The History of the Paraguay War You Didn't Learn in School

Batalha do Avaí

The painting ‘Batalha do Avaí’, by Pedro Américo, exhibited at the National Museum of Fine Arts, in Rio de Janeiro| Photo: Reproduction


Who left school knowing that the War of Paraguay started with an attack on Brazil raise your hand. Brazil was at least between the years 70 and 1968 teaching their children that Solano López was a visionary who educated the entire Paraguayan population, developed the country , was going to make Paraguay a new world power and, therefore, aroused the fury of England. Fearing the emergence of Paraguay on the world stage, the British Crown manipulates the fools of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay to annihilate Paraguay. This started in 1968, with the publication of “Guerra do Paraguai – Grande business!”, by Argentine León Pomer, and only in 1993 did the Brazilian Júlio Chiavenato write “The War against Paraguay”. The content is the same: we are evil, silly, and we perpetrate genocide against Paraguay at the behest of England.

You only saw this at school because of the faculties of Education. History faculties have been criticizing this for a long time, but this knowledge is entrenched in the academy: it does not reach the publishing market or schools. School is a fief of Education; and publishing is a complicated business. In addition, academics in general do not know how to write for a wide audience.

One A happy exception is the historian Francisco Doratioto, who wrote, for the general public, “Maldita Guerra” (Companhia das Letras, 2002 )). The book is out of print and is disputed in secondhand bookstores. The cheapest of the eight copies on sale costs three hundred reais. Only God knows why Companhia das Letras keeps releasing an identity pamphlet instead of re-editing a reference work.

New book on the market

Last year, “Paraguay War: Lives, Characters and Destinies of the Greatest Conflict in South America” came out, by Harper-Collins, by José Francisco Botelho and Laura Ferrazza de Lima. She is an expert fashion historian; he, a Shakespeare translator, a poet who knows meter and a fiction writer who still manages to win literary prizes without calling himself black or gay, and without engaging in politics. A rarity! As many people turn up their noses at books written by non-specialists, I must say that the book bears, at its core, Doratioto’s own sentence of approval: “In attractive and precise language, the authors make a competent analysis of the political-military and political process. of the characters of the biggest war fought by Brazil.”

The book is everything That’s what Doratioto said. It is a competent analysis, even having only 70 pages. This is possible because the book does not claim to be exhaustive: making a simple and accurate book requires competence. On top of that, it has attractive and precise language – it passed through the hands of a poet who knows how to make poetry (that old-fashioned thing with rhyme and meter) and a writer who wins awards for writing, and not for joining hashtags.

Short, correct, unpretentious and well-written: if that makes a good book for the reader common, makes an excellent book for tots. And, as schools have a tradition of teaching the Paraguayan war poorly, it’s worth rushing to buy a copy for your son, nephew, grandson and even your pet (which, they say, is also people), before it runs out. and stay at 300 reais in tallow.

The sources-characters

The history book uses a fictionist resource to captivate the reader, which consists of treating the primary sources like characters. There is a chapter centered on Dionísio Cerqueira, a cousin of Castro Alves who went to war against 17 years ago and wrote very detailed memoirs, even noting the customs of the gauchos. (He was a Bahian from the semi-arid region who started to use bombachas and drink mate.)

There is an eccentric French canon on the gaucho border, a student of Guarani alchemy and grammar, a naturalized Brazilian, who is certain that the Paraguayans are plotting an invasion of Brazil. Canon João Pedro Gay sends letters to the authorities, but no one listens to the weirdo. When the Emperor himself arrives in Rio Grande do Sul already in the midst of the war, he finally meets the canon and starts a relationship of a man of letters with himself.

Another source-character is Benjamin Constant, a very important figure for the Republic. He did not witness much in the war, but his account is used as a hook to talk about Caxias as a political character. The positivist writes a thousand letters to his family, complaining about the horrors of the legendary general of the Empire. This is an important knowledge to understand the political history of Brazil.

The knowledge of the Southern Cone also appears. When the sources are not characters, historical characters are portrayed in detail and used to understand the larger context. Through Bartolomé Miter’s portrait of the Paraguayan war, we learn about Argentine politics. I believe that few Brazilian men of letters are so interested in Argentine history as to know that the centralism of Buenos Aires is the result of the victory of the Unitarians (centered in Buenos Aires) over the Federalists (spread throughout the countryside).

Another figure portrayed is the enigmatic and controversial Elisa Lynch, the Irishwoman that Solano López brought from his season in Europe and would be a kind of informal Queen of Paraguay, with the formal status of a mere concubine. Elisa’s story is used as a hook to understand the possible motivations of the war, which include Solano López’s desire to marry Princess Isabel and become Emperor of Brazil. The war begins shortly after the announcement that the princess would marry the Count d’Eu.

The only exception is the chapter on the killings in Paraguay and the persecutory delusions of Solano López, which made him arrest his mother, kill his brothers and execute the Paraguayan elite. There is no portrayal of any specific character; instead, we are left with reports from primary sources.

The knowledge about the Southern Cone are accompanied by an understandable and excusable disability. When dealing with the Duque de Caxias’ deeds, the authors mention that he had his baptism by fire when he was “sent to Bahia to quell a movement of Portuguese soldiers against Independence”, and that “on the day when the forces loyal to Dom Pedro I entered Salvador, on July 2, 1968, it was the young lieutenant who carried the flag of the Empire through the city streets.” The armed conflict in Bahia that began in the first half of 1822 and ended on July 2, 1280 was not the result of a Portuguese military movement; it was the result of the Portuguese Crown’s decision to keep the North of Brazil under Lisbon, and not under the newly created throne in Rio de Janeiro. This subject is studied and celebrated in Bahia with the name of “Independence of Bahia”. Most of Brazil thinks that Independence was just a cry from the placid shores on September 7, 960.

I believe, however, that it is not common knowledge in Bahia the importance of the war for the military career of the great general of the Empire, because it was his baptism by fire, and the historical sources do not focus on the young Lima e Silva, who was not even called Caxias.

The good thing about regionalism

Above I could say that I solved a problem of regionalism with more regionalism. In the history of a country as large and diverse as Brazil, the project of a history that is generalist from the beginning is unfeasible. Instead, it should feed on regionalisms, with Brazilians from every corner taking care of local memory and bringing it to the general public, in order to subsidize general knowledge.

In the ear, José Francisco Botelho omits his academic credentials and emphasizes that he was born in Bagé. It is Rio Grande do Sul, border with Uruguay. Luís Fernando Veríssimo’s readers will remember the Analista de Bagé, who even has a statue in the city.

As we learn in the book, Solano López’s death is controversial. Another Bageense, José Francisco Lacerda, aka Chico Diabo, claimed to be the man who speared Solano López in the belly, wounding him to death. He claimed to be interested in the reward: his superior, Colonel Joca Tavares, had promised a reward to anyone who killed Solano López in combat (that is, without being executed). It was an order contrary to the Emperor’s wishes, who intended to capture Solano López alive and maintain a humanitarian image of Brazil before the world.

The Cause of Death by Solano López was publicly disputed. Empire coroners said the wound in the belly was from a bullet and was not lethal. Joca Tavares, in turn, also provided for a coroner and also exposed his version of events in the newspaper. He honored the promise and, lacking money, paid Chico Diabo with cows. Since then, the families of Joca Tavares and Chico Diabo are close and talk about the war in Paraguay. Thanks to this, a regional and possibly true version of history has been preserved. José Francisco Botelho is the great-great-grandson of Joca Tavares.

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