RUBBER-PLANTING FIASCOS IN TROPICAL AMERICA
INTERMITTENTLY for more than half a century citizens of the United States and their government have interested themselves in the cultivation of rubber in the Western Hemisphere. Their efforts have cost investors and taxpayers many million dollars -- probably well above a hundred -- and have produced almost no rubber. Attempts to grow rubber in the American tropics began in the 1890's with a speculation spree that lasted more than a decade. They were resumed in the 1920's, after an interval of recovery from losses and disappointments, in the hope of finding a means of escape from the exactions of successful rubber planters of the Middle East. They entered a new phase in the 1940's amid the consternation caused by the Nazi invasion of Western Europe and the Japanese seizure of the Oriental rubber regions.
The first effort started with the wrong trees -- Castillas, sometimes called Castilloas, instead of Heveas -- and the wrong emphasis, and with too much haste. Excited by consular reports made under the direction of the State Department, reports that predicted a rubber famine and seemed to suggest large and comparatively easy returns from cultivated rubber, investors soon became the prey of speculators who bought or leased lands in southern Mexico and Central America and expended more energy in the "fleecing of saps" than in the cultivation of saplings. Land companies, rubber-planting companies, and rubber-tapping companies sprang up by the score in half the states of the North American Union. Prominent men whose intelligence and