly lacking, by stringent measures without respect to persons.

Once Moreno felt he had behind him the triple force of an efficient army, a body of honorable and upright official colleagues, and a country placed on a sound financial basis, he turned his efforts to the still greater benefit he hoped to bring to his countrymen. Of these he felt primary education to be the foundation. Revolution and freemasonry, wise in their generation, always seek to undermine religion through the children; in South America this spirit, which takes the form of secularizing schools, is termed "educational neutrality." To meet this danger the President made an appeal to the charity of France which was nobly responded to, and bands of Christian Brothers, Nuns of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and Sisters of Charity hastened to Ecuador, and established primary schools and boarding schools in all the large towns. The Jesuits, whom Moreno had invited to the country as we know years before, now returned once more to their former House of St. Louis in Quito, and later to a second House for Secondary Education, in which professors were trained for the new colleges in Guayaquil and Cuenca.

These measures were most distasteful to the radicals, and they did not fail to call Moreno "a Jesuit inclined to turn Ecuador into an immense Convent," more especially as he did not stop at education but confided the hospitals to the care of Sisters of Charity, and the prisons to men imbued with his own spirit of charity and justice.

In material matters the President also soon realized an immense project—not imagined even by Incas, Spaniards, or the modern radicals themselves—namely, the inauguration of an immense system of carriage roads which should unite one town with another, and the plateau of the Cordilleras with the Pacific Ocean. Paying no heed to the chorus of wonder and opposition, he himself calmly traced the plan of route for the road from Quito to Guayaquil, and set the work going. This gigantic undertaking, commenced in the early days of his Presidency, was still progressing at the time of Moreno's death, and, we may truly say, would in itself be sufficient to immortalize his name.

Hitherto literally no roads worthy of the name existed in Ecuador, owing to the topography of the country—a veritable labyrinth of mountains and deep valleys. Trains and even diligences were spoken of as strange and unattainable objects which people must resign themselves to do without. Communication with the Coast was maintained by a weekly courier who had the hard task of climbing precipices and crossing torrents to reach Guayaquil. An English tourist when asked by what road he had managed to reach Quito, replied, "But there is no question of roads in this country," and an adventurous lady traveler remarks in her book that "on leaving the Capital of Ecuador, one does not drive, one only paddles through a morass."

It is easy to understand that under these circumstances commerce and agriculture were at a standstill for want of the means of transport, yet when Moreno determined to make a road from Quito to Guayaquil he was met by a storm of censure. "As Columbus when he announced the discovery of the New World, he was treated as a Utopian, a maniac, whose foolish enterprises would swallow up the last resources of the country." As we can well believe, knowing Moreno's character, all those murmurs left him unmoved, and he himself traced the line of route; but when the work had been commenced he met with even greater difficulties from the opposition of the proprietors through whose lands the new road must pass.

One gentleman, a native of Granada but who had lived in Ecuador for thirty years, showed great indignation and threatened to appeal to his own country and asking, at the same time, to be repaid the total price of his Hacienda. Moreno vainly tried to make him see that Granada had no part in the affairs of Ecuador, and that this demand was absurd.

"You ask for the full price of your property," he said, "at how much do you value it?"

"Five hundred thousand piastres."

"Very well, as you have set your heart on it I will buy it and will pay you that down. When it was a question of fixing the amount of your taxes, however, you valued your property at fifty thousand piastres, whereas according to your present avowal it is worth five hundred thousand, you have therefore for thirty years been defrauding the Government of an immense sum which you shall now pay with its interest. Upon that my Minister of Finance will allow you five hundred thousand piastres for your Hacienda."

Taken in his own toils the proprietor withdrew his opposition.

This, and other hindrances of the kind, were as nothing however to those offered by the nature of the Country. For years thousands of workmen, divided in groups forming "travelling parishes" of themselves, and each accompanied by a Priest and a Doctor, were employed in cutting down forests and scaling mountains. This first great Road, with its branch to Sibambe and another from Guayaquil to Milagre, took ten years to make, and was inaugurated with great pomp at Quito, on April 23rd, 1873. Two diligences, named the Sangui and the Timguragua were solemnly blessed on the Plaza Mayor. The Archbishop, who was accompanied by the President and his Ministers, gave the blessing from the balcony of his Palace, and the illustrious party made the first tour in the carriages amid the acclamations of the crowd.