The War of Paraguay: Chapter V pt. 2, Saraiva’s Mission. — The Uruguayan War

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One cannot deny that this was an intervention into eastern politics, but it was a disinterested intervention, according to the interests of the Republic and the desires manifested by it in the past; but not even this offered support was enough to become an effective intervention, remaining on offer to any government that would assume the responsibility of accepting the intervention to pull together the parties and reorganize the country. And this was not the case only with Brazil’s support—the impartial candor with which it was offered elicited support from the Argentine Republic and commanded the respect of Great Britain, engaged in the mediation. What Saraiva really wanted was to infuse Aguirre with validity. “I am, however, convinced,” he told the imperial government, “that if the president reforms the ministry he will not request nor need to request a single soldier from Brazil. The Eastern State needs order, and its inhabitants yearn to see it reestablished by a government of men who are sincere, active, and upright. A new administration with these characteristics and with the moral support of the other powers will have sufficient strength to establish order and impede revolts.”

Atanasio Aguirre ca. 1861

That negotiation was aborted. Aguirre promised to constitute a new ministry, but with elements still more factional, and with Leandro Gómez (14) figuring in it. The mediators put forth the names of Castellanos, Villalba, Andrés Lamas, Martínez, Herrera, and Obes. Given the impossibility of coming to an understanding, the representatives of the three nations brought the mediation to an end on 7 July.

Saraiva went to confer with Mitre in Buenos Aires. In that Republic the dominant political attitude was hostile to the Blanco party; all sympathy was with Flores, and because of that Brazil’s intervention, at a time in which it was equivalent to insuring victory for the revolution, was considered by the Argentine government to be an act of providence, an unexpected gift of fortune. Saraiva and Mitre got along from then on, and from this perfect accord resulted the new Brazilian doctrine in the Plata, which from 1864 to today governs the relations between Brazil and the Argentine Republic. For that reason, perhaps by having known Mitre’s government’s intentions, and having penetrated their desires with regards to Montevideo, Saraiva is still more convinced that peace is the most agreeable policy for Brazil, and from Buenos Aires he even tries to attract Aguirre to his ideas, meeting up with his confidential agent Reguera.

“Señor Reguera,” he says in a paragraph that expresses his sincerity well, and in which one sees that in his diplomacy there is not only candor and dignity, but also cunning, “Señor Reguera belongs to the old number of people worried by Brazil’s doctrine, the which, without trying to seriously study it, they do not cease to denigrate, and for that I repeated to him what I told other influential Montevideans, that is, that if the imperial government’s policy gives serious reason for distrust, the Republic’s parties should fraternize and reestablish peace, but, seeing them so bloodied by fighting in the exact moment in which the press reveals such apprehensions, one cannot believe that these suspicions have any legitimacy or foundation; on the contrary, my negotiating in favor of peace, while the eastern government seems entangled in prolonging civil unrest, supplies the most solemn proof of the intentions of a government forever determined to favor the Republic’s prosperity.”

All was in vain. The illusory hope of Paraguayan aid drove the leaders of Montevideo mad, or perhaps it was the destiny of these irreconcilable civil conflicts, of those intransigent and irrepressible passions that characterized the intermittent civilization of Spanish America in the 19th century. The Blanco government could not believe itself strong enough to simultaneously resist the Colorados, Brazilians, and Argentinians, whom it very well knew to be against it; though the fact is, the government lacked the forces to resist the impositions of its own followers. Fanatics dominated the government, rendered useless its concessions, and made any tolerance impossible. Saraiva later called them the anarchist party of Montevideo, and in a certain sense the furious South American political parties are no more than anarchist factions, because in the heat of the fight they lose the notion of government, of society, of humanity, and only feel a thirst for blood. The Blanco fanatics’ spirit in 1864 was the same that caused the catastrophe of Quinteros, one of those unexpected atrocities, executed immediately upon its conception, and which later cannot be erased or forgotten; bloodstains that, from the inconscience of the executioner extend to the conscience of the parties, in truth becoming political obsessions, what’s more, becoming national fatalities, that are like veins of tragedy, which characterize more than one generation. Under the influence of such overtones, the South American politician becomes a kind of crazed beast. What was seen recently in the fields of Rio Grande (15) during the civil war allows us to reconstruct that spirit. The encampment of the defeated became a slaughterhouse, in which the victims offered their necks to the knife as if attracted and magnetized to it. Cruelty is, for the professional executioner, a pleasure, and the political parties consider these killings the unavoidable consequence of civil war, in the manner of the Roman-style proscription (16), which they support, as if still inspired by the souls of Sulla or Marius. To abandon any fight in which, perforce, such carnage will be produced is greater than their forces and their moral standards can achieve. They know that to abandon a fight is equal to suicide, and no one wants to be the first to disarm, since to do so would be to offer themselves up to death, to the seizure of their resources, and to exile. In this way the civil war becomes interminable. Only by means of war will a transition of power occur, and with war the customs, the traditions created in its heat, will last; traditions like the habit of eliminating all prisoners, in part for vengeance and complying with the law of retaliation, and in part also because of the impossibility of guarding the prisoners, and because they are counterproductive to the camp’s security—beheading them (instead of shooting them, because the knife is the weapon of the gaucho), which the gaucho believes to be the most expeditious method of killing, beneficial to the executioner and to the victim, the defeater and the defeated; the most noble method, because it’s an American method, in the country style, and because for gaucho hearts a ray of poetry always shimmers in the adeptly wielded knife. A duel in the Pampa (17) always ended in beheading, and a war, whatever the circumstances, is no more than a duel on a grand scale.

The irritated impotence of the Blanco government unfortunately coincided with the bellicose ardor felt in Río de Janeiro. Our government seemed to have no thought other than to force Uruguay to satisfy its demands. It did not want to devalue the revolution, but to take advantage of it, nor did it believe in Saraiva’s pacifying plans. It felt it necessary to strengthen itself, raising the prestige of the Empire, which had been injured by the business with the English. The idea of reprisals took the aspect of a reflection of the nation’s offended pride. So as soon as the government learned that peace negotiations had been abandoned, it sent orders to Admiral Tamandaré to relocate himself to Uruguay “with the objective to demand from the Montevidean government the respect owed to our Brazilian nationals”; and it gave instructions to Saraiva to present an ultimatum setting a time limit for the compensation demanded.

At this moment events accelerated. On 4 August Saraiva presents his ultimatum, as they had desired in Rio de Janeiro, as they had wanted to see it presented in May. The eastern government returns the note to him, as unacceptable, since “it cannot be kept in the Eastern Archives.” Fulfilling the threat contained in his intimation, Saraiva prepares the reprisals. At the start of September he returns to Rio de Janeiro, not without having earlier agreed with Mitre (the 22 August protocol) on mutual and amicable support from both governments in the settling of accounts for their respective issues with the eastern government, which essentially laid the foundations, if not of the alliance (sealed later upon verifying the Paraguayan army’s invasion of Corrientes), then at least of the mutual trust from which the alliance was born.

Saraiva did not, unfortunately, bring his characteristic energy, strength, and resolution together with his perseverance in work, and love for the fight. With the first result achieved, he declared his task finished, renouncing the position he had acquired. In 1864 he did in Montevideo what he did in 1885, when his emancipation bill was barely voted through the Chamber. On both occasions he surprised his colleagues and the Emperor by suddenly leaving power. If in 1881, after the approval of the voting law, he remains in the cabinet, it is only because he believes himself indispensable in presiding over the direct election. His abandonment of the mission in the Plata in 1864 had the gravest consequences. Instead of returning in September to Rio de Janeiro, where upon arrival he finds a new ministry which he does not wish to serve, leaving our Platine diplomacy headless at the most critical and difficult time, that is, in the months of September, October, and November, between the beginning of reprisals and the war with Paraguay, he should have remained in Buenos Aires. It is improbable, given the preparations, the delusions, and the character of López, that events could have occurred in another way; but it is certain that our standing, as much in Montevideo as in Buenos Aires, would have been different from the compromised and humiliating position in which Paranhos found himself at the start of December.

If he had prolonged his stay, perhaps it would not have lead, as it was left to lead after he determined to return to Rio de Janeiro, to a unilateral effort in the Eastern State, and he would have tried, thinking as Mitre did, to keep the armed intervention from producing the Blanco party’s ostracism.

One can say that, thanks to Saraiva, the mix of forces in the Río de la Plata formed up around the Empire, and not against it, and a Brazilian triple alliance formed, not an anti-Brazilian one. In Buenos Aires his sincerity, openness, and impartiality did more in favor of our foreign policy, in just days, than the reserve and circumspection of so-called traditional politics had done for many years. He was truly the bearer of the message of peace and goodwill between Brazilians and Argentinians. The fatefulness of his mission lay in the fact that the war began developing long ago in the Río de la Plata, in the old fight between Buenos Aires and the provinces of Argentina, and in the fight between Blancos and Colorados in Uruguay, above which country loomed the inevitable revenge for Quinteros. Hostilities necessarily resulted from Paraguay’s despotic armament, hostilities which sooner or later would have to break out, since López’s delirium was becoming more pronounced. On the other hand, the success of his mission lay in the fact that it was possible for Brazil to enter in that war performing before all of the Río de la Plata, except for some intelligentsia or other incapable of overcoming their partisan prejudices, or their aversion to the Empire, the role of impartial representative of civilization and liberty in South America.

After Saraiva’s ultimatum, major events follow—the reprisals, the meeting of Admiral Tamandaré and General Juan Propicio Menna Barreta (Baron of San Gabriel) with General Flores’s troops, the bombardment, assault, and taking of Paysandú, and the blockade and besiegement of Montevideo, which city Paranhos saves from a brute force attack on 20 February 1865, causing power to be handed over to the leader of the eastern revolution. From the war of Uruguay arises that of Paraguay, and from that, the triple alliance.

Translator’s Notes

14. Blanco General, who would later lead the defense of Paysandú.
15. This likely refers to the Federalist Riograndense Revolution, a war in Rio Grande do Sul between federalist Riograndense rebels and loyalists of the newly formed Republic of the United States of Brazil, fought 1893-1895.
16. Meaning the state-declared punishment of banishment or death.
17. The lowland plains region stretching from around Buenos Aires Province, through all of Uruguay, and into Rio Grande do Sul.

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