Coordenação de Raul Mendes Silva

Paraguay, from war to peace
Ambassador João Hermes Pereira de Araújo

Relations with Paraguay (1864 – 1879)

In this phase of Plate politics a new actor, Paraguay, would play a leading role.

In 1860 this country was still practically unknown in the Plate regions, particularly in Uruguay. So much so that in 1862 the first instructions given to the Oriental emissary to Asunción were to “inquire about goals, interests and diverging points of view that prevailed in Paraguay regarding the international scene”.

Argentina, until Caseros, was unhappy about Asunción’s position at the time of independence, when it refused the invitation to join the United Provinces. It still hoped, in fact, to recuperate Paraguay and also Bolivia, thus restoring the old viceroy ship created by Carlos III. This explained its refusal to recognize Paraguayan independence and the irritation, converted into formal protest, with which it witnessed the first official recognition by the Empire in 1842 and its renewal in 1844. This was also, from another angle, the cause for Paraguay’s concern of being prepared for possible attacks from the south. The whole strategy of Francia and D. Carlos Antônio had this raison d’être. After 1852 there where, it is true, a few contacts between the governors of Buenos Aires and Asunción.

As recalled by Calógeras, however, “around the 1860s, Brazil was the only South American power normally in contact with Asunción.

Hélio Vianna, in his História Diplomática do Brasil, (p.121 to 123), recalls in synthesis the meaning of “Paraguay for South American history and geography” and also “The relations of the Brazilian Empire with the Republic of Paraguay (1824 – 1864)”.

“In the history of the structuring of the former Spanish colonies of South America, the case of the present Republic of Paraguay was exceptional. Asunción was founded soon after the first attempt to settle Buenos Aires and, in spite of being farther from the sea, was for a long time more important than the latter, although both depended on the Viceroy ship of Peru. Once their economic situations were inverted, Paraguay became in late colonial times part of the Viceroy ship of the River Plate.

“When Buenos Aires freed itself from Spanish dependency, the “portenhos” were unable to obtain support from Paraguay, as they preferred to separate from the mother-country in order to become an autonomous nation, in spite of various attempts to re-integrate the region. In order to remain independent from the United Provinces o the Plate River Paraguay would count on the Portuguese government, then located in Rio de Janeiro. Its primitive territory was, nevertheless, considerably diminished and reduced to the condition of an inland country whose only access to abroad was via the rivers. This circumstance generated the awkward isolation it was to suffer later, during the dictatorship of José Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia.”

“It would be up to Brazil to modify this situation when it established relations with Paraguay during the first Reign, represented by Consul Antônio Manuel Correia da Câmara who was appointed in 1824, raised to rank of chargé d’affaires in 1826 and kept at his post until 1830.

“Contact having at this point been interrupted, it was only after the coming of age of D. Pedro II that the matter could be taken up once again through three successive and futile indications of Brazilian agents, as well as the solemn declaration of recognition of Paraguayan independence by the Empire in 1842.

“The renewal of this act in 1844 would befall José Antônio Pimenta Bueno, later Marquis of São Vicente, in Asunción, provoking, soon afterwards, a protest from the Argentinean Confederation, thoroughly replied to by the, then, Minister of External Relations Counselor Antônio Paulino Limpo de Abreu, later Viscount of Abaeté.

“President Carlos Antônio Lopez and Pimenta Bueno signed our first Treaty of Alliance, Commerce and Limits with Paraguay. However, as the terms of the political alliance agreed upon therein were not entirely clear, besides having become inconvenient in view of new international contingencies, the imperial government decided not to ratify it. The same South American difficulties were to determine the drafting by the same signatories, in 1845, of a protocol on the navigation of the Panamá and Uruguay Rivers and on Brazilian, English and French intervention with the aim of pacifying the troubled River Plate, where the Argentinean Confederation was at war with the legal government of Uruguay.

“As Paraguay, for its part, had begun to appoint representatives to the court of São Cristovão, the first of these, Juan Andrés Gelly, would present, still in 1847, another proposal for a Treaty of Alliance, Commerce, Navigation and Limits refused by Brazil. Because the very situation in South America was persistently insecure, thanks to Argentinean  dictator Rosas, the new Brazilian Chargé d’affaires in Asunción, Colonel Pedro de Alcântara Bellegarde, signed, in 1850, a decision Treaty of Defensive Alliance between the two countries by which the freedom of river navigation was also assured. Nevertheless, negotiations for a broader covenant, carried out in Rio de Janeiro by the new Paraguayan plenipotentiary Manuel Moreira de Castro, failed in 1852.

“An interruption susceptible of becoming a rift, with grim consequences, occurred soon later. The Brazilian representatives in Asunción, Filipe José Pereira Leal, after proposing another kindred project, was suddenly accused of intrigues against President Carlos Antônio Lopez and given back his passport.

“In response to this insult, the Empire demanded and obtained satisfactions by way of a special mission entrusted to Chief of the Fleet Pedro Ferreira de Oliveira in 1854/1855. However, as Oliveira did not limit himself to this incident, in spite of being accompanied by a whole naval division, he failed to present the complaints relative to obstacles raised against Brazilian trade and navigation on the Paraguay River. Moreover, he mistakenly signed a Friendship, Commerce and Navigation Treaty whose validity depended on a postponed border negotiation, which the imperial government could not of course approve.

“Negotiations were renewed in Rio de Janeiro, by ministers José Berges and José Maria Paranhos, later Viscount of Rio Branco, and arrived at a happy conclusion in 1856 with two treaties: one of friendship, Commerce and Navigation and the other of Borders, both ratified that same year in Asunción.”


D. Carlos Antônio died in 1862 and was replaced by his son Francisco Solano who, at the age of 18, had already been made general, Commander in-Chief of the Army and War Minister and exercised, since then, considerable sway over government decisions.

During a trip to Europe Solano Lopes enjoyed the opportunity of coming into contact with the Empire of Napoleon III and was strongly impressed with the Bonaparte phenomenon, as influence that may, in hindsight, explain some of his latter acts.

The fact is that, returning to his country, he took extreme measures to assuage his concerns with the military strengthening of Paraguay, intensifying defense projects and also increasing the size of his army, succeeding to assemble, in two years, between 80,000 and 100,000 men prepared for war, armed with rifles and artillery, while Brazil, at that time, counted a mere 17,000 men-at-arms.

He was actually obsessed with the idea of gaining an active voice in Plate matters and sharing in the major decisions of the other three countries in this regard. Brazil does not appear to have been, at first, the target of this policy: his objective was to strengthen the country militarily in order to turn it into a Great Paraguay by gathering, so it was said, Corrientes, Entre Rios and Uruguay, in order to become an Atlantic power.

Events occurring in the Oriental Republic gave Lopez the opportunity to start his actions within the Plate framework.

As regards the Uruguayan episode, however, it was the Blanco government of Montevideo, and not Lopez, who took the initiative. In 1862 J. J. Herrera had already requested and obtained, in Asunción, the support of the Paraguayan government.

This meant that when negotiations between Saraiva and the Paraguayan government were initiated, our representative and the Rio de Janeiro government received notes, dated June 17th 1864, from the Paraguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Berges, offering the mediation of Francisco Solano Lopez for the amicable settling of issues between the Empire and the Oriental Republic. Saraiva, on June 24th, by note, sent his thanks for the offer but declined, as he wished to solve the pending problems bilaterally. The Brazilian Minister of External Relations gave his Paraguayan colleague the same reply.

Later, Vasquez Sagartume, Uruguayan minister in Asunción, started talks with the local government in order to obtain the condemnation of any Brazilian interventionist action. On January 30th 1864, the same day the Brazilian Minister in Montevideo, João Neves Loureiro, received his passports and left his post, Minister Berges was quick to formalize his protest against any occupation, whether temporary or permanent, considered by his government detrimental to the equilibrium of the Plate states that, in turn, was of interest to the republic of Paraguay as a guarantee of security, peace and prosperity and solemnly protested against such act, refusing from the star any responsibility for the consequences of the present declaration.

Events quicken. Parallel to what happening in the Oriental Republic, the Paraguayan government, on November 13th , captured the Brazilian steamship “Marquês de olinda”, on its way to Mato Grosso through the Paraguayan River, and imprisoned passengers and crew, including the new governor of the province Carneiro de Campos. Our minister Viana de Lima, who protested against this arbitrary act, received his passports the next day.

Declaration of War

On December 13th , the Paraguayan government declared war on Brazil and, on the 26th , started the attack on Fort Nova Coimbra invading the Province of Mato Grosso.

In January, Solano Lopez requested permission from the Argentinean government for Paraguayan forces to cross the Corrientes and Entre Rios provinces in order to attack Rio Grande do Sul. As Mitre denied this request he declared war on the Confederation and invaded Corrientes, certainly counting on support from Urquiza who, however, remained inactive.

Circumstances did not favor the Paraguayan president in these extremely delicate moments. Urquiza’s attitude of complete passivity came as a surprise and as a serious blow to Lopez’s plans. In Uruguay, instead of counting on a friendly government, he faced Venâncio Flores, a Brazilian ally. The Argentinean government soon discovered it would be difficult to remain neutral, namely with the invasion of its territory. An alliance of the three governments to fight their common foe was a natural political tendency that only required a treaty to be formalized. This was soon to happen.

Counselor Francisco Otavio de Almeida Rosa, who reached his post in march 1865, replaced Paranhos as special envoy to Montevideo. On May 10th in Buenos Aires, soon after his arrival, he signed with Rufino de Elizalde. Argentinean Minister of Foreign Relation, and with the Uruguayan plenipotentiary Carlos de Castro, the Treaty of Offensive and Defensive Alliance.

The Triple Alliance Treaty

This treaty, known as the “Triple Alliance Treaty”, defined its purpose in article 1: the union of the signatories “in offensive and defensive alliance in the war initiated by the Paraguayan government” and, in article 7, explained the the war was not “against the people of Paraguay, but against its government”. Article 3 dealt with the “command-in-chief and direction of allied armies” which were assigned to Mitre who “should start war operations in Argentinean territory or in bordering Paraguayan territory”. The contracting parties, however, adopted “the principle of reciprocity for the command-in-chief in case operations should shift to Brazilian or Oriental territory”.

According to article 6, “the allies solemnly undertake not to lay down their arms unless by common agreement and only after deposing the present government of Paraguay and also not to conclude peace, truce or armistice treaties, nor conventions of any type to suspend or end the war, unless in perfect accord with all others”. Article 7 referred to the Paraguayan legion, a matter that would cause serious problem. “The independence, sovereignty and integrity of the Paraguayan Republic” were guaranteed by article 8 which stated with logical sternness: “therefore, the Paraguayan people may choose the government and institutions they prefer but not may not the unite with any of the allies nor request their protectorate as a result of the war”.

The matter of free navigation in the Paraná and Paraguay rivers was dealt with in article 11. While article 14 detailed the payment by the Paraguayan government of war expenditures as well as of reparations and indemnification; article 15 prescribed that a convention would regulate issues concerning the payment of the debt “ensuing from the aforementioned causes”. The well known article 16 stipulated the basis “ that the allies will demand from the government of Paraguay” when it comes to negotiate “definitive border treaties with their respective governments”.  The basis then foreseen for the Argentinean-Paraguayan treaty would be the cause of serious difficulties at the end of the war. Article 18 considered the treaty to be secret “until the alliance’s final purpose is achieved”, a precaution unable to prevent the text from being made public soon afterwards. Finally, in article 19, the signatories established the form in which the provisions of the treaty would come into force: those that were independent from legislative approval “on the date of approval by their respective governments and the others in the date ratifications were exchanged”.

During five years kinsmen were embroiled in a dramatic and painful struggle destined, nonetheless, to define the starting point of an entirely new phase in the relations between the four countries, as demonstrated by the fact the we are celebrating , in the year 2000, 128 years uninterrupted peace in this area.

The fall of Asunción

With the arrival of the allied forces in Asunción, in January 1869, the allies sought Paraguayan citizens who might devote themselves  to the reorganization of their country. On july 2nd, the Buenos Aires Protocols, created a provisional government in Paraguay.

The triple Alliance Treaty established (article 16) that border conditions would depend on the final treaties to be concluded between the allies and the future Paraguayan government. Nevertheless, as soon as the provisional government was created, General Mitre occupied Vila Ocidental.

It is true that, on December 27th 1869, the Argentinean Secretary of Foreign Relations, Mariano Varela, within the spirit and the letter of the 1865 treaty, declared, in a note, that “the Argentinean government has sustained, for a long time, in discussions with the representative of His Majesty the Emperor, the Victory would not give allied nations the right to declare, on their own, borders established by that treaty. The government believes today, as it did then, that delimitations should be discussed with the government to be instituted in Paraguay and that the definition of limits be a matter for treaties to be concluded after the contracting parties receive the title used to support their rights”.

After the events in Cerro Corá, Paranhos suggested that the allied plenipotentiaries go to Asunción to negotiate the preliminary peace settlement. As Argentina would not accept negociations with the provisional government, the question was raised whether, in accordance with the triple Alliance Treaty, one of the allies could negotiate bilaterally with Paraguay in case of no joint agreement. Argentina at once opposed this interpretation. In Brazil the matter was submitted to the state Council and obtained a favorable verdict, in spite of the opposing votes of Nabuco and Abaeté. The matter was, therefore, controversial. Nevertheless, on June 20th 1870, the Preliminary Peace Protocol was signed in Asunción.

Negotiations for the final treaty faced, however, serious difficulties. Questions such as the destruction of the Humaitá fortresses and the interpretations of the 1865 treaty caused major friction between Brazil and Argentina. They even came to consider an amicable termination of the international agreement.

João Maurício Wanderley, Baron of Cotegipe, succeeded Paranhos, who was called to organize a new cabinet, and upon arriving in Asunción came into contact with the Argentinean representative Manuel Quintana. In his opinion, without waiving the advantage of article 6, Argentina could discuss border issues with Paraguay with the support of the other allies. The Brazilian and Uruguayan representatives did not agree with this interpretation and Quintana retired to Buenos Aires to consult his government.

Peace negotiations end the conflict

Cotegipe had no doubts about signing, then, with the Paraguayan plenipotentiary, on January 9th 1872, the definitive treaties on peace, limits, friendship, commerce and navigation and on the extradition of criminals and deserters.

In Buenos Aires, this would cause considerable commotion. In subsequent months, notes were exchanged between the governments of Argentina and Brazil concerning the grievous state of relations between the two countries. It would be Sarmiento to take the initiative of sending, to Rio de Janeiro, General Mitre, who signed, with Pimenta Bueno, the Mitre- São Vicente Agreement which included, among other points, the declaration of maintenance of the Triple Alliance Treaty, the approval of the Cotegipe treaties, the guarantee of moral support from the empire and its allies and the withdrawl of Brazilian and Argetinean troops from Asunción.

It remained for Argentina to negotiate its borders with Paraguay. The conversations were difficult but eventually an agreement was reached the called for arbitration. President Hayes of the United States of America was chosen as arbiter, and his decision, of November 12th 1878, granted Paraguay possession of the Chaco and of Vila Ocidental, whose name was changed to Vila Hayes and was claimed by Praguayan authorities on May 13th 1879.

As Delgado de Carvalho comments, “few peace negotiations took so long”: in fact, they lasted from 1869 to 1879.

English translation: Renato Vilhena e Silvia Escorel

J.B.Debret, The troops departing for Montevideo

The Duque de Caxias

The Visconde do Rio Branco

Dom Pedro II (1875)

Vitor Meireles, Wounded Paraguayan Soldier

 The Baron of Cotegipe

 Francisco Solano Lopes, (photographer unknown)