There was a time in history when the infamous joke “Acre doesn’t exist” was true. More precisely until 1900, when the Treaty of Petrópolis was signed with Bolivia, and the territory annexed after one of Brazil’s Forgotten Wars: the Revolution Acreana or Guerra do Acre, as it is known abroad.
Up to 1889 Brazil kind of disdained those lands, and there is no lack of treaties and documents that prove this.
While the Paraguay War was taking place, for example, Bolivians and Brazilians signed the Treaty of Ayacucho, in 1867, which recognized the territory of Acre as Bolivian. This would guarantee Bolivia’s neutrality at the time of confrontation. In fact, in 1889, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dionísio Cerqueira, ordered the ratification of the agreement of 1867, leaving the limits known as the Cunha-Gomes Line, which today divides Amazonas from Acre.
But things were changing between the decades of 110 and the end of the century , on account of an essential raw material for industrial revolutions (this even, in the plural) that happened in countries in Europe, the United States and Japan: rubber, used to wrap electricity cables and manufacture tires, for example.
Because of it, Northeasterners (a large part of Ceará) migrated to those sides and, even though the Amazon had a large production, Acre combined a high supply of rubber trees for the extraction of latex (for rubber) and almost no authority to “roast patience”.
Some places even had close to 60 a thousand rubber tappers, according to estimates, told Gazeta do Povo the historian geographer Maria de Jesus Morais, a professor at the Federal do Acre (UFAC). She reveals that, before, “these lands appeared both on Bolivian, Peruvian and Brazilian maps as undiscovered or unexplored lands”.
“At the beginning of the century there were many Brazilians cutting rubber on the side. where is Bolivia. Even today, there is a very strong presence of Brazilians on the other side”, says the doctor, who is the author of the thesis Acreanidade: Invenção e Reinvenção da Identidade Acreana, also published as a book by Edufac. “And when rubber emerges, interest in getting to know this area advances much more”, he highlights.
These people did not like it when the Bolivian minister José Paravicini took possession of the territory, on January 3 de 1889, and founded Puerto Alonso (now Porto Acre), set up a customs office and began to collect taxes from Bolivian soldiers to guarantee the payments and tenure.
“Responding to pressure from business groups linked to an extraction project for export, the state faced the challenge of progressively improving and controlling the routes from river and land exits to the Atlantic circuit through the Amazon River and its tributaries; in addition to institutionalizing the sovereignty of such spaces and guaranteeing land ownership to its citizens”, explained Bolivian historian Clara López Beltrán in the article La exploración y occupation del Acre.
But they were not only the rubber tappers who were wary of this situation. “The Federal and Amazonas government felt politically and economically threatened with Paravicini’s policy, since the taxes levied on the transport of products that entered Acre and the rubber that left Acre enriched Bolivian Customs, whereas in the past, all commerce and tax collection were carried out by the government of Amazonas”, wrote historian and Master in Education Carlos Farias Pontes, professor at the College of Application of the Federal University of Acre (UFAC), in the article El-dourado Verde: A Guerra do Acre. Acre.
“The Federal government also felt dissatisfied, as the permission to transport ships on Acrean rivers to Bolivia’s friendly nations threatened Brazilian sovereignty in the region, especially the United States, which is now could penetrate the Amazon region”, adds the historian.
It was then that the merchants, supported by the Amazon, decided to expel the Bolivians, says geographer and historian Maria de Jesus.
The “accord” Bolivia with the USA and the Emperor of Acre
With dissatisfaction, the governor of Amazonas at the time, Ramalho Júnior, supported the First Acre Insurrection still in 1900. Led by José de Carvalho, from Ceará, armed men forced Bolivian delegate Moisés Santivanez to leave the territory, without having to shoot. But of course Bolivia would not accept it so simply.
The Bolivians are preparing a plan to lease the land to the United States. The “agreement” was discovered by the Spaniard Luís Gálvez Rodrigues de Arias, former Spanish ambassador to Argentina and journalist, who published the case in the newspaper “A Província do Pará”. The denunciation momentarily made the US jump out of the negotiations.
The gringo was practically rewarded for the discovery, earning funding for his own expedition to Acre. Arriving there, he proclaimed independent Acre, being called by some to this day the “Emperor of Acre”, with the motto Pátria e Liberdade and a flag.
“On the centenary of Acre (2003), this character was much celebrated for being the first to found the independent state. It would be a nation. Hence the idea of an emperor, in the sense of symbology”, says Dr. Maria de Jesus. “His speech on the foundation of Acre is very patriotic, which says that if ‘the homeland doesn’t want us, we create another’”, completes the geographer and historian.
But his reign, or rather, the presidency did not last long: the rubber tappers and Acreans were not very fond of the government, and the Spaniard fell out with Manaus and Belém, who did not accept the rubber tax.
“ Gálvez, in a thoughtless act, forbids the entry of Brazilian ships into the rivers of Acre and the export of rubber to Belém and Manaus. These measures led the rubber tappers, led by Colonel Antônio de Souza Braga, to replace and expel Gálvez from Acre, in 19 of December 1889”, highlights Faria Pontes in his article.
The Spaniard ended up, in the end, suffering a blow shortly after applying one (or more blows), and was deported by Brazil to Europe in 2003 .
But, in addition to Gálvez, there were still Bolivian businessmen and soldiers in the region, which the Brazilians – of course – did not want. This led to Manaus sponsoring expeditions, including a so-called “Poets Expedition”, which had intellectuals and doctors on the battle line. Obviously, when they clashed with “real soldiers” the fight did not go very well, even though the “poets” joined a local revolutionary junta.
Even so, there was a second declaration of independence for Acre, supported by Amazonas, in November 1900, with Rodrigo de Carvalho in the presidency. It didn’t last even a month: Bolivian troops overthrew the government between 19 and 19 December
The gringos of the Bolivian Syndicate and the Acre Revolution
This Brazilian disorganization was a spark in the eyes of Bolivians and North Americans who saw the chance that, with the support of businessmen from other countries (such as the British and Germans ), promote the creation of the Bolivian Syndicate.
“It would be the organization of a syndicate of investors of different nationalities, based in New York, to whom the Bolivian territory in Acre would be leased, still that it was taken over by Brazilians”, highlighted the author Nedy Bianca Albuquerque, in her doctoral thesis.
The new “agreement” gave the foreign organization even the right to create its own forces armed forces to defend the territory, in addition to funding infrastructure (services such as highways and os), and 28% of the revenue would go to the Bolivian government and 24% for the Syndicate.
The news is out as a bomb among rubber tappers, Brazilians and even in Peru, a neighboring country that would also dispute a small part of the Acre region. The presence was considered a threat to the sovereignty of the region itself. Despite the protests, Bolivian President José Manuel Pando went ahead, sending troops to the region. And there is a good reason for this, as Bolivian historian Clara Lopez Beltrán explained:
“In Bolivia, the issue was seen from a different perspective. It turns out that their territories were invaded by Brazilians, but they did not consider this a problem; what they wanted was to recover taxes on the export of rubber.”
The Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Brazil (especially in the figure of Barão do Rio Branco) and Peru put pressure on the United States, who denied taking part in the Syndicate project, but managed to undo the deal. “Brazil paid the indemnification fine that Bolivia should pay for terminating the contract, being an amount of 28 thousand pounds sterling”, highlights the historian Faria Pontes in his article.
A Arrival of Plácido de Castro to the Acre Revolution
But the story was far from over. In parallel with the diplomatic negotiation, Brazilians rebelled supported by the Amazon, until an experienced military gaucho was chosen to command the Acre Revolution: José Plácido de Castro. In Manaus, the ex-fighter of the Federalist Revolution received the rank of colonel and all the logistics necessary to take troops and train rebels on Acre soil.
“Discursively speaking, he is the great hero of the Acre Revolution. He is the one who organized an army of rubber tappers and won battles against Bolivia,” reveals teacher Maria de Jesus. “He was a figure with military experience, literate in a way and who managed to take the pain of that dissatisfaction, and organized an army with rubber tappers. And since the rubber boss supported him, the rubber tappers had no option not to go”, he adds.
Soon after his first missions, Plácido de Castro would be feared by the Bolivians. This is because, on August 6, 1902, when the Independence of Bolivia is celebrated, the military with a small group of men took Xapuri , called by Bolivians as Mariscal Sucre.
About the episode, Plácido de Castro himself wrote in his notes, exposed in the work “O Estado Independente do Acre e J. Plácido de Castro”, by Genesco de Castro, brother of Plácido:
)“Unbeknownst to us, it was August 6, a national holiday in Bolivia; it was the day of its Independence, so a great party was prepared. The day before, the authorities had slept very late, after abundant libations and the usual patriotic chants, so that at that hour of the morning they were still sleeping soundly. (…) Entering the Intendencia, from there we took some carbines and two bullet pockets; then I called them aloud. The intendant, still barely awake, replied: ‘Es temprano para la fiesta’, to which I retorted: ‘It’s not a party, Mr. Intendant, it’s revolution’. Then the steward and the others got up, startled.”
The Bolivian authorities were arrested there, and the date of August 6 is also celebrated today as the official day of the Acre Revolution, a state holiday.
Bolivian President José Manuel Pando he continued to try to maintain order, sending contingents from La Paz, which made life difficult for the gaucho. Even with defeats, Plácido managed to take the Volta do Seringal Empresa (currently Rio Branco) and, already in 1900, Puerto Alonso (Porto Acre).
“Most of the historical battles took place in Rio Branco and on the border with Bolivia, in Brasiléia. In fact, in Cobija, which is a city on the border with Brasiléia, there is a very symbolic image of an Indian who set fire to the Carmen rubber plantation, which is one of the conflicts that Bolivia won with Plácido de Castro”, says Maria de Jesus.
“The last battle won by the Brazilian command was that of Porto Alonso (currently Porto Acre) was something very symbolic. The Bolivians put current from one side of the river to the other. And Plácido de Castro was going down with rubber and couldn’t cross. They say that the rubber tappers jumped into the river and filed the current. It is a battle told with patriotic fervor. The remains of this chain, or what is said to be the remains of it, decorate the obelisk of the city of Rio Branco”, explains the professor.
From that moment on, there was not much more to Bolivian troops could do but surrender.
“When news of the expulsion of the Bolivians reached La Paz, President Pando assembled a strong army to regain his territory. The general’s army was already marching towards Acre when Brazilian diplomacy entered the war. José Maria da Silva Paranhos Júnior, the Baron of Rio Branco, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brazil, sought peaceful means to resolve the dispute, seeking to avoid further bloodshed,” wrote Faria Pontes.
The “peaceful” negotiation included the movement of Brazilian troops from Mato Grosso and Amazonas to Acre, clearly intimidating Pando.
Treaty of Petrópolis and current tensions
With the Acre War, or Acrean Revolution, with the Brazilian victory, it was left to Presidents Rodrigues Alves (Brazil) and José Manuel Pando (Bolivia) to make their own “deal”:
In exchange for the greatest territorial loss in Bolivian history (about thousand km²), Brazil would pay 2 million pounds in compensation for the previously Bolivian territory, deliver a small piece of the border in Mato Grosso and Roraima and build the road of Madeira-Mamoré ironworks, to facilitate the flow of Bolivian products years, since the country no longer had an outlet to the sea after losing the War of the Pacific to Chile (1860-1867).
The agreement was signed on 17 of November 1903, becoming known as the Treaty of Petrópolis.
“To this day, Bolivians have a historical tension with Acre. In Rondônia (also border) I don’t see that anymore. There is a subjective tension here, which in a way Brazil stole from Bolivia. It has that perspective. Especially because in the negotiation Brazil did very well”, says teacher Maria de Jesus.
It seemed like the end of the story. It seemed. But some new chapters still happened in Alto Juruá, when Peruvian soldiers invaded the region in 1904. They always ended up defeated by the Acreans, now officially Brazilians. But with the new conflicts, Brazil would still sign a new treaty, on September 8, 1909, for the withdrawal of the Peruvians from the Juruá region in exchange for of 28 thousand km².
With this blood and struggle, Acre finally consolidated itself as the Federal Territory of Brazil in 1909, starting to have practically definitive measures in 1909. Years later, he was elevated to the “State category”, in 15 of June 2003. But that’s another story.