The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXVII, Cotegipe’s Coup D’éclat (1872)

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The grueling campaign fought in Parliament for the emancipation of slaves absorbed all of Rio Branco’s activity in 1871. But in August of that year, when, with the challenges facing that project defeated, the government believed itself certain to get the emancipating law off the ground without delay, the question of peace with Paraguay once again took priority over all others, the Baron of Cotegipe being then appointed to continue the negotiations interrupted in January, departing in September, bound for the Río de la Plata.

Doctor Manuel Quintana, 1905.

Talks began in Asunción on November 3rd. Doctor Quintana represented the Argentine government, and Doctor Adolfo Rodriguez the Uruguayan government, just as he had during negotiations between Paranhos and Varela. From the first moments, the tone was one of misunderstanding. Cotegipe and Quintana each have their policy. It is a match that must be abandoned halfway through by the player who feels weaker from the Paraguayan side and also from the Uruguayan side.

The diplomat Cotegipe met in Asunción was precisely the one who could best provide him the opportunity he needed to develop the vast plan he had in his mind. To oppose Cotegipe, Argentina needed a negotiator whose spirit was either slow or quick, smooth or rough, but cool, flexible, unaffected if you will; one who would at no point abandon the field of negotiations. Instead of this kind of adversary, who would have made signing peace almost impossible for our minister, the Argentina Republic was represented by a man similar to Cotegipe, anxious like him to triumph and write to his government a veni, vidi, vici; imbued with the same precaution against the Empire of Brazil as Cotegipe had against the Argentine Republic, but not managing to conceal it as Cotegipe did; chivalrous, haughty, but deceived as far as his adversary’s intentions, a capital mistake in diplomacy. That mistake would lead him to retreat to separate negotiation, believing that his rival would not dare to do as much.

After having disclosed that the alliance pact had not been totally ratified, and that it did not oblige the republic in the part invoked by the empire, which equated to negating any international valor, he took refuge in the authority of that same pact and simultaneously confessed his desire to unleash on the alliance the killing blow, a desire of which he was plainly possessed, and which manifested openly in his January memorandum. With Mitre or some other cold-blooded negotiator, it would have been difficult to separate Brazil and Argentina. But Quintana, representing Tejedor’s policy, resented, aside from his peculiar temperament, the nature of that policy, a policy which at first tended towards annulling the alliance, and which now called for a stricter application of the May 1st treaty, but which did not manage to adapt the means to the end, and was as tense and acrimonious in its shape as it was indecisive, fluid, and incoherent at its base; a diplomacy that was purely political, partisan, and performative, which did not produce the slightest result for the Argentine Republic. If Sarmiento would have had a firmer doctrine, a more persistent and capable doctrine, he could have obtained from Brazil everything the alliance treaty guaranteed to the Argentine Republic. He had no such doctrine for lack of will, but if he truly was animated by such generous sentiments that they compelled him to renounce such advantages, one can be sure that scarcely has a diplomatic mission made a campaign as simultaneous arduous and fruitless, as dangerous and futile as the one undertaken by Tejedor.

From the first talks, Cotegipe discovers the tactics and tendencies of his adversary. Perhaps aiming to adopt an unassailable position, he forces Quintana to open up on the question of borders, and Quintana, condemning the right of conquest, if not with Varela’s generosity, then with his same unflinching manner, declared himself opposed to the violation of Paraguayan sovereignty.

“It is not possible,” he says, “to permit the Brazilian plenipotentiary’s proposed condition as mandatory for the Argentine Republic.” After citing many reasons, he writes: “Finally, the Argentine Republic should not demand from Paraguay something it would not, in this particular case, accept for itself. Not being a maritime power, and having extensive coasts to guard, it cannot sanction with its moral authority the principle hoped to be included. Aside from this, on the topic of Martín García island, neutral since long ago, Argentina has maintained its right to fortify it freely, a right that has been expressly recognized by Brazil in the protocol of 25 February 1864. It should, as such, allow Paraguay the freedom which it reserves for itself.” (Protocol of 4 November 1871) Brazil will say the same of the right of conquest, because the right of conquest is discussed in the series of demands Quintana formulated on November 30th, to wit: that the ally sharing the border with Paraguay be the only judge of Paraguay’s claims; that the allies not be allowed to intervene on the matter to demand Paraguay transfer “a single inch of terrain from the borders established by the alliance treaty”; that they not be able to discuss peace with Paraguay before it recognizes the required borders, but that they be obligated to help the neglected ally defeat any resistance it may encounter “on the basis of the full force of the May 1st treaty.”

As soon as Cotegipe comprehended the Argentine government’s intentions and the allies’ positioning regarding Paraguay, he requested authorization from the imperial government to negotiate separately with this latter country. The Council of State was convened on 22 December 1871 by the following communication (December 16th):

“It does not seem likely that the Argentine government can arrive at an agreement with its Paraguayan counterpart on the matter of the Chaco territories.

“However, there is sufficient reason to suppose that Brazil will make peace with that country without difficulty.

“The Uruguayan plenipotentiary, insinuating that the Argentine demands seem to him excessive, and that he is inclined to our conciliatory approach, at the same time attempts to sidestep agreements with either of the allies, claiming that his country does not have as much interest as they do in peace talks.

“Under these circumstances, Her Imperial Highness” (the princess Doña Isabel, at the time regent of the empire) “wishes to hear the Council of State’s opinion on the following points:

“1st. Does Article 17 of the May 1st treaty oblige the allies to support the borders of the Argentine Republic indicated in Article 16 of that treaty, as the basis for its peace settlement with Paraguay?

“2nd. A collective agreement being impossible, will it be best for the Brazilian plenipotentiary to negotiate separately with the Paraguayan government, appearing, as that government appears, prepared for this, on the basis of said pact, guaranteeing Brazil’s rights and along with these the other allies’ rights, as far as free navigation and compensation for the costs of war are concerned?

“3rd. Will the course of separate negotiation be best if the Argentine plenipotentiary, either foreseeing how difficult it will be to arrive at a satisfactory solution of the border dispute or for any other reason, does not wish to enter definitive peace negotiations with the current president, claiming that he, from the very moment he dissolved the Congress, has become a dictator?

“The president declared, in a public manifesto, that he had resorted to that extreme measure and appealed to the nation because he had discovered a conspiracy in which the greater part of the assembly’s members were compromised. After this event, and with a new Congress summoned, already elected today, the plenipotentiaries of the allied governments presented their credentials to the new president.

“4th. Will it be best to make this separation, even though the Argentine plenipotentiary, who up to now has not wished to recognize the clause of the protocol, appendix to the May 1st treaty and an integral part of it, as mandatory for his government, may finally accept it as it is?

“That clause being that which arranges for the destruction of Paraguayan fortifications, and the prohibition of constructing others on the Republic’s coast.

“5th. If it is not best, in any case, for the Brazilian plenipotentiary to negotiate a separate peace, what coercive measures should be taken to force Paraguay to observe peace?”

Manuel Francisco Correia, who, as stated earlier, was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Rio Branco cabinet, signed the summons.

Nabuco’s opinion went as follows:

“Senhora: I beg your imperial highness’s permission to speak my thoughts on the issues submitted to the Council of State’s inquiry:

“1st. As I understand it, the mutual guarantee stipulated in Article 17 of the alliance treaty is not a fixed agreement, with no solution and no relation to the other obligations established in the same treaty.

“Said guarantee refers without a doubt to the border treaties which the allies must draft with Paraguay, but in accordance with the greater goal of the alliance.

“If the allies are, through Article 17, committed to mutual support of those particular agreements, they are also, by Article 9, committed to respect the independence, sovereignty, and integrity of Paraguay.

“That the borders, mentioned in Article 17, are not definitive is the result of the preliminary peace treaty’s protocol, since those preliminaries allowed for their discussion and, consequently, the possibility of granting them a new solution.

“There would be no problem if the alliance did not have any interests or aims other than said question of borders. In such case, they would be mutually supported against Paraguay; but having committed, before the civilized world, to maintain the integrity and sovereignty of that country, they have acquired as well the duty of guaranteeing it.

“The allies are, then, obliged to determine if the borders requested diminish that integrity and sovereignty. If so, the allies must be refused the guarantee offered.

“When a nation gives its guarantee to a signatory parties, it has no other ruling will than that party’s interests; but when it guarantees the fulfillment of a treaty, or all its various parties, it cannot help but have agency.

“There is yet another diplomatic factor which can justify refusal to fulfill the offered support and it is this: can the Argentine Republic’s requested delineation of borders nullify or damage the claims of Bolivia, protected by the note of 1 May 1865?

“I believe that if said borders diminish Paraguay’s integrity or damage said claims of Bolivia, the imperial government should not lend Argentina the support offered.

“What’s more, although Brazil may owe it to Argentine, it could not employ force against Paraguay, because in the state in which this nation finds itself, Argentina alone would be enough to compel it, and, according to international law, support is not owed except when the State being offered a guarantee lacks the measures to enforce its own claims.

“The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th questions have a common solution. Brazil should not negotiate with Paraguay separately on territorial matters, matters pertaining to the navigation of rivers, sovereignty of Paraguay, etc.

“With regard to borders, this is because in this way Brazil would give proof of the loyalty with which is fulfills its obligations as an ally.

“With regard to navigation of rivers and other international issues, this is because, according to what was agreed in the treaty, these are the goal of collective pacts and may only persist as long as they may count on the assent of the allied nations. As such Brazil would assume too great a responsibility desiring to maintain these alone, without that cooperation, and against those nations.

“I will repeat what I said at the Council of State’s hearing on the likely preliminary treaty, drafted by Brazil without the Argentine Republic. It was the allies who made war, it should be the allies who make peace, by means of collective treaties, as agreed in the May 1st treaty. If Brazil separates itself from Argentina and negotiates peace by itself, grave and unforeseen diplomatic challenges may arise.

“It is not necessary to resort to such an extreme. The preliminary peace treaties already exist; we should expect that the definitive ones can be made as well. That it be our fault that they aren’t made, this is what we must avoid.”

Portait of João Maurício Vanderlei, Baron of Cotegipe, by Amaro do Amaral.

The Council of State inquiry was nothing more than a formality, since the imperial government had already given Cotegipe the authorization he solicited. On 4 January 1872 he initiated negotiations in the name of Brazil. That same month all the treaties with Paraguay were signed: on the 9th the definitive treaty on peace and borders; on the 16th extradition of deserters and criminals; on the 18th friendship, trade, and navigation. It was a diplomatic coup d’état. The Argentine minister thought to halt it by withdrawing himself, but only managed to increase its reach and resonance in the Plata.

News reaches Buenos Aires by the Standard (1). La Nación takes a black view of everything, and lays the blame on the Varela-Paranhos-Rodríguez protocols, which implicated the alliance’s break-up: “Our relations with Brazil are going to be broken; we remain in a state of war with Paraguay, and the treaty which was just executed amounts to an alliance between Paraguay and Brazil against this Republic. When we least expect it Paraguay will return to take over the territories we now occupy, and which before the war it possessed, a thing easier for it, thanks to the uprising in Corrientes (2).” (January 18) The principal complaint is against Varela: “He took seriously a doctrine that was good as a weapon of the opposition, but inadmissible as a foundation for a wise and patriotic policy; he declared that victory did not award rights; he recognized in Paraguay the right to discuss matters resulting from the alliance treaty; he consented to the allies negotiating separately, and adopted other principals as dangerous and reckless as these.”

La República, the organ of Doctor Quintana’s party, preaches the alliance of Republican America against the Empire: “It is likely that Bolivar’s great dream may end up being the finale to the American revolution, which, in the opinion of that great man, had to penetrate into the heart of Brazil, whose monarchy seemed to his eyes a permanent danger, an instrument and natural foundation for enemy reactions … Brazil may fear, being an empire surrounded by republics, with which it holds ongoing border disputes, that Platine problems may eventually become American problems, that a general movement in this part of the continent may fulfill the plan Bolivar envisioned, and penetrate the heart of the empire, proclaiming the rights of the republic, rejecting the other side of the Atlantic and the crown of the Braganzas (3), and proscribing monarchy from the free land of America forever, a system which is raised there as though a watchtower of ancient Europe, and which extends up to our domains as a kind of arm threatening conquest by foreigners. Let Brazil not count on our weakness nor our abstention. Just one spark suffices to produce an inferno. If the flames come to flare up, they will not be put out as long as the empire’s political body has not undergone a complete transformation.”

El Nacional (4) expresses itself with still more violence. For La Nación to soften its tone it is necessary for Mitre to arrive in Buenos Aires, and assure, with the testimony of A Reforma (5), of Rio de Janeiro, that there was no offense meant on Brazil’s part, but rather that making peace by itself, it had merely made a mistake. In this atmosphere of excited Argentine patriotism, Quintana launches his memorandum, a kind of manifesto, and Tejedor his February 15 notice addressed to our government.

Said Tejedor:

“Senhor Minister: The alliance of 1 May 1865 was a necessity, but a providential necessity, which could serve to tighten the bonds of affection between two nations that had found themselves facing off against one another not long before. Three years of military brotherhood, and six years passed since the alliance was signed, had begun to erase mutual suspicions, affirming the commonality between the empire’s interests and those of the republics of the Plata.”

The note contained paragraphs like this one, referring to what was agreed: “The imperial government will be able to preserve in the Republic of Paraguay, for an indefinite period, the number of forces that it considers necessary, guaranteeing by itself alone, and through the span of five years, the independence and territorial integrity of the republic. The enormity of such conditions elude no one. These conditions implicate a military occupation, the discretion of one of the victors, in sole benefit of that victor, or a permanent state of war after the war, or, worse still, alliance between the defeated party and one of the victors against its former allies, or, if preferable, a Brazilian protectorate over Paraguay. All these things, or any of them by themselves, are a flagrant violation of the text of the May 1st treaty—in which anything like a protectorate is expressly prohibited—and of the spirit which inspired that text, opposed to the despotism of a man, and favoring the liberty and independence of a people …”

And he added with singular naïveté, without considering that his argument, rather than injuring the empire, would bring a smile to anyone who knew the old ambitions of the viceroyalty: “Given the great misfortune which afflicts Paraguay, the republican states of North and South America would understand suzerainty by another republic … but never an isolated guarantee and military occupation, even after the war, and by the empire alone. This, inherently, cannot be a good guarantee for a republic’s existence, nor help it out of the abyss into which it has fallen. Such a suzerainty would, in other words, become absorption, and in this way it would appear before the world that the Argentine republic had waged the war on behalf, and for the aggrandizement, of the empire.”

This language from the Argentine legation (which became more intense later on), placed peace between the allies at the mercy of the Brazilian statesman tasked with drafting the reply. Fortunately, this statesman ended up being the Viscount of Rio Branco, on whom Tejedor’s diplomatic style did not have enough persuasive force to illicit a break-up. On March 1st (1872) the matter passed to the Council of State. The Brazilian government understood that it needed to appeal to all its moderation in order to avoid unpleasant consequences. The primary issue was that of ratifying treaties, and the summons of February 23rd was sent to discuss this issue.

“With the eventuality, already foreseen, now present, that no collective negotiation between the allies and the Paraguayan government will be possible, for the reasons already known by the Council of State, Brazilian plenipotentiary senhor Baron of Cotegipe entered a definitive peace treaty with Paraguay in the name of Brazil.

“Y.E. will be able to form judgment on these agreements with the documents attached, which refer to them. These agreements are composed of a treaty in which the general conditions of peace were set and three others relating to borders, trade and navigation, and extradition of criminals and deserters.

“The treaty proposal having been submitted to the ratification of H.H. the princess imperial regent, this august senhora has been kind enough to arrange that the Council convene to give a ruling at ten in the morning, on the day of March 1st, in the city palace.

“The Council of State should be heard on the following question:

“Are there sufficiently powerful reasons to halt the ratification of all or some of the treaties referenced?”

The Minister of Foreign Affairs signed the summons.

In an extensive and reasoned speech, Nabuco shows himself to be absolutely opposed to the policy pursued. That speech begins in this way:

“I still persist in the same opinion that I had the honor of explaining before H.I.H. in my prior report; that is, the war having been made by the allies, peace must be made by the allies.

“This is the doctrine that all authorities on international law sanction, one of which, Kluber, says this: None of them [the allies] can make armistice or peace separately, without the consent of its ally.

“I don’t deny that in history one sees peace treaties executed by one ally independently of the other; for example, in 1795, the peace treaty made between the French Republic and the Kingdom of Prussia in Basel, by virtue of which the latter nation broke the ties uniting it to Austria and the other States, who continued the war until the Treaty of Campo Formio.

“In 1813 we saw Napoleon I abandoned and antagonized by his former allies.

“But these exceptions do not detract from the principles, and they lack, as such, legal force.

“International law is nothing more than private law applied to nations.

“Civil law permits those that make contracts to undo them.

“Such that, what one nation does does not bring obligations for the others when the contract also belongs to those others, and is common to all.”

After an analysis of the May 1st treaty, in order to prove that negotiations with Paraguay should be collective the speech concludes in this way:

“But what is it that authorized these particular treaties, which break the alliance and the preliminaries of peace?

“The summons for the Council of State says:

With the eventuality, already foreseen, now present, that no collective negotiation between the allies and the Paraguayan government will be possible, for the reasons already known by the Council of State, Brazilian plenipotentiary senhor Baron of Cotegipe entered a definitive peace treaty with Paraguay in the name of Brazil.

“Examining the protocols submitted to the Council of State, one does not deduce the impossibility of arriving at a collective treaty, whose impossibility could exclusively authorize Brazil to negotiation alone.

“The protocols prove that the peace treaty had already been discussed completely, and that when this difficulty suddenly arose, it was approved.

“It was natural that, with the collective treaty’s approval obtained, the Argentine minister would request a resolution of the border dispute, because said resolution depended on that treaty.

“But if collective agreement is not possible, because agreement on borders is not possible either, that impossibility should not be solely attributed to the Argentine government, but also to the Brazilian government, because both agreed that the collective treaty would not be signed until after the territorial claims of each of the interested allies were recognized; that is, the claims of Brazil and the Argentine Republic.

“If an agreement could not be reached on the border dispute, it was not possible to reach a collective treaty either. As such, instead of Brazil making agreements separately, it should not make any agreement at all. The petition formulated by the Argentine minister on 30 November 1871 was the direct consequence of what had been conceded to him on 9 December 1870.

“What’s more, one cannot be sure that on 30 November 1871 we find ourselves in the extreme case of negotiating separately.

“In fact, the Argentine minister ended up asking the plenipotentiaries to relocate to the city of Buenos Aires, to resolve the difficulties that had arisen there.

“The Eastern minister declared that he saw himself obliged to request instructions from his government, because he had none for this unforeseen event.

“Prudence demanded that in such serious negotiations, capable of producing a break-up of the alliance, all measures be exhausted, and the allied governments have the final word. At the very least the Eastern Republic, which seemed so inclined to Brazil, merited this deferential attention.

“But the Brazilian plenipotentiary broke negotiations, immediately declaring that he was prepared to negotiate with Paraguay by himself.

“From the study of the protocols, the conclusion is that, on the question of borders, the Argentine Republic always proceeded with the greatest frankness and clarity, always saying what it wanted.

“In this matter, our minister distorted things, resorting to deferments and formalities.

“Be this as it may, and even when the impossibility of the collective treaty was proven, I conclude as I began, saying as I have always said, that Brazil should not make the definitive treaty of peace, free navigation, and guarantee of Paraguay’s independence, alone, because this treaty will be an insult and the cause of disastrous and unforeseen events.

“Let us see the consequences of these two hypotheticals: we make the treaty, or we do not make it.

“Supposing that we don’t make it:

“The status quo of the borders before the war will continue, which does not matter at all, since it is not urgent to modify it. The preliminary treaty of 20 June will still stand, indefinitely.

“The preliminary peace treaty with Argentina will still exist, which seems to us preferable to the alliance’s break-up and to the grave responsibility of assuming by ourselves, against everyone and against the allies, the guarantee of Paraguayan independence.

“The provisional state will also continue, our troops remaining in said country. This problem continues, the treaty being made, because in that treaty it is established that our forces should remain in Paraguayan territory.

“Supposing that the treaty is made, these are the consequences:

“Break-up of the alliance and renunciation of the preliminary treaty;

“The heavy burden of maintaining, against everyone and against the allies, Paraguay’s independence, sovereignty, and integrity, or rather, establishment of the protectorate that the alliance rejected, a de facto protectorate, a protectorate imposed by the force of circumstances.

“Likelihood of war provoked by conflicts that the Argentina Republic could instigate. These conflicts are various and difficult to foresee.

“Let us examine these hypotheticals, all quite natural and logical.

“The definitive treaty of peace and navigation which Brazil is going to enter into with Paraguay does not bring obligations to the Argentine Republic, because for the republic this treaty presupposes the alliance’s break-up; so, the republic continues the war on its own, against the now impotent Paraguay, with the goal of imposing the borders it desires on it. It extends the occupation of the Chaco up to Bahía Negra, occupies other cities and populations, and impedes the free navigation of rivers, by fiscal means and police.

“Brazil declares war, or it does not declare it.

“If it declares war to oppose the acts of sovereignty executed by the Argentine Republic, it exercises an unjust action, and justifies the idea of suzerainty.

“The Argentine Republic can incite the Pacific republics to create difficulties for us, to which they find themselves predisposed because of the bad will they have for us, owing to border rivalries and the traditional rivalry of race.

“If Brazil does not declare war, and leaves Paraguay abandoned, it is in breach of what it has offered in the agreement it just made with Paraguay, it admits that it was mistaken to offer it, and it ends up complicit in, and the main cause of, that same violation of Paraguayan integrity it once wished to avoid.

“Either war or ignominy.

“Senhora, firm on the principals which I have always sustained, I stand against the ratification of the treaty.

“I do not wish for Brazil to agree to the border treaty, because it would not be generous and loyal to do so, our ally being unable to agree to it: I do not, however, dispute the right Brazil has to agree to it separately.”

Tejedor let loose in his February 15th note, whose language we are already familiar with. The one who responds is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Rio Branco cabinet, that is, as far as Platine matters (his specialty) Rio Branco himself. In response to the allusion Tejedor makes to the old Argentine-Brazilian fights now forgotten by us, he recalls Monte Caseros and the first alliance:

“The good, friendly relations between Brazil and the republics of the Plata did not begin on 1 May 1865. Those relations existed since the Alliance of 1852, which liberated the Eastern State and the Argentine Republic from the tyranny of the dictators Oribe and Rosas. The Alliance of 1865, which should have exercised such a beneficial influence over the three nations, uniting them through the common sacrifices and glories of five years of fighting in defense of their honor and rights, found the solid foundation of the memory of that other union, no less honorable and perhaps of greater political reach for the peace and prosperity of this part of America.” (Note from March 22nd) This note provokes another on April 27th, in which Tejedor responds to the remembrance of Caseros with that of Ituzaingó.

Said note begins with these words: “The story of treaties broken as a consequence of the self-interested interpretation of one clause, or by some of the signatory parties being considered now unnecessary, is not new to the world …” And later on: “It is true, senhor minister, that the friendship of two neighboring peoples has no set date, just as enmity has none. The Battle of Ituzaingó did not separate us forever, just as the support Brazil lent us did not unite us forever, when it aided in liberating us from the tyranny of Rosas and Oribe”; and finally he says: “How has it come to pass that this power, accused by every Spanish republic of territorial invasions, encountered no difficulties in Paraguay, and the Argentine Republic did?”

It was not Cotegipe, but rather Rio Branco, with his calm and patient dignity, who was tasked with responding to Tejedor. If Cotegipe had been the author of the reply, this battle of epigrams and allusions to historic meetings would have perhaps degenerated into a war between the former allies. Tejedor probably would have received, in the form of a diplomatic note, the letter addressed from Bahía to Councilor Correia: “If, despite our moderation and generosity, we find ourselves forced to repulse, with force, the offenses made to our sovereignty and dignity, we will not allow the record of the glories of Ituzaingó, now revived, to be erased from memory, now that the Brazilian blood spilled at Caseros for our ally’s freedom, and in the fields of Paraguay, is not enough to erase the stain of a wasteful battle or a dubious success.” Here is another paragraph: “Martín García closes the gates of the Uruguay and the Paraná Guazú (6), it dominates the eastern coast with its fire; Cerrito (7) will close the high Paraná and the mouth of the Paraguay; Villa Occidental, far away from Buenos Aires by 868 miles, is a barracks, not a civil population; the strait of Magellan will be a new Gibraltar, a Dardanelles rather, for the republics of the Pacific. Through the fogs of the Plata, rays of light will be discovered, on which their political argonauts have fixed their eyes … I admire them, but I pray, by God, that they do not believe us blind or ignorant.” To which he adds still more: “The ingenuity with which H.E. [Tejedor] tries to convince us that the unpopulated Chaco, the Chaco which Paraguay will never be able to colonize, is nothing in comparison to the immense debt produced by the war (i), brings to mind, for me, the tactic of certain merchants that start by disparaging that which they wish to acquire. Unfortunately, the Paraguayans are not of this mind; convinced of the opposite, they think that the possession of the Chaco is a matter of security, of independence, a question of life and death, in a word. They claim, in the manner of Peter the Great, and perhaps with more reason, that the beautiful daughters of Asunción will not sleep peacefully while the booming of the Argentine canon may disturb them, and while their capital may, in the event of war, be destroyed in a few hours. They claim that the occupation of Villa Occidental (which, despite being 15 miles away, the Paraguayans cannot colonize!) militarily dominates all of Paraguay and the capital in particular; that the contraband trade depletes its revenue; that conspirators and criminals find asylum in that territory and can threaten the security of the state; and that they can free themselves from a debt, but not from the Sword of Damocles always suspended over their heads.”


i. In 1875 Tejedor himself, entering a peace treaty with the Paraguayan minister in Rio de Janeiro, renounces the war debt in exchange for Villa Occidental, which was a rather small part of the Chaco.

Translator’s Notes

1. The Buenos Aires Standard, an English language newspaper published in Buenos Aires, founded 1861.
2. Between 1870 and 1876, the provinces of Entre Rios and Corrientes were in a state of turmoil, with government forces and revolutionaries clashing in the Jordanist Rebellion, led by the federalist caudillo Ricardo López Jordán.
3. The House of Braganza ruled Portugal from 1640 to 1910, and ruled Brazil from the Brazilian monarchy’s inception to its end in 1889.
4. A Unitarian, Buenos Aires-based newspaper published between 1852 and 1898.
5. A Brazilian newspaper founded in 1862, organ of the Liberal Party.
6. The Paraná Guazú is the final section of the Paraná, after it merges with the Ibicuí and before it merges into the Río de la Plata.
7. Isla del Cerrito is one and the same as Isla del Atajo, mentioned earlier.

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