Paraguay History: from Colonization to the Conflict with Bolivia

By | September 24, 2021


Inhabited by Guaraní Indians, starting from 1521 the territory was crossed by numerous Spanish expeditions driven by rumors of fabulous riches. One of these, directed by Juan de Salazar, led on 15 August 1537 to the foundation of the fort of Asunción, in the center of the Guaraní territory. Domingo Martínez de Irala extended the conquest and proclaimed himself governor of Asunción. To consolidate their presence, the Spaniards sent other troops from Peru and Argentina. Paraguay thus began to follow the political-administrative and socio-economic events of the other South American colonies. Inserted in the viceroyalty of Peru, in the century. XVII hosted numerous Jesuit missions. According to usaers, these gradually established populous communities of Indians, however opposed by the Spanish authorities who saw there a danger to royal sovereignty until, in 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from all the territories subject to the dominion of the crown of Spain. In 1776, under the reign of Charles III, the viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was created, with Buenos Aires as its capital: in addition to Argentina, the Banda Oriental was part of it (Uruguay), Upper Perú or Charcas (Bolivia) and Paraguay. The independence tremors that swept across South America following the emancipation of the United States of the North, the explosion of romanticism in Europe and the Napoleonic epic, also involved Paraguay.

To the point that, when patriotic juntas were formed in various South American cities between 1810 and 1811 in view of the detachment from the metropolis, Asunción was one of the most eager to join. But Buenos Aires, where in 1810 the birth of the State of the United Provinces had been proclaimed, did not intend to accept the loss of Paraguay: therefore it sent an army to the rebel province, under the command of General Belgrano.. On March 9, 1811, the Paraguayans fought in Tacuarí and defeated the Argentines. On 14 May the nationalist leader José Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia solemnly announced the independence of Paraguay. The following year, the first Congress of the new State met and decided to entrust its powers to two consuls. Rodriguez de Francia was first a participant in this constitutional investiture; then, progressively, he liquidated the other political leaders and assumed the title of first consul; finally he remained alone in command and called himself El Supremo. He ruled until the year of his death (1840). Paraguay returned to be led by a couple of consuls, Mariano Roque Alfonso and Carlos Antonio López. The latter soon managed to eliminate his partner. He too, like Rodriguez de Francia, was a dictator, but contrary to what the first had done, he did not close the doors to foreign contacts but favored the development of commercial and cultural relations with neighboring nations.

He also built roads, railways, schools and strove to improve the extremely unhappy living conditions of the Indians. Carlos Antonio López died in 1862, he was succeeded by his son Francisco Solano, general of the army and minister of war. Ambitious and intelligent, the latter had formed culturally in Europe, especially in France, at the court of Napoleon III. He built a strong, well-organized state that soon came to challenge the power of geographically larger countries, such as Argentina and Brazil. In reality, FS López was a staunch nationalist and had identified large foreign interests behind the governments of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, which, in his opinion, could threaten the economic and therefore also political independence of the South American republics. This conflict resulted in a war in 1865: on the one hand Paraguay, on the other a triple alliance formed by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The clash lasted five years and was decisive for Latin America: in fact it ended with the total defeat of Paraguay and with the affirmation, conversely, of the international interests fought by FS López. But for Paraguay it was not just a military setback: it was a real disaster, which cost immense ruins and losses. Solano López died on the run (1870). Asunción and other cities in the country were occupied for a few years by troops from the victorious states. Under those conditions, the reconstruction of Paraguay seemed almost impossible. Yet, at the beginning of 1871, the energy was found to introduce a new Constitutional Charter and to start the march of reorganization along paths other than those traveled by Solano López.

Trained by experience, the ruling class avoided handing over power to bold men and preferred weak personalities to them. In that period of time two political parties also took shape: the Radical (or liberal) party and the Colorado party: they were both expressions of dominant classes, but the second pursued more decidedly conservative goals. After a long period of tenure in the government of the conservatives, at the beginning of the new century the liberals ascended. But the situation did not fundamentally change; political life continued to be characterized by struggles between rival potentates. The First World War and its consequences accentuated the phenomenon; however, popular unrest also erupted due to demands for wage improvements. In such a tense climate, the conflict with Bolivia broke out in 1932 for the possession of the Chaco Boreal, to which the contrasts between the foreign companies operating in the oil sector were not unrelated. The actual hostilities lasted until 1935. The Bolivian army, trained by a German general, he had thrown himself into the fray certain of achieving a quick victory; but the Paraguayans were able to resist with skill and courage. The result was a stalemate which led to the intervention of the League of Nations. In 1938 an arbitration allowed the conclusion of the peace: Paraguay retained almost all of the Chaco Boreal, Bolivia received some transit facilities for access to the Atlantic.

Paraguay History