A History of Paraguay
By Baruja, Paiva & Pinto
When in June of 1932 the first shots
of the war were fired, the Bolivians felt completely assured of
a swift victory. Their country was richer and much more populated
than Paraguay, its army larger, had superior commanders and they
were better trained and provided for. However, these advantages
were not the decisive factors due to the impressive zeal of Paraguayans
defending their mother country, besides the fact that they understood
the base of their nationality to have firm physical roots. They
could never accept that the Bolivian expectations included half
of their national territory. The highly motivated Paraguayans knew
perfectly the geography of the Chaco, unlike the Bolivians and for
that reason, they could easily infiltrate the Bolivian lines, surround
bunkers and capture provisions. Contrarily, the Indians of the Bolivian
Highlands were recruited in the Bolivian army by force, but did
not have a genuine interest in the war and never adapted to the
harsh climate of the Chaco like the native Paraguayans. As if only
a small thing, the meager provisions, poor paths and the logistics
impeded the Bolivian campaign. The Paraguayans were more united
than the Bolivians, at least initially, as President Eusebio Ayala
and Colonel Estigarribia worked very well together.
That war laid the foundations for the
definitive ascent of the Guaraní language as the second national
language due to its use as a code in the army. As the Bolivians
did not pay attention to that apparently insignificant detail, they
soon did not know what to make of the Paraguayan intelligence.
On June 15, 1932, the Bolivians initiated
hostilities by taking Fort Carlos A. López on the banks of
the strategic lake Pitiantuta, but a month later troops led by Captain
A. Palacios recovered that position at a terrible cost. Bolivia
also took Boquerón, which was a few kilometers from Asunción
as well as other smaller forts. Paraguay called a truce for peace
talks but Bolivia had decided to go for the victory.
In the middle of a war, an admirable
democratic practice began: Guggiari (who was occupying a second
presidency after his resignation) hands over the presidential command
to Eusebio Ayala who was known for his pacifism but against adversity
did not hesitate in showing his patriotism. He put a civilian, Justo
Pastor Benítez in the position of Secretary of the Military
and Naval Branch, an unusual action in the midst of battle. Soon
he granted the practical control of the troops to Colonel Estigarribia.
Without hesitation, Paraguay took the
offensive by attacking Boquerón. This being formidably defended
from invaders was finally surrendered on September 29, 1932 after
20 days of uninterrupted combat, various displays of heroism and
enormous shortages. It was the general Bolivian retreat. The rest
of the country felt that as great boost to moral as it saw that
a small, but well equipped army of a country with limited resources
had won the battle. Since Curupaity, Paraguay had not had such a
resounding victory but on this occasion the feeling of winning a
war felt very certain.
Bolivia had to resort to recruiting
as the commander of its troops the German veteran general of World
War I, Hans Kundt. He attempted to stop the Paraguayan attack in
Saavedra but failed in his offensive at Nanawa in January of 1933.
Meanwhile there were discussions of
peace. The United States proposed a plan that visibly favored Bolivia.
Paraguay had the wisdom to reject it. Of all its neighbors, only
Argentina helped the Guaraníes under the table with rockets,
fuel and other resources. Even the future Argentine president Perón,
then a major in the neighboring army, he had been the coordinator
of the trafficking in Paso de los Libres in the southwest of Paraguay
dressed as a Paraguayan colonel to avoid a probable capture and
execution for violating Argentina’s “neutrality".
For his collaboration, years later, Perón was made an honorary
general of the Paraguayan Army. This time, the Brazilians and Chileans
minimally supported Bolivia to attempt to shift the balance of power
more to La Plata. Days later in February of 1933, Argentina and
Chile proposed a plan that this time Paraguay accepted but Bolivia
did not, trusting in Kundt. But Kundt suffered an ugly military
defeat in Toledo at the end of the month.
Paraguay officially declared war on
May 10, 1933. This meant that Bolivia could no longer supply itself
through the Pilcomayo and the Pacific Ocean through Chile.
By July of 1933, Bolivia launched a
general attack against several forts, including the important plaza
of Nanawa. They failed with many spectacular losses in human lives.
The enigmatic and laconic Estigarribia (so described by the great
poet Augusto Roa Bastos in one of his works) ordered an offensive
intending to exterminate the Bolivian army.
Estigarribia became a general (this
was the first time that the national army was run by a general.
It would not soon have another for the duration of the battle) and
surrounded the Bolivians in Pampa Grande y Pozo Favorito in September
of 1933. On December 11 they forced the opposing army to hand over
their arms after a catalytic victory in Campo Vía. The nation
There was an armistice that only lasted
until January 6, 1934. Kundt was discharged and replaced by General
Peñaranda. The Paraguayans wasted no time in advancing north
following the Pilcomayo River. In March of 1934, the Bolivians suffered
defeat at Cañada Tarija but also had a significant victory
at Cañada Strongest, the only blemish on the brilliant military
career of the future Marshal Estigarribia. Ballivián on the
Pilcomayo looking towards Argentina seemed unconquerable and Estigarribia
understood that it was better to go further north going along the
side to surround him.
On November 16, 1934, Colonel Carlos Fernández won the important
victory of El Carmen in the Chaco on land then considered to be
Bolivian. At the same time, Estigarribia attempted to prevail over
the enemy’s counter offensive. Because of this battle, Ballivián,
who was already without provisions, surrendered and the Paraguayan
troops continued into Bolivian territory while the Bolivian president
Salamanca was deposed by unsatisfied Bolivian officials.
The last reserves of the Bolivian army
attempted one last attack but Estigarribia understood that to confront
them before they reached the supplies of water at Yrendague in the
middle of a huge desert would be a huge victory. Thanks to his official
Eugenio Garay, that was exactly what he did, and the enemy was soundly
defeated. Thus the expedition continued towards the old Parapití
River which was the border of Paraguay and sovereign Bolivia when
the Guaranís arrived from a distant river. Total victory
came January 16, 1935. The Paraguayan Chaco and parts of enemy territory
were effectively in Paraguayan hands.
On April 16, 1935, Charagua, the first and only Bolivian city that
underwent attack, fell to the Paraguayans. Alarmed Bolivians escaped
the Paraguayans but in Ingaví on July 7, 1935, they were
defeated. Before Estigarribia’s impassive gaze, the commander
of the sixth Bolivian division and more than 1000 enemy soldiers
This signaled the end of the war. It
had been an expensive war, almost 125 million dollars in cash were
spent, but in a unique case, the State was left without debt. However,
the human cost was high, of the 140,000 involved in the war, 36,000
never returned home.
Estigarribia, who used various military movements that were utilized
later on in WWII, emerged as one of the greatest military leaders
of the 20th century, comparable to such great men as Petain, Hindenburg,
Eisenhower, De Gaulle and Patton. These are excellent comparisons
in spite of the critique of competent Paraguayan official Arturo
Bray regarding some of Estigarribia’s military decisions.