The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXIV, The Defense of Paraguay. — Mariano Varela

We have already seen Nabuco’s attitude when, on 27 September 1867 before the Council of State, he gave a speech for the first time on the topic of Paraguay. His second speech is on 26 April 1870. The reason for the inquiry to the Council is explained in its summons; earlier, however, a sizable dissent had occurred between our plenipotentiary—the Itaboraí cabinet’s Minister of Foreign Affairs himself, Paranhos (later Viscount of Rio Branco)—and the Argentine Republic’s Minister of Foreign Relations—Mariano Varela. On 12 October 1868 General Bartolomé Mitre surrendered the presidency to Domingo Sarmiento, and all of Argentine politics changed hands and changed direction; Paranhos had left for Buenos Aires on a special mission at the beginning of 1869, and as there would be attempts to start an interim government in Asunción (act of March 31st), he sent a memorandum to the allied governments, in which he defended that provisional government’s ability to execute peace treaties.

From the discussion of this issue, there arises the first appearance of a diplomatic rivalry, truly a game of hide and seek, destined to last more than eight years. Paranhos maintains that the provisional government “should immediately accept the conditions of peace determined by the May 1st treaty.” (First memorandum from Paranhos, 30 April 1869) He examines the question of whether or not that government has moral and legal authority to fulfill the treaty’s subsequent stipulations, and he concludes affirmatively, declaring himself opposed to any postponement as well: “The current war was the work of a government born from its own will and which, because of this, followed no rule other than that absolute will itself. Can the allied governments be asked to have the magnanimity to wait for the election of sovereign assemblies, and for the organization of an executive power, more or less limited, before signing with this power definitive conditions of peace between the allies and the Republic of Paraguay? Surely no one can find a reason of State, or an example in the history of the great wars that have been humanity’s scourge, which would recommend such a dangerous and harmful policy of deferment to the allied and Paraguayan governments, much less make them consider it mandatory.” (Same memorandum, 30 April 1869)

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Photo of Mariano Varela, courtesy of Editorial Ateneo.

The Argentine Republic objected, claiming that, according to the May 1st treaty, the war was waged not against the Paraguayan people but against their government; the allies were solemnly committed to respect the sovereignty, integrity, and independence of the Paraguayan Republic, and as such, “to allow Paraguay the freedom to organize itself once López is defeated,” stipulating that they would sign the peace treaty with the government that formed after his fall. “The moment of Paraguay’s reorganization, foreseen by the treaty, has still not arrived … As such, if the allies are committed to respecting the sovereignty and independence of Paraguay; if, as we ourselves have offered, the men of Paraguay—the few who escaped the barbaric destruction to which that unfortunate nation’s dictator condemned them—have the right to choose the government they desire, we cannot today demand from the government, which we have appointed, the execution of treaties involving Paraguay’s permanent rights and interests, treaties which should only be negotiated by powers established either through fundamental law or the people’s sovereignty … Almost every nation on Earth has expressed horror at the Paraguayan War, due to a distrust of our intentions. We should not, as such, provide pretexts to potentially confirm such suspicions …”

He goes on: “The very fact that the war has lasted longer than foreseen is a warning, a warning that events should not be hurried, events which had their time set, when we supposed that we were dealing with a short and easy campaign, after whose victory we would meet a people who would concede to us the guarantees we demanded for the future. Today Paraguay is exhausted. Everything has been desolated and leveled by the barbarous dictator we are fighting. After the definitive victory, the allies will find themselves facing a cadaver.” (Memorandum from Mariano Varela on 8 May 1869)Read More »