The War of Paraguay, which took place between 1864 and 1870, was one of the most brutal wars in the history of South America. It involved the Triple Alliance, composed of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, against Paraguay. Brazil entered the war due to the seizure of the ship Marquês de Olinda on the Paraguay River and the invasion of Paraguayan troops in Mato Grosso. Argentina also declared war on Paraguay after the Paraguayan invasion in the Corrientes region.
The paraguayan cannon “El Cristiano” built during the War of Paraguay and delivered to the Paraguayan army, it participated in the Battle of Curupaiti on September 22, 1866. In 1870, during the final battle of the conflict, the Brazilian army seized the cannon to consider it a symbol of the war and the victory of the Brazilian army. The cannon was forged from the material of various bells from Paraguayan churches (hence the name “El Cristiano”), and due to its dimensions, it is considered one of the largest cannons manufactured in the 19th century. Currently, “El Cristiano” is displayed in the Epitácio Pessoa Courtyard of the National Historical Museum.
After the end of the War of Paraguay and the victory of the Allies, the Brazilian Armed Forces brought various war spoils, including documents, trophies, flags, swords, and the cannon “El Cristiano.” This practice of collecting items as war souvenirs has been common since the beginning of wars. Similarly, in Paraguay, there are also weapons and the Brazilian ship “Anhambaí” on display in the museums of that country as part of the war relics.
During the construction of the Itaipu hydroelectric plant, a large part of the war materials brought to Brazil was returned as a goodwill gesture by the Brazilian government. This included forgiving Paraguay’s debt to Brazil. However, the “El Cristiano” cannon was one of the few war souvenirs that remained in Brazil and is now on display at the National Historical Museum in Rio de Janeiro. In 1998, the entire museum collection was officially recognized as a national heritage by the National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN) through Decree-Law No. 25 of November 30, 1937.
After the declaration as a national heritage, only the President of the Republic has the authority to reverse this decision. In recent years, there have been debates about the possible return of the “El Cristiano” cannon to Paraguay. In 2010, the then Vice-President of Paraguay, Federico Franco, demanded the return of the cannon, and three years later, when he became President, he reiterated his position, stating that there would be no peace until the cannon was recovered.
President Lula, in response to Franco in 2010, asked the Ministry of Culture to consider returning the cannon to Paraguay. The Ministry of Culture suggested at that time that the return was being reconsidered so that the cannon could be part of mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries, such as the creation of a museum.
The “El Cristiano” cannon, the subject of dispute between Brazil and Paraguay, has not been returned due to the resistance of historians and military officials who consider the cannon part of the national historical heritage. However, the Paraguayan government continues to claim ownership of the “El Cristiano” cannon.
This raises questions about the return of war spoils by other countries and whether Paraguay would consider returning Brazilian weapons and the Brazilian ship “Anhabahy.” Furthermore, the return of the cannon could potentially strengthen relations between Brazil and Paraguay, remaining an unresolved issue.
Reference: G1. ‘El Cristiano’: canhão paraguaio que Assunção quer de volta pode ser visto de graça em museu do Rio. Brazil, August 19, 2022. Available in: ‘El Cristiano’: canhão paraguaio que Assunção quer de volta pode ser visto de graça em museu do Rio | Rio de Janeiro | G1 (globo.com). Accessed on: August 20, 2023.
Wikipedia. El Cristiano. Brazil, [s.d.]. Available in: El Cristiano – Wikipédia, a enciclopédia livre (wikipedia.org). Accessed on: August 20, 2023.
História Militar Online. O Canhão El Cristiano E A Guerra Do Paraguai. Brazil, January 19, 2019. Available in: O canhão El Cristiano e a Guerra do Paraguai – História Militar Online (historiamilitaronline.com.br). Accessed on: August 20, 2023.
Matheus is an entrepreneur at Araujo Media, where he serves as CEO and Creative Director. He shares analyses on his personal blog "matheusaraujo.me" and is currently pursuing a degree in Advertising and Propaganda. Moreover, he has a passion for history, particularly that of Brazil, which led him to become the founder and editor of the Brazilian History portal.