For my first post I’ll reflect on Paraguayan nationalism, which despite the absence of major international accomplishments or glorious military victories, is extremely strong in this country. Two-thousand eleven is Paraguay’s bicentennial and Paraguayans are quick to claim that they are one of the first states to claim independence from Spain–in reality Paraguay claimed independence from Argentina/Buenos Aires more than they did from Spain. In my 45 minute bus ride (more like a packed meat hanger on wheels) to the archives in downtown Asuncion I pass hundreds of flags and banners celebrating the bicentennial. Businesses and state agencies alike scream red, blue and white, the bandera Paraguaya. In el centro, banners displaying portraits of important historical actors line the streets. Educators, statesman, war heroes, and even the country’s first veterinarian (!) are celebrated as the”lights of the nation.” I have yet to see represented indigenous leaders or human rights advocates, figures who caused the country’s 35 year dictator (1954 to 1989), Alfredo Stroessner, particular angst.
Paraguay really didn’t fight much for its independence from Spain, they let Platenses do most of that. Paraguay’s two major wars are the War of the Triple Alliance (a.k.a Paraguayan War) against Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay (1864-70) and the Chaco War against Bolivia (1932-35). The former Paraguay lost, the latter they came out “victors.” Surprisingly, Paraguayans rarely celebrate their victory in the Chaco War against Bolivia; instead, they recount how before the PA War they were a great power in the region, with a massive geographic territory and a potent military force. The war began when Francisco Solano Lopez went to the aid of Uruguayan president Atanasio Aguierre who ultimately lost power to Colorados which had its backing in Buenos Aires and Brazil. Brazilians occupied Uruguay in 1864 and Lopez hoping to thwart the shift in regional power to Buenos Aires rushed to the aid of Aguierre crossing through Argentina thereby apparently breaching diplomatic agreements with AR. Brazil, Argentina, and now Colorado dominated Uruguay could have their way with Paraguay.
The loss of life was astounding. The issue is debated, but some estimate that 1/3 of the population (out of a total population of 600k or 250k, depending on your historiographical preference) was lost in the war. The eccentric Lopez and a festering rural nationalist (to be continued—see Michael Huner’s dissertation) fed the war machine with human bodies. The photo appended here shows the Paraguayan “Cabichui”–Guarani for wasps– or Paraguayan soldiers as small in body, large in number, and molestador. The engraving is actually found on a private residence car-port door just around the corner from the national archives.
In the current national consciousness the historical memory of the Paraguayan War provides the greatest nationalist punch, truly a founding moment for Paraguayans. Since the country sort of skipped a “war” of independence, the country’s first president/dictator, Dr. Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, represents the country’s first 40 years while the War of the Tripple Alliance is the “people’s” first major nationalist moment.