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1839-51 - Guerra Grande (Great War)

In March 1835 General Manuel Oribe became the second President of Uruguay. The rivalry between the new and the former president soon led to a state of war between the adherents of the two. Oribe had the backing of the Argentine dictator Rosas but finally Rivera triumphed over his rival and entered Montevideo in November 1838. The National Assembly elected him President for the second time. Allying himself with the French Government which was opposing Rosas and the Argentine province of Corrientes, Rivera in March 1839 declared war against Rosas. At Cagancha Rivera's forces augmented by 1,000 French defeated the forces of Rosas.

Soon after the French raised the blockade of Buenos Aires and the French troops left the country. With this event Uruguay stood opposed to the full power of Argentia. In 1841 the Argentine admiral Brown practically wiped out the Uruguayan navy, although a few small vessels collected by the Italian General Gairbaldi continued to act as privateers.

The Argentine provinces of Corrientes, Santa Fe" and Entre Rios which were opposing Rcsas entered into an alliance with Uruguay. Rivera crossed the Uruguay as if to march on Buenos Aires but the allied forces were completely defeated on December 6, 1842, at Arroyo Grande by Rosas' forces under General Oribe, Rivera's old enemy.

Oribe crossed the Uruguay and almost without opposition arrived in front of Montevideo to which city he laid siege. This siege lasted for eight years. The Great War centered on the nine-year-long siege of Montevideo, described by Alexandre Dumas as a "new Troy," although the city itself suffered relatively little from the war. Britain had saved Montevideo at the outset by allowing the city to receive supplies. During the Great War, there were two governments in Uruguay: the Colorados at Montevideo (the so-called government of the "defense") and the Blancos at Cerrito (Little Hill), a promontory near Montevideo.

The intervention first of France (1838-42) and then of Britain and France (1843-50) transformed the conflict into an international war. First, British and French naval forces temporarily blockaded the port of Buenos Aires in December 1845. Then, the British and French fleets protected Montevideo at sea. French and Italian legionnaires (the latter led by Giuseppe Garibaldi) participated, along with the Colorados, in the defense of the city.

Rivera meanwhile had raised a new army and was attacking the Argentinos in the rear. A fresh Argentine force under General Urquiza sent to oppose Rivera defeated him at India Muerta in April 1845. Again Rivera was defeated in January 1847 at Las Minas. After this Rivera lost the confidence of the Uruguayans.

Historians believe that the reason for the French and British intervention in the conflict was to restore normalcy to commerce in the region and to ensure free navigation along the Rio Parana and Rio Uruguay, thus guaranteeing access to provincial markets without Buenos Aires 's interference. Their efforts were ineffective, however, and by 1849 the two European powers had tired of the war. In 1850 both withdrew after signing a treaty that represented a triumph for Rosas of Argentina.

It appeared that Montevideo would finally fall. But an uprising against Rosas led by Justo Jose de Urquiza, governor of Argentina's Entre Rios Province, with the assistance of a small Uruguayan force, changed the situation. They defeated Oribe in 1851, thereby ending the armed conflict in Uruguayan territory and leaving the Colorados in full control of the country. Brazil then intervened in Uruguay in May 1851 on behalf of the besieged Colorados, supporting them with money and naval forces.

With Rosas 's fall from power in Argentina in February 1852, the siege of Montevideo was lifted by Urquiza' s pro-Colorado forces. The siege was finally brought to an end through an alliance between Uruguay, Brazil and the Argentina Provinces of Corrientes and Entre Rios. General Urquiza meanwhile abandoned Rosas and joined the alliance. General Oribe surrendered in October 1851 and Rosas was defeated at Monte Caseros and fled to Europe.

Montevideo rewarded Brazil's vital financial and military support by signing five treaties in 1851 that provided for perpetual alliance between the two countries, confirming Brazil's right to intervene in Uruguay's internal affairs; extradition of runaway slaves and criminals from Uruguay (during the war, both the Blancos and the Colorados had abolished slavery in Uruguay in order to mobilize the former slaves to reinforce their respective military forces); joint navigation on the Rio Uruguay and its tributaries; tax exemption on cattle and salted meat exports (the cattle industry was devastated by the war); acknowledgment of debt to Brazil for aid against the Blancos; and Brazil's commitment to granting an additional loan. Borders were also recognized, whereby Uruguay renounced its territorial claims north of the Rio Cuareim (thereby reducing its boundaries to about 176,000 kilometers) and recognized Brazil's exclusive right of navigation in the Laguna Merin and the Rio Yaguaron, the natural border between the countries.

From 1851 to the end of the Paraguayan war in 1870 the internal conditions of Uruguay were more or less disturbed under the presidencies of Giro, Berro, Diaz, Pereira, Aguirre and Flores.

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Page last modified: 18-05-2017 19:44:11 ZULU