A History of Paraguay
By Baruja, Paiva & Pinto

Chapter 4


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 empire.


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.

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