A History of Paraguay
By Baruja, Paiva & Pinto
The Viceroyalty in Peru and the Charcas Audiencia had authority
over Paraguay. Madrid had ignored this colony to avoid complexity,
spending money, and defending a remote colony that was loyal in
the beginning but useless in the end to the crown. Because of these
reasons, Paraguay does not have a troop of its own, and must depend
on an irregular militia composed by the colonist. The Paraguayan
natives took advantage of the situation and demanded that the certificates
of 1537 give them rights to choose and demote their own governors.
The colony (particularly Asunción) gained a reputation as
the rebellious colony that is always fighting against the crown.
The tension between the authorities and the colony reached its highest
point in 1720 because of the Jesuits, whose efforts to organize
the Indians had denied the colony’s use of Indian labor. A
great rebellion known as the Scrambled Comunera happened when the
Viceroyalty in Lima refunded a pro-Jesuits governing, which the
colonies had already demoted before. This revolt was a ‘rehearsal’
of the events that ended at the Independence of 1811. The most prosperous
families of Asunción (whose plantations of tobacco and grass
kill competed directly with the Jesuits) organized the revolt but
when the movement attracted support of the poor farmers in the interior,
the rich ones left it and next they asked authorities the restore
order. In response to this, the farmers began to seize properties
of the high class and to take them to the field. A radical army
almost captured Asunción and, ironically, it was repelled
by the Indian troops of the Jesuits’ reductions.
The revolt was a sign of decline. From the refund of Buenos Aires
in 1580, the rapid deterioration of Asuncion’s importance
contributed to the growth of the political instability within the
province. In 1617 the province of the Rio de la Plate was divided
in two smaller provinces: Paraguay with Asunción as its capital,
and the Rio de la Plate with Buenos Aires as its main city. With
this action, Asunción lost the control of the estuary of
the river and became employee of Buenos Aires for marine shipments.
In 1776, the Crown founded the Viceroyalty in Rio de la Plata. Paraguay,
which was subordinate to Lima, happened to be a region controlled
by Buenos Aires. Located in the periphery of the empire, Paraguay
served as a state cork: the Portuguese blocked the Paraguayan territorial
expansion in the north, the Indians blocked it in the south until
their expulsion, and the Jesuits blocked it in the east. They forced
Paraguayan young people to serve in the colonial military service
to make tours extended far from home, and this contributed to a
severe labor shortage.
Because Paraguay was located far from the colonial centers, it had
very little power in the important decisions that can affect its
economy. Spain took control of the wealth of Paraguay through heavy
taxes and other regulations. At the same time, Spain was collecting
resources and raw materials in the New World to be manufactured
in the most industrialized countries in Europe, especially in England.
The Spanish businessmen asked the British businessmen to support
their finances, at the same time the Argentinean businessmen asked
for Spanish support. The people in Asunción asked for rendering
from the “porteños” (those born in Argentina)
and finally the Paraguayan laborers (farmers without land and in
debt with the landowners) bought merchandise on credit. Its result
was the horrible poverty in Paraguay and a gradual impoverished
The French Revolution, with Napoleon Bonapart’s ascension
and the subsequent war zone in Europe inevitability weakened Spain’s
capacity to control its colonies. When the British troops intended
to invade and dominate Buenos Aires in 1806, the attack was repressed
by the city’s residents with some Paraguayan help, not Spain’s.
Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1808, the capture of the Spanish
kind Fernando VII (governed 1808 and 1814-33) and Napoleon’s
imposition on the Hispanic throne towards his brother José
Bonaparte disunited what was left of the links between the metropolis
and its satellites. José didn’t have any help whatsoever
nor had the loyalty of the Spanish American. Therefore, without
a recognized king, all the colonial system lost its legitimacy and
the colonists incited rebellions. Encouraged by the Porteños
for his recent victory against the British troops, the town hall
in Buenos Aires demoted the Spanish viceroy on May 25, 1810 and
swore to govern in Fernando VII’s name.
The porteño’s actions had unexpected consequences in
Argentinean and Paraguayan history. The news of the events in Buenos
Aires stunned Paraguayan citizens who were usually loyal to the
realistic position in the beginning. But it didn’t matter
how grave the old regime’s offense was, the Paraguayans didn’t
want to accept the porteños orders, naturals by a once low
payment in the midst of an empty Pampas when Paraguay was a potential
colony in the Spanish empire.
The poteños insisted on their effort to include Paraguay
under its control choosing José Espínola and Peña
as their spokesmen. According to the historian John Hoyt Williams,
Espinola was perhaps the most hated Paraguayan during his time.
Espinola’s reception in Asunción was not for anything
amiable, in part because he had united with the atrocious politics
of the ex governor, Lázaro de Rivera, who ordered to shoot
over hundreds of fellow citizens until he resigned in 1805. He then
escaped in exile to the north of Paraguay and crossed over to Buenos
Aires. He lied about the magnitude of his support of the porteños
in Paraguay and succeeded in making Buenos Aires’ send its
entire cavalry of troops to the north. Manuel Belrano, portenian
general and lawyer put together about a 1,100 men with the intention
of entering Asunción. However, the Paraguayan troops spectacularly
whipped the porteños in Paraguari and Tacuarí. Nevertheless,
both armies’ officials fraternized openly during the campaign.
Thanks to these contacts the Paraguayans comprehended that the Spanish
domination in South America will extinguish and that they, not the
Spanish, will have the true and sole power.
If Espínola and Belgrano’s case served to wake up the
first nacionalists in Paraguay, the sickly and conceived actions
performed by the realists that still existed in the colonies inflamed.
They believed that the Paraguayan officials that had fustigated
the porteños army represented to be a threat directly to
the government, the governor Bernanardo de Velasco dispersed and
disarmed the forces under his order and sent most of the soldiers
home without even paying their 8 months of service. Velasco had
already lost respect of his officials when he fled the battlefield
in Paraguarí. As a last misfortune, Asunción’s
main town hall solicited the protection of the Portuguese army against
Belgrano’s forces when they only camped just beside Argentina’s
boundary. Far from sustaining the position of the cavalry, a movement
ignited a rise and overthrew the Spanish authority the same time
in Paraguay on the night of May 14 and on the dawn of May 15, 1811.
The independence was formally declared on May 17.