A History of Paraguay
By Baruja, Paiva & Pinto
The dispute between
Paraguay and Bolivia over the Chaco finally ended with Paraguay
winning the Chaco, even though Bolivia had won the previous war.
Civil war and a horrible diplomacy had left the establishment of
the frontier between the two countries neglected during the next
century following independence. Even though Paraguay possessed the
Chaco as far as any one can remember, the country never made any
effort to develop this region. Apart from the scattered Mennonite
colonies and nomadic Indians, very few people inhabited this region.
The reclamation of Bolivia over the Chaco broke out again when Bolivia
lost their maritime coast to Chile during the Pacific War (1879-84).
Without any rivers leading to the sea, Bolivia wanted to take over
the Chaco and expand their dominion all the way over to the Paraguayan
river to establish ports. Also the economic potential of the Chaco
tremendously interested the Bolivians. In the next years petroleum
was found by the Standard Oil Company, and many suspected that there
were immense petroleum deposits in all the area. Ironically the
two major victims in South America of wars and anxieties in the
last century were willing to go into another bloody war, this time
for a peace of desert that was apparently desolate.
Meanwhile the Paraguayans were occupied fighting with each other
in the civil war (1922-23), the Bolivians established a series of
forts in the Chaco. The Bolivians also acquired armaments from Germany
and contracted German military officers to train and organize their
forts. In 1927 the Paraguayan lieutenant, Adolfo Rojas Silva, died
in a bloody incident in “Fortin Sorpresa”. Also, the
Bolivians established a fort on the Paraguayan river called Fort
Vanguardia. All This had an immense negative impact on Paraguay.
In December that year, the Paraguayan Major (back then Colonel)
Rafael Franco took things into his own hands. By his own reckoning
he decided to formulate a surprise attack on the Bolivian fort.
Franco had great success by destroying it completely. The beaten
Bolivians quickly responded by attacking to Paraguayan forts and
taking over them. Both sides had a general mobilization of their
armies, but the Paraguayan army felt that they were not ready for
an all out war, so they humbly accepted to reconstruct the Fort
Vanguardia for the Bolivians. Paraguay received harsh criticism
from Bolivia when they received Franco as a hero. Bolivia had in
mind to go with war with them right then in 1928, but a severe warning
from Chile made them go back on their impulsive actions.
Like the diplomats
of Argentina, the United States and United Nations directed conversations
of “appeasement”. Due to this the colonel José
Félix Estigarribia, the commander of the Paraguayan army,
ordered his troops to move in against the Bolivian stations in 1931.
Meanwhile, the national protest caused by the “Liga Independiente
Nacional” augmented bitterly. Formed in 1928 by a group of
intellectuals, the League was searching for a new era in the nation’s
life which would lead to a great rebirth politically and socially.
Those in favor of the League defended a “new democracy”
that would block the country from those in favor of selfish interests
and various foreign interferences. Having a true integration of
diverse ideologies and interests, the League reflected a popular
desire for the social change. In 1931, in front of the “Palacio
de Lopez”, the government’s troops fired upon an unruly
crowd of students that were supporting the League. Because of this
the president Jose Guggiari lost his credibility that he had.
After this incident, Guggiari had the nobility to solicit his own
political judgment and accept the responsibility for the horrific
tragedy. The Legislature denied his plea for forgiveness and in
change accepted his resignation. A gesture that president Cubas
Grau, after the seven deaths in the “Plaza del Congreso”
70 years after, never meant to imitate. The students and soldiers
of the “Nuevo Paraguay” movement (who wanted to take
out all the corrupt political parties and introduce nationalistic
and social reforms) saw this as the result of a liberty that was