Coordenação de Raul Mendes Silva
Rio Branco, the Question of Acre and Territorial Policy
Ambassador Rubens Ricúpero (text)
Ambassador João Hermes Pereira de Araújo (research and picture editing)
The Major Challenge: The Problem of Acre
Before becoming Minister, Baron Rio Branco had already settled disputes with Argentina (1895) and France – French Guiana (1900). Nevertheless, it was between 1903 and 1909 that his tireless work, accompanied by his brilliant mind and astuteness, were to produce one of the world's greatest works of diplomacy ever.
In this short space of time he succeeded in settling territorial disputes with Bolivia, Ecuador, Great Britain, Venezuela, Holland, Colombia and Uruguay, building his policy of good neighbourliness on solid grounds. But in the region of Acre a problem dragged on for decades, demanding immediate solution. It was a major challenge, because it involved initiatives, aside of merely diplomatic initiatives, of decisions by the authorities, both to be applied in certain doses.
There was no time to lose in relation to Acre, the first and decisive test experienced by Baron Rio Branco. It was a much more hazardous and complex problem than arbitration, because of the presence of numerous complicating elements, partially or entirely non-existent in the earlier issues. There were two adversaries and Peru insisted in not being ignored. Actually three in the beginning, and potentially more, since the Bolivian Syndicate,to which Bolivia had practically transferred sovereignty of the territory to exploit rubber, not only could not simply be ignored, but also had the potential to mobilise any interference from governments of countries from where investors came, namely the United States, Great Britain and France.
Another major drawback was that, this time, it would be necessary to unambiguously alter instructions on the question that had been adopted not only by the last government but also by all previous governments over a period of almost forty years. Thousands of Brazilians who had revolted against the Bolivian government and raised public opinion, the press and the Congress in Brazil in their favour were essentially involved in the dispute.
None of these aspects could be settled on the basis of erudition, historic or geographic arguments or entrusted to the decision of an arbitrator. Although in the two earlier decisions, in Washington and Berne, the Baron had not been restricted to preparing arguments, and all available resources of political and diplomatic influence had been used, only now did he really come up against an essentially political problem and typical of wielding of power. The success, in this case, would depend basically on the capacity to handle power in relation to the Bolivian Syndicateand governments that might support it - the main adversaries, who were the governments of Bolivia and Peru - and in relation to the Brazilian politicians and Press.
In this enterprise, the first tactical component adopted was to isolate the contenders and deal with them, one by one. Right from the start, the Chancellor refused Peru's proposal of trilateral negotiations, agreeing to come to an understanding with Lima after reaching an agreement with La Paz. Since this latter capital rejected the offers to buy or exchange the territory, Rio Branco concentrated on withdrawing from the game of the investors, first certifying in Washington that the Department of State only wanted North American citizens to come out of the venture without loss.
The contract with the Syndicate was signed in July 1902, still, therefore, during the Campos Salles government, which was not absent and expressed its opposition, forbidding free navigation of the Amazon towards Acre. Shortly after the Baron took office, he confirmed the ban. Despite protests from Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States, the ban was, in the words of E. Bradford Burns, “the strongest weapon Brazil had against the syndicate because, without access to Acre – and the Amazon was the only practical way in – the concession had no value whatsoever” (1). Rio Branco next said, “that the leasing agreement, with powers given to the Bolivian Syndicate, is a monstrous Law, implying disposal of sovereignty in benefit of a foreign company without international capacity. It is a concession for lands in Africa, unworthy of our Continent”.
Since the syndicate was never able to send its agents to Acre after the Amazon was closed and obtained nothing from the Department of State except the agreement to endeavour to obtain fair compensation, it was forced to acquiesce, waiving the agreement on payment of compensation on 10 March 1903. The temporary withdrawal of Peru and the final surrender of the Bolivian Syndicate simplified the chessboard, on which remained in dispute the governments of Brazil and Bolivia and, in the background, the troops of Placido de Castro.
An immediate change was necessary in the line adopted by Olyntho de Magalhães, the previous Chancellor, who when reaffirming a position from the Empire, stated: “Despite the wrong opinion, unthinkingly sustained by scientific corporations, the Press and even National Congress, the territory of Acre is not Brazilian... for Brazil, it is Bolivian territory as a result of the 1867 Treaty. We do not, therefore, doubt the sovereignty of Bolivia ”(2).
However, Rio Branco disagreed and, less than a month after this official document, he was to speculate in a letter to Hilario de Gouveia:
“... there is this question of Acre that, if handled well, and moving away from the poor interpretation to the 1867 Treaty given in 1868, could assert on this side our right to a vast territory. It would not be inconvenient to say that we have given that intelligence to the Treaty only to benefit Bolivia, but that we are now resolved to maintain the true intelligence, that is, to defend the parallel 10º 20’, which has already been a great concession to this Republic, because, by annulling the 1777 Treaty, we were entitled to go farther South as far as the sources of the tributaries of the Amazon that we occupied to the estuary and lower course... We could now perfectly change policies, as we already did once.... Yet Olyntho (the Secretariat) continues to defend the absurd oblique line from Madeira to the source of the Javari, instead of the parallel 10º 20’, and to say that the land south of the oblique line (Acre) is Bolivian or Peruvian and not Brazilian”. And logically concluded: "If it is not Brazilian then what right do we have to check the operations of the American syndicate?" (3)
In fact, in terms of interpreting the Treaty of La Paz de Ayacucho, in 1867, the problem is summarised in that alternative. Negotiated and signed in the middle of the Paraguayan War, at a time when there was interest in assuring Bolivian neutrality, the Treaty fixed the boundary on the parallel 10º 20’, where the Beni and Mamoré joined on the East, as far as the sources of the Javari river to the West and “if it had its sources in the North, it would be a straight line from the same latitude, towards the source of the same river”.
For a long time, in the Empire and early years of the Republic, the territory of Acre was considered Bolivian and the oblique line was taken as a boundary with the famous green line map by Duarte da Ponte Ribeiro rather than the East-West line, as far as the sources of the Javari. Gradually, however, it was impossible to execute the Treaty according to this interpretation. The problem did not lie so much in the reasonable doubts on the location of such watersheds or in the arguments of the letter to Hilario de Gouveia regarding the nullity of the 1777 Treaty. The problem basically was another: the fast growth of the Brazilian population, rubber boom and easier geographic access to Acre from the rivers and territories of Brazil had created in the land, a de facto situation that could not be ignored. The presence of thousands of Brazilians, perhaps seventy thousand, was, according to the actual sources of La Paz, ninety-nine percent of the population of a territory where the Bolivians, besides being scarce, felt, in the words of their governor Lino Romero, as “foreign here as if they were in the farthest colonies of Asia. Both men and nature are completely adverse to us.” (4)
This is why the Baron said that he was not making it a point from a territorial viewpoint but rather because of the Brazilians, and in a communication to the La Paz Legation he repeated: “I have already said that if we wish to acquire Acre through compensation it is solely because its population is Brazilian" (5). Since the accusation of Imperialism against Brazil in general and Rio Branco in particular was based almost solely on this episode, it is worth recalling that the problem arose from an obviously spontaneous population movement for economic reasons (the valorisation of rubber), which caused a similar kind of “gold rush” as in the Brazilian lands bordering on Acre and in the neighbouring Peruvian territory. To imagine that this demographic spread could somehow have been officially stimulated would now be to enter the domain of fantasy. Even so, it would be necessary to explain why, in such a case, the Brazilian governments at the stage of expansion continued to invariably admit Bolivian sovereignty over the territory.
The truth is that this was in fact a political problem, which could not be settled by legal means such as arbitration or by resorting to arguments of historic and geographic erudition. Right from the start, therefore, the Chancellor made it clear that he preferred a political and negotiated solution based on financial and territorial compensation.
Previously, however, he had made an effort to alter the earlier direction, which had first been made in the La Paz communication in mid-January 1903, wherein Brazil considered the territory as litigious and began adopting the boundary on the latitude.
More or less at the same time, at the end of the same month, the troops of Placido de Castro were already overrunning the whole region and the news arrived that General Pando, President of Bolivia, was going to Acre to suppress the rebellion.
Rio Branco then took strong measures: after reaching an understanding with the President and Ministers of War and the Navy, he ordered a military occupation of the territory, explaining: “President Pando understood that it is possible to negotiate by marching with troops northwards. We will also negotiate by advancing troops southwards”. He did, however, attenuate the statement when asserting that: “The Brazilian government does not wish to split its diplomatic relations with the Bolivian government. It is still ready to negotiate an honourable and satisfactory agreement for both parties, and very sincerely wishes to arrive at this outcome." (6)
In the negotiations that began in July 1903, Brazil was represented by Rio Branco, Rui Barbosa and Assis Brasil, and Bolivia, by a special envoy Fernando Guachalla and the Minister in Rio, Claudio Pinilla. Rui had been nominated by the Chancellor but he was not the most appropriate for a political negotiation, since, convinced of the solid legal foundations of the theory of the boundary on the parallel and because of his background, he would prefer a solution by arbitration.
In October, when it became clear that the only result would be by means of financial compensation and by exchanging territories, Rui Barbosa asked to be released, alleging that the concession of lands together with building the railway and a port seemed to him too generous an offer beyond the powers of the delegates.
On 17 November 1903 the Treaty was signed in Petrópolis to include the 142,900 square kilometres of the territory until recently considered litigious, plus 48,100 square kilometres which had never been disputed but inhabited by Brazilians. In exchange, a little over 3,000 square kilometres were transferred to Bolivia, the part situated between the Madeira and Abunã rivers, providing access to the Upper Paraguay. The Brazilian government also agreed to pay a compensation of two million pounds sterling and build the Madeira-Mamoré railway.
The territorial clauses were valid against the Treaty and the Baron a tenacious opposition joined by Rui Barbosa, Lauro Sodré and Joaquim Murtinho in the Senate, Barbosa Lima in the House of Representatives, Andrade Figueira and Martim Francisco in the Monarchist movement, and Edmundo Bittencourt in the Correio da Manhã. If they all considered the Treaty “a monstrosity” for being too generous with Bolivia, the positivists were against it for the opposite reason: they condemned it as an act of imperialism against the Bolivians and an attempt against the brotherhood of the countries. The former unanimous agreement with the victor in the Missions and in Amapá gave way to spiteful criticisms, such as that by his former friend Baron Jaceguay, who described him in Voltaire's words: Tel brille au second rang qui s'éclipse au premier.
The defence of the Petropolis Treaty was best expressed in the Statement of Motives drafted by the Baron, which is, in the opinion of Alvaro Lins, the "most perfect [document] of all those written by him as Minister of State.”(7) He began by asking what the possible solutions would have been, aside of the agreement for direct negotiation and answered: arbitration or conquest.
Arbitration would 1) “be inconvenient because it would take four or five years, if not more, to reach the desirable solution"; 2) “even if the judge's decision is in our favour, it would not be a radical and final decision in any way whatsoever, while... it would not suppress... the difficulties”; 3) “very likely be that... the continuing tradition of thirty-five years weighs on the spirit of arbitration, during which time the Brazilian government not only considered that the territory between the slanting Javari-Beni line and the aforementioned latitude belonged indisputably to Bolivia, but that it actually performed positive acts of acknowledging Bolivian sovereignty... agreeing to install customs in Port Alonso, later Port Acre, and setting up a Brazilian consulate there”. And finished with: "...addressing such noble interests of the present and future of this nation, it would not dare to suggest arbitration unless in the case of being fully unable to reach a satisfactory direct agreement, and outside the terrain of the 1867 Treaty.” (8)
The alternative solution of conquest was also rejected by the Minister in terms that differentiate him from his contemporary European statesmen, who would probably think it natural to resort to force in such a case: “...the first indication, with in fact a view to disguised conquest, would lead us to adopt a procedure against the loyalty that the Brazilian government never ceased to keep in its approach to the other nations. We would enter a hazardous venture, unprecedented in our diplomatic history... And we would endeavour to extend the disguised conquest, violating the Constitution of the Republic, not only over the territory that we considered our right but also over what is in the South, indisputably Bolivian under the 1867 Treaty... because – and it should not be forgotten – the problem could only be solved by all territories continuing to be Brazilian that are occupied by our countrymen” (my own emphasis). (9)
Against the criticism of granting the Brazilian area between the Madeira and Abunã, it was said to be inhabited by Bolivians and asked: “If we were to ask it (Bolivia) for the assignment of the basins of Acre and rivers westwards because these territories are inhabited and cultivated by our countrymen, how could we honestly refuse Bolivia a much smaller area, inhabited and cultivated by its own countrymen? ”
As further argument to decisively weaken those who preferred arbitration instead of exchange of territories, the Baron suddenly produced, when the Treaty was already in Congress, the famous green line map, until then mysteriously mislaid. He always maintained, year later, his good faith in the episode. As soon as he received from the hands of an "old employee" the "hand-written map of 1860", he asked congressman Gastão da Cunha to communicate the discovery to colleagues and added: “Examination of this map convinces me that in the mind of the Government of Brazil since 1860, the boundary should be made by an oblique line, if the source of the Javari is found north of the latitude 10º 20". It was a fatal blow against the theory in favour of arbitration, which, under the circumstances, would have been suicide.
In February 1904 the Treaty was ratified and once again a large public demonstration paid the country's homage to the victor. At the head of the demonstrators, who invaded the halls of Itamaraty, was Olavo Bilac who, before the listeners “bristling with emotion”, proclaimed: “Paranhos of Rio Branco! Blessed is your mind, because your intelligence has restored to Brazil the Brazilians who were without a homeland! ”. (10)
The dispute with Peru was to continue for several years more, and which, after the Treaty was ratified, occupied litigious areas in the Upper Purus and Upper Juruá. The Chancellor reacted, ordering the confiscation of a ship sailing to Iquitos, carrying Peruvian weapons and ammunition, and troops were sent to the region. After some serious tension, two agreements were completed in July in which areas in the Upper Juruá and Upper Purus river basins were neutralised and submitted to a mixed Brazilian-Peruvian policy, and a five-month period was fixed for the final agreement. This was only going to be finished five years later in 1909; of the land considered litigious by Lima and which was beyond those involved in the question with Bolivia, Brazil was given around 403,000 square kilometres, while 39,000 square kilometres were recognised as belonging to the neighbouring country.
Congressman Gastão da Cunha said about the Treaty of Petrópolis that it was the most important diplomatic agreement since Independence. Rio Branco himself was of the same opinion, who considered the agreement, first and foremost, to be a great political work. Its preparation and presentation had demanded not only geographic, historic and legal knowledge that had made it valid in the arbitration, but also that authority and capacity of agreement had been handled in precise and well-measured doses. Without closing the Amazon, the Bolivian Syndicate would not give up the concession, but if it had not been ready to pay compensation for a mistake made by the Bolivian government, who would guarantee the waiver of the syndicate and neutrality of the countries whose citizens were its investors? If the territory had not had military occupation, General Pando would probably not have negotiated seriously. If it had not, however, been for financial compensation and the surrender of territories, so misunderstood within Brazil, how would the problem of the Brazilians in Acre be settled without resorting to direct or disguised military action?
Because he understood all this, the Baron said in the Statement of Motives: “'The decisions of the two claims in which I have the honour to protect the interests of Brazil have not increased but only maintained the national heritage... Only now is there true territorial expansion and with the fortunate circumstance that, to do so, we do not plunder a neighbouring and friendly nation, but rather free it from an onus... by offering it material and political compensation... Sincerely, I assure Your Excellency that I believe that this achievement is worth much more... than the other two, considered so fondly by our fellow countrymen”. (11)
The question of Acre was, undoubtedly, the most complicated and hardest boundary problem that Rio Branco had to face and, from many aspects, an example of how his territorial policy was loyal. It is a risk, in this context, to speak in constant or absolute principles since, first and foremost pragmatic, the Chancellor changed his direction to the concrete characteristics of each situation, preferring, for example, sometimes arbitration and at other times direct negotiation, as in the case of Acre. Not even the long-lasting duration of the boundary agreements as guaranteed stability of the territorial status quo was taboo for him, as he demonstrated when he observed the over-strictness against the Uruguayans under the 1851 Treaty, which had refused them the right to navigate Mirim Lagoon and the Jaguarão river, and making them a landlocked country. Acknowledging that, at the time of the Treaty, civil war had made the eastern government dependent on the Empire and that the solution adopted was an exception on the continent, the Baron granted Uruguay, under the Treaty of 30 October 1909, more than that country had claimed: not only free navigation but the condominium of Mirim Lagoon and Jaguarão and the ownership of some islands. He thereby corrected too heavy a burden from a past that continued “despite the advancing years”, as he wrote in the Statement of Motives about the Treaty, “due to the resistance... (of a) by no means innovative spirit of an old and respectful employee" (Viscount Cabo Frio). The Uruguayans acknowledged the scope of the gesture in this part of the message sent by the President and Chancellor of Uruguay to its Congress:
El Exmo Señor Barón de Rio Branco ha encarado y resuelto nuestras aspiraciones de todos los tiempos con un criterio que supera, por su amplitud y elevación, a esos legítimos anhelos... la Cancelleria Brasileña... ha concedido al Uruguay mucho más de lo que nuestra diplomacia demandó en todas las épocas, y ha aceptado mucho menos de lo que esa misma diplomacia ofreció, como compensación, en sus constantes gestiones”
[Baron Rio Branco has considered and settled our all time aspirations with a criterion that, due to its scope and elevation, exceeds these legitimate desires... the Brazilian Chancellor... has given Uruguay much more than our diplomacy requested at any time, and has accepted much less than this same diplomacy offered, as compensation, in its continuing administrations].
In order not to seem that “to foreign eyes it would look as if we received a compensation for this”, the Baron suppressed the draft Treaty article that favoured us in the navigation from Taquari and Cebolati. In a speech at the History Institute, he explained his reasons for doing so: "If we wish to remove the exception, which is not for our time, nor for our continent, it is not because we deserve gratitude and earn the gratitude of our friends in Uruguay. Few men have a feeling of gratitude and even rarer or less lasting is the gratitude of human collectives that are called nations... If today we wish to correct part of our southern boundary in benefit of a neighbouring and friendly people, it is principally because this testimony of our love for law is good for Brazil and is an act worthy of the Brazilian people”.
Bearing in mind the exception regarding pragmatism and flexibility present in the act of Rio Branco, it would be no exaggeration to say that his territorial policy in general fulfilled some basic principles. The first of them was to sustain that the great colonial treaties between Portugal and Spain – Madrid (1750) and San Ildefonso (1777) - should only be considered to be temporary agreements on boundaries and not final solutions, partly because they had never followed the planned demarcation, or because they had been annulled by later events. They were, therefore, acceptable as an indication or general guide where there had been no effective contrary occupation, but could not be considered as a final and finished mandate. Concerning the San Ildefonso, he defended, like his father before him, that “the 1801 war annulled it forever, since the peace treaty signed in Badajoz on 6 June of the same year did not restore it, nor ordered that things resume the ante-bellum status”. (12)This attitude is explicit, for instance, in the fourth meeting with Paraguay on agreeing to the boundaries (March 1856) :
“The Imperial government, as it has often repeated, accepts the uti-possidetis as the main principle. Where it exists it must be respected. It only quotes the earlier treaties and presents them as a secondary basis when mentioning the boundaries of the two countries wherever there is no occupation or precise monument.
The second principle was that of uti possidetis, also adopted by Viscount Rio Branco who referred to it on 26 November 1857:
“The government of His Majesty the Emperor of Brazil, acknowledging the lack of any written law for demarcating its boundaries with the neighbouring States, has adopted and proposed the only reasonable and just grounds to be called upon: uti possidetis, where it exists, and the provisions of the 1777 Treaty, where they agree or otherwise, will find the current possessions of each contracting party. ”
On the other hand, refusing the intention of some Hispano-Americans to create for this institute a de juris qualification that would require, for its validity, the presence of an earlier legal deed, father and son understood the principle in the same way as the great Venezuelan internationalist Andrés Bello in a letter to Miguel Maria Lisboa:
“The uti possidetis when emancipating the Spanish colonies was the natural possession of Spain, which Spain actually and effectively held, with or without any deed, and not what Spain was entitled to hold nor did hold. “
In short, not in fact as a principle of substance but as a methodological criterion as guidance, the Baron always refused proposals for multilateral boundary negotiations, made in the past by Colombia and Uruguay in the sense of the Hispanic heirs of San Ildefonso collectively negotiating with Brazil, and that of Peru to participate trilaterally to reach understandings about Acre. He preferred to negotiate on bilateral bases, albeit with the exception of the possible rights of third parties (he rightly recalled that the attempt of Brazil and Argentina to negotiate at the same time the boundaries with Paraguay after the war proved fruitless and counterproductive). Similarly and notwithstanding the personal successes on the questions of the Missions and Amapá, he was never over-enthusiastic about arbitration as a method of fixing borders and, after the episode of British Guiana, he never resorted again to this procedure on the subject of boundaries (which did not prevent him from signing more than thirty arbitration treaties).
He surrounded all those agreements with the necessary precautions:
1) he never accepted the Permanent Court of the Hague as the sole arbitrating court; 2) he maintained the right to free choice of arbitrators; 3) he refused the obligation of submitting any question to a chosen permanent arbitrator and 4) excluded from arbitration questions relating to the honour, independence and integrity of territory, which should in his opinion be settled directly by the countries involved. He summed up his thinking on arbitration in an unsigned article on the occasion of the report by the King of Italy on British Guiana: “This lesson consists of our recognising that arbitration is not always effective. The cause may be magnificent, the advocate unmatched and, in this case, have an unfavourable sentence... we should only resort to it (arbitration) when it is impossible otherwise to reach a direct agreement with the adversary. We will then agree, bearing in mind the common interest, but will not consider possible interests alien to our own, which do not know our laws nor the current principles of international law. ”
These were the criteria and methods adopted by Rio Branco to systematically settle all issues on open boundaries inherited from the previous regime. The set of these questions consisted, in the early years of the Republic, of the priority problem of the Brazilian foreign policy, in the same way, in his time, as the recognition of Independence and abolition of slavery in the first decades of the monarchy or the challenges of La Plata between 1850 and 1880.
To define the territorial profile, clearly outlining the contours of the map within which sovereignty must prevail is, for any nation, a kind of pre-condition of being able to develop a foreign policy. If this is a universal truth, then what does it mean in relation to a country surrounded at the time by ten or eleven potential neighbours (Peru and Ecuador had not, and still have not in part settled their disputes in the Amazon region bordering on Brazil).
At the time of the Proclamation of the Republic, only two of these borders had been defined on a more or less definitive basis, - with Paraguay, fixed after the war, under the 1872 Treaty, and with Uruguay, although there was in this case a Uruguayan claim to rectify what was stipulated on Mirim Lagoon and Jaguarão. The treaties with Peru (1851), Venezuela (1859) and Bolivia (1867) were preliminary and provisional.
Before becoming Minister, the Baron, with victory in arbitration, contributed decisively to settling the questions pending with Argentina (1895) and France – French Guiana (1900). Next came the solutions for the border with Bolivia (Treaty of Petrópolis in 1903), Ecuador, with the exception of any Peruvian rights (1904), with Peru on a provisional basis (1904) and definitive later (1909), with Great Britain – British Guiana (1904 report), Venezuela (1905), Holland – Dutch Guiana or Suriname (1906), Colombia (1907) and rectifying the Treaty with Uruguay (1909).
In around fifteen years he completed what Ambassador Alvaro Teixeira Soares described as one of the greatest achievements in the history of diplomacy of any country ever. The assertion may seen slightly categorical but, when looking more closely, it is not an exaggeration. None of these questions were settled by war, although in a few (Bolivia, Peru) the limited recourse to military measures had influenced not been decisive, and even then as a reaction to similar initiatives taken previously by those neighbours.
Few countries have as many territorial neighbours as Brazil and this is a characteristic not necessarily resulting from the extent of the territory. Huge continental powers exist with no neighbour (Australia), with one (Canada), or two, and there is only one with truly different cultural and political characteristics (United States of America in relation to Mexico). If we consider the European countries, bordering on five or six others (France, Germany) or the other major continental powers with a number of neighbours comparable to that of Brazil (the former USSR, today Russia, China, India) no great effort is required to see that there is nothing near the Brazilian negotiating performance and solely pacific standard: the methodical, systematic concentration of all diplomatic resources and non-violent legitimate use of power, without reaching military conflict, to successfully settle a number of border problems.
We can imagine, to assess the scope of Rio Branco's work, what it would have meant to leave open these problems with ten/eleven neighbours belonging to different cultures and policies, over a land border of more than sixteen thousand kilometres. In the best hypothesis and even though armed disputes and their consequences have been prevented, it is easy to presume that the entire Brazilian negotiating capacity would be for years completely absorbed by these disputes, making foreign policy a hostage to their vicissitudes.
In the best way of things, Paranhos was able to comment with the Argentina diplomat and politician Ramón F. Cárcano:
“I've already created the map of Brazil. Now my programme is to contribute to the unity and friendship among South American countries." (13)
As Alvaro Lins commented, there was, in the case of Rio Branco “the providential encounter... of perfect competence with certain tasks that needed his application... on one hand, he accumulated geographic and historic knowledge about Brazil, while on the other, certain problems continued whose solution was to depend on this same knowledge... (his) work... would, after all, be a consequence of the unexpected and mysterious encounter of these two currents: that of the personality of the statesman and the opportunity of the issues in which he was to be an unparalleled master. ” (14)
In addition to this fortunate coincidence between man and work, another factor, time, played a fundamental role in the success of this territorial policy. Time in various senses, the first as continuity, lasting long enough for the projects and endeavours to run their normal course, so that they could mature in the minds and influence decisions. The early successes – Missions, Amapá and Acre – created a virtuous circle and made the permanence of the Baron in Itamaraty mandatory, whose substitution was inconceivable. This was how he went through the then four-year presidential offices of Rodrigues Alves, Afonso Pena and part of Hermes da Fonseca. One of the outcomes of this rare continuity is that such a negotiation on the boundaries with Peru in the region of Acre began with Rio Branco in 1903, postponed with him in 1904, and concluded by him in 1909. During this same period, governments, ministers, negotiators and, sometimes, policies and instructions on the other side of the table changed one after the other.
Time, however, also appears here in another sense: that of the fortunate spiritual atmosphere, fortunately created by the combination of certain values with a positive political conjuncture. And in this sense Ortega y Gasset said that Wilhem Dilthey had not had the "time" that his work required, that is, a world sensitive to the historic nature of all knowledge. More fortunate from the Machiavellian viewpoint or exactly for not having been a forerunner but a spirit representing his time, Paranhos had the time that he needed.
His world, of Belle Époque, stability, the period of the hundred years of peace inaugurated by the Congress of Vienna, still believed in arbitration, in the great conferences of peace, such as the two of The Hague, the first called because of a mixture of political reasons and humanitarian motives almost of mystic inspiration, in the Geneva conventions seduced by the chimera of humanising war, in the incipient Red Cross. The belief was especially in the possibility of an increasingly effective and strong International Law, in legal solutions and negotiated for explosive questions such as boundaries or antagonistic nationalisms, through traditional diplomatic methods that could reduce to the minimum access to information or knowledge of a still rudimentary public opinion, nurtured almost solely by newspapers read only by some social classes. This was not yet the time of the Great War, the collapse of multinational empires, irrational boom of nationalisms, principle of President Wilson condemned to secret diplomacy, of the public opinion unleashed and manipulated by dictators or ideological and totalitarian parties with the resources of the mass media. It may even be said that, somehow, the solution of our border disputes was almost a miracle or luck, just in time. Before 1900, perhaps there was the fortunate international time, but Brazil of the early Republican years was disorganised and too disturbed to attempt a consequent policy, as was evident at the disastrous beginning of Quintino Bocaiúva on the matter of the Missions. After 1912, time and the world were to become increasingly unfavourable and would condemn to the dust of the shelves of dozens, hundreds of early-century arbitration treaties. The questions that could not find a solution at that fleeting moment, or deteriorated in aggravated problems even today, such as the Peru-Ecuador (only recently settled), Venezuela-Guiana, Venezuela-Colombia or Chile-Bolivia disputes, or only settled by threats of war, such as the problem of Beagle between Argentine and Chile.
The second Rio Branco, last great representative of the school of Brazilian statesmen and diplomats of the 19th century, created the opportunity to show everything that he had learned in the visiting rooms of the Empire, La Plata and Victorian Europe. He finished his work, from start to finish, in a ten-year interval that would never be repeated in the same fortunate conditions and at the final years of the historic cycle receptive to the values, methods and talents that he embodied. A little over two years after his death, his world died with him, one by one the lights went out all over Europe, as Lord Grey said, about the beginning of the Great War, the lights that had illuminated his life.
(Translated by ELM)
1. E. Bradford Burns, The Unwritten Alliance, Columbia Univ. Press, 1966, p.80
2. Communication from Olyntho de Magalhães to the diplomatic mission in Berlin, 24 June 1902
3. Letter to Hilario de Gouveia, dated 23 July 1902, Rio Branco files
4. Washington Post, 26 August 1903, p.5
5. Communication to the diplomatic mission in La Paz, 9 March 1903, Itamaraty files
6. Communication to the diplomatic mission in La Paz, 3 February 1903
7. Alvaro Lins, Rio Branco, 2nd edition, Comp. Edit. Nacional, p. 179
8. Rio Branco, Statement of Motives, 27 December 1903
9. Rio Branco, Statement of Motives
10. Levi Carneiro, Discursos e Conferências
11. Rio Branco, Statement of Motives
12. Protocol of talks with Paraguay, Annex to the 1857 Ministry of Foreign Affairs Report
13. Ramón J. Cárcano, Mis primeros ochenta años, B. Aires, 1943
14. Alvaro Lins, quotation, p. 179
15. Diary of Rio Branco, 27 May 1903
16. Salvador de Mendonça, A situação internacional do Brasil, apud Bradford Burns,
quotation, pp. 60-63
17. Alvaro Lins, quotation, p. 143
Carlos de Servi, The Baron of Rio Branco, oil on canvas
João Batista da Costa, Rio Branco's house in the Westfália district of Petrópolis
In 1907, the year of the Brazilian delegation to the II Peace Conference in
The Hague, headed by Rui Barbosa, the Baron (seated second to the right)
receives in Itamaraty representatives of the São Paulo Law School who have
come to pay him homage.
Petrópolis, 1903. The Treaty of Petrópolis has just been signed with
Bolivia, thereby ensuring one century of peace on the borders of Brazil.
The façade of Iamaraty Palace in Rio de Janeiro at the time of the Baron