José Paranhos, Baron of Rio Branco

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His Excellency
The Baron of Rio Branco
Barao do rio branco 00.jpg
The Baron of Rio Branco in 1898
Minister of External Relations
In office
3 November 1902 – 10 February 1912
President Rodrigues Alves
Afonso Pena
Nilo Peçanha
Hermes da Fonseca
Preceded by Olinto de Magalhães
Succeeded by Lauro Müller
2nd Academic of the 34th chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters
In office
1 October 1898 – 10 February 1912
Preceded by Pereira da Silva
Succeeded by Lauro Müller
Personal details
Born José Maria da Silva Paranhos Júnior
(1845-04-20)20 April 1845
Rio de Janeiro, Empire of Brazil
Died 10 February 1912(1912-02-10) (aged 66)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Nationality Brazilian
Political party Conservative Party (until 1889)
Independent (from 1889)
Spouse(s) Marie Philomène Stevens
Alma mater Faculty of Law of Recife
Profession Diplomat
Religion Roman Catholic

José Maria da Silva Paranhos, Jr., Baron of Rio Branco (in Portuguese: Barão do Rio Branco) (April 20, 1845 – February 10, 1912) was a Brazilian diplomat, geographer, historian, monarchist, politician and professor, considered to be the "father of Brazilian diplomacy". He was the son of famous statesman José Maria da Silva Paranhos, Sr. The Baron of Rio Branco was a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, occupying its 34th chair from 1898 until his death in 1912. As a representative of Brazil, through his outstanding diplomacy, he managed to peacefully resolve Brazil's border disputes with its South American neighbours.


Coat of arms of the Baron of Rio Branco

In 1889, Emperor Pedro II of Brazil granted him the Brazilian nobility title Baron of Rio Branco (Barão do Rio Branco), a few days before the Proclamation of the Republic. Rio Branco nonetheless continued to use the title throughout his life, despite governmental prohibition, because of his monarchist beliefs and in respect for his father. Being a monarchist, however, was no impediment for his success as a diplomat: the Baron of Rio Branco reached the heights of his career during the Republic, when he acted as Minister of Foreign Affairs for 10 years and settled all of Brazil's remaining border disputes by peaceful means.

Career history and legacy[edit]

Picture of Rio Branco in the 1890s

Rio Branco began his political career as a congressman in the House of Commons. From 1876 on, he was the Brazilian Consul General in Liverpool, England. He was also the Brazilian Ambassador in Berlin in the beginning of the 20th century.

Rio Branco's most important legacy to Brazil was his successful effort, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, in defining the country's borders with all of its neighbours. He was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1902 and retained office until 1912, under four different Presidents, a feat unequalled in Brazilian history.

Before and during his term, he negotiated territorial disputes between Brazil and some of its neighbours and consolidated the borders of modern Brazil. He is considered one of the most prominent Brazilian statesmen ever, as his proverbial work capacity, knowledge and skills were essential for the successful outcome of difficult boundary disputes, some of which submitted to international arbitration – such as with Argentina and France –, as well as for incorporating new territory (the state of Acre, originally Bolivian).

As a mediator he negotiated and settled disputes between the United States and many European countries. On those occasions, he never abandoned his belief in diplomacy as the means to handle international matters, thus helping establish Brazil's reputation as a peace-loving nation.

Resolved boundary disputes with Brazil's South American neighbours[edit]

South America (1879): All land claims by Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, and Bolivia in 1879

Treaty of Petrópolis with Bolivia[edit]

In 1903 Rio Branco signed the Treaty of Petrópolis with Bolivia, putting an end to the dispute involving the present Brazilian state of Acre. The region was settled mostly by native Brazilians, but the Bolivian government had come close to leasing this rubber-rich area to American private entrepreneurs. Today, the state's capital bears the name Rio Branco in his honor.

Tobar-Rio Branco Treaty with Ecuador[edit]

The representative of Brazil, Don José Maria da Silva Paranhos, who was Baron of Rio Branco met the representative of Ecuador, Dr. Carlos R. Tobar, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, to peacefully discuss a final border between their countries. On May 6, 1904, an agreement was reached and the two representatives signed the Tobar-Rio Branco Treaty, in which Ecuador renounced its claims to the disputed area between the Caquetá River and the Amazon river in favour of Brazil, in return Brazil recognized Ecuador as its neighbour. The border would be a straight imaginary line that starts midpoint between the cities of Tabatinga, Brazil and Leticia, Colombia, on the Amazon River and runs north until it reaches the Caquetá River, also known as the Japurá River.


Statue of Rio Branco in Porto Alegre.

In 1909, Rio Branco was encouraged to run for the Presidency, but he declined, as he could not envisage consensus around his name. He was very popular, however, among the people, at the time of his death, to the point of paralysing Carnival – another unparalleled feat in Brazilian history – on the day he died (February 10), when official mourning was declared. The first recorded instance of an official moment of silence dedicated to a person's death took place in Portugal on February 13, 1912. The Portuguese Senate dedicated 10 minutes of silence to the baron. This moment of silence was registered in the Senate's records of that day.

As a writer he wrote many books, dealing mostly with the history of Brazil, and was awarded prizes and occupied the 34th seat of the Brazilian Academy of Literature.

Brazil's diplomacy academy (Instituto Rio Branco) is named after the Baron. Rio Branco is portrayed on the fifty centavos coin of the Brazilian real currency.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

LINS, Álvaro. Rio Branco (O Barão do Rio Branco): biografia pessoal e história política. São Paulo: Editora Alfa-Omega, 1996. 516p.

Preuss, Ori. Bridging the Island: Brazilians' Views of Spanish America and Themselves. Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2011.

Luís Cláudio Villafañe G. Santos (2010), O Dia em que Adiaram o Carnaval, São Paulo, Brazil: Editora da UNESP 

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
João Manuel Pereira da Silva (founder)
Brazilian Academy of Letters - Occupant of the 34th chair
1898 — 1912
Succeeded by
Lauro Müller
Titles of nobility of the Brazilian Empire
Preceded by
New creation
Baron of Rio Branco
Succeeded by
None (title abolished)