A History of Paraguay
By Baruja, Paiva & Pinto

Chapter 7

Paraguay was in turmoil when Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia died on September 20, 1840. Francia, the “Supreme one”, did not leave a successor in “El Difunto”. He was so despised by the Catholic Church that none of the priests wanted to officiate the mass and a Cordovan priest had to officiate it instead. A few days later, vindictive hands made his body disappear in the waters of the Paraguay River.

A few days later, a military faction rose up and overthrew the Difunto’s assistant, Policarpo Patiño, who tried to become a dictator. Political prisoners were released after the rebellion, but they were incapable of governing the nation. On January 22, 1841, this new committee was overthrown by another military faction. Sixteen days later, another blow followed, and the chaos continued until March 12, 1841, when the congress chose Carlos Antonio Lopez as its first consul. In 1844, another congress named him as the President of the Republic, a position that he maintained until his death in 1862. By then, Paraguay already had its second dictator.

Don Carlos Antonio Lopez, a lawyer, was one of the most educated men in the country. Until his consecration as the consul, Lopez, born on 1787, had lived in obscurity. Although Lopez’s government was similar to the system of ‘The Deceased’, Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, his appearance and the policies were quite different. In contrast to the Karaí Guazú that was thin, Lopez was obese, like a "great sea of human meat", as described by someone who knew him well. Don Lopez was a dictator who wanted to start a dynasty and to administer Paraguay like a personal feudal. Francia considered himself the first citizen of a revolutionary state, Lopez, however, used his power to make himself and his family rich.

Lopez became the richest and biggest landowner in the country and his fortune only increased because of the state’s yerba mate monopoly. Despite of his incommensurable greed, Paraguay prospered under Lopez, known as the Excelentisimo, or the most excellent one. Under Lopez, the population of Paraguay increased from about 220,000 in 1840 to approximately 400,000 in 1860. Several highways and a system of the telegraph were constructed. A British company began to build a railroad, one of the first in South America in 1858. During his rule, Lopez improved the national defense, abolished the surpluses of the Jesuits reductions, stimulated the economic development, and tried to fortify the relations with foreign countries. He also took measures to reduce the threat of the indigenous tribes who still roamed the Chaco. Paraguay also advanced in education. When Lopez became President, Asunción only had one primary school. More than 400 schools with capacity for 25,000 primary students were built during Lopez’s rule, and in addition to that, Lopez established the secondary education as a state program. Nevertheless, the educative development plans of Don Lopez progressed with difficulty because Francia had eliminated the educated elite, including teachers of the country. Don Carlos Lopez of yapa founded the first national newspaper that made its first appearance on April 26, 1845: "The Independent Paraguayan", in defense of independence and national sovereignty.

Less rigorous than Francia, Lopez alleviated the restrictions in the matter of communication with the foreigners, encouraged exports, invited foreign engineers and investing doctors to settle down in the country, and paid for Paraguayan students to study abroad. He also sent to his son, Francisco Solano, to Europe for education and also with the objective to buy arms.

Like Francia, Lopez had the exclusive objective to defend and conserve Paraguay. He always organized the reforms with this goal in mind. The commerce was less restricted, and so business activities increased the state’s income. The foreign experts helped to implant a metallurgical factory and a great arsenal. The new railroad would be used to transport troops. Lopez used the diplomacy to protect Paraguayan interests abroad. In spite of its clear liberality, the Most excellent one was a dictator who kept the Paraguayans under an iron hand. Unlike Francia, Lopez did not allow any opposition. The congress was his faithful puppet and the people had to forget their political rights. So in the constitution of 1844 all the power was in the hands of Lopez.

Under Lopez, Paraguay began to raise the question of the slavery that had existed from the colonial days. The colonos had slaves to work as domestic crew members but were generally indulgentes with them. But the conditions got worse after 1700 with the import of about 50,000 African slaves to being used like agricultural workers. Under France, the state acquired approximately 1,000 slaves when it confiscated elitist properties. Lopez did not release to these slaves, however she promulgated the law of the Free Uterus in 1842 that ended the esclavista commerce and guaranteed that the children of slaves would be free as of the 25 years of age. But that new law only caused that it increased the population enslaved and at the same time to lower the sale prices of slaves whom the natality of slaves raised.

The foreign relations became more important under Lopez, who still maintained the traditional distrust about the intentions of the neighboring states. At first, Lopez feared an attack from the dictator of Buenos Aires, Juan Manuel de Rosas. With Brazilian stimulus, Lopez left the policy of neutrality imposed by France and began to interfere in the chaotic Argentine policy. Using their slogan "Independence or Death", Lopez declared the war against Roses in 1845 to support an unfruitful rebellion in the Argentine province of Currents. Although the military maneuvers of England and France prevented a counterattack against Paraguay, Rosas established an embargo on Paraguayan products. During that nuisance, Lopez sent some diplomats to Uruguay in 1846 for a conference with foreign powers and on their return, they brought the National anthem written by Francisco Coins of Figueroa, father of the Uruguayan National anthem, back to him.

After the fall of Rosas in 1852, Lopez signed a treaty in which the independence of Paraguay was recognized with the victorious Argentine confederates, even though the porteños (Buenosaireans) never ratified this treaty. In the same year, Lopez signed treaties of friendship, commerce, and navigation with France and the United States. However, the increasing tensions with several countries, including the United States, plagued the latter half of Lopez’s rule. In 1858, the United States had sent a fleet to Paraguayan waters, a successful action to demand a compensation for an American sailor who died three years before.

Although he maintained his distrust of the foreigners as his loyalty to the nation, Lopez was not as cautious as he seemed. He imprudently disregarded Francia’s important policies on neutrality without giving the others any options and to contract non-harmful commitments for the national sovereignty. He did not do anything about controversies and disputes on country borders with Brazil and Argentina. These two big nations admitted Paraguayan independence partly because Paraguay was useful for verifying the expansionistic tendencies of each one. Both powers were in agreement that the other could not dominate in the Paraguayan subjects. But at the same time, a Paraguay that was antagonistic to both countries would give a reason for both Brazil and Argentina to be united against Paraguay.

Francisco Solano López and Elisa Alicia Lynch

Born in 1826, Francisco Solano Lopez was the second and the last governor of the Lopez dynasty. He had a comfortable childhood which proved that his father named him as the only heir of his power and gave him the military general decorations (jinetas) when Francisco Solano Lopez turned eighteen years-old. He was an insatiable lady’s man and was abounded in histories with his cruel actions against a woman who had the courage to defy him. His trip to Europe in 1853 to buy arms was no doubt the most important experience of his life. Solano Lopez admired the luxurious life in Paris under Napoleón III.

During his stay in Paris, he fell in love with an Irish woman named Elisa Alicia Lynch who became his mistress but never married him. Known as "La Lynch" in Paraguay, she was a willful, charming, ingenious, and intelligent woman who had a lot of influence in Paraguay because of her relationship with Solano Lopez.

La Lynch’s Parisian manners, or style, showed a tendency in Paraguay’s capital; she made enemies as easily as she made friends. Madame Lynch bore Solano Lopez five children. The family became the most important landowner in the country when Solano Lopez amassed large sums of land from Paraguay and Brazil during the war and put the land under his family’s name, though when the war ended the land was returned. Madame Lynch, with tears and grief, buried Solano Lopez with her own hands after the last battle in 1870. Few years later, La Lynch died miserably in Europe.

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