The Position Of Brazil

By William Spense Robertson

[The Nation; February 22, 1917]

Of all the countries of South America Brazil has come nearest to adopting President Wilson's suggestion to neutrals that they take action similar to that of the United States in regard to the new measures of submarine warfare announced by Germany. The protest which the Brazilian Government has addressed to Germany is couched in emphatic terms, throwing upon Germany responsibility for whatever may happen, and by implication, leaving it open for Brazil to take such further action in the future as the circumstances may demand. Yet the protest is far from satisfying a considerable section of public opinion. By the majority of the papers, of Rio de Janeiro it is criticised with varying degrees of bitterness on the grounds of inadequacy and weakness. Some of the papers frankly desire to follow the lead of the United States in severing diplomatic relations; in one of them is an attack on Dr. Lauro Muller, the Foreign Minister, which speaks of "the terrible doubt of Brazilians as to the predominance of his Germanism over his nationality;" another publishes an interview with Ruy Barbosa, whose outspoken utterances concerning the duty of neutrals to withstand German violations of international law have heretofore stirred up heated controversy, and who now comes forward with some mordant criticism of the protest, which, he declares, will be laughed at in Wilhelmstrasse.

Whatever the outcome of the present crisis may be, the Great War has made the Brazilian nation realize, as never before, that it is composed largely of European stock, and at that of Latin stock. The remarkable ascendency which French culture exerts over many Brazilian thinkers has been a potent influence in ranging public opinion in Brazil on the side of the Allies, and this sentiment was reinforced by the entry of Portugal into the war. It is no exaggeration to say that in Rio de Janeiro public sentiment is overwhelmingly against the Germans; indeed, rumors have been heard of governmental influence being brought to bear upon a prominent journal in the capital on account of its indiscreet propaganda for the Allies. From time to time articles gravely discussing "The German Peril in South America" appear in the public prints, for in southern Brazil are thousands of Germans and German-Brazilians who cherish German culture. The Government of Brazil has striven to maintain towards the belligerents its traditional policy of neutrality, but at times the maintenance of that policy has been difficult. One hears of wireless stations surreptitiously erected on the southern coast of Brazil by German sympathizers and of fishing-smacks which have spied upon the movements of English steamships. The present writer was told, on what he believes to be good authority, that President Braz quietly sent a military commission to southern Brazil to investigate reports of such unneutral proceedings.

Aid a multitude of incidents which illustrate Brazil's quandary in regard to the war, the most typical is that which centres on the trenchant figure, already mentioned, of the Senator from Bahia Ruy Barbosa. On July 14, 1916, while in Buenos Aires as the special envoy of Brazil to the exercises commemorative of the centenary of the declaration of Argentine independence, Buy Barbosa gave an address before the College of Law and Social Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires upon modern concepts of international law. He said, that at the second Hague Conference forty-four nations had deliberated in regard to international law and had formulated a vast code of stipulations which they solemnly committed themselves to observe. They had pledged themselves at least to protest against any violation of that code. There were not, he maintained, two codes of morality for nations: "For states, as for individuals, in peace or in war, there is only one moral code." He asked how the Hague Conventions, could be reconciled with the violation of the territory of neutral nations, with the use of asphyxiating gases, with the destruction of neutral vessels carrying thousands of innocent passengers. Then, premising that he spoke not as an ambassador, but only as a jurist, he declared: "Between those who destroy the law and those who observe it, neutrality is not admissible. Neutrality does not signify impassibility; neutrality signifies impartiality…. When there exist written norms between right and justice, to contend for the observance of those norms is not to break neutrality, but rather to practice it…. In the face of armed insurrection against positive right, neutrality cannot be abstention, cannot be indifference, cannot be silence."

Ruy Barbosa's address in Buenos Aires was cordially praised by most of the newspapers of Rio de Janeiro, the Jornal do Comercio asserting that the Brazilian Government would be compelled to adopt a different foreign policy. On July 17 in the House of Deputies Pedro Moacyr lauded the address and proposed that the House should insert the speech in its annals to show that the Senator voiced not only the policy of the Government, but also the sentiments of the people. Moacyr urged that the House should consider the sentiments embodied in that memorable speech as the inspiration of its acts. His remarks were greeted with applause, and his motion was passed. The official diary of Congress does not reveal how many votes were cast for Moacyr's motion—rumor has it that only a small number of Deputies were present. In the Senate, on the following day, Alcindo Guanabara moved that that body should publish the mooted address in its annals, not as a testimonial of personal homage, but as a ratification of doctrine. The Senate unanimously approved of Guanabara's motion. Amid the chorus of praise which arose from the newspapers there was one dissenting voice: O Imparcial disclaimed the perilous interpretation which was given to the action of Congress as signifying that the Government should depart from its firm policy of neutrality.

By way of an apology for that speech, on September 17, Ruy Barbosa delivered an address in the municipal theatre in Brazil's capital. He said that the United States had committed a grave, unpardonable error, "an error fatal to her glory," by failing to protest against the wanton invasion of Belgium and against the methodical violation of the Hague Conventions. "Thus she lost a unique opportunity to assume the leadership among the nations, to become the arbiter among the combatants upon the arrival of peace, and to rally at her side the peoples of the American continent." Eloquently he urged that it was the duty of Brazil to-protest. "By the love which I cherish for my country, I desire to see her assume this honor; declined by many other nations which are more important, stronger, and more secure.... The juridical questions of the present war and the burning problem of neutrality afford common ground for all America, especially for South America, where is found on Teutonic maps a Southern Germany…. If the Central Empires are victorious in this war, the German nation, intoxicated by the pride of the triumph, with Europe prostrate at her feet, will not hesitate to settle accounts with the United States, and, violating the doctrine of Monroe—which the United States has not the means to preserve—will proceed to obtain in South America those regions which the cartography of Pan-Germanism has often designated as the natural seat of her leonine sovereignty. Such is my mature, profound, and absolute conviction."

On September 19 Deputy Costa Rego arose in the House and moved that that body should insert in its annals this address of the eloquent Senator. In the course of an exciting debate which ensued, Joaquin Osorio said: "The Alliadophile Deputies do not possess the right to break the neutral policy of this nation—a policy which it has maintained so worthily and so serenely until the present time." Gonçalves Maia promptly interposed: "Your Excellency, as a German, should be with the Bodies," to which Osorio retorted: "I am not a German Deputy; I am a Brazilian Deputy.... I love my country and wish to preserve her from adventures.... Instead of being Alliadophiles or Germanophiles, we should be true Brazilians. This is the occasion for a national spirit." On a test vote Costa Rego's motion was lost by a vote of eleven to one hundred.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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