The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXVI, Rio Branco’s New Mission in the Río de la Plata (1870-1871). — Change of Roles. — Tejedor.

On 29 September 1870 the São Vicente ministry was formed. Paranhos, granted the title of Viscount of Rio Branco upon his return from Paraguay, was sent again on special mission to the Plata to negotiate the peace treaty and the rest of the agreements we had to complete with Paraguay. He would find the Argentine legation animated by a new spirit. Mariano Varela had been replaced by Doctor Carlos Tejedor, who resolved to demand the border clause in the treaty be fulfilled, a clause almost abandoned in the protocol of 20 June 1870, in the note regarding the Villa Occidental occupation, and in the debates of May 1869. The new adversary that Rio Branco would now find was not a spirit imbued with idealism, like the Varelas of the world, full of humanitarian sentiment, inspired by grand phrases, people who, in order to guard a principle or compose a beautiful sentence, would potentially abandon a territory. Tejedor was a fanatical, bellicose politician, whose notes arrived in the hands of the negotiating diplomats still red-hot; a patriot inspired by ambition, pride, and irritability more than reason, generosity, and impartiality; a burgrave of the pen who all by himself produced a code and a diplomatic style which, although at times it excused him from obligations imposed on everyone else, later forced him to make explanations that others knew well to spare.

One cannot read a page of the memoir (1) Tejedor presented to the Argentine Congress without seeing in it the reflection of a polemic, fighting, libelous spirit; but at the same time it is clear that his diplomacy lacks solidity, a fixity of purpose and cunning to match the energy, the audacity, the fearlessness on display; a diplomacy that wastes, in time and terrain, what its aggressiveness and gallantry seem to gain; put another way, not a diplomacy of results, but of effects.

Tejedor’s Brazilian antagonist in these negotiations and this doctrine is Cotegipe. In this fight, the preferred weapon of both is the sword; but the sword of Alexander which would hope to cut the Gordian knot without having first triumphed at Granicus. Both show the same impatience, the same inability to conceal the same anxious desire to unleash, on their own and at their own risk, a well-aimed blow (which only seems well-aimed to them.) The difference lies in that Cotegipe combined his aggressiveness with a certain transactional spirit and an approachable, jovial spirit, while Tejedor took everything serious, lacked humor, and was by nature intransigent.

There came a moment in which the efficient and imperious Cotegipe went to meet with Tejedor, and from the clash between these two diplomats, of equal liveliness and vigor, the unexpected coup d’état of Asunción resulted, a kind of Herculean blow with which Cotegipe split Tejedor’s policy from top to bottom, and the treaty of May 1st along with it. Mitre, São Vicente, Rio Branco, and Tejedor himself had the greatest difficulty soldering the rupture Cotegipe made back together; until Tejedor returned to open it in Rio de Janeiro, paying back Cotegipe’s slash with another to equal it.

The advantage Rio Branco had over such an adversary is undeniable. His diplomatic temperament was more flexible and more persistent; conciliatory but sure of what he wanted; sensitive but without losing sight of the national interest; capable of backing down but without giving up a line. This superiority of Rio Branco’s grants him the ultimate victory. His ideas are realized, and with them the Conservative desideratum of 1865, that is, to reduce the borders assigned to Argentina in article 16 of the treaty to only the line of Pilcomayo. Without a doubt, many prior circumstances contribute to this result; but since the duel on this terrain between Rio Branco and Tejedor broke out, the advantage that he held against his rival was visible in his skill at discussing international negotiations, in his knowledge of diplomatic resources, and also in his more exact understanding of the true Argentine interests, that is, of what Argentina considered sufficient compensation for the war: the natural and honorable ending of the alliance, generosity and prudence in dealing with the defeated nation and its ally—issues that Tejedor saw through the prism of partisan passions and which, as such, he failed to comprehend.

Buenos_Aires_-_diputado_Carlos_Tejedor_paseando_por_las_calles
Carlos Tejedor in Buenos Aires, 1897. Photo courtesy of the General Archive of the Nation of Argentina.

The difficult situation which Rio Branco found in Buenos Aires at the end of 1870 is explained in the Council of State summons for its December 7th session:

“There is reason to believe that, despite having indicated its intention to pursue a generous course with the Republic of Paraguay regarding the borders of the Chaco, contenting itself with the line of Pilcomayo, the Argentine government now desires to extend those borders up to Bahía Negra, abiding strictly by the terms of article 16 of the treaty of 1 May 1865.

“There is also reason to attribute to said government the desire that Isla del Atajo be considered Argentine, refusing to accept the idea of its neutrality. It is a very important island because of its position and expanse; in some places it appears closer to the Argentine coast; in others, on the contrary, it seems closer to the Paraguayan coast; the most navigable branch runs between it and the latter coast. Nothing is expressly stated in the treaty regarding this particular issue; it is only recorded that the dividing line will pass through the river.

“Finally, the same government refuses to fulfill the first clause of the May 1st protocol, which denies Paraguay the right to construct fortifications that may impede the faithful execution of that pact’s contents. It alleges that said protocol had not been approved by Congress, and that not only public opinion but also its own opinion rejects it. It is worth noting that the second and third clauses have been observed.

“Things being so, H.M. the emperor has been kind enough to arrange that the Council of State be heard in full, summoning it to the Paço de São Cristóvão on the 7th of this month, at ten in the morning, in order that each of the councilors may speak regarding the following points:

“1st. If the Argentine Republic were, by chance, satisfied with the annexation of the Chaco only up to the Pilcomayo, with Isla del Atajo, and with us rejecting the aforementioned clause in the protocol, would Brazil find it best to yield?

“2nd. Argentina not limiting itself to the Pilcomayo and extending its borders up to Bahía Negra, not desisting in its ambitions to possess the island, but respecting the protocol’s clause, would it be best to assent?

“3rd. Argentina not yielding in its endeavor to extend up to Bahía Negra, nor its endeavor to take control of the island, and as well refusing to fulfill said clause, what should Brazil do? Relinquish its right or declare that it considers the pact damaged by this Argentine action, and that each of the allies is left free to negotiate separately with Paraguay without any of them being obliged to the guarantee the others?

“4th. The answer to both parts of the previously formulated question being negative, what measures would it be more preferable to take?”

The circular is signed by São Vicente, Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Council of Ministers. Here now is Nabuco’s verdict:

“Senhor: In compliance with H.I.M.’s order, contained in the circular from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I will respond to the questions laid out therein:

1st. If the Argentine Republic were, by chance, satisfied with the annexation of the Chaco only up to the Pilcomayo, with Isla del Atajo, and with us rejecting the aforementioned clause in the protocol, would Brazil find it best to yield?

“Whatever the importance of Isla del Atajo may be; whatever the influence the first clause of the May 1st protocol may exercise in the future, to my mind the annexation of said island to Argentine territory and the rejection of that protocol’s clause can offer great advantages, if by this means we ensure that the Argentine Republic reduces its aspirations on the right bank of the Paraguay to the border of Pilcomayo, abandoning that of Bahía Negra.

“In this hypothetical:

“Bolivia’s claims, from Olimpo to the aforementioned Bahía Negra, remain unharmed.

“The Paraguayan populations located opposite Asunción remain untouched as well.

“Paraguay’s independence will be left better guaranteed, and Brazil exempt from complicity in a conquest involving Paraguayan populations.

“As such my response is affirmative.

2nd. Argentina not limiting itself to the Pilcomayo and extending its borders up to Bahía Negra, not desisting in its ambitions to possess the island, but respecting the protocol’s clause, would it be best to assent?

“The clause in question is the following: ‘That from this date on, in compliance with the Treaty of Alliance, the demolition of the Humaíta fortifications will proceed, and in the future the construction of works of like nature, works that may impede faithful compliance with what has been agreed on in that pact, will not be permitted.’

“This clause is outside of debate and we cannot demand its fulfillment, it being certain that the protocol was not approved by Congress, and that it lacks, as such, legal force.

“Additionally, it does not have practical importance, because the Humaitá fortifications have now been demolished, and because of the current state of Paraguay, which will continue to be, for a long time, the same as it is today.

“As such, I will respond to this question jointly with the third, because aside from said clause they are one and the same.

3rd. Argentina not yielding in its endeavor to extend itself up to Bahía Negra, nor its endeavor to take control of the island, and as well refusing to fulfill said clause, what should Brazil do? Relinquish its right or declare that it considers the pact damaged by this Argentine action, and that each of the allies is left free to negotiate separately with Paraguay without any of them being obliged to the guarantee the others?

“As I understand, the Argentine government’s actions regarding the nation’s borders with Paraguay do not harm the Treaty of the Triple Alliance, because border disputes were postponed for the specific treaties, to be negotiated between each of the parties and Paraguay.

“I have always maintained this and this results from the text of articles 10 and 16: Article 10 says: The high signatory parties agree that the exemptions, privileges, or concessions that they may obtain from the Paraguayan government must be joint. That they may obtain … from here one can derive the idea that, in addition to the collective treaty, there should be particular treaties. Article 16. It is agreed that the allies will request of the Paraguayan government the execution of definitive border treaties with the respective governments. Here the particular treaties are mentioned, in addition to the collective treaty, intended to resolve issues regarding the navigation of rivers, independence of Paraguay, and other matters of international law or of interest to the allies.

“In those treaties, particular to each sovereign power regarding its own borders, the other allies are only guarantors, but not parties.

“But if the treaty delimiting borders between the Paraguayan and Argentine republics must be made at the expense of Bolivia’s claims to the right bank of the Paraguay, claims left untouched by the note of 1 May 1865, and if besides Isla del Atajo is included in this treaty, Brazil should withhold its approval.

“The fact remains that the determination of borders recorded in the May 1st treaty does not have, according to the explanations mediated between Paraguay and the allies, a definitive and conclusive character, but rather is dependent on discussion and proofs of each of the parties’ preexisting claims prior to the war.

“The plenipotentiaries’ explanations on the second protocol, regarding the preliminary treaty, clearly indicate that said borders will be fixed after deeds are examined, leaving any idea of conquest completely undone.

“The private circular, containing the issues on which the Council of State is heard, also confirms this thought.

“‘There is reason to believe,’ the aforementioned circular says, ‘that, despite having indicated its intention to pursue a generous course with the Republic of Paraguay regarding the borders of the Chaco, contenting itself with the line of Pilcomayo, the Argentine government now desires to extend those borders up to Bahía Negra, abiding strictly by the terms of article 16 of the treaty of 1 May 1865.’

“I believe, as such, that that pact should not be considered finished as far as the definitive agreement of peace, navigation of rivers, Paraguayan independence, and other matters of national and collective interest to the allies; but that Brazil should withdraw its guarantee as it pertains to the agreement on borders between Argentina and Paraguay, avoiding a great moral responsibility and complicity in the conquest.”

However, while this occurred, Rio Branco, Tejedor, and Adolfo Rodriguez began negotiations to finalize peace (9 December 1870). They proceeded without any difficulty until the conferences of January 17th and 20th, 1871, in which Rio Branco and Tejedor had a first clash over the question of borders. Rio Branco claimed that at the time the alliance treaty was executed, priority had not been given to the issue of borders, that the allied governments had been inspired by sentiments of reciprocal, absolute trust and assurances that in the final negotiations the same sentiments of mutual friendship and moderation would necessarily guide them to the same prudence, “and that Paraguay has the right to be heard on the matter,” because in that pact it had been expressly declared that the republic’s territorial integrity would be respected. It is clear, also, that Rio Branco’s attitude was different from that which he had opposite Varela in 1869. It should not, however, be said of him that he now spoke the same language that he heard from the Liberal senators, because the argument of Paraguayan integrity already appears in the protocol of 20 June 1870. On this date Rio Branco had still not appeared before the Senate to be refreshed on the opposition’s language, hostile to the right of conquest and favorable to the deep convictions of old Conservativism. In effect, hearing Mariano Varela’s arguments in the mouths of the Liberals was no small satisfaction for him, seeing the same men who signed and endorsed the treaty with Mitre transformed into enthusiastic defenders of Paraguay; it was worth as much as receiving carte blanche to develop his plan.

But at Tejedor’s proposal the issue of borders was postponed, and immediately the opportunity arrived for Rio Branco to overtake his adversary in terms of faithfulness and loyalty to the Alliance. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Argentine Republic himself eventually declares that the Protocol which serves as Appendix to the treaty of 1 May 1865, and which deals with the demolition of Paraguayan fortifications, had not been approved by the Argentine Congress. One can calculate, based on the following words from Tejedor, the gravity of this declaration, coming from the same government that demanded Brazil’s strict compliance with the letter of that treaty: “In no way would the Argentine government have been shocked if its Brazilian counterpart had rejected the treaty for that reason.” (Note from Tejedor, 27 April 1872.)

This admission made, because of which the alliance had not received complete ratification, Brazil could choose to consider the May 1st treaty effective, or to denounce it. As far as the issue of borders, it felt a certain hesitation, almost regret; there was not, however, any opening made for Bolivia, which was exclusively positioned to provide an alternative: the neutralization of the right bank of the Paraguay; nor was there any reservation, at the expense of the alliance, to make new ratifications.

But this was a serious act, the Argentine Congress concealing their agreement to reject that ratification, which the republic gave the empire no notice of. In this way, one of the allies had fought on the belief that the pact was perfect, and while it was obliged to everything, the other excluded from its obligations the part which, to its mind, was problematic, and failed to communicate this exclusion to the other party. In the interest of Paraguay, and Brazil’s own reputation, Brazil could easily dispense with the clause excluded by Argentina, but the fact is that Tejedor’s declaration, as he himself admitted, was enough to invalidate the May 1st treaty and, as such, to remove any power from the series of canticles and screeds that he would later compose about the beauty and violation of the Alliance, when Cotegipe signed separate treaties.

The question of borders and fortifications deferred, the plenipotentiaries agree to the preliminaries of the peace treaty on 25 January 1871, setting a term of three months to withdraw of troops to account for the exchange of ratifications. Scarcely had the negotiations finished when Rio Branco had to depart for the capital of Brazil, where the task of forming a cabinet awaited him. He brought to this task full knowledge of the passions, hopes, and demands of the new phase which Argentine diplomacy, with Tejedor, was to enter, with its designs on Paraguay, with its attitude regarding Brazil, and with preparations being made to destroy, in the fast-approaching electoral struggle, Mitre’s influence.

Translator’s Notes

1. La Defensa de Buenos Aires [The Defense of Buenos Aires], a book describing the 1880 military uprising that Tejedor played a major part in.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s