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




Urbina Once More

After four years of strife the country was at peace for a time, but the coming elections caused Moreno much anxiety. His time of office, according to the Constitution, would be at an end, and he might look for a well-earned repose, but he could not disguise from himself that the future was full of danger. "A captain who has navigated his ship in the midst of tempests, and who has saved her over and over again from shipwreck, cannot leave her to inexperienced hands without trembling."

Writing to an intimate friend at this time Moreno thus refers to his anxieties: "Even if the Constitution permitted my re-election I would not consent—this fatal Constitution of 1861 provokes disorders without giving the Government-power to repress them. It follows that when in imminent peril, the Government is forced, in order to save the country, to place itself above the laws, and in smaller dangers to bear with everything, thus leaving society to descend gradually into the abyss. I foresaw those evils in 1861, and shall always repent of having accepted powers which are so hampered. Because I have confidence in God I think that Ecuador will one day recover from this state of things, but only after a period, longer or shorter, of blood and ruin, when the legislators, tired of their Utopian follies and of their guilty attempts upon the dying body of the nation, shall take reason for their guide. The logic of evil is inexorable. Every fault brings punishment. We are about to expiate the faults of the Constituents of 1861." To give up his office cost nothing to the President, but he was resolved to do all in his power to direct his countrymen to make a wise choice in his successor.

He was far from thinking that the Government should look calmly on at elections; he considered that it was its duty to enlighten the people and to propose suitable candidates. Following these principles Moreno proposed to the electors Don Jeronimo Carrion, a simple and religious man, a hard worker, a friend of order, and an implacable enemy to Anarchists.

The Opposition took for their candidate Don Manuel Gomez de la Torre, a gentleman of such wavering political opinions that he had successively been Minister under Rocca and Urbina, and had formed one of the Provisional Government with Moreno himself. The result of the elections which took place on May 19th was a triumph for Moreno and the cause of order, Carrion obtaining an overwhelming majority of 25,000 votes against 8,000 given to de la Torre.

The new President was elected but could not, according to the law, take office until the following year, and meanwhile Moreno had once more to defend the country against General Urbina's machinations. This last and thrilling incident occurred just after the elections. On the evening of May 31st fifteen of Urbina's followers, led by a brigand named Jose Marcos, concealed themselves on an island of the river Guayas, near Camborrodden; from there they boarded the steamer Washington which had been commissioned by Urbina. When night fell they steamed down the stream to Guayaquil and ran alongside the Guayas (the only man-of-war belonging to Ecuador), boarded her, murdered her captain and crew, and continued their course to the sea, taking their prize with them.

Next morning the Washington and Guayas, and a third vessel, the Bernardino, were discovered anchored in the roadstead of Tambelli some miles from Guayaquil, with Urbina and Roblez, and some hundred Peruvians, at the head of the expedition. Moreno was at Chillo, his Hacienda near Quito, seeking a few days' rest, but when the news reached him he set off at once for the scene of action. Traversing in three days the eighty miles which separates the capital from Guayaquil, he arrived like a thunderbolt before the enemy, with the intention of driving them to sea—but he had no vessels. The opportune arrival of an English steamer, the Talca supplied his need. He at once purchased her for the immense sum of 50,000, and armed her with five large guns and ammunition. Selecting two hundred and seventy men, and taking command himself, he set out from Guayaquil in the evening of June 25th. Next morning the President's ship sighted the enemy, and was greeted by a tremendous fire from their guns. The little Talca steamed straight ahead and, only opening fire when close by, ran alongside the Guayas; Moreno's men boarded her and quickly drove the crew from her decks. The Bernardino and another schooner yielded without much resistance, and there remained only the Washington, on board of which Urbina, Roblez, and their officers and men were in a semi-drunken condition. The Washington lay near shore, and all on board, alarmed at the capture of the other vessels, threw themselves overboard, headed by Urbina, and took shelter in the woods. Three days later the last of this company of brigands had found refuge in Peru, and during Moreno's lifetime Ecuador was no more troubled by them. The return to Guayaquil created much excitement. The inhabitants assembled, eager to see who were the conquerors, and some even believed that Urbina was returning in triumph. The excitement was at its height when Moreno was seen standing on the bridge of the Talca. At once a great cry of joy arose from the people, and all the church bells rang out joyously.

A shadow was thrown over the victory by the necessity of punishing some of those who had taken part in the late rebellion. And unfortunately, also, letters had been found on the Washington which convicted of treason a prominent personage of Guayaquil. Another had been aware of the conspiracy and kept silence, and it was the President's stern duty to bring these to justice before quitting the city. It is said that Moreno's aged mother tried to intercede for one of the accused, but her son replied with much emotion, "Mother, beg of me anything you like, but not an act of weakness which would be fatal to the country."

After this fresh victory, the return of the President to the capital was a triumph. Giving an account of his expedition in the Senate in a few words, he said: "I have saved my country in spite of your Congress."

And now, retiring from office, Moreno asked for the leave which is necessary for an Ex-President to quit the country within a year of his giving up office, but so strong was the feeling against this that the deputies voted by a huge majority a prohibition to his departure, declaring that he was "necessary to the safety of the Republic." Such was the tribute of his countrymen to Moreno's self-sacrificing career.

The new President, Carrion, though excellent and well meaning, did not possess the determination necessary to deal with the conflicting elements of Ecuador, or to balance the opposing parties. Disregarding the prohibition given six months earlier to Moreno's leaving the country. Carrion, to satisfy the Radicals by withdrawing him from the scene, determined to send him as Minister Plenipotentiary to Chile, to arrange a treaty of commerce . The freemasons and revolutionaries were enchanted by this decision—not only would the Ex-President be out of the country, but they were fully resolved that he should never return. Sometime before a plot to assassinate him at his Hacienda had fallen through, but the long journey now before him offered, as they thought, a certain opportunity for his destruction. Moreno was to embark at Guayaquil, and make a short stay at Lima to confer with the President, Senor Prado, on his road to the capital. During the week before he started he received warnings from all sides that his life would be attempted. A good lady from Lima assured him that the Ecuador refugees in Peru had sworn to destroy him, either at Callao or at Valparaiso. At Guayaquil he was shown a letter from one of Urbina's followers which declared that Garcia Moreno was setting out on his last journey, and that once he had disappeared a new order of things would commence; while at Lima the refugees announced publicly that he would be met there with revolvers.

This last prediction came true. Moreno, unmoved as usual by threats, had continued his journey so far with Don Herrera, his secretary, and Don Ignacio de Alcazar, one of the Secretaries of Legation. Don Herrera had his young son with him, and Moreno his little niece, whom he was escorting to Valparaiso. The party reached Lima by train on July 2nd. Alcazar was the first to get out of the carriage, and Moreno followed. The latter had turned to assist his niece when a man called Viteri, a relation of Urbina's, rushed up to him and, calling him "a robber and assassin," fired twice at his head. The bullets pierced Moreno's hat, but turning quickly upon his assailant he caught his arm and thrust aside the last shot. The would-be murderer was seized by the bystanders and handed over to the police. The news of the base attack had spread rapidly through Lima, and President Prado sent his carriage with orders to bring Moreno at once to the Palace, for he had been wounded slightly in the forehead and hand. He drove thither through a sympathizing crowd.

In spite of this miserable beginning Moreno's mission was most successful. He continued his journey to Valparaiso where he spent six months, during which time he concluded a commercial treaty with Chile, and placed the union of the two countries on a sound basis, while his personal talents and character deeply impressed the Chileans, "Everyone admired his profound learning, his noble character . . . At the scientific meetings in which he took part he astonished everyone by his vast knowledge, and especially by his system of social regeneration, founded on the laws of the Church. Chilean society became enthusiastic in its opinion of Moreno who, on his side, was happy to meet Christian hearts who could understand and like him, the more so that the Liberalism of his own country had little accustomed him to this pleasure. Later on he could never speak without emotion of his visit to Chile.

On his return to Ecuador Moreno spent a few days at Quito to render a report of his mission to Senor Carrion, and then went to stay with his brother, Don Pablo, at Guayaquil. The Ex-President, having no fortune, and having carefully deprived himself, as we have said, of his presidential salary, was a poor man, and wished to enter his brother's business. Moreover, there was nothing for a man of his temperament to do in the Capital until the moment should again come in which his services would be needed once more to stem the revolution. This time, unfortunately, was already at hand. The Radical papers were making open war on Religion and the State—Montallio, in the Cosmopolitan actually preaching the superiority of Paganism over Christian ideas, while another party in the country clamored against Carrion, and cried aloud for the return of Urbina. During the electoral campaign of 1868 the Radicals became so strong that they had the hardihood to propose their most advanced candidate, and the Conservatives of Quito, seeing that their salvation lay with Moreno, chose him once more to represent them in the Senate.