Special History Study
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Sin dinero no hay tropas y faltando éstas esta fuera de duda que peligra mi provincia. . . No han faltado disidentes malvados que en mi provincia andan diseminando la especie de que le estaría mejor agregarse a los Estados Unidos del Norte. [1]

José Rafael Alarid, 1821

If New Mexicans in 1821 anticipated that the new Mexican government would address the concerns voiced by Pedro Bautista Pino during the previous decade they were disappointed. Political freedom produced greater political autonomy, and autonomy was welcome, but it did not solve the major socioeconomic problems affecting the territory. [2] Local officials and leading citizens, like José Rafael Alarid, repeatedly requested authorities in Mexico City to furnish the territory adequate resources to halt its deterioration. Discontent was common during the first two decades after independence and was not limited to New Mexico. Editorials in Chihuahuan newspapers lamented the government's lack of concern with the frontier provinces. [3]

Unfortunately the turmoil and instability common during the early decades of the republic did not allow the central administration to respond. Settlers along Mexico's northern frontier came to expect little from their government, except ill-suited laws, excessive regulations, and constant demands for additional revenue. Neglect was not limited to New Mexico, but the great distance between the capital and Santa Fe contributed to poor communications and growing apprehension and mistrust.

New Mexico's disappointment with Mexican officials is understandable, but so is the behavior of the central government as Mexico experienced a very violent and traumatic period. The presidency changed hands 49 times between 1824 and 1857. Equally important, by 1821 the country's economy was in ruins. Prosperity had always depended upon the mining industry, but during the long struggle for independence (1810-1821) the production of silver had declined dramatically—according to some accounts more than 90 percent. Machinery had been wrecked and thrown down the mine shafts. The shorings had been pulled out when wood was needed. The abandoned mines soon filled with water that rotted away timbers and collapsed tunnels, making mining impossible without extensive rehabilitation. [4] Capital, needed to resume production, was scarce. [5]

In 1821 the textile industry, Mexico's most important manufacture, was on the verge of collapse, and the adoption of free trade threatened its extinction. Lack of modern transportation also contributed to the crisis. The cost of hauling cotton-mill machinery from Veracruz to Mexico City equaled the original price of the equipment in England. The expense of sending raw cotton from the coastal regions to Guadalajara was so high that the textile industry there faltered. Transportation costs also made it unprofitable to send the finished products to distant markets. [6]

The leaders of the independence movement enthusiastically supported economic liberalism, but the "free trade" policies they adopted produced few changes. In most cases they continued "quasi-mercantilist" practices established by Spanish colonial administrations. Most of the new statutes imposed high customs duties, and a profusion of internal taxes discouraged the movement of goods. State officials, hungering for additional revenues, invented "new tax horrors of their own." [7] Furthermore, economic policies fluctuated widely reflecting an ambiguous attitude toward protectionism. The 1821 tariff, which went into effect in 1822, was hailed as a prime example of liberalism, but it placed heavy taxes on numerous products and excluded altogether tobacco, hams, bacon, salt, tallow, cotton yarn, ready-made clothing, blankets, lace, skins, worked leather, wood, and bricks. At the same time the Mexican Congress appealed to the local populations for additional funds. [8]

Total import charges were quite high—25 percent import duty, 1.5 percent consulado, 3.125 avería, and 15 percent derecho de internación (internation duty), the tax on imports which replaced the alcabala. [9] Many states were dissatisfied with these rates, so the central government enacted new regulations in December 1824. It added foods, liquors, hides, worked metal, many fabric cloths, and clay crockery to the list as well as the derecho de consumo, a 3 percent charge states levied on goods consumed within their boundaries. Exports could go out free, except for gold and silver objects, taxed from 2 to 3.5 percent. [10] A new tariff schedule, ratified on November 16, 1827, imposed ad valorem duties of 40 percent on all articles, except some 56 which were prohibited, but did not appreciably alter the general picture. By 1829 the government restored restrictions once again with a congressional decree prohibiting the importation of foreign goods that competed with artisan industries. In 1832 new calls were made for the reinstitution of prohibitions, but this did not happen until 1838. The constitutional law of 1843 included another rigid prohibitionist clause—no articles harmful to the national industry could be imported without the prior approval of two-thirds of the departmental assemblies. [11]

Americans were largely unaware of these regulations when they began trading with New Mexicans. Captain William Becknell of Missouri "opened" the Santa Fe Trail late in 1821, but he had little knowledge of the Mexican economic system. Becknell, accompanied by five associates, set out to trade with the Indians and go to Santa Fe. Although Becknell's party carried only a small amount of merchandise, the Americans were able to realize handsome profits. [12]

Becknell's account of his trip encouraged others to venture west. This decision made economic sense as Americans were as eager to sell as New Mexicans were eager to buy. From that moment Americans introduced items previously unavailable in New Mexico and undersold the merchants from Chihuahua and Durango by perhaps two-thirds. American goods were not only comparatively inexpensive, but as one New Mexican described them, "better merchandise than we had known." [13]

According to Max Moorhead, before the opening of the Santa Fe Trail the majority of New Mexicans went without any kind of clothing, except leather and homespun, and without iron or steel tools of any kind. This was undoubtedly an exaggeration, yet there was not a single printing press in the province, and books and paper were extremely scarce. The trade changed conditions, and a few years after 1821 these items were available in large quantities as the market was flooded with textiles of almost every kind and implements for carpentry, housekeeping, farming, and hunting. [14]

The province of New Mexico, however, offered limited long-term opportunities. Cash was scarce and the population was small. Americans shortly began to follow the advice of United States Indian agent, R. Graham, who in 1824 recommended expanded trade to the south, particularly with "the more wealthy city of Mexico." [15] The following year Missouri newspapers noted saturation of the market, "that country [New Mexico] cannot support the trade to the extent it is now carried on. Missouri alone can supply that country with twice the amount of goods it has the means to purchase." [16]

Soon foreigners were carrying large shipments to Chihuahua, Sonora, and Durango. Some, like Frenchman Charles Beaubien, sent the traditional assortment composed of a variety of items with a strong emphasis on textiles. In 1826 he hauled 2,000 yards of various fabrics, but also five dozen mirrors, umbrellas, 100 pairs of shoes, ribbons, buttons, leather combs, beads, and others—38 different types of merchandise. That same year William Wilson carried a type of shipment that would become the norm among big traders—1,900 yards of manta (coarse, cotton fabric) and indiana (calico) and 12 hats—only three types of goods. In the 1830s the variety of merchandise remained relatively low, but the size of the shipments increased dramatically. [17]

The trip to the interior provinces opened richer markets, yet it required additional encounters with customs officials. Most American traders, like Josiah Gregg and James Webb, eager to make quick and large profits, bitterly complained about the unfairness of the high import duties. The rates, however, appear to have been within the limits established by the current Mexican laws. Through the 1820s they were quite consistent—15 percent derecho de internación and 3 percent derecho de consumo. What Americans were unable or unwilling to understand were the periodic changes in the assessments and in the number and types of excluded merchandise. [18]

There were reasons for the rates and the policies. The entire financial structure of the Mexican republic was dependent on income from foreign trade. Between 1821 and 1834, no new tax was added to the revenue system. Historians believe that this policy meant to diffuse discontent with the central government and promote political stability. Import duties were high enough to produce sufficient revenues, but low enough to discourage contraband. [19] In New Mexico they did neither. The province never made substantial contributions to the national treasury and smuggling became widespread among all social groups. Foreign businessmen complained about duties that reached 100 percent of invoice prices, but the local population and even public officials often assisted them to circumvent the encumbrances Mexican law established. [20]

Mexican authorities continued to enact trade regulations that were difficult to enforce and required considerable administrative skills. Even if compliance had been feasible, the government at Santa Fe did not have the resources and the educated personnel necessary to enforce complex and ever-changing laws and regulations. [21]

In addition, the great distance and poor communications between Santa Fe and the rest of the country made compliance burdensome. For example, Mexican law placed strict requirements on all the merchandise brought into any part of the country's territory and designated certain locations, such as Santa Fe, as customs houses or ports of entry. After 1825 when any foreign merchant decided to take goods from Santa Fe to the interior of Mexico he had to obtain a guía from the customs officials. [22] This was not a human guide, but a sort of mercantile passport bearing the signature, place and date where it was issued, name of the merchant, number of packages in the cargo, specification of which items were of foreign and which were of domestic origin, value of the merchandise, its destination, name of the person to whom it was consigned, and number of days allowed for remitting the certification of its final arrival. The guía was required not only on leaving the port of entry, but also when taking goods from one state to another and from one town to another within a state. Merchants had to carry the guías with them at all times, were not allowed to go anywhere but the locations specified in the guía, and could not deviate from major roads. If a trader were found outside the major roads, his merchandise could be confiscated as contraband. He could be thrown in jail and fined up to one-fourth of the value of the goods. The tornaguía, a certification that the merchandise had reached its proper destination, had to be endorsed by another official at the point where the merchandise was sold and returned within a specified time to the port of entry. Failure to meet this requirement subjected the endorser to a forfeiture equal to the full amount of the duties on the consignment. [23]

Beginning in 1831 the customs house at Santa Fe began to record the foreign goods introduced into the New Mexican territory. These documents, called manifests, appear less regularly than guías, but are good indicators of the merchandise that came over the Santa Fe Trail. In a few instances it is possible to compare manifests with guías. For example, in July 1831 Samuel Parkman, an agent of Jedediah Smith, hauled 49 cajones (big boxes), tercios (bales, bundles), and baúles (trunks). Two months later he obtained a guía for 31 fardos (bundles), cajas (boxes), and baúles for sale in Sonora and Chihuahua. [24]

Trade regulations were complex enough, but authorities in Mexico City continued to issue additional directives increasing the responsibilities of customs officials. A statute enacted in August 1822 ordered the maritime customs houses to communicate regularly with their terrestrial counterparts, providing them with lists of the guías issued toward their destination. Customs houses had to keep one another informed of the fate of the merchandise and equal attention had to be paid to the tornaguías. Customs officials were to maintain regular correspondence with each other, to read and constantly update the cuaderno de guías, and to note any discrepancies or failures to report the fate of every shipment of merchandise. Even if communications had been much better it would have been difficult for New Mexican authorities to follow the dictates of such laws. [25]

The central government not only imposed an increase in the bureaucratic burden, but also solicited additional revenues, periodically at first, but almost on a regular basis as the century progressed. Identified by a variety of names, subscripción voluntaria (voluntary subscription), préstamo forzoso (forced loan), and arbitrio extraordinario (extraordinary excise tax), these unexpected levies became habitual. The local population, which in most cases was unable or unwilling to pay them, greatly resented them. [26]

New Mexican authorities repeatedly attempted to apprise officials in Mexico City of the gravity of the economic situation in the province and their inability to meet demands for additional funds. In 1821 Felipe Gonzalez, the alcalde from Taos, explained to Governor Facundo Melgares that he had been unable to collect the required revenues for the subscripción voluntaria. After apologizing for having raised only four pesos, he noted that, "the misery of these people reaches such a degree that I know that they have started to feed themselves with cow hides." [27]

Most New Mexicans were unable to pay, but some of their reluctance stemmed from their failure to understand the reasons for the levies and questioned the purpose of the unscheduled assessments. An 1825 letter addressed to Alcalde Interno (provisional mayor) Pablo García excused the people for not raising a stipulated sum because they were so poor they were having a hard time even paying the tithe. The letter added that the citizens "wondered what the purpose of these frequent contributions was." [28]

Subsidios extrodinarios became the norm. In 1829 acting governor José Antonio Chávez ordered all those likely to have personal assets worth 1,000 pesos or more to submit a sworn statement listing what they owned and the income produced by their holdings. [29] The declarations that survive indicate that nobody possessed enough property to pay the subsidy, although it is impossible to know if the ricos (wealthy persons) provided the governor with accurate lists of all their property.

In November 1835 the government established another subsidio extraordinario on those who owned real estate. The amount was based on the assessment of the land, but the documents show neither the size of the payments nor the extent of the compliance. [30] As additional requests for revenue became more common, resentment grew and probably contributed to the revolt of 1837 that led to the assassination of the governor of New Mexico, Albino Pérez. In May 1837 Pérez had insisted that New Mexico meet the 5,000 peso quota which he felt the province could easily raise. Unfortunately only 3,600 pesos had been collected up to that time and the governor admonished the alcaldes to ensure that all persons who did not pay, fulfill their obligation in cash within 24 hours. No document records the reaction of the local population to this order, but even the wealthiest men in the province claimed to have trouble meeting the quotas set by the government. It is doubtful that Pérez's decision increased his popularity, and two months after this letter the governor was killed. [31]

In spite of the increasing number of levies chronic shortages of funds persisted. Authorities in New Mexico were uneasy since they could not make even the payments disposed by the laws, such as salaries to the public employees, pensions to widows and orphans and, more importantly to the troops. [32] In August 31, 1836, escribiente (scribe) Francisco Troncoso received 99 pesos in back pay. His salary was 15 pesos per month, but like many other officials, he had been forced to wait to collect his meager wages. [33] Others suffered even greater neglect. In January 1836 José Miguel Tenorio wrote to Governor Albino Pérez complaining that he had not been paid for three years. [34] To satisfy such legitimate requests and the basic needs of the troops stationed at Santa Fe, officials were forced to resort to their own private resources or those of their supporters or associates. By 1836 leading New Mexicans were regularly lending money to the treasury, but requests for additional funds continued. In 1838 prominent Spanish merchant Manuel Alvarez requested a certification that the late Governor Pérez and other members of his administration had regularly borrowed money from foreign merchants in Santa Fe to cover the expenses of the government and their own. [35] To make matters worse New Mexico seldom collected the revenues to which it was entitled. For example, in 1836 the territory was scheduled to receive 6,000 pesos from the Mexican government for military expenses, but somehow only 1,000 pesos were received. [36]

Lack of adequate resources had a profound impact on education and defense. Mexican authorities recognized the importance of educational reform and the need to stress elementary education. Governor Albino Pérez blamed lack of concern for education as the principal ill affecting the territory and proposed a plan to improve public education in Santa Fe. [37] But poor economic conditions made it impossible to retain teachers. The problem was widespread throughout the territory, and surviving census data for El Paso, Cochití, Santa Cruz de la Cañada, and Albuquerque show an inadequate number of educators. Almost 27 percent (3,619) of the reported population (13,434) was between the ages of 7 and 16. Only three teachers were listed for Albuquerque which had 632 children in this category. One teacher took care of educating the 288 children at Cochití. Santa Cruz de la Cañada was more fortunate. It had six teachers to serve 966 students. In El Paso the ratio was similar: eight educators for 1753 youngsters. The 1823 census of Santa Fe listed only three teachers. [38]

In 1826 strict school regulations were imposed and the provincial deputies asked that funds be collected from the citizens to cover the expenses of establishing elementary educational facilities. Sparse documentation indicates that the population was to be divided into three groups—the first was to pay four pesos; the second, two pesos; and the third, one peso. Since nobody seemed to have any cash, payment was to be accepted in sheep or corn, if collected during harvest time. [39] Local leaders were aware of the need to improve education, yet few changes took place and the regulations described above were not enforced.

Inadequate funds to help the settlers in their struggle against the Indians also caused apprehension. The number of soldiers stationed at the capital city steadily declined and those who remained lacked weapons, ammunition, and adequate clothing. They policed the streets, protected the governor, escorted the traders' caravans into Santa Fe to prevent smuggling, and searched wagons for contraband. Yet they were unable to assist the settlers in the expanding war against hostile tribes. [40] The militia, made up mostly of poor farmers and Pueblo Indians who served under their own officers at their own expense, had always borne the burden of defense. They provided for their own weapons, horses, and mules. Participating in campaigns against the salvajes often resulted in physical injuries and major economic losses, since crops and flocks were not properly tended and were often damaged during their absence. [41]

Growing conflict characterized relations between settlers in northern Mexico and the surrounding tribes. Indian raids were frequent and often resulted in considerable property damage and, less often, in injuries or death. These attacks had a major impact on New Mexican sheep growers. In 1837 Juan Esteban Pino claimed that sheep exports at the beginning of the decade had amounted to more than 100,000 animals but, due to the bitter struggle with surrounding Indians, had declined to 40,000 in 1836 and to less than 20,000 the following year. There was some truth in Pino's statement. The large flocks needed fresh pastures and were often kept at a distance from the more heavily populated settlements. The Indians ransacked the areas where the herders tended the sheep and stole large numbers of animals with relative impunity. Such depredations led to a push eastward from the traditional Río Grande ranges onto the plains beyond the Sandía and Manzano mountains. But the Indians were not deterred. In 1842 Charles Bent reported that the Utes had driven off about 8,000 head of sheep and some 400 head of cattle from an area near Cerro de la Gallina. [42]

David J. Weber believes that the Indians were successful in their raids against hispano communities because the rapid influx of Americans had upset the balance of power and weakened old alliances based on trade. [43] Until 1821 las naciones bárbaras had been dependent upon the Spanish population for trade, but with the coming of foreigners they were able to obtain good guns and powder which they used to plunder settlements and steal livestock, principally sheep. They traded these back to the Americans for more arms and munitions as well as whiskey and other items. Mexico's failure to mend these broken alliances and to strengthen its military posture emboldened the Indians who created havoc for several decades. Tension between New Mexicans and foreigners escalated with the former accusing the latter of urging the Indians to steal cattle and supplying them with weapons to carry out their forays. Violence erupted over contraband cases, mostly the result of discontent among the troops who were not receiving their salaries regularly. [44]

Upheaval resulting from Indian raids became frequent. In 1822 the Comanches entered the plaza at Taos and terrified the citizens. Assured of their strength, they acted cockily taking three boys as hostages and finally returning them unharmed. They left after taking a few chickens and hens. [45] Alcalde Manuel Martínez described a similar incident that took place in Taos on September 1827. [46] The Navajos continually stole from every community. Sometimes the thefts turned into more violent raids which led to reprisals. [47] During certain periods hostilities escalated and brutal encounters became common. In 1829 the Navajos stole and killed cows and sheep, and in general kept the population of Jemez, San Isidro, and Villa de la Cañada in constant terror. [48] At the same time the Utes were harassing settlers around Taos. [49] Documents show that 1829 was a particularly bad year, and a long letter exists criticizing the authorities for doing very little about Indian atrocities. [50] In 1831 complaints abounded about the Navajos, Kiowas, Comanches, and Pawnees. Jemez, Abiquiú, and San José del Vado were the prime targets of these attacks. [51] During the following year the Navajos, Apaches and Comanches committed atrocities. [52] In the spring of 1833, the rural militia of Río Arriba was called out to fight the Navajos. That same year, the jefe político (political leader) encouraged wealthy New Mexicans to join the campaign against the Indians. He reminded them that it would be beneficial for them, and it would also encourage the participation of the less fortunate. [53] In 1836 major incidents disrupted relations between the settlers and the Navajos, but many New Mexicans still proved unwilling to contribute the animals necessary for the campaigns against the Indians. Almost a decade later the same problem persisted and lack of support made it impossible for the local troops to strike at the tribes who were menacing the local populations. [54]

And there were no resources to strengthen the troops at Santa Fe or to help the local militia, who often reported for duty with arrows as their weapons. Periodically, Mexican authorities tried to alleviate tension by granting limited concessions, as they did in 1832 when they allowed New Mexico to use treasury funds, not already designated for a special purpose, to cover the expenses of the troops. But it is not clear how much money, if any, was freed for the purpose. [55]

In spite of the escalating violence and conflict, the desire or the need to trade with the Indians continued. Central authorities discouraged such activities, but the records show that hispanos were willing to risk legal action to barter with the salvajes. New Mexicans obtained furs from the Utes, illegally sold them to the Americans, and in return received merchandise which they sold back to the Indians for more furs. [56] In May 1840 citizens of Río Arriba requested permission to exchange goods with the Comanches, "as has always been the style." Settlers at Socorro traded with the Apaches and those at Abiquiú did the same with individual Utes through the 1840s, a decade characterized by hostility and violent confrontations. [57]

Local leaders were quite aware of the problems affecting their province and demanded action from the central government. In 1824 José Rafael Alarid, New Mexico deputy to the Mexican Congress, wrote a bitter letter to authorities in the capital city. He complained about the poverty affecting the province and requested funds from the tithe to pay for the Presidial Company and the public schools. Alarid believed that it was essential to cover the 200 pesos deficit of the troops stationed at Santa Fe because, "Without money there are no troops, and without them there is no doubt that my province is in danger." [58]

His letter also included a veiled threat, an indication that New Mexicans were becoming impatient and expected the government to address their concerns, "There have been some wicked dissidents who in my province are spreading rumors that it would be better for it [my province] to join the United States." [59] Mexico City officials appear to have acknowledged the threat because less than three weeks later they authorized the use of revenues from state monopolies to pay for the troops and public education if the funds derived from the tithe were insufficient. [60]

Unfortunately the situation did not improve, and leading New Mexicans wrote again in January 1825 complaining about the lack of an efficient judicial system, the need for a jail, and the deplorable condition of the educational system. [61] Nothing was done and the complaints continued. In 1829 Juan Esteban Pino drafted a letter describing the problems and needs of the province. He requested establishing cátedras (college-level classes) in Spanish, Latin grammar, and philosophy to allow citizens to attend major universities and become better able to discharge political, civil, ecclesiastic, and military jobs. [62] There is no record of any reply.

In 1829 Jesus María Alarid vehemently responded to the ban on foreign goods that competed with artisan industries. He admonished authorities in Mexico City for their failure to understand that such a law would produce much hardship on the New Mexican population that would have to travel to Chihuahua or Durango to obtain the necessary merchandise. He stressed that such trips would be harmful, for not only would they affect the local families, but they would also result in a reduced number of agricultural workers and available militiamen. Alarid continued that the excessive monopoly of the merchants from Chihuahua and Durango impeded the development of the area. He also noted that the American merchants left in the territory at least a third of the merchandise they introduced and that they employed many of the local citizens and paid them much more than what they could normally earn. He finally requested that the central government help to establish textile industries in New Mexico, particularly for the manufacture of cotton and woolen fabrics. He concluded pleading that New Mexico be granted the exclusive right of trading with the Americans. [63]

Grievances continued throughout the 1830s. [64] In 1831 several ayuntamientos supported a plan proposed by Juan Esteban Pino, Juan Felipe Ortiz, and Francisco Baca to make a new state out of New Mexico. [65] After describing the economic and personal sacrifices made by New Mexicans for many years, the authors proposed that the territory be transformed into a free and sovereign state to be called Hidalgo. They asked that for 15 years the state keep all the import duties paid by foreign traders and that a garrison of at least 500 men be established near the Río Colorado. Finally they requested that the new military command be independent from Chihuahua. [66]

In 1837 Juan Esteban Pino once again addressed the authorities. Speaking in his behalf and for the "other capitalists in the territory," he officially petitioned for the extension of the exemption from paying the alcabala on "efectos y frutos de producción natural e industria de este país" (local effects and fruits from the natural production and industry of this country). Most of the missive, however, focused on the damage the Indian raids had produced and the need for the territory to receive some material assistance from the central government. [67]

New Mexico was not alone in seeking help from authorities in Mexico City. Editors of the Chihuahua newspaper El Fanal shared similar concerns. They bitterly resented the lack of support from the central government in their struggle against the Apaches. El Fanal expressed feelings analogous to those of José Rafael Alarid, "For Chihuahua to survive it would be necessary to sever their ties to the Mexican nation and join the United States. That would be the only way to escape the deplorable conditions produced by the war with the gentiles and the neglect of the federal government." [68]

Mexico was too embroiled in its own problems to attend to those of New Mexicans. By 1821 its silver mining economy was in ruins and textile manufacturing on the verge of collapse. Capital disappeared as many took their fortunes back to Spain. Trade-hindering taxes increased. American traders realized generous profits from selling a great variety of higher-quality goods at prices up to two-thirds less than those charged by Mexican merchants. The financial structure of Mexico depended on income from foreign trade, and duties often equaled the invoice price of goods. Not surprisingly, smuggling became the means of survival for many settlers, further weakening the Mexican government.

Officials in Mexico City were unable to address the mounting discontent among the people in the northern provinces, and failed to dispel the conviction expressed by the editors of El Fanal, that "the government does not pay as much attention to the edges of the Republic as to its center." [69]

Between 1821 and 1846 most New Mexicans remained destitute and continued to search for ways to improve their circumstances. Although they took advantage of the economic opportunities the Santa Fe trade offered, they preserved the patterns of trade of their ancestors. At the same time wealthy local merchants developed strong economic relations with United States exporters, wholesalers and bankers, establishing mercantile capitalism in the territory. New Mexico was politically still a part of Mexico, but it was slowly becoming dependent on the United States. [70]

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Last Updated: 30-Sep-2005