The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXIV, The Treaty of Alliance

When news of the May 1st treaty arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the Furtado cabinet did not exist; and Otaviano, negotiator of the pact, had been named Minister of Foreign Affairs, a role that Saraiva undertook in the interim, Saraiva being the man that brought us closer to Argentina, and who understood better than anyone the necessity of the alliance and the impossibility of going to war with Paraguay without it. The treaty was the kind that, once signed, would inevitably be ratified, because if one of the parties refused to do so, distrust and prejudice of the other would be aroused, making difficult any renewal of candidness and cordiality.

But the Argentine government believed, like the Brazilian government, in a soon end to the war (Mitre didn’t give it more than a year in duration), and in 1865 it formulated a draft of a peace treaty, which Otaviano presented to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That draft by Mitre brought the government’s attention toward the necessity of approving the treaty’s various clauses. Saraiva heard about it in the Foreign Affairs Department of the Council of State (1), of which Pimenta Bueno and the Viscount of Uruguay formed a part, Pimenta Bueno the representative of our traditional policies in Paraguay, and the Viscount of Uruguay a man of the past, but an oracle of the doctrine that he had played a principal role in creating in the Plata. The third member of the department was Jequitinhonha, an itinerant politician, of proverbial inconstancy, and at that time the most exalted representative of conservative jingoism.

After criticizing the various clauses of the treaty, they said: “What truly saddens us is the stipulation in article 16. The Argentine Republic becomes owner of the entire left bank of the Paraná up to Iguazú, and what’s more, of the entire right bank of the Paraguay up to Bahía Negra, near the fort of Coimbra. By this article, at the same time that Brazil is fixed with limits beyond the realm of reasonability, a large part of South America is conceded to the Argentine Republic, a part it aspired to possess before, but without daring to openly expose its ambitions … The act of leaving in the power of the Confederation the territory that Paraguay holds on the left bank of the Paraná up to Iguazú would, instead of favoring Brazil, damage it. If we were to open a military path crossing the River Iguazú, we could, with or without the consent of the Argentine Republic, invade Paraguay by Candelária and Itapúa. How could we do so now? Only by going down the Iguazú, because above it the shore of the Paraná, facing Candelária and lower, is composed of rough mountains and unpopulated lands … we have lost much, as such, and we also have, instead of a weak neighbor, another strong and ambitious one on the border of Iguazú, San Antonio and Pepiry (2), a border which until today we have not liked to recognize. But that is not as bad as the calamitous ceding of all the right bank of the Paraguay up to Bahía Negra. The Confederation did not have a single pretext for desiring such a thing. It ought to have contented itself with the right bank of the Paraguay, from the confluence of the Paraná up to Pilcomayo, a little below Asunción. Paraguay never recognized any claim to this territory by the Argentine Republic, except up to the River Bermejo, a little above Humaitá. By way of this article, the Confederation acquires 740 miles of coast on the Paraguay, above the river Bermejo, with an immense hinterland around the Gran Chaco, that is, the territory of a great fertile state, scored with navigable rivers and ready for a grand colonial future. The alliance is turned as much against Paraguay as against Brazil, and in exclusive favor of the Confederation.”

It can be said that the opinion of the department served as a starting point for our diplomacy in relation to the alliance treaty. With that dictum sent, with the caveant consules pronounced by those sentinels of the empire, the government grows scared of its work, of the signature that it would give, of the significance that ceding the entire right bank of the Paraguay to the Argentine Republic had, and its diplomacy will dedicate ten years to undoing this part of its work done in one day.

It is Pimenta Bueno who, in 1865, gives the sign of retreat, of not sacrificing the political tradition, carefully considered by all the men of the empire, to the war, of defending the independence and integrity of Paraguay. Just because López had broken relations with us, Paraguay’s existence did not cease to be a priority for Brazil, whose communications with Mato Grosso depended on the free navigation of the Plata and its tributaries. The war was a temporary thing, and it could not allow resentment against us, having been provoked by a despot who had submitted his country to the yoke of his will. Quite the contrary, the future Paraguayan generation could not but understand, when remembering the times of captivity, that this had to be the end one way or another, because someone had to cut off the series of Francias and Lópezes, exclusive lords of Paraguay and all that it contained.

The Liberal Party learned by heart the articles of the conservative credo regarding Paraguay, to wit: importance of its friendship, and necessity that it be able to defend itself, with its forces alone, from the powerful neighbor whose influence it had been under for some time now. But only the Viscount of Uruguay, the Marquis of São Vicente, and Paranhos shared these beliefs. The Liberals did not dare reject those dogmas; their sympathies lay with the Argentine Republic, but at the same time they paid no attention to whether or not the Republic had hidden ambitions and plans of acquisition and aggrandizement, and submerged in such doubts, they did not manage to produce a doctrine that could oppose the system devised by the Conservatives. Here is why, when Pimenta Bueno (São Vicente) gives the cry of alarm against the Argentine Republic’s new borders, the Liberal cabinet rushes into the breach with as much celerity as if the Viscount of Uruguay himself presided over it. Up to the final moment one could observe in the Liberal Party the tendency to rely on the Argentine Republic, while the Conservatives remained faithful to their dream of establishing an amicable Paraguay that would continue to adhere to the old doctrine. The balance of both tendencies in the Parliament, in the press, and in the ministries of the empire, kept the Alliance of 1865 unscathed.

The same division can be seen in the Argentine Republic. One part of the public spirit trusted the empire, the other distrusted it. But these factions do not coincide exactly with those others that wanted the territorial or political absorption of Paraguay, or that were opposed to this. Those who support reconstructing the Viceroyalty are Brazil’s friends; those who oppose annexation believe in the dominating spirit of the empire, and, by extension of this, its goal to supplant the republic. Some, aside from this patriotic preoccupation, suffer the democratic bias against the monarchic system, a hostility to the existence of a dynasty in America. That preconception, analogous to that which, because of the republic’s annexation of the right bank of the Paraguay up to Bahía Negra, arose in Brazil, manifests itself on the part of the Argentines in the May 1st Protocol, an integral part of the treaty, which dictated the demolition of the fortifications at Humaitá and which forbid the future raising of other fortifications of a similar nature. That part of the Treaty of the Triple Alliance was not ratified by the Argentine Congress, and the plenipotentiary of the republic, señor Tejedor, declared this to the representatives of Brazil (Rio Branco) and Uruguay (Rodríguez) in the conferences held in Buenos Aires on the 17th and 20th of January, 1871. One can say, then, that that treaty was not in fact ratified by the Argentinian government, despite the ratifications having been exchanged between the three allied governments. The fortifications on the right bank of the Paraguay did not matter to the Congress, but it feared that some equivalent problem could arise concerning the fortifications of Martín García.

Territorial_disputes_in_the_Platine_region_in_1864.svg.png
Map of Río de la Plata region and territorial disputes, courtesy of Hoodinski. Dotted red lines indicate modern day borders.

The cabinet’s doctrine regarding the Argentine border on the Paraguay seems to be the doctrine indicated by the Council of State. That doctrine is as follows: Paraguay never recognized any Argentinian claim except up to the river Bermejo a little above Humaitá; the republic must be contented with bringing the border to the Pilcomayo, somewhat below Asunción; the shore from Fort Olimpo up to Bahía Negra is without any doubt Bolivian, and the empire’s interests lie in “aiding Bolivia in its own interests”; as Bolivia’s claims were expressly guarded in the treaty of alliance, in the case of the Argentines not giving up the marked line, the empire prefers that the Chaco be Bolivian rather than have Argentines come to control up to the border of Mato Grosso. According to Pimenta Bueno, what was best for Brazil was that the right bank of the Paraguay up to Pilcomayo be left to Argentina, that above Pilcomayo up to Pan de Azúcar (Fecho dos Morros) remain Paraguayan, and that up to Bahía Negra should be Bolivian. Saraiva went even further in the instructions sent to Otaviano on 5 May 1866, in opposition to Argentina’s proposals. The Brazilian government wished for the Argentine government to limit its ambitions on the Pilcomayo, recognizing Bolivian ownership over the territory between said river and Bahía Negra. From the opposing interests of the allies, Bolivia came out on top.

But the designation of this new borderline was only a diplomatic resource to force the Argentine Republic to reduce its ambitions. The imperial government was not lacking loyalty when it indicated the possibility of Bolivia intervening in the dispute between the Argentine Republic and Paraguay. Otaviano foresaw and indicated this possibility, before the treaty was signed. Until the attainment of the alliance’s principal goal, this document had to remain secret; but it had been communicated to the English parliament, and the entire world knew of it, such that Bolivia could assume the Triple Alliance formed, to Bolivia’s disadvantage, and perhaps, for this reason, could decide to favor Paraguay, towards which nation the Pacific republics were sympathetically inclined. Upon signing the alliance treaty, each of the signatory parties bordering Paraguay indicated the borders that it thought to demand from this power; they promised to employ all their forces to prevail over the vanquished and to not sign peace treaties without total agreement: in this way Brazil was left morally forced to ensure that, as far as Paraguay was concerned, the Argentine boundary be defined as the right bank up to Bahía Negra. It withdrew from this promise, at the same time that Argentina renounced the prohibition on fortifying the banks of the river, backing away to the point of preferring that the Chaco be Bolivian rather than coming to be Argentinian. The idea that the treaty was a kind of political lesion motivated Brazil to do this, as well as the certainty that the question of borders had been secondary, and not an essential condition of the alliance; and that just as Brazil was prepared to reject the line of the Igurey, it was reasonable that the Argentine Republic be content with reaching the Pilcomayo, especially after having acquired, on the left bank of the Paraná, “a frontier that is natural and uniform” (instructions from 5 May).

But it had to reckon with the Bolivian veto, not taken into consideration at the beginning. If, after the victory, the Argentine Republic attributed to itself the rights to the Paraguay along the right bank, with the purpose of maintaining those rights against Bolivia, claimant of all of the Chaco up to the Bermejo, wouldn’t Brazil’s responsibilities end up complicated? If, upon making the secret treaty public, Bolivia intervened, wouldn’t the war take an unexpected turn? Would we leave it to Argentina, by itself, to resolve with Bolivia the claims that both had on the Chaco, for us to continue the war with Paraguay?

Without recanting ourselves, without repudiating our promises, and setting to one side the in extremis recourse of Bolivia’s intervention, which would serve Saraiva, Brazil was able to adopt the attitude it took in 1866, refusing to impose the Argentine annexation of the right bank on the vanquished. To justify our change of attitude on the question of borders, it is not necessary to connect it with the conduct of the Argentine Congress, when it refused to approve a clause of the May 1st treaty which was considered essential by Brazil: without falling into disloyalty it could modify a certain point in a way favorable to the vanquished, a point that seemed to one of the allies, after signing the pact, harsh and unjust, and that was not considered a condition of the alliance. Perhaps it was in the spirit of the signatories (and it’s probable that they expressed this to one another) to leave a certain margin to concessions that could be made according to the fate of the war, the attitude of the vanquished, and the circumstances of the victory.

In this sense Nabuco came to express a year later, when Saraiva’s instructions were presented to the Council of State (30 September 1867): “I conform to a proposition contained in the minority report, and which in my opinion stands out among all other issues as a prejudicial issue. The proposition is this: That in the treaty of alliance, only that which refers to the war and the mode of waging it is definitive; and that all the other issues should be considered as provisional treaties. Because of this, this agreement regarding the boundaries is not definitive and complete, but rather preliminary and dependent on the peace treaty. Now, a preliminary treaty is not obligatory, and not being so, it can be modified according to the state of things at the time of the definitive treaty’s creation, after the victory. It is doubtless that the war was not produced by territorial disputes and that the partitioning of Paraguay was not a condition of the alliance.”

It is true that the conquered territories that the campaign granted the Argentine Republic cannot be considered a small thing, especially compared with those that Brazil occupied, since Argentina’s advanced almost right up to Asunción. A disloyal ally would not have favored such expansion by the Republic. But the fear of giving the war a conquering aspect stopped Brazil from delivering all of the Paraguayan Chaco. It would hardly have been honorable for the empire. We did not beckon Argentina to sign the treaty, tricking it with promises that we later left unfulfilled. The alliance resulted from the invasion of Corrientes. At that time it was not about the conquest of the Chaco, but rather protecting Buenos Aires. On the matter of boundaries, each party indicated those which it desired, and the portion attributed to Argentina was much greater than that attributed to Brazil. None of the allies could cast a disdainful eye on another’s attempt at rectification, in those articles of May 1st that seemed contrary to their interests, especially being certain that no intention to exploit the circumstances for ulterior motives could be discovered in anyone, the contrary being visible in everyone, who all were characterized by the most noble and chivalrous sincerity.

Saraiva’s counterproposal, revised in accordance with these ideas, is reduced to discussing the question of boundaries, expressly guarding the rights of Bolivia. It recognizes Argentina’s right to Isla Apipé and Isla del Atajo, it declares the territory of Paraguay neutral, “which will form an independent and perpetually neutral state,” and the neutrality, in case of war, of Martín García Island and Isla del Atajo.

Saraiva’s instructions contain, as well, the following clause: “Francisco Solano López will be expelled, and his family disallowed from assuming the presidency and all other positions of state.” The treaty of the Triple Alliance imposed on the allies the condition that arms not be laid down until the Paraguayan government had been overthrown. In expressed instructions and various subsequent acts, it becomes apparent that the Brazilian government’s purpose is to have done with the López family’s influence in Paraguay, to exile the dictator in perpetuity, and to render all his relatives impotent. The extreme severity of this imposition is defended by saying that it has the harshness of circumstantial measures, to which a perpetual nature is given, even though it is well known what perpetuity means in politics.

Certainly, the clause of López’s expulsion seems well excused, when one considers that for any governor that established themselves in Paraguay this was an unavoidable condition of existence, and that, as such, the banishment of that person had to be one of the new governor’s first acts. López, residing in Europe or in some neighboring republic, in Buenos Aires itself, could not be so inoffensive as Rosas in Southampton (3). His return to Asunción, or the rise of one of his children to the government, would provoke a reignition of the war. Leaders, the exceptional men that manage to gather forces to their figure—to gather the soul, the will of a people, by the power of suggestion or by tyranny (and López exercised both these forces over Paraguay)—can either be despots or exiles; they can undertake no other role, with the life they lead. López’s return to Paraguay could be nothing other than either suicide or the reconstruction of the government in his favor; that is, the dictatorship and an attempt at retaliation.

The Brazilian government’s position on this matter was always attributed to the emperor; and it is certain that, save that sovereign, no one was worried about the López’s fate after Paraguay was defeated. The emperor did not want to start over again. For him, definitive peace and López’s downfall and banishment were inseparable concepts. And his banishment had to be perpetual in the political sense; or what’s the same, for as long as his character, his ambition, his prestige, and his goal of retaliation remained unchanged; only later, after the atrocities at San Fernando, did the emperor put aside political considerations, and refuse to deal with López, moved by a sentiment of humanitarian repulsion.

War declared on a man in this way can seem an excess of animosity; but it was truly a generous act with respect to the people enslaved by him. However much harsher the conditions imposed on López, the gentler they would be on those who had to suffer him. Brazil (since the duel with López is exclusively attributed to it), separating the two, acquired the authority to favor Paraguay, to be generous with the nation, whose innocence it recognized. What seemed animosity and rancor was, then, interest and humanity. For the imperial government the López family’s political incapacitation was the starting point for Paraguay’s national rehabilitation. In the removal of the dictator it saw the condemnation of the dictatorship. The affirmation “López cannot return” (4) meant: “Absolute government cannot be restored in Paraguay; the empire will not deal with the Francias, the Carlos Lópezes and the Solano Lópezes.”

Translator’s Notes

1. The Council of State was an advisory body, with councilors exclusively appointed by the Emperor of Brazil—with the exception of the Prince Imperial, who would automatically join the council when he came of age. Councilors served life-terms, and were to be “heard in all grave affairs and general measures of public administration; principally in regard to the declaration of war, the adjustments of peace, negotiations with foreign Nations …” (Constitution of the Empire of Brazil, Art. 142).
2. The San Antonio and the Pepiry are both rivers, forming the east and south borders of the Misiones territory, respectively. Today the Pepiry is referred to as the Pepiry-Guassú.
3. After losing the Platine War, Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas was exiled, and lived out most of his days in Southampton, England.
4. The original Portuguese reads, López não poderia voltar, “López could not be able to return.”

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