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.

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.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XL, New Danger of War. — Tejedor’s Mission in Rio de Janeiro (1875). — Its Outcome.

However, peace will still not be altered this time, despite the fact that the year 1874 begins full of peril. Caballero (1) again invades Paraguay, to whose capital our troops and ships lend protection. In Brazil they attribute this revolution to Argentine machinations.

El Nacional, of Buenos Aires, uses the same language as always: “On the day following the declaration of war there will not be a single Mitrist, Alsinist, nor Avellanedist (2). There will be only Argentines.”

In turn, the Jornal do Commercio, almost always pacifist and prudent, seems inclined to war. “The United States of the South,” it says in an annual review, “are, in their schemes, more audacious and ambitious than the United States of the North, without respect to any foreign right nor care for self-responsibility. Yesterday they robbed the weak and defenseless Eastern State of Martín García Island, key to the navigation of the rivers Paraná, Uruguay, and Paraguay; today they take control of another position no less important on these rivers, the island of Cerrito; and not satisfied with that, they wish to conquer all of Paraguay with our indirect support. Tomorrow they will not be content with these major annexations, and the victim chosen will be the Republic of Uruguay. Refusing, intentionally up to now, to set its borders with the empire, and considering themselves to be much stronger the more we are acquiescent and tolerant, they will aspire later to have claim to Mato Grosso, Rio Grande do Sul, and perhaps Santa Catarina, because at one point Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca disembarked on this island … We have been the most ardent apostles of peace, but we are beginning to feel the conviction that in the end it will be incompatible with dignity, having a neighbor who stirs up alliances against the empire, and who, despite its disorganization, does not cease to provoke conflicts over border disputes of American powers, which it calls dear brothers, such as Chile, Bolivia, and poor Paraguay. It seems to us that in South America one sees the Franco-Prussian drama reproduced. Brazil, which demolished Humaitá close to three hundred leagues from the mouth of the Río de la Plata to ensure the free navigation of its rivers, and to have free access to its province of Mato Grosso, sacrificing a hundred thousand of its sons in the inhospitable fields of Paraguay and jeopardizing the public fortune, should it see with indifference that, as rearguard, only 50 leagues from that delta, other threatening fortifications are raised on Martín García?”

Portrait of Nicolás Avellaneda by Egidio Querciola.

But the presidential election must take place in this year. It will not end, as such, with a Brazilian war, but rather a civil war. Alsinists and Avellanedists join together against Mitre. Mitre rises up, armed against them, and is defeated at La Verde and Santa Rosa by the new federal Remingtons. In Junín, Mitre, the commander-in-chief of the allied armies, surrenders to an official still obscure, beginning his career, Commander Arias.

Mitre’s defeat left Brazil’s enemies in Argentina as owners of the field; but a revolution made at the cost of sacrificing the country’s greatest man always suffers a great weakening of force internally, and a weakening of prestige externally. Avellaneda’s election meant the vanquishing of the old Porteño party, that is, the conquest of Buenos Aires by the province. The resistance by the aristocracy, by the great capital’s culture, against the invasion of provincial elements began. In such conditions, it did not matter that Alsina was Minister of War and that Tejedor continued in his post. The new government could give a great boost to the national life, undertake and realize the “Conquest of the Desert”, complete, through emigration, the foundations of the new United States, which Sarmiento began to outline in the schools; but the very first condition of this work was to withdraw itself from foreign affairs, in the way of the United States of America. In times of activity, expansion, and internal reconstruction, the policy of foreign relations comes to be secondary. As well, the political crisis of Buenos Aires’s dominance brought with it an economic and financial crisis.

Following the first impression produced by Mitre’s fall and the national government’s transformation, Tejedor and Rio Branco returned to their negotiations on the Chaco. When Tejedor believed the terrain sufficiently prepared, he came to Rio de Janeiro in person.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXIX, Mitre Sent to Paraguay. — Proposal of Arbitration. — Brazil’s Position.

Meanwhile, General Mitre was going to Paraguay to negotiate peace, and Brazil was being represented in these negotiations by the Baron, later Viscount, of Araguaya (1). The Argentine government did not approve of Mitre’s conciliatory approach, Mitre being content with the line of Pilcomayo and Isla del Cerrito, for which reason that general left the capital of Paraguay at the beginning of September, without having obtained anything. The Buenos Aires government’s final proposal was this: the line of Pilcomayo with Isla del Atajo (Cerrito) and arbitration regarding the Chaco, including Villa Occidental, with the status quo maintained until the verdict; or Pilcomayo and Villa Occidental, with the Argentine Republic desisting from the rest of the Chaco. But Paraguay only accepted arbitration for all of the Chaco, including from the Pilcomayo down to the Bermejo. In October of 1873, when Mitre’s negotiation was interrupted, or ruined, war between the allies was believed to be inevitable; in Argentine newspapers, the campaign which appeared at the beginning of 1872 was reborn. Brazil and Argentina armed themselves, made grand orders of Remingtons, ironclads, Krupp canons, and torpedoes. The Alsinist (2) newspapers attacked Mitre, showing him entitled to the Brazilian crown and representing him, in caricature, making a monkey dance—the monkey being the symbol for Brazil in the Argentine Republic.

Such is the situation we see reflected in the following summons for the Foreign Affairs Section of the Council of State, for which summons Nabuco was speaker (20 November 1872):

“By the 4th article of the agreement of December 19 of last year, published in December of the same year, the imperial government is obligated to effectively collaborate with its moral force towards the goal of bringing the Argentine Republic and Uruguay to a friendly arrangement with Paraguay, respecting their definitive peace treaties.

“By virtue of that commitment, the extraordinary envoy and minister plenipotentiary of H.M. the Emperor in Buenos Aires, senhor Baron of Araguaya, received instructions and powers to be transferred to Asunción, and there aid señor General Mitre, entrusted with the Argentine mission. The Argentine government seemed very satisfied with the selection of the Brazilian plenipotentiary and Brazil’s rapid cooperation.

“Señor General Mitre initiated negotiations with the Paraguayan government, without requesting Brazil’s direct involvement, and without even discovering Brazil’s thoughts on the conditions that Argentina would accept, maintaining this caution at the same time that it maintained the most courteous and agreeable relations with senhor Baron of Araguaya.

“As can be seen in the protocol of said negotiation, signed by the Argentine and Paraguayan plenipotentiaries, the Baron proposed, and so it was agreed, that before anything else they would occupy themselves with the border treaty, as this was the only issue that could present difficulties.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXVIII, General Mitre’s Mission in Brazil. — Mitre-São Vicente Accord (1872).

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.

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

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.Read More »

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.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXV, The Right of Conquest. — Speech by Nabuco.  

Behind this apparent agreement was the hidden intention of, in the long term, disrupting the political purpose that each of the allies suspected in the others. Paranhos, satisfied with obtaining this first result, and with reconstituting the Republic of Paraguay, which he would spend two years working on, returned to Rio de Janeiro to take part in legislative affairs, once again occupying his role as Minister of Foreign Affairs (September 1870). Such was the status of Paraguay and the allies when, on July 12th, Nabuco delivered his speech against the right of conquest. Referring to a memoir published in Colombia in 1869 by Quijano Otero, national librarian, and analyzing the basis of the complaints which neighboring peoples formulated against the empire, he maintains the thesis that our policy should not be inspired by absolute principles, but rather by transaction:

“In the memoir about which I have told you, I see, as a synthesis of the complaints against Brazil, the following: the republics wish to have their treaties based on uti possidetis, which they consider legal—that is, based on treaties between the crowns of Spain and Portugal—while Brazil sets uti possidetis de facto as the essential basis of its pacts—that is, based on occupation. Senhores, in this matter one cannot strictly adhere to a principle, because all principles should change in accordance with the circumstances of each state. And if we want to stick to a principle, we must transform our entire approach, because it will be useless to think of treaties.

“Senhores, in diplomacy or in politics, an absolute principle is a fatal thing. See how happy England is. It owes this to the fact that its patriotism is not locked within a principle, neither in politics nor diplomacy: logic is the enemy of one and the other, because both are debatable. The absolute principle of legitimacy which Talleyrand maintained at the Congress of Vienna, because he was committed to Saxony’s cause and the dethroning of Murat, King of Naples, endangered the interests of other nations, and of France especially.

“I believe, then, that we should not lock ourselves into an absolute principle in order to negotiate treaties with our neighbors. I desire an open doctrine, without absolute principles, with a transactional spirit.

“We possess such vast territories that surely we can cede unpopulated terrains, swampy and uncultivated, which do not serve us at all, but which can service our neighbors.

“There lies in this, senhores, a great idea: that of inspiring trust in the peoples that surround us and denying before the world the ambitions of conquest which they attribute to us. The disgrace of slavery is enough without adding others.”Read More »

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)

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 »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXIII, Nabuco’s Position. — His Three Phases. — Rio Branco’s Phases.

The Chamber’s dissolution (1872) ended up consolidating and increasing its force, allowing it the freedom to undertake the reforms and improvements of its platform, to initiate in the Rio de la Plata the thorny diplomatic work which arose from the execution of peace treaties with Paraguay. In this time, the time of Rio Branco’s ministry, two problems took shape in which Nabuco had an important part—the religious problem and the Argentine problem—and, in the case of the latter, he had considerable responsibility.

To seek this problem’s antecedents, it is necessary to search in the first governments of the Alliance. These precursors are found at the root, on one hand in the inquiry of 7 December 1865, followed by Saraiva’s instructions; and on the other hand, in the refusal to ratify the May 1st protocol. However, it is certain that the Brazilian government did not manage to create (nor would it have created) the least difficulty in the signing of the alliance peace treaties, and that it was the Argentine government (Varela) that raised the first obstacle. Because of this, the problem between the allies begins in 1869 with Paranhos’s (Viscount of Rio Branco) second mission to Buenos Aires during the war (1869-70) and with his last mission, after the war was ended (1870-71).

Jose Paranhos, Viscount of Rio Branco,  1879.

Now we have explained the causes that could produce Brazil’s dissent: the extension of borderlines along the right bank of the Paraguay, which the treaty guaranteed to Argentina. The probability of a clash does not arise until the Rio Branco ministry takes power. Nabuco’s position on this grave matter has three phases.

In the first, forming part of the Olinda cabinet, he accepts Saraiva’s foreign policy: Paraguay should concede to the allies the boundaries indicated in the May 1st treaty; however, the disputed territory on the right bank of the Paraguay above Pilcomayo is assigned by preference to Bolivia, as this seems the best solution to the challenges which the Department of the Council of State indicated in its report on 7 December 1865, contrary to that pact.

In the second phase, that is, in the time of the Zacharias ministry, Nabuco seems to be in agreement with the opinion Jequitinhonha set forth in 1865, namely, that the borders in the May 1st treaty are not definitive, that once peace is resolved the two neighboring allies and Bolivia should set the borders by mutual agreement with Paraguay, and that, if no agreement is had, it would be best to submit the matter to arbitration by the United States. This was the position he maintained in the Senate, justly defending the sovereignty and integrity of Paraguay alongside other liberal leaders, and refusing to recognize the right of conquest in America.

The third phase is energetic opposition to the idea of dealing with Paraguay separately, separating ourselves from the Argentines after victory in order to adopt the defeated party’s cause.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXII, The Count of Eu and Slavery in Paraguay

At the end of the war the stipulation, accepted by the Council of State, that they discuss emancipation, was fulfilled. Those that had accompanied the emperor new well his opinion on the matter. Knowing his character and the proceedings of the government, they knew that, for him, the moment had arrived to renew, together with the conservative ministry, the efforts he made with the Olinda and Zacharias ministries in 1866, 1867, and 1868, in favor of reform. Because of this, Nabuco’s plan for the new legislature of 1870 was to capitalize on the Emperor’s leanings and create the opening necessary for him.

In September of 1869 the Count of Eu had directed a letter, sent from the general headquarters, to the provisional government of Asunción, requesting freedom for the slaves that still lived in Paraguay. There weren’t many, but the importance of this act was great, being taken by the Brazilian general, husband of the presumptive heir to the Brazilian crown. His initiative must have been felt in the country.

The Institute of Attorneys (1) tasked Nabuco with congratulating the Emperor and the Count of Eu for their triumphs, and Nabuco, upon their return from the campaign, took advantage of the occasion that victory gave him, explaining before the throne this new national aspiration. After commending the great example of resolve and patriotism that the Emperor set, and the faith that he always had in the valor of the Brazilian people, Nabuco said, addressing the sovereign:

“War is a calamity that humanity deplores, but when it has a just and rational cause it is a duty. Civilization sees itself compensated for the tragedies produced by war if, in the wake of these tragedies, there remains a great and generous ideal.”

What ideal is this? No doubt remains in his congratulations to the Count of Eu. “The notable letter that Y.H. sent to the provisional Paraguayan government, which ensured the abolition of slavery in that country, enjoys extreme, indescribable enthusiasm in the Institute, which, through the voice of its presidents, has always defended the cause of emancipation, a holy and irrepressible cause; holy because it is the cause of the Gospel; irrepressible because it is the cause of civilization. That this great ideal of emancipation be a consequence of the victory achieved against Paraguay’s barbarism is a thought which emanates from Y.H.’s letter, and is the desire of the Institute.”

Translator’s Note

1. The Institute of Brazilian Attorneys [Instituto dos Advogados Brasileiros] is an organization responsible for regulating the practice of law in Brazil. Nabuco was president of the institute from 1866 to 1873.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXI, End of the Paraguayan War. — The Campaign.

With the death of President López at Cerro Corá on 1 March 1870, the Paraguayan campaign was finished. We have followed this painful, five-year fight in all its phases. The last of these phases offers the following peculiarity: the Conservative Party, opposed to the doctrine of war to the death, is tasked with outlining and executing the Campaign of the Hills, which became, after Piribebuy and the Battle of Campo Grande (1)—two victories owed to the Count of Eu—a military hunt, the pursuit of a man by an army, as it was evident, given the circumstances, that the hunted would not fall into hunters’ hands alive. The general’s reputation and pride demanded that he not allow the enemy to escape; but once he was caught up with, no one could answer for López’s life. In this way, everything conspired to make of that death, now that it was not the real goal, a kind of fatal denouement to that final campaign. Various kinds of precautions, sacrifices of other political demands, were necessary to approach López and make him prisoner; but the commander-in-chief probably thought, in view of the atrocities committed and López’s cruel treatment of some Brazilians, that he should not sacrifice lives and suspend military action to prevent López from dying in battle.

While the Conservatives persisted in their aim of waging a war of extermination, perhaps against Caxias’s opinion (Caxias, leaving the army, declared the war finished with the taking of Asunción), the Liberals, through hostility to Caxias and to the government, positioned themselves alongside the Count of Eu and Osório, who supported them in this issue.

In the War of the Triple Alliance, the epic, the national myth, is Paraguay’s. The allied cause is that of justice, of liberty, of civilization. López is the incarnation of sequestration, the oppression of a people by an injured and disillusioned tyrant. Despite all of this, the heroic, pathetic, infinitely human role is Paraguay’s. The story of the allied powers’ virile force does not dominate the portrait, nor does their definitive victory; it is dominated by the legend of resistance, of self-sacrifice, of the suicide of the Paraguayan nation. This is the note that rises amid the monotonous solitude of the Quadrilateral as in the clear sky of the Cordillera, in the reedbeds of the Estero Bellaco as in the jungles of Aquidabán, in the vestiges of those “colossal trenches that extend through leagues and leagues of space” (i), “formidable lines that always recall the gigantic works of Roman encampments” (ii), as in the vast slaughterhouse of Tuyutí, over which, here and there, like a white flag symbolizing peace, remnants of ñanduti float. (iii)Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXX, Amnesty in the Eastern Republic of Uruguay. — Navigation of Lagoon Mirim

In November 1866 the issue of amnesty arose in the Eastern Republic of Uruguay. General Flores proposed it, but Otaviano resisted it, basing this resistance on the secret protocol added to the convention of 20 February 1865, and negotiated by Paranhos. Here is Nabuco’s opinion:

“I am of the mind that the imperial government should adhere without reservation to the open amnesty which the president of the Eastern Republic wishes to concede.

“I believe that the objective of the 2nd article of the 20 February 1865 convention is complied with, taking into account:

“1st The amnesty meant to be conceded sets apart common crimes, applying only to political crimes;

“2nd Those implicated by political issues who leave the country were not exiled in perpetuity, but rather temporarily, as can be seen in the protocol added to said Convention.

“The fulfillment Brazil desires, as any other civilized nation would, is not the product of animosity. It reaches only as far as necessity obliges it, and for only as long as necessity lasts. The morality of the punishment lies not in its duration, but in its imposition.

“It would be impolitic and odious, besides never seen by civilized nations, if Brazil, appearing to be a judge on an internal issue of the Eastern Republic, abusing its influence, identifying itself with the cause and with the hatreds of that nation’s dominant party, opposed an amnesty that the head of state considered necessary to strengthen public peace.

Partial amnesties, senhor, almost never accomplish their objective. If amnesty means forgetting (lex oblivionis), it should not carry with it a nagging exception, which forever recalls the act whose forgetting is desired.

“History relates how disastrous partial amnesty was, and what fatal reactions it occasioned at the time of Charles II’s ascent to the throne of England; how amnesty conceded to the Huguenots in 1570 made way for the horrors of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre; what loathsome events resulted from the amnesty conceded in 1816 by the Bourbon Restoration, because of the names exempted like those of Ney, La Valette, Soult, Bassano, and others.

“This amnesty will have no part in the Paraguayan War, except in its influence in the Eastern Republic.

“If those implicated cannot influence that nation’s peace and security, then neither can they influence the war. For another thing, in order to help the campaign” (that is, against Brazil) “with elements from the Eastern Republic, it is necessary that they manage to disrupt this nation by making speeches, raising forces, etc.

“But the republic’s president says that the republic’s peace is assured, and that amnesty will not compromise it.

“Flores is our sincere ally. The government is the sole judge of the circumstances in which the republic finds itself. It cannot endorse solutions that would compromise the republic’s cause, or the alliance’s.” (12 November.)

With regard to navigation on Lagoon Mirim, desired by the Eastern Republic, Nabuco opines that reasonable concessions should be made, with these due guarantees and compensations:

“I agree with the protocol’s proposal, redacted by the secretary’s director general, in which the importance of opening Lagoon Mirim to navigation under the eastern flag was ratified, this importance being recognized in article 13 of the 4 September 1857 treaty, and at the same time that concession was made dependent on the Eastern Republic’s ceding the terrain needed for the village of Santana do Livramento’s common.

“I believe that the right to navigation should be conceded, all the more so because, aside from finding it expedient, I recognize the beginnings of natural law invoked by the republic’s government.

Map of the region with Lagoon Mirim in blue. Source.

“But I understand that in this protocol the freedom of navigation of the lagoon’s tributary rivers—the Cebollatí, the Taquari, and others—should remain enshrined, in Brazil’s favor, given the connection that exists between both issues; navigation that ended up expressly prohibited, to which circumstance the 1861 Report (1) refers.


“I may wish also that the concession of freedom of navigation on Lagoon Mirim be more liberal and positive, that it remain in place only depending on the ceding of territories and the rules of police and public prosecutors, and not on the examinations and studies which the proposal vaguely references, and which the Treaty of 1857 referenced.

“What examinations and what studies are those which could not have been made in nine years?” (8 October 1866.)

Translator’s Notes

1. Each ministry gave annual reports, summarizing the events of the past year.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXIX The Question of Borders Between Argentina and Paraguay. — Incapacitation of the López Family.

The Zacharias cabinet was left with the issue of the borders stipulated within the alliance treaty, agreed upon in that document, which the Argentine Republic desired. As we have seen, Saraiva sent instructions to Otaviano on 5 May 1866 explaining the policy that he should follow in this delicate business, but he did not end up having the chance to enact them, and on 30 September 1867 an inquiry was raised before the Council of State about the appropriateness of modifying or renewing those instructions, an inquiry produced by the stances of São Vicente, Uruguay, and Jequitinhonha.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, senhor Albuquerque, in the instructions he sent to Caxias, Brazilian generalissimo in Paraguay, on 6 May 1867, anticipating a soon triumph, referred to Saraiva’s instructions in this way: — “Paragraph 10 of the instructions establishes the acceptance of the borders indicated in the alliance treaty. Y.E. should not allow the inclusion of this clause in the preliminary peace treaty, without an express declaration which saves the rights that the Republic of Bolivia could allege to the right shore territory of the Paraguay. The due exemption of these rights was made in the notes exchanged between senhor Councilor Otaviano and señores Castro (1) and Elizalde on 1 May 1865. Recognizing the borders indicated in article 17 of the alliance treaty only excludes Paraguay’s claims from the discussion, and in no way excludes those which Bolivia has, or may believe it has in the future, over said territory. So, Y.E., maintain the doctrine of the aforementioned notes.” — In this way, Sá e Albuquerque recognized the Alliance’s agreement, exempting only the rights of Bolivia, expressly guarded in the treaty or in its protocol.

The diplomatic recourse which Saraiva thought up, to keep the Paraguay’s right shore from passing completely into Argentine hands, was founded, however, on the right, or on the claims, of Bolivia. The reader will recall that, according to Saraiva’s instructions, the Brazilian government, without refusing the obligation the treaty imposed on it, desired the Argentine government to content itself with the territory extending up to Pilcomayo and Bahía Negra.

The obligation Brazil contracted in that treaty will be studied in all its aspects later on, when we discuss Nabuco’s stance before the political scene of the Rio Branco cabinet. Here is the attitude that he adopts in his first speech: the war is not one of conquest, the borders must be discussed jointly with the Paragauyan nation in clear use of its sovereignty, and not as a conquered nation dealing with a conqueror, and the definitive decision should be entrusted not to the victorious sword, but rather to the judgment of the United States. (Nabuco was the first in putting forth this idea, anticipating it before anyone else.)Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXVIII, Emancipation of Slaves Sent to the Army

One of the issues relating to the war which the Council of State had to rule on was that of releasing slaves to serve in the army. Nabuco gave the following opinion:

“Senhor: The state of the campaign is deplorable. According to correspondences from the theatre of war, our army lacks the force necessary to undertake operations against the enemy’s advantageous position.

“Meanwhile, the conflict’s prolongation dishonors us abroad, because it seems that we have no resources, or that we have no patriotism.

“And our people lose heart because their character is one of eager excitation, not perseverance.

“But Y.M., who finds yourself at the head of the nation, should persevere in the glorious endeavor of saving its dignity, despite the general inertia and indifference; Y.M. should plan against any peace that will be shameful for the present generation and be cause for indignation for future generations.

“It is essential to reinforce the army, and reinforce it immediately, so that it can get out of the difficult situation it finds itself in, and divide itself if it is necessary to undertake various operations in various places.

“But does the government expect to gather these forces in a sufficient number solely with national guardsmen, recruits, and volunteers?

“The inquiry presented to the Council of State indicates no.

“Neither do I harbor that hope.

“We can gather numerous forces, but it will be too late.

“Meanwhile, events can arise that alter the current state of things, such as the breakup of the alliance, intervention by Europe or North America, intervention by Bolivia, civil war in either the Argentine or the Eastern Republic, and we should, then, prepare ourselves for such contingencies.

“A complex of factors has produced the challenge we see before us, of forming an army in short time.

“These factors are, among others, the lack of a census; the defective aspect of our national guard, which is our auxiliary force; the vast extension of our territory; our scattered population; the lack of all regular forces to pursue and apprehend deserters; the political intrigues that convert a national cause into a persecution.

“This state of affairs warns us of the necessity of organizing auxiliary forces; but this remedy can only be applied going forward, not today.

“It is no surprise the impossibility we face in mobilizing our population, when France yet studies the application of the Prussian system.

“In any case, the war would be still more disastrous for us and would annihilate us if, levying drafts en masse or by means of other violent methods, perhaps producing strong reactions, we withdrew the men employed in industry and agriculture from those positions.

“Given these circumstances, we should do what other nations do when they encounter difficulties in mobilizing their forces.

“The enlistment of foreigners or the freeing of slaves.

“The enlistment of foreigners is, besides slow, very unpopular, dangerous due to lack of discipline or loyalty, and prone besides to diplomatic complications from breaking neutrality.

“This leaves the resource of slaves, mainly slaves from the capitals, where their work can be easily taken on by free men, and where their accumulation is a danger to public order.

“This measure would be odious if the slaves returned to being slaves after having been soldiers, like the 8,000 slaves that Rome bought and armed after the Battle of Cannae.

“But this is not so; the slaves bought are freed, and as such are citizens, before being soldiers: they are citizen soldiers.

da volta do paraguay
Illustration by Angelo Agostini published in the 11 June 1870 issue of A Vida Fluminense. Titled “Return from Paraguay” [A volta do Paraguai], its caption describes a freedman returning from war to find his mother still in captivity.
“The Constitution of the Empire is what makes a freedman a citizen; and if there is no dishonor in a slave concurring with his vow to the formation of the public powers, why must it be considered dishonorable that a slave be a soldier, and contribute to the defense of the nation which gave him liberty, which he belongs to?

“In this way this becomes, at the same time and by the same act, a great service to emancipation, which is the cause of civilization, and a great service to the war, which is the cause of the nation; in this way soldiers are formed who are full of enthusiasm, seeing their liberty recognized, disciplined by the already acquired custom of obedience.

“We employed slaves in the defense of independence: why must we not employ them in this war?

“The decree of 23 October 1823 and 10 September 1824 proves that in Bahía the senhores saw themselves obliged to liberate slaves, with compensation, to make the soldiers of independence.

“The revolution of 21 January 1828 proves that by order of H.M. Dom Pedro I edicts were published for the purchase of slaves destined for military service, and that they were indeed bought.

“In the United States, President Lincoln, in his proclamations on 22 September 1862 and 1 January 1864, declared that slaves with sufficient aptitude could be admitted into the army and the navy.

“Thousands of them entered in the ranks and served well …”

To those that insinuated that with such a measure the nation would reveal its weakness, he responded:

“Those who object that by buying slaves for the war Brazil would reveal its weakness to the eyes of the world, and who prefer the enlistment of foreigners, fall into a contradiction.

“Greater weakness is revealed in rushing to foreigners than in utilizing slaves, which constitute a resource of our own, a national component.

“But in neither case does the nation confess itself weak, because as I have now had the honor of saying, many times nations have resorted to foreigners, just as they may resort to those slaves they possess, due to the difficulty of mobilizing national forces, or due to an unwillingness to remove men employed in industry and agriculture from their jobs.

“It is doubtless that civilized nations must applaud this act which, if it is important to the war, is important also to emancipation …”

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXVII, The Count of Eu Desires to Go to War

One of these inquiries was born from the Count of Eu’s insistence on being sent to the theater of war (i). On October 12th (1866) the following question was submitted to the Council of State’s deliberation: “His Highness senhor Count of Eu expresses a deep desire to take part in the Paraguayan War as chief of artillery. Is it best, from the political perspective, to accept or reject his desire?”

The Count of Eu, ca. 1882

Here is Nabuco’s pronouncement: “Senhor, I recognize that the prince could accomplish, as he has already accomplished, acts of bravery, and that military glory gained by him will produce prestige for the future empress, because glory is the most powerful stimulant of the enthusiasm and admiration of a people. At another time I professed the opinion that appointing H.H. to be commander in chief of our army would be appropriate and politically sound, because his quality as imperial prince would prevail over political influences and the generals’ rivalries; but this post having been designated for senhor Marquis of Caxias, that general’s prestigious and dominant status completely fulfills that condition. Today it seems to me unsuitable that H.H. should join the campaign; or that H.H. go as a subordinate, which would not suit his high class; or that he hold an independent command, which would be contrary to the unity and direction sought by appointing the Marquis of Caxias. In any case, and having taken into account the physiology of human passions, I fear problems of pride, so likely to arise with the general and the prince finding themselves in the same army and in such related positions. The etiquette and considerations owed to the prince can disturb and hinder operations. The general will listen to the prince in deference; he will be able to, and on occasions should, contradict him; here are so many other reasons for trouble, on which conspiracy will speculate. It is my opinion, then, that the prince should not go to war.” (October 13th.)

In March of 1867 the Count of Eu addressed the counselors of State personally with the following letter:

“Most illustrious and excellent senhor counselor of State José Tomás Nabuco de Araújo: In view of the circumstances that oblige the imperial government to make, by decree 3,809 of the 13th of this month, a new appeal to the patriotism of a good number of citizens, I feel myself compelled to renew the petition that at other times, verbally and officially, I addressed to the imperial government, to lend my services in the theater of war. The government responds to me, in a communication dated yesterday, that the Council of State has agreed to hear about this matter. For this reason I believe myself obliged to express to you that from the moment the nation saw itself forced to declare war, this was my most ardent desire.

“I understand that it is also my duty, from the instant the legislative power honored me with a post in the Brazilian army, admitting me, by this act, into Brazilian society, and for that, those desires of mine cannot fade away as long as our fight against Paraguay lasts, even when it is necessary to mute them, at the times when they may run counter to the nation’s interests, for which interests I must sacrifice everything.

“With things having changed quite a bit, both beyond and within Brazil, since last time, when the imperial government believed it best to reject my offer, I supposed that some of the factors which could’ve determined the government’s resolution may have disappeared now as well, and because of this I hope it will not surprise Y.E. that I persevere in this aspiration.

“God save Y.E. — Paço Isabel, 17 March 1867. — Gaston d’Orleans.”

The Council of State is heard once again (March 18th), and Nabuco expresses himself for a second time, against the wishes of the prince:

“The ardent desire to face the perils of war, shown by the prince, is surely worthy of the Brazilian people’s applause and recognition; already I have had the opportunity to say that the glory which H.H. may, by fortune, attain, returning victorious, would be a new fount of popularity and prestige for the future empress. But the Council of State’s rationale when deciding against the prince’s petition still stands. The council did not base its decision on the idea that the prince’s services were no longer necessary; if it had, perhaps today it could adopt a different agreement, taking notice of new circumstances that could have suddenly come up. But the council based its decision on the prince’s presence being incompatible in the army, either together with another general or under the orders of another general. And this incompatibility persists.”


i. Regarding the Count of Eu becoming commander in chief, the emperor had written: “I didn’t consider my son-in-law except as an afterthought.”

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXVI, The Zacharias Cabinet’s Part in the Paraguayan War. — Minister of the Navy. — Appointment of Caxias

It can be said that the period of time when the Zacharias ministry governed (3 August 1866 to 16 July 1868) was the most difficult and disagreeable of the Paraguayan War.

Not long after their formation, the allied armies suffered the great reverse of Curupayty (22 September 1866), and only days after the cabinet’s dissolution did the Humaitá fortifications, the final trench lines of the formidable Quadrilateral, fall under our power. No truly decisive military action from this period, except the passing of Humaitá (19 February 1868), lifted the public spirit, which was so awakened, so enlivened in the initial moments of the war, from the apathy it had fallen into.

Photograph of the Duke of Caxias ca. 1877.

The campaign appeared endless. Caxias seemingly wanted to defeat the enemy by means of patience. Only after the fall of the Zacharias ministry could that general launch rapid assaults on López, ushering the greater part of the Brazilian army along the road constructed through the Chaco, fighting alongside them personally in Itororó like Bonaparte at Arcole (a 65-year-old Bonaparte), annihilating the military power of Paraguay’s army in Avay and Lomas Valentinas (December 1868) and drawing the remains of López’s army into the Azcurra Cordillera, with López repelled, expelled, and starving.

Caxias had certainly not allowed politics to influence his military plans; the waste of time that follows the defeat at Curupayty, and continues until the siege of Humaitá, ending when the remains of the troops that garrisoned it surrender (5 August 1868), was imposed by the difficulty of organizing the army, which was mainly composed of conscripts, decimated by cholera, poisoned by the waters and miasmas of the swamp on whose shores it camped, under the rays of the scorching sun.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXV, Diplomacy of the War. — Bombardment of Valparaíso. — Reconciliation with Great Britain

Given the reality of the war, the Brazilian government’s denunciation of the Spanish bombardment of Valparaíso (1) continues to be important.

On 31 March 1866 the Spanish fleet bombarded Valparaíso from nine in the morning until the afternoon. It is said that the value of the goods burned in the port’s storehouses surpassed 8,000,000 pesos (2). Mr. Layard, speaking on behalf of the English government in the House of Commons (15 May), laid the most solemn condemnation on Admiral Méndez Núñez’s conduct in “the bombardment of a perfectly defenceless city, which contained a large amount of neutral property.”

The communication Saraiva directed to our representative in Madrid, with the order to read it to the Minister of State, is enough to rectify the idea that the empire, due to its different institutions, had not felt solidarity with the rest of the continent. Precisely at that time, Peru took leadership over a campaign against the Triple Alliance by the Pacific Republics. The protest by Peru, and the other republics that followed it (Chile had not yet come to occupy first position in the Pacific), did not produce any effect. The supposed fear of Western America’s republican spirit yielded before the firmness and resolution of General Mitre. Having ensured that two republics joined the empire in the war against Paraguay was no minor result of the May 1st treaty. Without that, the situation would have been grave for Brazil. This was, indeed, the same time as Napoleon III’s and (another Hapsburg) Maximillian of Austria’s endeavors in Mexico, and the abolitionist cause’s victory in the United States: nothing could pose a greater threat to the strengthening of Brazil’s prestige and ascendency. It can be said that Latin America’s hostility towards us was the norm; and if, instead of having had the Argentine buffer, Mitre had been against us, aided by Prado, Pérez, and even Johnson (3), the empire’s isolation would have proved fatal. Chile was not close with us at that time, and it can be said that their only foreign policy was nothing more than a vague continental sentimentalism, shown in its acceptance of all the ideas of the Pan-American congresses, and in its chivalrous defense of America against Europe, the latter being the sentiment that brought it to intervene in the conflict between Spain and Peru.

Sketch if William Dougal Chrisite ca. 1840, by George Richmond.

The diplomatic history of the war is linked in a certain way with the reestablishment of our relations with Great Britain, interrupted in 1863 due to the reprisals for the frigate Forte, in the mouth of the bay of Rio de Janeiro. With the pressure of this blockade, the Brazilian government was made to pay, not without protest, the compensation the English government demanded for the shipwreck of the Prince of Wales, later accepting the Belgian king’s arbitration, regarding the treatment of the officers of the frigate Forte (4). The empire’s eminent diplomat in London, Carvalho Moreira, later Baron of Penedo, requested of the Court of Saint-James: 1st That it show its regret for the events that occurred during the reprisals; 2nd That it demonstrate that it had no intention of violating the empire’s territorial sovereignty; 3rd Compensation for the interested parties. The English government having refused everything, our minister in London resigned. On 18 June 1863, with the arbiter Leopold, uncle of Queen Victoria, chosen, the dispute was decided in our favor. England was left in debt to Brazil, and morally condemned by the arbiter, because of the force that it employed in retaliation against—in part due to the reprisals—actions that were proven to not intend any offense to the dignity of the British navy.

Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXIV, The Treaty of Alliance

When news of the May 1st treaty arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the Furtado cabinet did not exist; and Otaviano, negotiator of the pact, had been named Minister of Foreign Affairs, a role that Saraiva undertook in the interim, Saraiva being the man that brought us closer to Argentina, and who understood better than anyone the necessity of the alliance and the impossibility of going to war with Paraguay without it. The treaty was the kind that, once signed, would inevitably be ratified, because if one of the parties refused to do so, distrust and prejudice of the other would be aroused, making difficult any renewal of candidness and cordiality.

But the Argentine government believed, like the Brazilian government, in a soon end to the war (Mitre didn’t give it more than a year in duration), and in 1865 it formulated a draft of a peace treaty, which Otaviano presented to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That draft by Mitre brought the government’s attention toward the necessity of approving the treaty’s various clauses. Saraiva heard about it in the Foreign Affairs Department of the Council of State (1), of which Pimenta Bueno and the Viscount of Uruguay formed a part, Pimenta Bueno the representative of our traditional policies in Paraguay, and the Viscount of Uruguay a man of the past, but an oracle of the doctrine that he had played a principal role in creating in the Plata. The third member of the department was Jequitinhonha, an itinerant politician, of proverbial inconstancy, and at that time the most exalted representative of conservative jingoism.

After criticizing the various clauses of the treaty, they said: “What truly saddens us is the stipulation in article 16. The Argentine Republic becomes owner of the entire left bank of the Paraná up to Iguazú, and what’s more, of the entire right bank of the Paraguay up to Bahía Negra, near the fort of Coimbra. By this article, at the same time that Brazil is fixed with limits beyond the realm of reasonability, a large part of South America is conceded to the Argentine Republic, a part it aspired to possess before, but without daring to openly expose its ambitions … The act of leaving in the power of the Confederation the territory that Paraguay holds on the left bank of the Paraná up to Iguazú would, instead of favoring Brazil, damage it. If we were to open a military path crossing the River Iguazú, we could, with or without the consent of the Argentine Republic, invade Paraguay by Candelária and Itapúa. How could we do so now? Only by going down the Iguazú, because above it the shore of the Paraná, facing Candelária and lower, is composed of rough mountains and unpopulated lands … we have lost much, as such, and we also have, instead of a weak neighbor, another strong and ambitious one on the border of Iguazú, San Antonio and Pepiry (2), a border which until today we have not liked to recognize. But that is not as bad as the calamitous ceding of all the right bank of the Paraguay up to Bahía Negra. The Confederation did not have a single pretext for desiring such a thing. It ought to have contented itself with the right bank of the Paraguay, from the confluence of the Paraná up to Pilcomayo, a little below Asunción. Paraguay never recognized any claim to this territory by the Argentine Republic, except up to the River Bermejo, a little above Humaitá. By way of this article, the Confederation acquires 740 miles of coast on the Paraguay, above the river Bermejo, with an immense hinterland around the Gran Chaco, that is, the territory of a great fertile state, scored with navigable rivers and ready for a grand colonial future. The alliance is turned as much against Paraguay as against Brazil, and in exclusive favor of the Confederation.”Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXIII, Mato Grosso

The Olinda ministry could do nothing in Mato Grosso.

Furtado decided to send an expedition to that province “with the purpose” (as he said in the Senate, in his speech on 13 August 1867), “of reinforcing the threatened capital’s defenses and, later, taking the offensive if possible.” Colonel Drago, named as civil and military governor, was put in command of the expedition, and marching through Santos, São Paulo, and Campinas with large heights along the path, he reached Uberaba where he incorporated the Mineiro brigade commanded by Colonel Galvão. Not abandoning Mato Grosso province, Furtado obeyed the demands of the general public; but any expedition sent from Rio de Janeiro with the purpose of taking the offensive would have had the same end as this one, since nothing had been organized to sustain the vast extension of unpopulated terrain that had to be crossed. Drago’s delay in marching to Mato Grosso exasperated the government, who ended up dismissing him and ordering he be charged (Ferraz).

According to Furtado, the cause of the disaster was not Drago’s delay, which allowed the rainy season to grow nearer without beginning the march; nor was it that chief’s abandonment of the road of Sant’anna do Parnaíba, where deposits of provisions had been established, because he believed it was exposed to the Paraguayans. Furtado attributed it to the column’s change of objective (a change decreed by Saraiva, interim Minister of War), by virtue of which the expedition, instead of directing itself to Cuiabá and joining that capital’s forces there, had to come to Cuiabá’s defense by situating itself in Coxim.

Detail from the Monumento aos Heróis de Laguna e Dourados in Rio de Janeiro. Photo courtesy of Carlos Luis M C da Cruz. 

The appraisal of the suffering and privations experienced by these troops until their withdrawal from Coxim merits attention; but not even Drago’s delay, nor his column’s change in objective in 1865, can be blamed for the outcome of the impracticable attempt, in 1867, to cross the Apa and invade Paraguay with such meager forces. In August of 1866 the Olinda Ministry had left power and on 23 March 1867 Colonel Camisão joined the war council which agreed to cross the enemy border. The endeavor of attacking Paraguay with less than 2,000 men would never have entered the thinking of the Furtado Ministry, who assigned an army of at least 12,000 men for this goal, nor of its successor. It was born from the replacements that death or sickness produced in the column’s command, bringing it into the hands of General Camisão, who, burdened with an excess of military pride, wanted to erase from his record, at any cost, any stain from the abandoning of Corumbá, in which he was implicated. Drawing on the power to invade Paraguay if conditions were favorable, a power granted to the expedition’s chief given how formidable this force was expected to be, Camisão makes a per fas et nefas command. The consequence was that sad and heroic retreat of Laguna up to the left bank of the Aquidabán, related in one of the most beautiful books of military literature (1), and in which our soldiers saw themselves closely pursued, at times across flooded plains, at others between burning scrub, decimated by hunger and by cholera, which at the same time protected them against the enemy.

Translator’s Notes

1. Nabuco refers to A Retirada da Laguna (“The Retreat of Laguna”) by French Brazilian writer and military engineer, Alfredo d’Escragnolle Taunay, Viscount of Taunay.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXII, The Minister of War. — The May 12th Cabinet’s Part in the Paraguayan War.

The Olinda Cabinet’s Minister of War, tireless, always at his post, consuming himself in it, fighting against the prejudices of party, military pretensions, and the general inertia that irritated him and increased his fatigue, keeping himself in perpetual excitement, is a figure of grand proportions. Just as before in 1860 he had, according to Nabuco, been entirely dominated by the fiscal spirit, now he was absorbed completely by the war.

The opposition holds it against him that he forgot past offenses in order to figure in the same ministry as Saraiva. Whenever he speaks one takes note of the mysterious intuition of a near end, the shadow of another life. The emperor, now quite practiced in the treatment of ministers, appreciates Ferraz’s qualities so much that he keeps him at his side, as will be seen later on, having him pass from one ministry to another.

Ferraz’s error, if there was error in him, was not having thought of Caxias, or not having withdrawn, as he later did, if it was Caxias that did not enjoy his company. But would Caxias, who after Curupayty (1)  became indispensable, and acquired the status in the campaign that he deserved, would he have had the same authority at Paso la Patria and Curuzú if he had found himself at the orders of Mitre like Osório, Porto-Alegre, and Polidoro (2)? What’s certain is that whenever Mitre was in Paraguay, or, as it occurred at the time we refer to, in Corrientes, the May 1st Treaty would withdraw that highest title from Caxias, the only man who could grant it the full extent of its merit, leaving him without freedom of action and without responsibility. As well, until Curupayty the operations of war did not give cause for discontent or division.

The military action of the Cabinet of 12 May can be summarized in this way: it annihilated the Paraguayan Army in Rio Grande; it made the army in Corrientes cross back over the Paraná; it brought the war to enemy territory and in so doing destroyed the army of Paso la Patria. If the honor of Riachuelo and even of Yatay can and must still be attributed to the Furtado Cabinet, the glory of Uruguaiana and Paso la Patria, and even the 2nd and 24th of May, must be accorded to the Olinda Cabinet. At the time of its resignation, our military is left dressed in glory, the alliance has had nothing but victories, and with better luck, the campaign could be practically decided in that same year of 1866. It cannot be made responsible for the discord that arose between the generals of the alliance, which resulted in the profound disaster of Curupayty. When this occurred on September 22nd, the Olinda Cabinet was no longer in power.

What the cabinet did was unite the elements that, with different direction, could have broken López’s lines in that same month and cut off the retreat of his army, giving the Paraguayan dictator’s military power the coup de grâce that he came to fear after Curuzú. Its policies concerning the war could be nothing other than leaving to the generals the responsibility of operations.

Translator’s Notes

1. The battle of Curupayty was a major military defeat for the allies, costing heavy casualties and halting the steady progress they had been making for months afterward.
2. Polidoro da Fonseca Quintanilha Jordão, Viscount of Santa Teresa, general in the Brazilian army during the Paraguayan War.