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The facilities for communication with Venezuela are ample, through the enterprise of the managers of the Red D” line of steamers, running between New York and the ports of that country. During the last few months this company has added to its fleet three fine new steamers, equipped with modern improvements, namely, the Venezuela, of 2,800 tons; the Carácas, of 2,600 tons, and the Maracaibo, of 1,260 tons. This line was established by Messrs. Boulton, Bliss & Dallet, of New York, as a necessity to transport the merchandise of that firm. For many years they employed sailing vessels alone, but in 1879 it was decided to substitute steam for sail, and three German steamers were chartered until vessels could be built especially for the trade. All of the steamers are provided with accommodations for passengers, and modern improvements for safety, convenience, and comfort. The main line runs from New York to the Island of Curaçoa, from there to Puerto Cabello, and thence to La Guàyra, in Venezuela, with a branch line to Maracaibo. Steamers now leave New York every ten days, but it is desired that the service be increased to four sailings per month.
The effect of the establishment of this line of steamers upon the trade of the United States and Venezuela has been very great. But a few years ago the commerce with that Republic was only $3,300,000; now it amounts to about $14,000,000, and comprises nearly one-half the total foreign trade of that country. The value of the trade that has been built up by this line of steamers is confirmed by the fact that 10,000 bales of cotton goods were shipped from the United States to that country in 1888, while in 1880 but 1,200 bales were shipped.
There is also a line of steamers sailing once a month from New York to Cuidad Bolivar, on the Orinoco River.
The commercial and postal communication between the United States and the Republic of Colombia is furnished by the Pacific Mail Steam-ship Company, which sails three times a month from New York to Colon (Aspinwall), the average length of the voyage being from eight to nine days. The Pacific Mail steamers carry mail not only for Colombia, but for the west coast of Central and South America, making connection at Panama with the various lines of steamers on that coast. The Pacific Mail steamers sail under the United States flag. The mail for Savanilla and Cartagena is carried by the Atlas Line of steamers, sailing under the British flag, twice a month, the average length of the voyage being thirteen days. Both of these lines would give a more satisfactory service if the sailings were increased to one per week.
There is also another line, under the Spanish flag, which sails between New York, Cuba, Venezuela, and the United States of Colombia, and is said to receive from the Spanish Government a subsidy of $243,687.60.
These three lines furnish six sailings a month between New York and the ports of Colombia.
The mails to Central America are carried either by the Pacific Mail and the Atlas, steamers or by the small lines sailing from New Orleans, and, while they are rendering as good service as is practicable under present conditions, it is very desirable that the facilities shall be increased in order that better service may be secured.
Steam-ship communication petween the Gulf ports of the United States and Mexico is limited to the Morgan Line between New Orleans and Vera Cruz—average time three and one-half days, sailing twice a month. By reason of railway communication between the two countries they are not dependent upon steam-ships for mail, passenger, or freight service. Their rapidly increasing commerce, as the result of railroad connections, is an evidence of the benefits that will arise from the establishment of proper means of communication between other countries.
It will be observed from the study of the annexed report of the United States Post-Office Department, that the earnings of all of these lines of steamers are derived almost exclusively from the intercourse and trade that these countries maintain with the United States. Very little could be derived from the commerce between the several nations on the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea outside of the United States. This is due to a great extent, if not wholly, to the fact that none of these countries are engaged in manufacturing. They all produce similar raw products, and their importations are composed of similar merchandise. Manufactured cotton goods, machinery, and provisions compose the bulk of the imports of these countries from the United States, and in their turn they export to the same markets of the United States the same raw materials and tropical fruits. Consequently there is no reason for active trade between the Central American States, and no direct lines between them could be successfully maintained unless they were extended to the United States. They are now in communication by coasting steamers, which almost all of these countries have established, and which call periodically at their ports. We consider, therefore, in view of actual conditions, that we shall have to accept the existing local service as the only one that is practicable at present.
While the present lines of steamers between the ports of the United States and those of the countries bordering on the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea furnish a tolerable service, an objection is found in the length of time consumed in making the voyages; and as much could be gained by the establishment of faster lines of steamers, or the substitution of faster steamers for the slow ones now on the existing lines, we recommend that the number of sailings be increased, and the rate of speed heightened, so that the round trips, or at least the home voyages to the ports of the United States be made in the shortest possible time, in order that perishable freights may be preserved.
At present a letter mailed on the 1st of the month in St. Louis will not arrive at Colon before the 15th. It requires two days to reach New York and then, if the steamer sails immediately, the time is reduced to twelve days; but, as the sailings are only three a month, it is oftener twenty days in making the passage, and freight requires a much longer time, in some cases thirty or thirty-five days. By the establishment of faster and more direct lines of steamers time could be shortened at least one-third, and the expense of freight transportation reduced in a corresponding degree.
But trade is no longer done to any extent by correspondence. The buyer and seller must meet each other. Acquaintance fosters confidence, and confidence is the foundation of all trade. Wherever foreign merchants have obtained mastery in the market, of Latin America it has been by sending agents to study the tastes and the wants of the buyers, and to lay before them samples of the merchandise they have to sell, and by furnishing prompt and cheap transportation facilities. Commercial travelers from the United States are seldom, if ever, seen in the mercantile cities of the Southern countries, and the buyers for those markets seldom visit the warehouses of the merchants of the United States. This is in a large part attributable to the lack of proper means of communication. The merchant of any of these countries can take his stateroom upon a swift steamer, and after a comfortable and restful voyage spend a month in examining the manufactures and show-rooms of European countries.
He can make the acquaintance of those who are seeking his custom, and establish his credit and buy whatever he finds suitable for his customers, but he has no such facilities in his trade with the United States.
It will doubtless be several years before quick lines of communication would become self-supporting; and in order to induce capitalists to invest their means in such enterprises they must be assured of stated assistance for a term of years.
It is impossible to estimate the increase of trade that such facilities for communication and transportation would at once bring to the American republics. The purchasing power of the countries of Central America and the Spanish Main is not alone to be considered, but the west coast of South America has a commerce far above $100,000,000 a year. The distance from the ports of Chili to those of Europe through the Straits of Magellan is nearly 9,000 miles, and the voyage requires more than thirty days, while from Peru and Ecuador the distance is much greater. A line of fast steamers from the United States to Colon, in connection with a similar one down the west coast of South America, would bring Valparaiso within eighteen or twenty days of Chicago and St. Louis. London could be reached from Valparaiso by way of New Orleans or New York in much less time than by the direct voyage through the straits, and the journey would be so much more agreeable that the passenger as well as the freight traffic would be to a great extent diverted in this way.
From official data before the committee it is plain that the countries bordering on the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea appreciate the necessity for direct and quick communication with foreign ports, and for its control in the interest alike of their producers and consumers, and they indicate in their public policies and general convictions that governmental assistance, whether in the form of mail contracts or otherwise, is essential to the service demanded by public interests. Mexico pays the Pacific Mail Steam-ship Company for the western coast service $30,000 yearly; Guatemala, $24,000; Salvador, $24,000; Nicaragua, $6,000; Honduras, $5,000, and Costa Rica, $12,000, in the form of postal compensation.
Plans have been proposed by capitalists in this country for the establishment of a direct and rapid steam-ship service between Tampa, Fla., and Mobile, Ala., and the ports of Colon, Port Limon (Costa Rica), and Greytown, Nicaragua. The town of Tampa is situated on the west coast of Florida, 666 miles from Havana and 1,200 miles from Colon, by the measurement of the United States Navy Department. It has a safe and commodious harbor, sufficient to float the largest ships, and without bar or other obstruction at its entrance. The natural advantages of this port have been supplemented by the construction of wharves, docks, hotels and driveways, and freight can be