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La Plata / Platine War - 1851-1852

The Guerra Grande was the bloodiest, longest, and most stubborn war ever fought on Uruguayan soil. Uruguay's history was inexplicably entwined with the story of the struggle between the two great Argentine factions. The little country became the storm-centre of South American politics and the chief battlefield of the contending forces. Now for the first time we encounter references to "blancos" and "colorados," which remain to this day the names of Uruguayan political parties. All the forces of the community lined up on either side and never have political parties fought more determinedly and relentlessly.

The divisions between them entered into all social and business relations, and even friendly intercourse between the members of the two factions was almost impossible. Men have often been more blanco or colorado than Uruguayan. The old conservative resident Spanish families were the basis of the blanco, or Oribe party, while the colorados, or partisans of Rivera, were the progressive faction. The latter attracted the Argentine refugees fleeing from the tyranny of Rosas, and could count upon the support of resident Europeans and upon the sympathy of foreign governments. Rosas in Argentina and the blancos in Uruguay represented the spirit of exclusivism and opposition to foreign influences.

A tedious and exhausting partisan warfare went on in the interior; guerrilla bands scoured the country in every direction; inhabitants of the same town were arrayed against each other, and surprises, treasons, and massacres were almost daily occurrences. One of the most successful leaders on the colorado side was the famous Giuseppe Garibaldi. The future liberator of Italy had made his debut as a revolutionist in the insurrection which broke out in 1835 in the Brazilian province of Rio Grande. Later he crossed the Urugayan border and fought against Rosas for several years.

Early in 1851 a grand combination to overthrow Rosas was made between Entre Rios, Corrientes, the unitarians, the colorados, and Brazil. The constant policy of the latter power had been to secure and maintain the independence of Uruguay, and she welcomed the opportunity to open up the Parana and Uruguay, on whose headwaters she had great territories, inaccessible except along those rivers. Urquiza naturally became the general-in-chief of the alliance.

On the 18th of July 1851 he crossed the Uruguay, followed by a large army from his own provinces. A Brazilian army soon joined him and the colorados flocked to his standard. The Brazilian fleet came down the coast and controlled the estuary. An overwhelming force advanced on Montevideo and the blanco army found itself with a hostile city and fleet in front, a superior army behind, and deprived of the hope of receiving help from Buenos Aires. The officers hastened to make terms with Urquiza.

Whole divisions deserted, and Oribe himself was obliged to surrender. Many of the soldiers who had been fighting in the blanco ranks joined Urquiza, and the latter, after a vain attempt to reconcile the Uruguayan factions among themselves, marched his army back through Uruguay and Entre Rios, crossed the Parana, and, descending to Buenos Aires, defeated Rosas in the great battle of Monte Caseros.

After Rosas went into exile in Britain in 1852, internal strife in Argentina continued until 1861, when the country was finally unified. Uruguay was affected because each Uruguayan faction expressed solidarity with various contenders in Argentina or was, in turn, supported by them.

Brazil's intervention in Uruguay was intensified both because of Argentina's temporary weakness and because of Brazil's desire to expand its frontiers to the Rio de la Plata. Brazil intervened militarily in Uruguay as often as it deemed necessary, in accordance with the 1851 treaties. In 1865 the Triple Alliance formed by the emperor of Brazil, the president of Argentina, and General Venancio Flores (1854-55, 1865-66), the Uruguayan head of government whom they both had helped to gain power declared war on Paraguay.

Francisco Solano Lopez, Paraguay's megalomaniac dictator, had been verbally rattling his saber against Argentina and Brazil. The conflict lasted five years (1865-70) and ended with the invasion of Paraguay and its defeat by the armies of the three countries. Montevideo, which was used as a supply station by the Brazilian navy, experienced a period of prosperity and relative calm during the war.

After the war with Paraguay, the balance of power was restored between Argentina and Brazil, the guarantors of Uruguayan independence. Thus, Uruguay was able to internalize its political struggles, an indispensable condition for consolidation of its independence.

The overthrow of Rosas and Oribe marked the end of the effort to re-incorporate Uruguay with the Argentine Confederation. Uruguay was no longer in peril from foreign aggression, but she was far from being united. The blancos had apparently been completely crushed, but their wealth, prestige, and numbers still made them formidable. The seeds of division lay thickly in the soil of the national society and character, sure to spring up and bear many crops of wars and pronunciamentos.

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