United States of Brazil During World War 1
During World War I (1914–1918), Brazil initially adopted a neutral position, in accordance with the Hague Convention, in an attempt to maintain the markets for its export products, mainly coffee, latex, and industrially manufactured items.
However, following the repeated sinking of Brazilian merchant ships by German submarines, President Venceslau Brás declared war against the Central Powers in 1917.
Brazil was the only country in Latin America to be directly involved in the war.
The major participation was the Brazilian Navy’s patrol of areas of the Atlantic Ocean.
Brazil officially declared neutrality on August 4, 1914.
At the beginning of the war, although neutral, Brazil faced a complicated social and economic situation.
Its economy was largely based on exports of agricultural products such as coffee, latex, and very limited industrial manufacturing.
As these products exported by Brazil were not considered essential by foreign consumers, customs duties and export fees (the main source of government income) decreased as the conflict continued.
This was accentuated further by the German blockade of Allied ports, and then by a British ban on the importation of coffee into England in 1917.
This arose because the British government now considered the cargo space on ships necessary for more vital goods, given the great losses of merchant ships as a result of German attacks.
The Brazilian merchant ship Rio Branco was sunk by a German submarine on May 3, 1916, but as this was in restricted waters and registered under the British flag and with most of its crew composed of Norwegians, it was not considered an illegal attack by the Brazilian government, despite the public uproar the event caused.
Relations between Brazil and the German Empire were shaken by the German decision to introduce unrestricted submarine warfare, allowing its submarines to sink any ship that breached the blockade.
On April 5, 1917, the large Brazilian steamship Paraná (4,466 tons), loaded with coffee and traveling in accordance with the demands made on neutral countries, was torpedoed by a German submarine with three Brazilians being killed.