Saturday, January 30, 2010

Facial Hair of the Weekend

This weekend, we'll be starting a series of Brazilian politicians with facial hair. Above is José Maria da Silva Paranhos (1819-1880), the Viscount of Rio Branco. Paranhos is more frequently referred to as the Visconde do Rio Branco, and is one of the earliest and most important diplomats in Brazilian history. He helped mediate boundary demarcations for Brazil in the mid-1800s, including defining the Uruguay-Brazil border, and many of his efforts finalized the boundaries of Brazil as they remain to this date, with some regional exceptions. He also organized the provisionary government that Brazil established in Paraguay in the wake of the devastating War of the Triple Alliance. Paranhos is also famous for playing a role in the slavery debate in Brazil. Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery (only in 1888). However, sentiment against slavery increased in the second half of the 1800s, and in 1871, Paranhos established the "free womb" law, which declared that any children born to slave women were automatically free. This was the first in a series of laws that led to the gradual and peaceful abolition of slavery (though complicated racial and social structures remained in place and are visible to this day). He played a major role in infrastructural development in Brazil, including developing railroads, creating taxes on imports in order to spur national development, overseeing the first telegraph line between Brazil and Europe, and launching Brazil's first national census in 1872. While perhaps not Brazil's most important diplomat and politician, he was a major figure in establishing the rich diplomatic history that Brazil has embodied from the 1830s to the 2010s.