Rio Branco, Barão do (1845–1912)

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Rio Branco, Barão do (1845–1912)

Barão do Rio Branco (José Maria da Silva Paranhos Junior; b. 20 April 1845; d. 9 February 1912), Brazilian foreign minister. Rio Branco's prestige was founded on his successful settlement of frontier disputes. He was influenced forcefully by his father and namesake, the Viscount do Rio Branco, who was a noted diplomat and Conservative statesman. As a law student at São Paulo (1862) and Recife (1866) as secretary to his father during delicate diplomacy in the Río de la Plata (1869, 1870–1871), Rio Branco acquired a taste for diplomatic and military history not only of that area but of Brazil generally. He cultivated this taste over decades, first as a political journalist and deputy, then in his quiet diplomatic routine as consul in Liverpool (1876–1893). He pursued his studies and bibliophilia in the Parisian home he maintained for his family.

Rio Branco's erudition gradually became well known among cognoscenti; when a representative for the arbitration with Argentina over the Missions area was required, Rio Branco was remembered. His celebrated commitment to painstaking research and analysis was first remarked in this case (1893–1895). Victory dispelled obscurity; first named to a more prestigious European post, he was then sent to contest Gallic claims associated with French Guiana (1898–1900). A second victory was rewarded with the ministerial position in Berlin (1900–1902), after which he became the minister of foreign affairs in the dynamic administration of Rodrigues Alves (1902–1906).

Rio Branco was a member of that administration and those that followed for an unprecedented ten years, comprising the golden age of Brazil's diplomatic prestige. From Itamaratí Palace, Rio Branco continued to orchestrate the peaceful settlement of various frontier disputes from Dutch Guiana to Uruguay. He is noted, for example, for negotiating the end to the confrontation over the upper-Amazon sources of natural rubber, a negotiation that led to the origins of the present state of Acre (1904). Rio Branco also oversaw Brazil's developing relationship with the United States. He raised the diplomatic status of Brazil's representation in Washington, D.C., and he appointed Joaquim Nabuco as the first ambassador (1905–1910) to signal appreciation of the relationship's importance.

While Argentina saw itself as a hemispheric rival of the United States, Brazil preferred the role of junior partner. Brazil supported the Pan-American movement, whose Third Conference was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1906. Rio Branco is famed for his successful projection of Brazil's image as a "civilized" nation during this era of Eurocentric imperialism. He did this by attracting the nation's cultivated elite to diplomacy, by ensuring Brazil's inclusion at international meetings, by encouraging celebrated foreigners to travel to Brazil, and by promoting positive reports of the country and its past. His triumphs brought him a singular popularity which, like his books and maps, surrounded him in the cluttered Itamaratí apartment in which he died.

See alsoAcre; Pan-Americanism.


Raul Do Rio-Branco, Reminiscencias do Barão do Rio-Branco (1942).

Álvaro Lins, Rio Branco (1945).

Carolina Nabuco, The Life of Joaquim Nabuco (1950).

Luís Viana, A vida do Barão do Rio Branco (1959).

E. Bradford Burns, The Unwritten Alliance (1966).

Additional Bibliography

Lins, Alvaro. Rio Branco, o Barão do Rio Branco: Biografia pessoal e história política: texto completo. São Paulo: Editora Alfa Omega, 1996.

Moura, Cristina Patriota de. Rio Branco, a monarquía e a república. Rio de Janeiro: FGV, 2003.

Ricupero, Rubens. Rio Branco: O Brasil no mundo. Rio de Janeiro: Petrobrás, 2000.

                                    Jeffrey D. Needell