The War of Paraguay: Chapter XLI, The Final Resolution (1876). — The Pilcomayo Line and Arbitration. — Nabuco and Peace.

This is the last chapter! Wow! Eventually I will put out an edited version, with all the footnotes translated, for purchase. However, this version of The War of Paraguay as it exists here on the blog will remain free to read in perpetuity.

On 25 June 1875, Rio Branco, tired of his long ministry, left the government to the Duke of Caxias. Caxias tasked Cotegipe, who came to be the soul and political director of the cabinet, with the post of Foreign Affairs. The Argentine issue had lasted too long and lost its force. Cotegipe was left with the labor of dealing with Irigoyen (1), Avellaneda’s new minister, to discuss an end to the situation created in 1872, and finalizing negotiations between Asunción and Buenos Aires on the foundation of arbitration, offered by Tejedor, a foundation that, although with some modifications, Tejedor himself made impossible to adopt when he negotiated directly with Sosa.

841px-President_Rutherford_Hayes_1870_-_1880_Restored
Photo of President Rutherford B. Hayes, ca. 1880

Our government found Irigoyen quite favorably disposed. With negotiations between the Paraguayan envoy and the Minister of Foreign Affairs resumed in Buenos Aires, Baron Aguiar d’Andrade attends them as representative of Brazil; finally, a satisfactory result is reached, and the treaty is signed on 3 February 1876. The republic gains the line of Pilcomayo, the island of Cerrito, and resorts to submitting possession of Villa Occidental and its territory up to Río Verde to arbitration. A few months later Brazil withdraws its troops from Asunción and evacuates the island of Cerrito. The final result of the dispute is known: in 1878, President Hayes (2) rules in favor of Paraguay, and that republic takes back possession of Villa Occidental.

So peace had been made, granting the Argentine Republic those borders that Pimenta Bueno, Uruguay, and Jequitinhonha had recognized as lawfully Argentine on 7 December 1865; borders that, for another thing, were what Brazil agreed to, and what Mitre, signing the May 1st treaty, believed sufficient to satisfy the needs of his country; the same borders also, probably, which Varela thought of when condemning the right of conquest—only wanting, it may be supposed, to obtain some important Brazilian concession to Paraguay itself, in exchange for that condemnation.

Without Brazilian diplomacy—and without Paraguayan resistance consequently ceasing to exist—no Argentine diplomat would have dared to renounce possession of the right shore of the Paraguay, guaranteed by the alliance treaty. In this sense, one can say that Brazilian diplomacy lent a great service to the true Argentine interests, and to the realization of the aspirations of the most illustrious statesmen of the Plata, namely that the republic not come out of the war enriched with the territorial spoils of the defeated nation.

Unfortunately, the sincerity which should preside when dealing with matters of this stature did not always exist between the allies, and if they did not fall into a new war over the Paraguayan Chaco, it is owing to the painful experience they acquired in the previous campaign, and to fatigue. It is lamentable that, after existing for five years in such perfect harmony on the battlefields, both countries would arrive at such a state of public opinion; but one cannot doubt that for Argentina to launch a war after Cotegipe’s separate treaties, or Brazil after Tejedor’s withdrawal, only a little more popular enthusiasm was needed.

Nabuco was always of the conviction that it was he who maintained the peace, through his attitude, in the practically unified Council of State, where peace vs. war was deliberated. At the beginning he was the defender of Paraguay, refuting the right of conquest when Rio Branco desired the May 1st treaty to be fulfilled exactly, to give Argentina what it wanted, and when Mariano Varela raised his voice in favor of Paraguay. After, when Rio Branco began to speak the same language Varela and the Liberal senators had spoken before, and which requested, as part of the role of Paraguay’s protector, separating from the allies, permitting war rather than fulfillment of the May 1st treaty in its furthest extension, Nabuco, who previously introduced the idea of arbitration, who only wished that Brazil not take part in a conquest, declared himself unfailingly in favor of peace, and condemned the cabinet’s policy: first, when it negotiated separately with Paraguay (Cotegipe’s mission), putting the alliance in danger; later, when it opposed Mitre’s mission in 1873 and encouraged Paraguay to reject arbitration (Araguaya’s mission); and finally, in 1875, when it caused the failure of the Tejedor agreement—which everyone now confuses with a protectorate. Throughout the course of this complex issue, Nabuo was only satisfied, as far as our government’s actions, by the Mitre-São Vicente agreement, which, in a sense, reestablished the alliance. That said, he could not help but be satisfied by the result of all this, the line of Pilcomayo instead of Bahía Negra, since already in 1867 he had declared that the question of borders was not one of the alliance’s objectives. We have also seen him speak in the Senate, in 1870, in defense of Paraguay. But Nabuco wanted peace, he wanted Brazilian diplomacy to achieve its objective without splitting from the alliance nor from the obligations the alliance imposed on it, and, above all, without appearing inclined to a war against its ally in favor of the enemy, or a war created because Brazil did not desire to have Argentina as neighbor to Mato Grosso.

Truly, the final result is owed to the changes of position which the parties and their principal statesmen made, both in the empire and in the Argentine Republic, from 1865 to 1875. Limiting Argentine territory in the Chaco to the line of Pilcomayo was, according to traditional ideas, a great reconquest for imperial policy, in accordance with what was strictly established in the treaty of 1865. Nabuco contributed to it in great part through the attitude he adopted in 1867. In truth, what is owed to him, perhaps more than anyone else, was the fact that war was avoided. We were quite close to having one, and we did not arrive there thanks to the resistance of the Liberal opposition. Nabuco was, as we have seen, from 1872 to 1875, the defender of peace, the alliance, and arbitration, both in the Senate and, principally, in the Council of State. The idea of arbitration was his initiative (1867), only openly and confidently accepted by the Conservative government in 1876, after a long series of negotiations full of diplomatic incidents, and during which it was, on various occasions, at the point of throwing the alliance away in order to undertake a new and worse war. The intimate satisfaction of having strongly contributed to that result was, for Nabuco, sufficient compensation for the injustice with which his adversaries occasionally treated him, because he defended the interest of peace with the same heat and passion which they put towards sustaining the opposite position.

Translator’s Notes

1. Bernardo de Irigoyen was the Argentine Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1875 to 1879.
2. Rutherford B. Hayes, president of the United States of America from 1877 to 1881.

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