Sunday, March 07, 2010

Facial Hair of the Weekend

José Maria da Silva Paranhos Júnior, known as the Baron of Rio Branco, is perhaps Brazil's most famous diplomat (as well as its most famous mustache, one which could easily whip John Bolton's mustache in a fight). The son of the Viscount of Rio Branco, Paranhos was a monarchist who received his title (Barão do Rio Branco, by which he is most commony referred) just days before the end of the Brazilian empire in 1889. Although a monarchist himself, the Barão was the leading diplomat of the new Brazilian republic (1889-1930). In the early-1900s, issues of national territory were still fairly poorly defined in South America, as many countries simply did not have the institutional or financial ability (not to mention the population) required to establish a strong state-presence in its frontier regions. Serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1902-1912 (when he died, leading to Carnaval coming to a halt, a rather remarkable event itself), the Barão settled all of the border disputes involving Brazil.

While this seems relatively unremarkable, it is worth keeping in mind that Brazil is larger than the United States without Alaska, and Brazil borders every country in South America except two (Chile and Ecuador). Thus, through the Barão's efforts, the territorial borders not just of Brazil, but of almost all of South America, were defined through the Barão's efforts. As part of these efforts, he signed a treaty with Bolivia in 1903 that gave Brazil the modern Amazonian state of Acre, which had been settled by Brazilians but which Bolivia had tried to lease to American rubber companies. He also obtained the northern state of Amapá in a dispute with France regarding the Guianas, The treaty finalized Brazil's modern boundaries, which remain to this day. Indeed, to understand the effect of Rio Branco's efforts, one only has to compare the map of Brazil in 1889, when the Republic was formed, and a 1990 map; all of those states were a part of Brazil (albeit often in territorial form) by the 1910s.

In addition to these feats, the Barão was involved in negotiating an end to disputes between the United States and various European countries, always believing in the power of diplomacy. Thus, for his role in defining borders and for setting a tradition of excellence in diplomacy that remains in Brazil to this day, the Barão Rio Branco is one of the most famous and respected Brazilian politicians ever.

(And I apologize for the light blogging and dearth of facial hair - dissertation deadlines and some other unfortunate events have really distracted me, but hopefully by next weekend, facial hair and other blogging will be a little more regular on my part. Thanks to Erik for picking up the slack for me).