Paraguay is a small (well, it used to be larger; keep reading to find out what happened), landlocked country in central South America, and is known for having an incredibly bloody history. Originally inhabited by the semi-nomadic Guarani, the Spanish moved in and colonized the area during the 16th century. Jesuits founded a number of missions in the area, and played a big part in the country's early history. Generally considered a backwater, not much happened until the Spanish were overthrown in 1811.
It Got Worse
The first leader of an independent Paraguay was a peculiar fellow named José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia
, though he preferred to be called "El Supremo". Ruling as an absolute dictator, he instituted a number of changes. While brutal, some actually helped Paraguay later on. For instance, he forbade remaining Spanish nobles from marrying other Spaniards, forcing them instead to marry Guaranis, allowing Paraguay to avoid some of the racial tensions that troubled its neighbors. Francia also confiscated ecclesiastical money and property, instituted draconian and isolationist economic protectionism, and eventually ordered the extermination of all dogs in Paraguay. If people keep calling you "El Supremo", it's easy to start believing it...
Francia is still highly regarded in Paraguay, perhaps because, for all his brutality, he was very honest
. Even with absolute power, he was extremely frugal, and the state's coffers doubled during his tenure, not to mention that he was able to preserve Paraguayan stability during the chaos of the early 19th century. Critics would argue (not to his face) that this came at the cost of creating an isolated, paranoid nation that was dependent on an authoritarian strongman.
When Francia died in 1840, a series of juntas took control. Power was finally consolidated by Carlos Antonio Lopez, who was more of a typical dictator. Things got interesting when his son, Francisco Solano, came to power. Helping him was his wife, an Irish courtesan named Eliza Lynch, whose presence scandalized Paraguayan high society.
What followed was the War of the Triple Alliance
, one of the bloodiest wars you've never heard of. Lopez mucked around in the politics of neighboring Uruguay
, eventually causing enough trouble for Uruguay to declare war against him, actually causing long-time rivals Brazil
to join Uruguay. Paraguay did have a big army, but any rational observers could tell that Paraguay was doomed.
The war raged until most of the Paraguayan troops lay dead in the field. By the time a lowly Brazilian mook
named Corporal José Francisco Lacerda finally killed Lopez, it is estimated that 90%
of Paraguay's male population had died out.
With less land and much fewer people, Paraguay was mostly forgotten by the rest of the world until The Thirties
, when they fought the Gran Chaco War
against Bolivia. As the name suggests, the war was fought over the Gran Chaco, a hot, mosquito-infested piece of land that's almost worthless (except for rumors of oil). Paraguay actually won this fight. Francia's breeding policies did create a unified culture, unlike racially-stratified Bolivia, giving Paraguay the edge. The League of Nations helped to end this war, one of the few things they ever did that might be considered a success.
Starting in 1954, Paraguay was ruled by a man named Alfredo Stroessner. Stroessner could have almost been the axiomatic right-wing Latin American dictator, ruthlessly culling repression (especially communists). Yes, the United States did consider him an ally. A coup finally kicked him out in 1989, and a new constitution (established in 1992) established a democracy.
Paraguay managed to maintain its democracy before Fernando Lugo's extremely swift impeachment, and will hopefully continue to do so after the next elections. Though a leftist, Lugo, a former Catholic priest, had to make compromises with the right-dominated Senate. He was impeached by Congress following a fatal clash between police and protestors. It occurred extremely swiftly, leading to some within and without to criticize it heavily. And that's all there is to say on that for now.
Will things follow a democratic path? One can only hope...
Paraguay in fiction:
- JAG: In the last two episodes of season 8 and the first of the 9th season, Mac goes undercover as Clayton Webb's wife on mission in Paraguay where they aim to stop terrorist Sadik Fahd from establishing a base.
- Welsh author Tristan Jones, whose autobiographical books are a tangled mixture of fact and fiction, once visited Paraguay. In one of the more clearly fictional episodes, he is invited to dinner by Alfredo Stroessner in honour of his nautical achievements, and instead of behaving like a polite dinner guest, delivers an epic "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Stroessner and his Nazi henchmen.
The Paraguayan Flag
This flag is unique in that it has different obverse (shown here) and reverse emblems. Its blue, white and red colors are similar to that of the Netherlands. The obverse seal features a red circle with the country's name in Spanish on it, surrounding a yellow star in a blue circle flanked by olive and palm branches. The reverse side shows a lion sitting in front of the Phrygian cap of liberty, atop which is a scroll which reads "Paz y Justicia" ("Peace and Justice").