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There was no reason for serious misunderstanding, however, since the fundamental spirit moving the Argentine government, despite the state of national furor which both parties created, was one of making concessions to Paraguay, of contenting itself, as last resort, with the line of Pilcomayo, and of accepting arbitration on the issue of Villa Occidental. Because of this, the bellicose agitation at the beginning of 1872 calmed down when Mitre’s mission was met in Rio de Janeiro.
Sending Mitre to Brazil in that role was a skillful political maneuver, because if he failed or if he ceded too much to the empire’s demands, he would be ruined for the future presidential election. Cotegipe contributed to his appointment, telling Tejedor that his goal had not been to break the alliance; that the Argentine government could do what he himself had done, with the guarantees the alliance granted to all the allies. The first difficulty lay in the notes exchanged from government to government. Mitre arrived in Rio de Janeiro in early July (1872) and spent three months in resolving this difficulty, because of the meticulous approach which Rio Branco, and, one can say, the emperor himself, offended by the Porteño press’s language against the empire, took in wanting to clarify the allusions Tejedor made. But on November 19th, Mitre and the Marquis of São Vicente, Brazilian plenipotentiary, sign the accord reestablishing the alliance just as it was before Cotegipe’s treaties, leaving those treaties intact, and obliging Brazil to help its ally in the negotiations it would initiate in turn. The familiarity Rio Branco had with Mitre’s ideas probably contributed to the renewal of the treaty, Mitre also being designated to represent Argentina in the Asunción negotiations.
The Mitre-São Vicente accord did not oppose the policy of separate treaties, but it stripped this policy of all its gravity, reestablishing good harmony between the allies. If Cotegipe’s blow didn’t simply signify abandoning Paraguay to its fate, it did create a difficult situation for Brazil, imposing on it the role of mediator, or, if not recognized as mediator, protector of the defeated party against the former ally. What was Cotegipe’s thinking concerning Paraguay when signing these treaties—to abandon it, or defend it? If he wished to defend it, was he not making Brazil’s intervention more difficult from the very moment in which the alliance broke, or appeared to break? If he wished to abandon it, would this sudden movement not take on the character of pure farce? Would it not be considered a snare set for Paraguay?
Whatever Cotegipe’s idea was at its root, Rio Branco did not want the opportunity it offered to escape him. Without waiting for the situation Cotegipe created to reach a breakdown of relations, he harnessed his skill and perseverance for the protection of Paraguay and the conservation of the territories of the Chaco, a skill and perseverance which in the end granted him his triumph.
Tejedor did not take advantage of Cotegipe’s blow, and as such the Argentine Republic did not obtain a single advantage from the precedent set, not from being able to negotiate with Paraguay separately, nor from being left alone in the field, untethered, against the common enemy.
In view of the capital importance that Rio Branco assigned this issue, it can be said that few diplomats have had reason for such legitimate pride for a triumph obtained as Rio Branco had for having saved the Chaco for Paraguay, perhaps equal to the satisfaction that, years later, his son the Baron of Rio Branco experiences, saving for Brazil the disputed territory of Palmas, which the Argentines considered an extension of Misiones.
But it must be said, in truth, that the Viscount of Rio Branco would have achieved nothing without two factors: 1st. The impartiality of Argentine politics, which, though at times it suffered eclipses, manifested itself in Varela’s attitude and later in Mitre’s concessions, and which never would have let the Chaco dispute come to a war between the allies; 2nd. The position the Liberal opposition sustained in the Senate, and especially in the Council of State, rejecting the right of conquest and rejecting besides any possibility of a break-up.