For years the price of sugar, the chief and almost the only product, has been declining, until it is now below the cost of production, and ruin stares the planters in the face, and has already overtaken many of them. Imperial grants and loans have served for a time to postpone the crisis that now seems inevitable. Should the sugar industry collapse, which will no doubt be the case, many thousands of plantation laborers who now eke out a miserable existence on two or three days’ work at ten or twelve cents a day will be thrown entirely out of employment, to join the already immense number of idlers, and then there will be trouble such as we have not seen yet, bad as it has been and as it now is.
The smallpox epidemic, with the accompanying quarantine regulations, has greatly intensified all these unfavorable and disagreeable conditions. Nearly all provisions and supplies of every kind come from abroad, and of course the stoppage of commerce is followed by an immediate rise in prices, which greatly increases the suffering and hardship of the middle and lower classes, who are barely able to .exist under the most favorable circumstances. Then the interruption of commerce throws thousands of men out of employment, such as stevedores, lightmen, boatmen, cartmen, porters, and common laborers in general; it also works havoc among the merchants and other business men.
The present epidemic, although preceded by a warning one last winter, found the authorities totally unprepared to grapple with such a visitation. Hospital accommodations are totally inadequate, and the disease is increasing and spreading by leaps and bounds. As many as fifty cases in a day have been reported. No one knows how many have not been reported, nor how many have even been concealed. Of the six hundred cases which have been reported, more than half are still in their homes, with no possibility of proper isolation, care, or treatment. In the slums, where, of course, the disease reaps its greatest harvest, from six to twelve persons live in huts about eight by twelve feet in size. These huts almost touch one another; they stand on either side of narrow lanes, or halls, which fairly swarm with goats, pigs, poultry, and people. However, in view of the conditions, it would seem that the sanitary authorities do their work in a very thorough manner. The streets are kept cleaner than one would expect under the circumstances.
When the epidemic broke out, the people refused to be taken to the isolation stations, concealing their sick, and mobbing the sanitary officers and doctors in the performance of their duties. This feeling was intensified by the practice which prevailed at first of throwing the smallpox corpses into the sea. The masses of the people rebelled at this, as they set great store by the privilege of following their friends to the grave; in fact, funerals and weddings are gala events here. Among the masses long lines of people on foot follow the hearse to the grave. The higher classes, of course, ride in their carriages, as elsewhere. The business of fishermen, a large class,’ was also ruined by these burials at sea, so the authorities were forced to abandon that practice.
At first the people entirely refused vaccination; but the government, the ministers, the school-teachers, the newspaper people, and sensible and influential people generally engaged in a crusade of education, and now thousands are daily baring their arms for vaccination, which has been made free at government expense.