A History of Paraguay
By Baruja, Paiva & Pinto

Chapter 11

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 morally devastated.

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