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The Chamber’s dissolution (1872) ended up consolidating and increasing its force, allowing it the freedom to undertake the reforms and improvements of its platform, to initiate in the Rio de la Plata the thorny diplomatic work which arose from the execution of peace treaties with Paraguay. In this time, the time of Rio Branco’s ministry, two problems took shape in which Nabuco had an important part—the religious problem and the Argentine problem—and, in the case of the latter, he had considerable responsibility.
To seek this problem’s antecedents, it is necessary to search in the first governments of the Alliance. These precursors are found at the root, on one hand in the inquiry of 7 December 1865, followed by Saraiva’s instructions; and on the other hand, in the refusal to ratify the May 1st protocol. However, it is certain that the Brazilian government did not manage to create (nor would it have created) the least difficulty in the signing of the alliance peace treaties, and that it was the Argentine government (Varela) that raised the first obstacle. Because of this, the problem between the allies begins in 1869 with Paranhos’s (Viscount of Rio Branco) second mission to Buenos Aires during the war (1869-70) and with his last mission, after the war was ended (1870-71).
Now we have explained the causes that could produce Brazil’s dissent: the extension of borderlines along the right bank of the Paraguay, which the treaty guaranteed to Argentina. The probability of a clash does not arise until the Rio Branco ministry takes power. Nabuco’s position on this grave matter has three phases.
In the first, forming part of the Olinda cabinet, he accepts Saraiva’s foreign policy: Paraguay should concede to the allies the boundaries indicated in the May 1st treaty; however, the disputed territory on the right bank of the Paraguay above Pilcomayo is assigned by preference to Bolivia, as this seems the best solution to the challenges which the Department of the Council of State indicated in its report on 7 December 1865, contrary to that pact.
In the second phase, that is, in the time of the Zacharias ministry, Nabuco seems to be in agreement with the opinion Jequitinhonha set forth in 1865, namely, that the borders in the May 1st treaty are not definitive, that once peace is resolved the two neighboring allies and Bolivia should set the borders by mutual agreement with Paraguay, and that, if no agreement is had, it would be best to submit the matter to arbitration by the United States. This was the position he maintained in the Senate, justly defending the sovereignty and integrity of Paraguay alongside other liberal leaders, and refusing to recognize the right of conquest in America.
The third phase is energetic opposition to the idea of dealing with Paraguay separately, separating ourselves from the Argentines after victory in order to adopt the defeated party’s cause.
Truly there is no contradiction between these three postures, all inspired in the mutual reactions, in a manner of speaking, of the two currents which presided over the alliance and the war; on one hand the spirit of loyalty, the desire to cooperate in the work we had undertaken with the Argentines and the fraternity of our forces and theirs; on the other hand impartiality, the separation that we made between López’s cause and Paraguay’s cause, the benevolence towards Paraguay, and the desire to protect it. One senses these same reactions in Rio Branco and in the Conservative party, which, after having been against the alliance and the treaty in 1865, and after having requested just shy of Paraguay’s immediate disappearance in 1869, later becomes that country’s defender against Argentine demands. The Conservative evolution and the Liberal evolution are always found in opposition; in 1870 Nabuco, Zacharias, and Saraiva are the ones who challenge the right of conquest, in the senate they contend with the Viscount of Rio Branco and the Baron of Cotegipe; in 1872, these two are the protectors of Paraguay, and those three the ones who request that the May 1st treaty be applied in its purest form.
The same opposing spiritual oscillations that we observe in Brazilian statesmen are found in their Argentine counterparts: General Mitre, ex-president of the republic, favors the treaty with obligatory force in all its articles; Mariano Varela, the first Minister of Foreign Affairs under the Sarmiento presidency, seems opposed to the right of conquest—that is, facing Rio Branco in 1869, he takes the same posture that the Liberal senators would have the following year; Doctor Don Carlos Tejedor, Varela’s successor during the same presidency, hides behind the May 1st treaty that Mitre’s adversaries had considered a disgrace to their country for years, when Rio Branco assumes for his own use the language previously employed by Varela. In this way, as much in one country as in the other, these public figures change their positions to take that of their adversary and combat him with it. In Brazil, Liberals and Conservatives, and in Argentina, Mitrists and Anti-Mitrists, take shelter in the treaty and refute it, alternately defend peace or war. In these pages we will trace the history of these reciprocal vacillations.
The accusation of inconsistency in politics is true nonsense. The line of politics is twisted, not straight, and many times it is impossible to advance through it without probing ahead, without returning to the point of departure, impossible to achieve what is desired without falling into contradictions, expected and even desired by public opinion, and imposed by the parties and their leaders. If the Tory is for the German alliance, the Whig must be a supporter of the French alliance, and vice versa.
Is an explanation of the Viscount of Rio Branco’s inconsistency desired? Going from the opposition to the government, he adopts, in the most natural manner, Otaviano and Saraiva’s point of view; but he finds, instead, Sarmiento is inclined to accept as inheritance only Mitre’s foreign policy, and what’s more Rio Branco sees the Liberal opposition, author of the May 1st treaty, transformed to defend Paraguay. What more was necessary for Rio Branco to return to the old Conservative tradition regarding the Plata; protecting Paraguay, their political vassal; distrusting Argentine ambitions, which, to hear it from Elizalde, had confessed the desire to one day merge Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina into a single nation.
Is an explanation of Nabuco’s inconsistency desired? He was a jurist, a pacifist, a reformist; war was not his way, his instrument, he did not know how to work with it. That fight—a fight over territorial disputes, between countries like those South American nations which now own more territory than they can occupy, and over issues of hegemony, between nations still not formed, whose importance depended principally on the influx of capital and immigrants—seemed madness to him, a mania of diplomats influenced by the historic procedures and prejudices of Europe, where war exercised a different function. This temperament of his brought him to defend the alliance, considering it the best means of achieving peace; the most effective and sure, as well as the only one that could avoid another war, or wars. The same pacifist, jurist spirit, inclined towards arbitration, moves him to adopt from 1867 on the attitude taken by Jequitinhonha in 1865, and later by Mariano Varela in 1869, granting the Argentines and Mitre (who tested that spirit in the negotiations of 1873) the idea that borders had been indicated in the alliance treaty, not with the purpose of conquest, but in good faith and just vindication. But when the Argentines invoke this written right, abandoning the generous posture which Varela had assumed in dealing with Brazil, and Rio Branco adopts the opposing position, Nabuco, fearful of the consequences of a war between the allies, declares himself resolutely in favor of peaceful solutions, standing in opposition to the idea of separating ourselves from our ally for our love of Paraguay, thinking also that the only way to protect Paraguay without a fight that could ruin us all, the only claim we could make to mitigate the Argentine demands, was the alliance’s conservation; he is persuaded that, in order to wash our hands of the conquest of the Chaco, we ought to renounce all territorial acquisitions, including the most significant, not conceded freely by Paraguay at a date prior to the war. On this matter Nabuco was always an advocate of peace.
The simplest thing, certainly, would have been to help the Argentinians extend their territory up to the limits indicated in the May 1st treaty. This seemed as close to the letter of that treaty as possible. But the fact is, the Brazilian plenipotentiary did not have conquest in mind, and if Brazil was obliged to sanction, with force, the moral guarantee it offered, the conservation of peace between the allies would be doubtful. The attitude of the Olinda ministry, that is, of its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Saraiva, was this: if they force us to draw that line, we will accept it because this is what we find ourselves obliged to do, but only as a last resort and when the Argentine Republic needs our support; but could Bolivia not take us out of this position, at once ingenuous and odious, in which we have thoughtlessly placed ourselves, the position of being unwilling conquerors on behalf of a third party, destroyers of Paraguayan independence, and of the very independence we aspired to guarantee? Then, when peace seemed soon (in 1867), it was thought that the better part of the conflict’s weight had fallen on Brazil, and from this another question arose: should the Argentine Republic be the only one that obtains territorial benefits (and what benefits!) from a victory it could not have achieved without our fleet and our army? This is Nabuco’s major idea, upon issuing his verdict, as we have seen, before the Council of State.
Later, the losses the Paraguayan population suffered brought that people to the point of death. Should we take from them part of their territory as well? If it was understandable that the Argentines demanded a portion of this land, because they believed they had more right to its possession, would it not be just to allow the defeated party time to rise, to recover the strength necessary to gather evidence of its own right? Given these prior circumstances, Nabuco protested against imposing the right of conquest over Paraguay, and spoke in the Brazilian Senate, debating with Rio Branco, in 1870, the same language which the year before Mariano Varela employed, speaking with Rio Branco in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, language which would later be that of Rio Branco himself against the Liberal opposition and the Argentine diplomats. But at the same time that he declared himself opposed to the right of conquest, Nabuco also rejected the idea of separate or independent treaties, presented for the first time in the same year of 1870 and submitted to the Council of State. So, he did not pass from fighting the right of conquest (in 1870) to fighting the right to separate treaties (in 1872); he fought them both at the same time.