The War of Paraguay: Chapter IV, Antecedents to the Uruguayan Issue

twop-c-10This 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!

NOTE: This chapter and the next focus on Uruguay, and the civil unrest there from 1850-1865, so I recommend you first read this supplemental post about the Uruguayan War if you haven’t already. Also, a more general note, though I’ve decided to include some translations of footnotes from the original text, in places where I would have to add my own translator’s note otherwise. Why write a translator’s note when I can just translate a note that Nabuco wrote for me? “Footnotes” are Nabuco’s, “Translator’s Notes” are mine.

Since the war against Rosas the Argentine dictator (1), when we prevented Montevideo from falling under Oribe’s control (2), the matter of the Eastern State of Uruguay was the most important and dangerous foreign policy problem. We had no ambitions on its annexation, nor did we want to mix ourselves up in its internal affairs, our sole purpose being to have a peaceful and secure border, for which the complete independence of that state was an essential condition. “The foreign policy,” writes the Baron of Rio Branco, a supporter of this thinking, “created by the conservative party and principally by Paulino de Souza, Viscount of Uruguay, consisted then, as it still does today [1875], of maintaining the independence of the two states threatened by Argentinian ambitions: Paraguay and Uruguay.”

The years have greatly modified the Argentine Republic’s aspirations, as measured by that primitive platine sentiment becoming different on both sides of the Río de la Plata; but it can be said that not even today is the old hope of re-forming the former viceroyalty (3)—if not in its entirety, then at least in the Plata basin—completely dead for Argentine patriots. Many sons of Buenos Aires still dream of the United States of South America, sons on whom the tradition of the past and a common literature still weigh heavy, with the same force as they did on the mid-century generation, contemporary to the siege of Montevideo. Back then, however, this sentiment was more alive and more broadly asserted.

The provinces of the Argentine Republic at the time still searched for the path to their national synthesis. Buenos Aires and Paraná (4) exercised contrary influences on the region. Paraguay lived sequestered in the obscurantism of a tyranny whose principle enemy appeared to be the alphabet, and Montevideo, whose sparse population had grown in the time of Rosas’s tyranny, felt they were easy prey to the revolutions of Argentina and the caudillaje on the eastern shore of the Uruguay, unable to count on Brazil’s protection. The memory of the Portuguese invasions and their former union with the Empire still kept alert a certain spirit of distrust against Rio in the Eastern State of Uruguay, but the experience of so many years and so many events gradually convinced them that there existed in Brazil no party, nor group, nor opinion, that dreamed of restoring the old cisplatine province nor even the imperial protectorate in Montevideo. Opposition parties and Argentine publicists evoked, when it was necessary, memories of the occupation, and they sounded the bugles of Ituzaingó (5); but in Uruguay the public had lost their fear, with common sense taking over their spirits. Montevideo knew that Brazil had as much—if not more—interest in its independence as the Uruguayan political parties did.

Also gradually, as the Eastern State’s independence was strengthened, which prolonged its life as a sovereign nation and as well established Argentinian unity, among our statesmen the fear of an attempt by the Confederation to conquer Uruguay was fading. It’s certain that since 1828 the independence of the Eastern State was a matter of major importance for Brazil, whereas Argentina didn’t renounce the idea of a union with Montevideo until much later. Despite it all, today the betrothal ring is still tossed into the Plata in moments of excitement. Proof that in the Brazilian spirit the idea of annexation or influence over Montevideo died entirely is given to us complete by the story of the period following Oribe’s fall, when the two parties, that is to say, almost all the men in Montevideo, requested, now alternating, now simultaneously, Brazilian intervention, giving us all sorts of opportunities to make the Eastern State a dependency of the Empire. Our lack of ulterior motives resisted all.

Andrés Lamas ca. 1865

From no fount does the truth about Brazil’s intentions flow so clean as that of the writings of the eminent man who for many years represented, in the time of the interventions, the Republic of Uruguay in the court of São Cristóvão (6) as the instrument of every political party of his country, and also the intimate friend of Brazilian statesmen of all hues—doctor Andrés Lamas. “I don’t know,” he says, “a single Brazilian statesman that does not reject with horror the idea of incorporating the Eastern State into Brazil … They all know that conserving the Eastern State, as an intermediary nation, is a Brazilian interest. They all know that pacification of the Eastern State is also a Brazilian interest … They all know that an intelligent policy that serves the legitimate interests of Brazil with acts of justice, of generosity, and of benevolence, would have to enhance Brazil’s international standing and give it the legitimate influence to which it has an indisputable right, by its scope, by its wealth, by its advanced civilization, and by being the most perfect example of order, twinned with the most ample freedom that exists on the Earth, which is a lighthouse raised in the middle of the murky shadows that the demagogues and caudillos have condensed around its neighbors.

“Annexation,” he continues, “incorporation into Brazil, is an undefeatable impossibility. The easterners reject is almost unanimously; yet, even if they all wanted it, it would not happen while Dom Pedro II sat on the Brazilian throne. I feel that the status of this august senhor does not permit me to say all the motives I have to entrust, as I do entrust, a blind faith, a limitless confidence in the intelligence and loyalty of his doctrine. That intelligence and that loyalty are the principle guarantees of eastern nationhood. It is time now that I cease to put on trial the country’s independence.”

The difficulty of the Brazilian policy in Montevideo lay in that, on the one hand, Brazil wanted to abstain from any action in the affairs of the Republic, and on the other hand, it needed to have enough of a hand in them to secure the government’s stability. It was obvious to everyone that this was a necessity the country was forced to accept if only to keep itself from falling prey to irresponsible factions. If Brazil had wanted annexation, the creation of a protectorate, or any future political influence, the occupation could’ve yielded those desired results in due time. But it wanted nothing; Brazil only aspired to see the birth of legal order. Paulino de Souza (Viscount of Uruguay) outlined this policy in the Senate on 20 September 1853: “The occupation of 1817 was not a remedy, nor could it be one in such circumstances. Neither was incorporation, nor could it be; it would be worse than evil; it is contrary to our interests as well as our solemn treaties. What was, therefore, the remedy? What policy was best to adopt? The policy of cooperation and pacification of the State, of aiding in the establishing and strengthening of a legal government; collaborating on the work of its regeneration, reorganizing the treasury, reinforcing order and independence, and destroying, with a few years of peace, the influence of the caudillos. It cut the evil out at the root. That was the policy of the treaties of 12 October (7).”

The work was not easy. Always the defeated party would accuse the victor, if Brazil intervened in the political fighting, of serving the Empire. The Brazilian army in Montevideo attended, as a mere spectator, the local revolutions. In this way we gave the government that we were barely protecting the moral support of the presence of our troops, and that aid, at the same time as it made us unpopular, was a guarantee that their adversary would be recognized as such if he arrived to take power. Lamas himself says so upon separating himself from Flores: “As none of us want the fluctuations of our government to be the work of foreign bayonets; as, even when we wish it so, the Brazilian government would not volunteer itself, given that its army does not support intervention, it should not, nor can it, come between us. We ourselves, only ourselves, are the ones who render useless the monetary aid the Empire gives us, and also the support that they lend us with their troops; what did we want? What were we thinking? What were we hoping? That Brazil would become the Swiss guards at the service of our personalities and the civil war miseries? Perhaps they would do it if they wanted to absorb the eastern nation; if they wanted to let us drag ourselves through those civil war battlefields in which we thoughtlessly shed the blood and the life of the country. But not desiring that, desiring our wellness and our prosperity, and seeing that we are not taking advantage of the aid that they give us, they retract the aid instead of increasing the intensity of our disgrace. That is most useful for Brazil and least bad for us.”

Truthfully there could not be a worse system than that of providing men and money to help sustain a policy of peace that the local passions necessarily made useless, whatever the method, and with great reason, seeing the policy supported in a foreign intervention. Some Uruguayan patriots wanted to favor Brazil as a friendly, impartial power, to get rid of the evils that corroded the internal politics of the country, to populate it, to cultivate it, and to open the State to civilization, and shelter it from all ulterior designs.

Such a concept was a true utopia in every sense of the word.

From the obstacles that this chimaera encountered, eloquently formulated by Lamas, one can deduce that from the beginning it ought to seem impossible. Lamas was a supporter of an alliance with Brazil, in which Brazil would appear as nothing more than a representative of a moral principle, as a moderating foreign power, an arbiter from which one would expect amicable, external suggestions.

“The work of the alliance,” said Lamas, “was only possible through the dissolution of the old personality parties, through the highly intelligent, highly restorative action of a government that, the best of its old factions uniting within it, seriously undertook the reconstitution of the country, gave new direction to the nation’s spirits, and opened sources of work and wellbeing, devoting itself to solving the diverse social and economic issues on which depended, and depends now, the salvation of the country.”

Before anything else it was necessary to be done with the division between Blancos and Colorados. “What do they represent, these Blanco ribbons and these Colorado ribbons? (8) They represent the disgrace of this country, the ruins that surround us, the misery and the mourning of families, the shame of having begged for foreign intervention in both hemispheres, the discredit, the bankruptcy with all its most bitter humiliations, hatred, passion, and personal misery. What separates a Blanco from a Colorado today? I ask that of the most impassioned, and the most impassioned will not be able to point out in that division a single national interest, a single social idea, nor a single moral idea.” (9) Already in 1851 he had said to Paulino de Souza, “The thing that’s bad about the Blanco party is the head; it encloses the major part of the most distinguished and enlightened members of the country; the division between Blancos and Colorados impedes the peace process and even the existence of a regular administration; it’s necessary to take advantage of the discredit and nullity of the caudillos to dissolve these groupings and organize a grand party of government and administration.”

The nullity of the caudillos! They could seem null from the intellectual height at which Lamas found himself, but the caudillaje was the great force of the country, as he himself describes them. “War,” he says, “mother of the caudillos, keeps us between these two fatal poles: anarchy or tyranny. War brings us to depopulation, to misery, to barbary. The soldiers serve as a ladder, with their swords and their blood, for the caudillos, and the caudillos, once ascended to power, give a kick to the ladder, and there go the soldiers’ remains to that special necropolis we call the general staff. They remain there in misery until, summoned by the bugle of discord, they appear again in the land of the living, since only those that work live, as instruments of destruction.”

And the gaucho? (10) “The men of our country are nothing more than pieces of meat destined to sustain these vultures we call caudillos. There is no regulation, nor any protection, for them in the law; at any hour they can be torn from their houses and brought to live the life of the montonera (11), truly a school of vandalism, truly a nomadic life.”

In such manner is one hailed, in such manner does one arrive to the Republic’s presidency, or dictatorship, or de facto power. “Spanish America dishonors itself in granting the title of supreme mandate through the voice of revolt, or on the fields of civil war. The crime that in normal societies sends someone to the gallows, in Spanish America brings them to the presidency. It is unavoidable that it turns out this way.”

The excision of Colorados, and the so-called Liberal Union composed of Blancos and dissident Colorados united against Flores in 1855, is still not, as it seems, what Lamas wanted. He requested the abandonment of the old political customs. Instead of that, what is it one could see? “Instead of that, in the government we have aspiration to a personality party. Any aspiration to a personality party is necessarily exclusivist, intolerant, egotistical, and contrary to any good administration. To make a personality party it is essential to make issues secondary to men, to win over men, to banish or annul men. The forces of government, the forces of the nation devote themselves, wear themselves out, scald themselves in personal affairs and fights. Neither does the government do any public good of which its adversaries can take advantage, nor do its adversaries do any public good of which the government can take advantage. We maintained though, unfortunately, through unforgiveable blindness, the old division between Blancos and Colorados, and without desiring to erase that unwarranted difference that does not rely on any belief or any legitimate interest, we have aggravated it with a new cleavage. What is called the Colorado party has been fractured. One part supports the existing government; the other fights against it. The two oppositions, the Blanco opposition and the Colorado opposition, did not set forth between them any idea, any national interest that would serve them as a lasting bond, that would effectively wipe out the antagonism in which the men who comprised them lived.”

Lamas’s idea is “to replace the foundation of line infantry, which is appalling, with a foundation of a legal program.” (Letter to Melchor Pacheo y Obes, 18 August 1853) “Those that aspire to power should consider not killing Power at its sources.” (ibid.) “Legally, one can achieve the weakening of personal power.”

Lamas wanted an alliance with Brazil, achieved by a third political party—one that was patriotic, reconstructive, national, and one that would prepare the Eastern State in the future to overcome all foreign ambitions, including those of Brazil. The imperial army did not have to lend itself to any personal business nor the business of any party: “With the country turned away from the path of reconstruction, there is nothing the Brazilian army has to do. That army was going to support a national project; if we do not wish for that project, if we stand against it, if we make it impossible, the logical—inevitable—consequence is the withdrawal of that army. The army was not meant to raise nor to topple any person. Given that persons are all there is, nothing remains for the army to do. The totality of the program of intervention, the totality of its objective, has been ill-fated, has been frustrated.” The Brazilian army does not go to Montevideo to aid in the banishment. “Among us banishment is always a consequence of civil war. In any other country it would indicate a social infirmity or a vice of the government; but, banishment supported by a foreign army … is an act that I would feel myself obliged to qualify with the words it deserves.”

The fact is that Brazil volunteered itself for some time, without interest in Uruguay itself, to the thankless role of supporting the Montevidean governments that appealed to it. The presence of our troops did not even give effective support to the legal government, because so irreconcilable were the modes of governing in one country and another, that on occasion the occupying Brazilian division had to protect the freedom of the legal opposition. Brazil’s impartiality had no precedent, nor did we encourage hostility against any party, much less feed concealed and clannish schemes in the internal politics of the country, and we lent our support knowing that at any given moment those that solicited our help could turn against us, knowing that at all times it was easy to wave the flag of Ituzaingó, to shout against usurpation, to paint our support, our aid, as hostility, as a contrivance or a trick. If not from General Flores himself, then from his party, from the group that in any venture could brandish his sword, Lamas came to fear a sudden turn against Brazil.

There could be nothing more inglorious than an intervention such as this, which we could deem plainly military, without politics. It could only produce for us ingratitude and disgust; what was longed for to be constructed in the shade of intervention, was an impossible objective; it took away from us any leeway, it gave reason to attribute to us plans that we never had, it involved us in the webs of platine intrigue that almost went on spreading, and without Mitre (12) would have spread to be American intrigues (i), and which prepared us, ultimately, for the war with Paraguay.

Lamas excepted, we did not have a single friend in the eastern political scene, nor could we have one, because to all we were suspect, and those that showed faith to us must have aroused suspicions in the local democracy, and they would come to be hindered by argentine influence. In a word: everyone called upon us, everyone wanted us, but each one for themselves, and as our mission of neutrality made us indifferent to such particular requests, it was as easy and comfortable for them to call upon us as it was for us to turn our backs on them. Thanks to the passage of time separating us from that moment, the easterners can lament the humiliating situation in which the parties put their country, and at the same time do justice to the impartiality and loyalty of Brazil. The policy of intervention had no Brazilian origin, rather it was conceived by the parties and statesmen of Uruguay, being always requested by the governments of both sides; it was one of those apparently easy resources, of which the parties preferred to take advantage in periods of breakdown, before resigning themselves to sacrificing their personal pride, the which settling their dissension would cost.

Brazil had nothing to gain with such a policy; our impartiality was only recognized when it was too late for gratitude, that is to say, after one or two generations, after the memory of the armed intervention was erased, the provoker of an explosion of national sentiment. The pecuniary subsidy only served to spur on disorder, deficit, and financial demoralization (13), and the military contingent exposed the Empire not only to foreign distrust and patriotic recriminations, but also to the danger that the responsibilities, unwanted, of the incurable mismanagement of the Republic would reach us.

Those same supporters of an interventionist policy were aware of this, and by prudence, of the many times that we were called upon after the fall of Rosas, only once, in 1854, did Brazilian forces go to Montevideo, but with the express declaration that our intervention was not political, making it in the interest of Blancos and Colorados at the same time. The propriety and neutral comportment of the Brazilian division that then occupied Montevideo did not give cause to a single complaint by the eastern people.

Since then the government of Rio de Janeiro understood that each day we should lend ourselves less to the desires and solicitations of Montevideo. Until 1864, throughout the presidencies of Gabriel Antonio Pereira and Bernardo Berro, the Brazilian government tried to disregard Montevideo’s issues, the which, in any case, resulted in its damage. But in that year, elements that since a long time back had been accumulating produced a split, not only fatal in itself, but also of grave consequence for the future cordiality of the two bordering nations.

The thing that the conflict of 1864 proved, the thing that can be deduced from it, is that it is always fit to completely avoid intervention in a foreign country, even if it is beneficial to it, even when sacrificing self-interest for it. In such conflagrations, the one who comes to the rescue to extinguish their neighbor’s fire ends up seeing their own home scorched. This phenomenon, not by ingratitude nor by forgetting the benefit received, or the goodwill which the aided party acknowledged, but rather by an irresponsible action of human evil, evil of which even the best keep within themselves a deposit, and which can produce, through the administration of reason and of good impulses, new reasons to be grateful, seems on occasion to perform the function of a great electric shock, indispensable for the purification of the air and the renewal of life.


i. Without Mitre’s attitude, the sympathies of every americanist in all of South America, in the Plata, in Chile, in Peru, and in Colombia, all against the Empire, would not have remained platonic, upon Paraguay rushing to the aid of Montevideo.

Translator’s Notes

1. The Platine War, the final phase of the Uruguayan Civil War.
2. Manuel Oribe, founder of the Blanco party.
3. The Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, the old administrative division of the Spanish Empire, encompassing present day Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and parts of Brazil and Bolivia. Following the wars for independence fought here, this stretch of territory would never again be united under one flag.
4. Honório Hermeto Carneiro Leão, Marquis of Paraná, President of the Council of Ministers of Brazil 1853-1856.
5. The Battle of Ituzaingó, an Argentine victory against Brazil, the last big battle in the Cisplatine War, which lead to Uruguay’s independence.
6. The emperor’s residence in Rio de Janeiro.
7. The treaties ending the Uruguayan Civil War.
8. The word used here is divisas, which, in the context of Blancos and Colorados, typically refers to the colored bands of fabric from which they derived their names. It can also mean, however, a motto, a watchword, an insignia, some element that makes this faction distinct from that faction.
9. Though Nabuco does not cite it as such, this quote is taken from the opening of Lamas’s “Manifesto directed to my compatriots” [Manifiesto dirigido a los compatriotas] (1855).
10. Gauchos were experienced horsemen, often herding cattle or other livestock, living in the rural areas of the Río de la Plata region.
11. Paramilitary guerilla soldiers.
12. Bartolomé Mitre, Argentine statesman and military figure, President 1862-1868.
13. Brazil was, at this time, subsidizing part of Uruguay’s national debt.

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