The War of Paraguay: Chapter the First, Pedro Ferreira’s Mission

This post remains available for posterity’s sake, but a much revised and much expanded version of this translation is available completely for free! The revised version includes translated footnotes, a translated appendix, an expanded introduction, and a map of disputed territory and important locations. You can download a copy in the following formats: DocxEpubMobiPDF. Or, if you want to throw some money my way, you can set your price for it on Smashwords. And it’s in the public domain!

Map of the Río de la Plata region, from George Thompson’s 1869 book The War in Paraguay

A delicate task in the Río de la Plata was fitted to the Paraná ministry (1), the task of guaranteeing the results of the Battle of Caseros (2), and of the ministry of 29 September’s policies (3). Of Uruguay, whose independence we had contributed to saving, of the Argentine Confederation, and of Buenos Aires, whom we had helped liberate from an overwhelming tyranny, we only wanted to be good and loyal neighbors (4); but it was no easy matter, to live in peace with any of them, since the so-called balance of the Plata threatened at every moment to unite them all against us. Peace could only be the fruit of a continuous vigilance and a consummate prudence. And even so, it was in an instant threatened.

López I (5) had given the Brazilian minister Leal his cards (6), accusing him in a note of “being dedicated to scheming and imposture in contempt of the Supreme Government of the State,” and of raising atrocious calumnies against him. With this note arose an issue from which war between both countries could come, and if events had proceeded in another way it is certain that war would have developed.

In demand of reparations for the offense done by the president of Paraguay to the Brazilian minister, the government of Brazil sent to Asunción (7) a fleet lead by Commander Pedro Ferreira, who was made plenipotentiary. At the Paraguayan government’s command, the fleet stopped at the mouth of the Paraguay River (8), Ferreira advancing on the steamer Amazonas, which ran aground before arriving at Asunción. Then began a singular correspondence between the Brazilian envoy and the Paraguayan government, which wound up with Fereira agreeing to board smaller steamers to escape the Amazonas. Such bad beginnings seemed to herald the failure of the mission.

Commander Ferreira’s behavior was quite criticized then, but it seems likely that abstaining from forcing the Paraguay River, at López’s order, was the most prudent and discrete resolution that he could adopt. “Our negotiator and admiral’s instructions,” wrote Paranhos (9) shortly after, “authorized him, in certain cases, to proceed in an energetic and military manner. If this wasn’t so, he would not have shown such determination to justify, with so much deliberation, the conduct that he observed from Tres Bocas … Denied the reparations, and with it the passage of his ships to Mato Grosso, not only was he authorized to force the way, he had orders to do it, and to send two or three of the ships that comprised his expedition to the Brazilian waters of alto Paraguay, and, in this way, await new orders from the imperial government.”

The steamship Amazonas, circa 1880

Pedro Ferreira explained, in a reserved communication from 11 April 1855, the reasons he had for considering his mission peaceful instead of military. The fact is, he went to Paraguay full of precaution against Buenos Aires—which was thought to be in league with those opposing Brazil’s intervention in the Eastern State (10)—and distrusting, if not of Urquiza (11) himself (of whom, in any case, he thought we could expect nothing), then of Pujollo, president of the republic of Corrientes, bordering Paraguay. As well, Ferreira believed either Pujollo or the vice president of the Argentine Confederation to be a confidante of López. He went also convinced that, in case of conflict, France and England would try to neutralize Brazil’s efforts, giving moral support to López. Though it seems that this last reason was what predominated his spirit: “Therefore,” he writes to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, “when I meditate on the importance and scope of the steps taken by the informal Anglo-French diplomacy, I don’t hesitate to believe that Y.E. (12) will approve the condescension I had in volunteering to board a single ship, and commanding the squadron to withdraw half a league from the waters of the Paraguay.” The cabinet’s spirit was one of action and energy, but at the same time the difficulties of a campaign on the Paraguay were better appreciated by the admiral, who preferred condescension to destruction. By all accounts, Pedro Ferreira’s mission was a diplomatic disaster, which the ministry recognized upon refusing to ratify what their representative had agreed upon, claiming the accord had been made without allowing the free navigation of the Paraguay, which had been opened to Brazil by the treaty of 25 December 1850.

The disaster was not, fortunately, irreparable. Paranhos, with the competence that he has since shown in these matters, took charge of finishing the old feud with Paraguay—of which country Paulino said in his 1853 report, tired of the futile efforts to accomplish the solemn commitments of 1850, “Only war can cut off, since they can’t be untied, the difficulties between the empire and the republic.” In April of 1856, Paranhos signed with Berges, plenipotentiary sent to Río de Janeiro in place of López, who was gravely ill, a treaty of peace, shipping, and commerce, in which was stipulated free transportation on the river.

A governor as astute and tenacious as López could not easily abandon a privilege already possessed, and one which he believed essential to his plans and aspirations. Therefore, the the treaty’s ratification was shortly followed by a promulgation of rules which essentially annulled it. “In those rules is included all that a fiscal genius, somber and hostile, could devise to close the river,” said Salles Torres Homem in the Chamber (13), “condemning our ships destined directly for Albuquerque to make contact with eight different places, fraught with registries and inspections, making passengers disembark, examining documents, reviewing passports, with our ships paying heavy taxes upon leaving and returning, at various points in such a large range, which comprises waters of which the tiny republic does not possess exclusive domain, those being the waters between the Apa and Fuerte Olimpo.”

Profoundly disgruntled by such regulations, the cabinet sent counselor José María do Amaral, Minister in Paraná, to Asunción on special mission. As the attitude of López had not changed at this time, upon retiring the ministry did not leave relations between Brazil and Paraguay in a satisfactory state, with regard to freedom of navigation, which was what most interested it, as it pertained to the province of Mato Grosso. But, even so, the final solution came thanks to the spirit of the Paraná ministry, whose Minister of Foreign Affairs was sent to Paraguay by the next administration, to finish the interrupted negotiations. The agreement of 12 February 1858, signed by Paranhos and Francisco Solano López in Asunción, ended the old disputes and opened the navigation of the rivers Paraguay and Paraná, in the parts of them belonging to Brazil and the Republic of Paraguay, to the trade of every nation, stipulating at the same time the free passage of both countries’ warships.

Translator’s Notes

1. The Brazilian government from 1853-1857, headed by President of the Council of Ministers Honório Hermeto Carneiro Leão, Marquis of Paraná.
2. The final battle in the Guerra Grande, a regional war sparked by civil war in Uruguay. The battle ended the rule of Juan Manuel de Rosas in Argentina, opened the Uruguay River to Brazil, and gave Brazil the right to intervene in Uruguayan conflicts in the future, among other stipulations. Next week I’ll have a supplemental post about it.
3. Brazilian administrations can be named for the date on which they were formed. In this case, Nabuco is referring to the first Olinda ministry, which formed 29 September 1848.
4. That “overwhelming tyranny” refers to the 20-year rule of Juan Manuel de Rosas, an Argentinian Federalist and supporter of the blanco party in Uruguay. As far as contributing to saving Uruguay’s independence, it’d be more accurate to say they saved Uruguay’s independence from Argentina. Shortly after Uruguay gained independence from Spain, the Portuguese Empire invaded and conquered it. When Brazil became an independent empire, it retained control of the province. In 1825, Argentina supported a revolution in Uruguay, beginning the Cisplatine War. After both regional hegemons failed to make significant advances against the other, under pressure from England to make peace, they both signed a peace treaty granting Uruguay independence.
5. Carlos Antonio López Ynsfrán, the first president of Paraguay, serving as leader of the country from 1841-1862. His son, Francisco Solano López, succeeded him, and lead the nation into the eponymous war of this book.
6. An idiomatic phrase shared, with some slight variation, across Portuguese, Spanish, and English. Dar los pasaportes in Spanish and mandar os passaportes in Portuguese. Means ‘to fire,’ ‘to terminate.’
7. The capital of Paraguay.
8. A major river running directly out of Central-West Brazil and through Paraguay, then joining with the Paraná (see map.) It was crucial to both countries because it connected Paraguay to the Atlantic Ocean, by way of the Río de la Plata, and it allowed Brazil easy transportation of goods to the Central-West province of Mato Grosso.
9. José Maria da Silva Paranhos, Viscount of Rio Branco, Brazilian politician and diplomat.
10. The name for Uruguay most often used in this book.
11. President of the Argentine Confederation. A federalist like Rosas, though in the last years of the Guerra Grande he betrayed him, helping Brazil and the colorado party of Uruguay defeat him.
12. Abbreviation for “Your Excellency.”
13. The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Brazil’s congress.

Copyright © Francis Bass 2017. All Rights Reserved.

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