A History of Paraguay
By Baruja, Paiva & Pinto
Solano López consolidated his power alter the death of his
father in 1862 imposing silence on several critics and reformed
aspirants after jail. Another Paraguayan congress elected López
president unanimously. Solano López would have done well
to consider the last words of his father who advised him to avoid
aggressive acts in the foreign affairs, especially with Brazil.
The political exterior of Solano López immensely undervalued
Paraguay’s neighbors and granted excessive valor to the potential
of Paraguay as a military power.
The observers differed greatly about Solano López. George
Thompson, an English engineer who worked for the young López
(the Brit was distinguished as a Paraguayan officer during the Triple
Alliance War and later wrote a book on his experience) had harsh
words for his former boss and commander and called him a “monster
as none other.” The conduct of Solano López gave evidence
to such charges. To begin with, the erroneous calculations and ambitions
of Solano López plunged Paraguay in a war against Argentina,
Brazil, and Uruguay. The war produced the death of half the Paraguayan
population and nearly eliminated the country off the face of the
earth. During the war, Solano López decreed the executions
of his own brothers and had his mother and sisters tortured when
he suspected them to oppose him. Thousands of people, including
the best soldiers and generals also suffered death by a firing squad
or had body parts cut off by order of Solano López. Others
saw Solano López as a megalomaniac paranoiac, a man who wanted
to be the “Napoleon of South America” only to reduce
his country in ruin and convert his compatriots to beggars in his
vain search for glory.
Nevertheless, the Paraguayan nationalist sympathizers of that military
and the foreign revisionist historians have portrayed Solano López
as a patriot who, despite his defects in conduct, resisted the Argentine
and Brazilian plans in Paraguay until the last breath, giving his
own life in the last battle. For them the marshal was a tragic figure
trapped in a weaving of Argentine and Brazilian duplicity and who
mobilized the nation to expulse its enemies and heroically rejected
them during five horrific bloody years until Paraguay was completely
invaded and prostrate. During the years of Stroessner, the Paraguayans
considered Solano López as the greatest hero of the nation.
That Stronist glorification of a vain and defeated marshal was considered
by many as a maneuver to hide the fresh and brilliant memory of
a decent and conquering marshal in the post Chaco War which agreed
with José Félix Estigarribia’s liberal ideas.
The main failure of Solano López was that he didn’t
catch the changes that had been produced in the region since the
time of Francia. Under the order of his father, the prolonged, bloody
and confusing signs of birth and growth in the Rio de Plata states,
the bellicose politics of Brazil and the neutral politics of Francia
functioned, preserving the Paraguayan independence. But the case
was disfigured when Argentina and Brazil finally affirmed their
identities and showed united interiors. For example, Argentina as
a nation began to look at its foreign affairs and not as part of
a region as the Paraguayans expected. The effort of Solano López
to compare Paraguay as a regional power to the pair made up of Argentina
and Brazil would only carry unfortunate consequences.
The Outbreak of the Slaughter of America
Solano López interpreted the Brazilian intervention in Uruguay
in September of 1864 as a snub to the weaker nations in the region.
The Paraguayan president was correct in the idea that neither Brazil
nor Argentina paid any attention to Paraguay’s interest when
formulating their politics. But he incorrectly concluded that the
conservation of Uruguayan independence was crucial for the future
of Paraguay as a nation. Continuing his plans to create Paraguay
as a “third force” among Argentina and Brazil, Solano
López compromised the nation to help Uruguay. While Argentina
did not react to Brazil’s invasion of Uruguay, Solano López
captured a Brazilian battleship in November of 1864. He continued
with an invasion of Matto Grosso, Brazil, in March of 1865, which
resulted in one of the few Paraguayan wins during the war. Solano
López decided to hit the main force of his enemy on Uruguayan
soil. But he wasn’t aware that Argentina had warily approved
Brazil’s policy in Uruguay and would not support Paraguay
against Brazil. When self-named marshal Solano López asked
for permission for his army to cross Argentine territory to attack
the Brazilian province of Río Grande do Sul, Argentina vaguely
denied the request. Making up his mind, the marshal sent his forces
across the Argentine province of Corrientes which lay between Paraguay
and the Brazilian province. He hoped to find strong local support
which had a confederate memory, used the Guaraní language
and hated the Porteño dominance. Instead, the action brought
Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay (now reduced to a puppet state) to
sign the Treaty of the Triple Alliance in high secrecy in May of
1865. Under the treaty the nations swore to destroy the rule of
Francisco Solano López and to divvy the nation between the
two greater powers.
Paraguay was not prepared for a major large scale war, but the marshal
decided to follow through. In terms of quantity, the Paraguayan
army with 30,000 men was the most powerful army in Latin America.
But the strength of the army was a mere illusion which lacked specialized
direction, a trustworthy provision of arms, material, and adequate
reserves. Since the days of the Supreme, the bodies of officials
were abandoned for political reasons. The army suffered a critical
shortage of capable personnel of rank and many of their combat units
were badly trained. Paraguay lacked an industrial base to replace
the arms lost in battle and the Argentine-Brazilian alliance blocked
the reception of foreign-sent Paraguayan armament. The population
of Paraguay only reached approximately 450,000 in 1865, a number
lower than the amount of able of the Brazilian National Guard, and
were equivalent to the twentieth part of the allied population combined
which summed up to eleven million souls. Solano López even
recruited children from ten years and up and forced the women to
do non-military jobs, but even so could never unfold on the battlefield
an army greater than the enemy’s.
Apart from some Paraguayan victories in the northern front, the
war was a disaster for the Marshal López. The thick of the
Paraguayan army entered Corrientes in April of 1865. By July of
the same year, more than half the force of 30,000 men was exterminated
or captured together with the best arms and artillery. The war changed
into a desperate struggle for the survival of the nation. It was
kill or be killed. In May of 1866, the Paraguayans liberated the
Battle of Tuyutí, which was a frightful defeat.
The English journalists published the Secret Treaty of the Triple
Alliance, which provoked innumerable reactions in favor of Paraguay.
The famed Argentine lawyer Alberdi of confederate tendency from
Europe converted into the champion of the Paraguayan cause and the
American nations with a Pacific coast cried out for an immediate
cease of hostility and bitterly protested on the terms of the treaty.
The President of Bolivia, General Melgarejo, even offered an army
of 12,000 men in favor of the Marshal López. From the moment
in which the Argentine territory was free of invaders, the opinion
of the Argentine provinces and important Porteño politicians
judged that there was no reason left for war, asked for an immediate
ceasefire and pleaded for Paraguay. The same people prevented Argentina
from going on with their part of the secret treaty (which was to
split Paraguay with Brazil) after the war although they accepted
the annexation of Paraguayan territories to their nation.
During the middle of the world-wide controversy, the allied suffered
a resounding defeat in Curupaity on September 22, 2866, in the hands
of the courageous Colonel José Eduvigis Díaz and his
few men in the summit of the hill of the same name. On the allied
side were tens of thousands of dead while the Guaraní only
lost less than a hundred. This was a sharp blow on the Argentine
moral, which went even so far as to consider pulling out its army
of the Alliance.
Paraguayan soldiers unfolded an unusual valiant suicide, overall
which Solano López had various shot or tortured for insignificant
offenses. The cavalry units operated on foot for lack of horses.
Naval infantry battalions armed with only machetes attacked armored
Brazilians. The suicide attacks produced true fields of cadavers.
But the cholera also took its toll. After 1867 Paraguay had lost
60,000 men in action, another 60,000 were lost to various diseases
or captures. Solano López inclusively enlisted slaves and
recruited even children in the infantry units. He forced the women
to do support jobs behind the lines of fire. The shortage of material
was so severe that the Paraguayan troops went to combat semi-naked
and even the colonels were shoeless on the field of action, according
to an observer. The defensive character of the war, combined with
the Paraguayan determination and the ingenuity and difficulty which
occasioned the mutual cooperation which the Brazilians and Argentines
had, gave to the conflict a character of a heated war. Paraguay
lacked the resources to continue the war against the giants of South
the war neared its inevitable outcome, Solano López imagined
himself surrounded by an immense conspiracy, and so ordered thousands
of executions in the army and also two brothers and two brothers-in-law,
ministers, military officers and around 500 foreigners, including
various diplomats. It was the famous “process of San Fernando,”
a dark and shameful chapter of the Guaraní history. He ordered
his victims killed with spears to save ammunition. The bodies were
buried in a large pit. His cruel treatment of the prisoners was
famous. The Marshal López condemned his own soldiers to death
if they did not fulfill even the smallest detail of their orders.
“Conquer or die” was the daily motto.
surrender behind the large site of the Humaitá fort against
Argentine forces the 24th of July of 1868 was decisive for the course
of the war because the fort was the key to enter Paraguay. The Paraguayan
resistance was so heroic when the men went out semi-malnutritioned
and almost naked, without ammunition, were refugees with high honors
for the enemy’s part in recognition of their valor in combat.
In Ytororó and Abay, the General Bernardino Caballero offered
striking resistance up to the last man against the Brazilian advances
so the Marshal could organize a decisive battle in the Lomas Valentinas
where on December 17, 1868, was still attacked by large enemy forces.
López could leave in retirement after seven days of combat
but not before shooting his brother Benigno López, the Palacios
bishops and his Chancellor José Berges.
allied troops entered Asunción in January of 1869, but Solano
López had luck because the Brazilian Marquis Caxias considered
occupying the capital instead of attacking assumed the war was over.
López succeeded in gathering an army of 12,000 which in reality
were old men, children and women between Azcurra and Caacupé.
He irritated Brazil with the almost miraculous survival of the Paraguayan
tyrant and decided to continue the war even without an army. The
Argentines and Uruguayans thought occupying Asunción would
end the war for them and so left a few regiments in the location
and returned to their countries.
Brazilians looted and conducted rampages. August 12, 1869, they
won a dramatic battle in Piribebuy and unsatisfied, set fire to
the hospital full of wounded and slit the throat of the commander
of the place, Major Pedro Pablo Caballero. On August 16, 1869, López
arranged an integrated army of only children to confront the Brazilian
hordes and the fatal combat of Acosta Ñu, of which none survived.
Today the day is commemorated as Children’s Day in Paraguay
with a special remembrance.
López fled even deeper into the country until he was lanced
dead by a Brazilian soldier on the shores of the Aquidabán
stream in Cerro Corá on March 1, 1870. With the last words
“I die with my nation,” the cruel tyrant ended the bloodiest
war in America.
year 1870 marked the lowest point in Paraguayan history. Hundreds
of thousands of Paraguayans were dead. Degraded and practically
destroyed, Paraguay had to endure a long occupation of foreign troops
and cede enormous extensions of territory to Brazil and Argentina.
to various versions of historians of what happened between 1865
and 1870, the Marshal Francisco Solano López was not totally
responsible for the war. The causes were very complex and included
the Porteño anger for the aged interference of Carlos Antonio
López in Corrientes. The elder López also had angered
the Brazilians for not helping overthrow the Porteño tyrant
Rosas in 1852 and for having forced Brazilian troops out of the
territory claimed by Paraguay in 1850 and 1855 instead of trying
to work out a treaty with them. Carlos A. López regretted
having conceded the rights of free navigation to Brazil on the Paraguay
River in 1858. Argentina argued over territory ownership of the
Missions that were between the Paraná and Uruguay Rivers
and Brazil had its own ideas on the Brazil-Paraguay limits. These
problems were joined by the Uruguayan whirlpool that touched the
ego of Solano López. Carlos Antonio López had survived
thanks to a good dose of cunning and a little bit of luck, which
was exactly what his unruly son lacked.