Berges, José (Late 1820s–1868)

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Berges, José (Late 1820s–1868)

José Berges (b. late 1820s; d. 21 December 1868), Paraguayan diplomat and jurist. Berges was a charming, quick-witted man whose social skills and intelligence were early recognized by President Carlos Antonio López, who appointed him to the office of district judge in the mid-1840s. His success in this position was such that López soon transferred him to the diplomatic service, where he distinguished himself on several key occasions. In 1851 he negotiated an agreement in Montevideo whereby Paraguay agreed to support a military alliance against the Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. Five years later he went to Rio de Janeiro to work with Brazilian diplomats on a mutual trade and boundary treaty.

Berges's finest moment as a diplomat, however, came in 1860, when he journeyed to Washington, D.C., to argue Paraguay's case before an arbitration commission called to decide culpability in the Water Witch dispute with the United States. The decision of the chief arbitrator favored the Paraguayans, and when Berges returned to Asunción, his fame had grown so much that some even spoke of his succeeding the aging López.

When López died in 1862, he was instead succeeded by his eldest son, General Francisco Solano López. The new president, though in many ways an egomaniac, saw no reason to hold Berges's popularity against him and soon appointed him foreign minister. In this capacity, he sent notes of protest to Brazil when that country intervened in Uruguay in 1864. These protests were only a prelude to the six-year War of the Triple Alliance, which commenced shortly thereafter. During the course of the fighting, the Paraguayan army invaded northeastern Argentina, and Berges was named to organize a short-lived puppet regime at Corrientes.

After López abandoned his Argentine campaign in late 1865, Berges returned to Asunción, where he headed up virtually all public administration in the Paraguayan capital. Three years later he was accused of conspiring against the Solano López regime. After being subjected to merciless torture, he confessed and was then summarily shot along with other supposed plotters.

See alsoWater Witch Incidentxml .


Arturo Bray, Hombres y épocas del Paraguay (1957), vol. 2, pp. 69-98.

Charles J. Kolinski, Historical Dictionary of Paraguay (1973), p. 25.

Carlos Zubizarreta, Cien vidas paraguayas, 2d ed. (1985), pp. 142-145.

                                  Thomas L. Whigham

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Berges, José (Late 1820s–1868)

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