The War of Paraguay: Chapter V pt. 1, Saraiva’s Mission

Note: This is a really long chapter, so I’m splitting it into two parts. This won’t be a regular thing though—I think there’s only one other chapter, maybe two, long enough that I’ll want to split them up. Also, see this post for background info.

When the old brigadier Netto (1) came to Rio de Janeiro, at the beginning of 1864, to excite our government against Uruguay’s, presenting, as the new leader of the eastern campaign, a portrait of the long-standing abuses committed against Brazilians, it produced a fury of opinion, and from this violent impulse was born Saraiva’s mission. We had suffered the humiliation of English retaliation at the Rio de Janeiro bay entrance, and the ideology of democracy, with Teófilo Ottoni (2) at the head, showed itself to be of as bellicose a humor as the emperor himself was said to be. Given these circumstances, Netto’s presence inflamed spirits predisposed to acts of imprudence and senselessness. The conservative party took the initiative to make interpellations in the Chamber of Deputies about the state of the campaign.

From this so-called patriotic attitude of the opposition and the majority, in the session of 5 April what resulted was war, unless the Blanco government would completely yield to the demands and grievances of the Brazilians enlisted under Flores’s flag. Today it would not be possible to investigate whether or not our complaints were founded. The Brazilians residing in Uruguay (3) should have suffered the fate of the easterners themselves, or abstained from any interference with those factions which always devastated the countryside. Neither should the Brazilian government have forgotten the chronic anarchy of the Republic. Order, peace, and calm in the Eastern State were only possible if Brazil and Argentina united for many years to uphold the healthy elements of that country; but since Brazil and Argentina could not do so and did not want to do so, they lost the right to demand responsibility in the eastern government, whatever it was, because of acts that almost always resulted from the state of disorder in the border regions. It is unnecessary to examine the claims and complaints one by one to be sure that the ministry of 15 January 1864 made a mistake in yielding to their first impulse and allowing themselves to be commanded by the clamor of Flores’s supporters, who demanded immediate intervention in Montevideo.

Jose_antonio_saraiva
José Antônio Saraiva, Brazilian Foreign Relations Minister 1865-1866.

If our country had the luck to not be immediately engaged in a war with this Republic, it owes it only to the circumstances of having conferred to Saraiva the role of inspector. Succeeding events have proved that if others had found themselves in his position, the mission would have begun with the occupation of Uruguayan territory, followed by the bombardment of Montevideo, and a war against the entire Río de la Plata.

Saraiva arrives in Montevideo on 6 May 1864. His instructions are to address to the eastern government “our last friendly intimation,” concluding by demanding, with regard to the crimes and abuses against the lives and property of Brazilians, “1st That the government of the Republic put into effect the necessary punishments, if not for all the criminals, then at least those that, being recognized as such, go unpunished, and even occupy some posts in the eastern government or work in state offices. 2nd That the police officers that have abused the authority they exercise be immediately dismissed, and held accountable. 3rd That those Brazilians that have been dispossessed of their property by military or civil authorities of the Republic be compensated justly. 4th Finally, that the Brazilians forced to take up arms in service of the Republic be completely released.”

These demands ought to have been supported by the following threatening declaration:

“Y.E. will also warn the government of the Republic that, in order to enforce the Empire’s territorial claims and better impede the forces coming to join those of General Flores from crossing the Rio Grande border (4), H.I.M.’s (5) government has decided to send sufficient troops to said border, which will also serve to protect  and defend the life, honor, and property of the citizens of the Empire if, against all expectations, the government of the Republic, disregarding this our final intimation, cannot, or does not wish to, do so itself.”

“According to my instructions,” says Saraiva, remarking on his mission thirty years later, “I should have, upon arriving in Montevideo, demanded of the eastern government the imprisonment and prosecution of all the criminals, or at least those most recognized as guilty and those that served in the Republic’s army, or exercised authority in its bureaus, declaring immediately that these demands constituted the last friendly intimation from Brazil to the government of Uruguay. What was it that I did, after studying the political situation in the eastern Republic and recognizing that its government could not, given its state of permanent civil war, satisfy the Brazilian reclamations? I ceased to comply with the harshest and most imperative part of my instructions. And why did I proceed in this manner? To preserve good and amicable relations with the eastern government and to be able to persuade them, as I did persuade them, that the solution to all the international difficulties was internal pacification of the Republic, and that their supreme interest was to reach that peace. ‘The government of Brazil prefers,’ I said to President Aguirre (6), ‘to form its complaints before Y.E. while seeing you strengthened by the united support of the easterners, rather than address demands to a government that is debilitated by civil war, and, because of that, unable to arrest and punish criminals that have attacked the life and property of my fellow citizens.’ He who proceeds in such a way, he who assumes the responsibility of changing a bellicose mission, an imperative ultimatum, into a mission that is conciliatory and beneficial to the Eastern Republic, could not begin, and did not begin, his mission in a manner that was imperious and violent.”

Indeed, dated 14 May, Saraiva writes to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, giving him an account of the first impressions of his arrival: “As I have observed, Flores lacks the infantry to dominate the situation, and Moreno (7), the government’s general, lacks the cavalry, a decisive element of war in these countries. The situation with the Republic will continue being, as such, the same that it has been now for a long time, and we will have to spend considerable sums and face much trouble until the end of the war, given our purpose of effectively enforcing the protection of Brazilians. Won’t these reasons be enough to inspire in us the ideal of imposing peace on the combatants? I’m of the persuasion that if somehow, by a combined action with the Argentine Republic, we pacify this State, our business would be easy, and Brazil would gain much, and not lose a thing. The continuation of civil war must force us, sooner or later, to intervene in the country for its pacification. Would it not be most generous to hurry along that occurrence?”

It is without doubt that Saraiva changed completely, and from the first moment, the character and nature of his mission. His mission was to present an ultimatum; but arriving in Montevideo, he becomes the author of a pacification plan, and he intervenes to appease the combatants. Rio de Janeiro approves whatever he does, so generous is the policy it advocates, and so great is his influence as well; but it approves it with its thoughts always fixed on the demands that Saraiva is leaving on the backburner, it approves it without abandoning the refrain our last friendly intimation.

Unfortunately, pacification was not possible. Saraiva, plunging into this undertaking, did not have much faith in any success, but he took the task upon himself with all his imagination and enthusiasm: “I already had the honor of telling Y.E.,” he wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, on 18 May, “that the only escape that can be offered to the eastern government to overcome its internal troubles and to resolve its international issues, is peace. This is its duty and its interest, and the inescapable necessity of the situation. But the intolerant partisan spirit, which invades and dominates everything in republican countries, does not allow for the actual government of the Republic to see these issues, unless through the prism of agitating passions and under the influence of exaggerated fears, which partisan egoism engenders, over the opposing faction’s possible rise to power. This country’s revolutions have ended through negotiations or through foreign intervention, and only one time through the direct application of force, with the terrible abuse of trust in the butchery at Quinteros (8). Meanwhile the eastern government shows itself to be completely dedicated to rule of law and order triumphing, trying in this way to blot out its partisan passions, without remembering that suppression can only be a policy when it is made effective through use of force, and that in the absence of this element of regular governments, the only profitable policy for the country is that of liberality and agreement. I rightly think that, if he would govern in accordance with this policy, Flores could compromise in a way that would impair neither his government’s dignity nor the Republic’s interests. In this case, Brazilians would obtain security for the future, and their former demands would be received with benevolence.”

The memo sent from Saraiva to the imperial government, dated 28 May, is an important document. Of the Argentine Republic, he says: “I believe that only in Buenos Aires will we resolve the issue of peace, and that, isolated, we won’t be able to utilize our means of control with advantage. It seems to me of utmost advisability to inspire a higher trust in General Mitre … Without alliances, everything would go wrong for us. It is, then, necessary to acquire one, or prepare ourselves for great sacrifices.” And as if warned of the dark danger in Paraguay, he requested that they authorize him to engage with the Paraguayan government, “because from there difficulties can soon arise. Y.E. knows that it has been a long time since the eastern government has had active negotiations with President López, soliciting his cooperation.” The government sends him credentials accrediting him in Buenos Aires and Asunción, and approves of his intentions, the “preliminary” resort; but with its thoughts always fixed on the Riograndense demands, it adds: “It is certain, however, in the end, that our position was and is very clearly defined, and that now it is not lawful for us to turn back.”

The ill will with which the Uruguayan government saw Saraiva’s mission, as a precursor to Brazil’s armed intervention in favor of Flores, was apparent from the first arguments about the nature of the agitation on the borders. Saraiva complained about violences of all types committed against Brazilian inhabitants of the countryside. “Don’t switch around the roles which recent events have fitted to each of us,” Juan José Herrera (9) responds right away, in a bit of libel (note from 24 May 1864.) The elements of which Saraiva spoke, “Are elements of barbary that have always presented themselves as united and tame, headed by eastern caudillos, or by Argentine or Brazilian caudillos (Suárez, Calengo, Hornos, Jacuhy).”

Also from this note: “The Republic lived a peaceful life of progress and work … In such a situation, the caudillo Don Venancio Flores, leaving from Buenos Aires, stepped onto the Republic’s ground with heinous intent, and directed himself in search of the already prepared cooperation he would find at the point where the borders of Brazil meet with those of the Eastern Republic and the Argentine Republic, where Canavarro and Cáceres waited for him, each one with his contingent ready. Ready, for what? For what these people call californias on the Eastern State, this word of Brazilian indigenous meaning, to whose background, Y.E., permit the undersigned to call your attention. The word california (10), extremely meaningful, tells us everything, referring to the raids in the Eastern State. The word confirms, by its origin and application, the undersigned’s former assertion, and reveals … the motive that brought the Brazilian contingent, on which Don Venancio Flores depended and still depends to carry on the war, to join the ranks of that caudillo. There is the bait, the determinant cause that assembled around them, on the borders of Brazil, that contingent of Brazilians and Correntinos (11). A single word, repeats the undersigned, native to the regions that pirates inhabit, says it all, revealing to us the secret that Y.E. erroneously sought in vexation, suspecting some, punishing others, and in abuse of the lower authorities of this country (12).”

Cerro_de_Montevideo_desde_la_ciudad._Año_1865_(no_watermark)
Montevideo, ca. 1865.

But Saraiva (and this is very characteristic of him) instead of showing himself mortified by this language, which, writing to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Rio de Janeiro, he describes as not reasonable, he takes advantage of it to clearly enunciate, he says, the idea of peace, and to pose a debate over this fundamental issue. Circumstance favored him, as Mitre’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Rufino Elizalde, the eastern diplomat Andrés Lamas, and England’s Minister in Buenos Aires Mr. Thornton, had arrived together in Montevideo with the same purpose. The intervention of these three diplomats at first produced the best result: the government of Montevideo offers peace to the insurgents; the mediators come to an agreement in Puntas del Rosario with Flores, who accepts and recognizes the Aguirre government, while proceeding to a new election; the president of the Republic formally meets with the Minister from Brazil and the other mediators (25 June) to manifest his gratitude to them for the good they’ve done for his country; but all these negotiations are wrecked upon reaching the issue of the guarantees requested by Flores, the first of which was the changing of Ministers (13). Aguirre did not have enough strength for that, since, being only an instrument of his party, he feared being abandoned, and even feared a revolt against him by the legal army, if he deviated from the ministers on whom he depended. Saraiva had then one of those streaks of initiative, one of those unforeseen audacities that characterize his personality in our internal politics, and he offered Aguirre his support “if he managed to organize a ministry that was above the factions.” Sure of the purity of his intention and patriotism and good sense enclosed in the advice he gave to Aguirre, he did not hesitate, he did not stop in the face of doubts or qualms over interfering in eastern politics, and his sincerity became contagious, propagating to Elizalde and Thornton, perhaps to Aguirre himself, and surely to Lamas and Castellanos. Behold how Saraiva himself describes the incident (memo to the imperial governor from 5 July):

“Señores Lamas and Castellanos observed that the president feared, in the case of the ministry’s resignation, a revolution by their own army, and that he thought to begin by disarming the military to keep himself surrounded, without any fear, by people up to the task at hand. I expressly stated that, with the government being unable to support itself with any force, it could promise nothing and execute nothing, and that it would continue surviving by its wits and by promises that it could not fulfill; in view of this, I advised señor Aguirre to immediately organize a ministry that would rise above the factions, and I added that if he committed it in writing that that ministry would last until the country was reorganized, I would also commit to lend to that government the moral and material support that it needed to avoid anarchy in the Republic. And turning myself to señor Castellanos I told him: ‘If Y.E. organizes a ministry and proves, through strong and intelligent politics, that Brazilians can find satisfactory guarantees in the Republic and that any abuse of authority will be promptly punished, you can count, with greater and greater reason, on the support of a neighboring country, which is persuaded not that its demands will be effectively and advantageously attended, but rather that it can trust in a government absorbed in its mission and strong enough to combat the excesses of political parties. My instructions order me to demand of the eastern government justice for the Brazilians. I am convinced that the current ministers are incapable of doing justice to their compatriots and to foreigners. Instead of attacking the Republic, Brazil will support the enlightened government that avoids a breakdown, doing us justice and serving well its own country. Upon changing the character of my mission, although not altering the mission’s goals, I am sure of my government’s support. The president, then, either resolves this issue decisively and immediately, or considers us no longer a part of his negotiations with Flores, terminating them and leaving us completely to do as we please.’ Senhores Thornton and Elizalde applauded the resolution that I ended up taking, and the latter declared that the Confederation would not leave Brazil alone in the effort to save the country from anarchy, if the president came to assemble about himself a serious government. Señores Lamas and Castellanos visited the president, and returned to say that H.E. was of the mind that the way forward indicated to him could be followed, but that first he wanted to seek advice from a few people. This necessity of resorting to the advice of men interested in the situation for their own ill-gotten gains, or for a blind partisan spirit, makes Aguirre the most indecisive and weak man that has, by this Repbulic’s misfortune, occupied the seat of the presidency.”

Translator’s Notes

1. Antonio de Souza Netto, a prominent Riograndense military leader.
2. Brazilian politician, military leader, democratic revolutionary. In 1860 he had written a circular, the Circular to the Mineiro Voters, [Circular aos Eleitores Mineiros], which gave a new birth to liberalism in Brazil.
3. This refers to the Riograndense Brazilians who farmed cattle in the disputed territory between Rio Grande do Sul and Uruguay.
4. This refers to Colorados who, having fled an increasingly Blanco-ruled Uruguay, or been purged from it, now resided in Rio Grande, and would be of great help to Flores if they could join him.
5. His Imperial Majesty.
6. Atanasio Aguirre, interim president of Uruguay 1864-1866, a hardliner Blanco.
7. General Lucas Moreno, chief of the Uruguayan military in 1863.
8. The Quinteros Massacre, 1858. The execution of around 150 Colorado officers who had launched a campaign against the fusionist government. They’d been guaranteed their lives if they surrendered, and doing so, they were killed.
9. A Blanco, the Uruguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs 1863-1864.
10. This use of the word “california” to describe this may have originated from state-funded excursions occurring in California between 1850-1860—devastating raids made by militias against natives, which often resulted in massacre.
11. People from the Argentine province of Corrientes, bordering Uruguay.
12. Herrera goes on to say that Venancio Flores announced that there would be such a california on the Eastern State, and this “magic word” reverberated throughout the borderlands, calling together Vandals eager to launch an incursion into Uruguay. To these people, and this seems to be the main point for Herrera to spend so much time discussing such an obscure word, california meant a raid “with the purpose of enriching themselves at little cost, by means of pillaging defenseless private property, be it Brazilian or of any other nationality.
“The Eastern Republic is a goldmine—once the border is crossed, one finds the treasure—it’s Brazilian—it doesn’t matter, the effect is that it’s exploited, since it’s located in eastern territory.” (Reclamations de la República Oriental del Uruguay contra el Gobierno Imperial del Brasil)
13. Specifically he requested a nonpartisan government replace the current administration. Flores would not budge on this, nor would Aguirre budge on staying in office.

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