Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia
By Fanny Kuo

Dr. José Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia was born on January 6, 1766 in Yeguarón. Known as El Supremo, he was Paraguay’s first leader after its independence.

When Francia turned 15 years old, he was sent to Cordova for his studies. He entered the College of Cordova de Tucuman where he studied and later on taught theology. Although Francia was a doctor in theology and was trained for Catholic priesthood, he never entered this field of career. He turned his attention from theology to law. Five years later, he returned to Asunción, Paraguay and practiced law.
In Asunción, Francia soon established a reputation for his abilities and integrity and was elected into important offices. In 1811, when Paraguay first declared its independence, Francia was appointed as the primer consul, secretary of the National Junta, and he used his position to influence on many affairs.

In 1813, when the congress, or the junta, amended the constitution, Francia and Fulgencio Yegros were elected into office. A year later, Francia managed to secure his position as President of Paraguay with supreme power for three years. By the end of the third year, Francia gained dictatorship for life.

Francia based his principles on Rosseau’s Social Contract and was inspired by Napoleon. He ruthlessly isolated Paraguay to create a personal utopia. Although he encouraged national industries, he cut Paraguay off of all foreign trades. Strangers from other lands were kept as prisoners. Inquisition and higher education was abolished, though school system was expanded. A secret police force was created. As years passed by, Francia even turned away from the church. The college of theology was suppressed Catholic church’s possession was seized. The land that was owned by the Church was now communal farms. Not only did Francia take away the Chruch’s possession, he also appointed himself the head of the church, and for this reason the Pope excommunicated Francia.

Marriage was another issue in which Francia personally conducted. He conducted all weddings. High tax and restrictions were placed on marriage. He forbade the people to marry among themselves. Francia himself did not have any close relationships, but he did have a daughter named Ubalde García de Cañete.

In the last few years of Francia’s ruling, it was said that he was insane. He ordered to shoot all the dogs and the people had to raise their hats when Francia passed. The last orders by Francia were random and illogical. He became a cruel and arbitrary tyrant.

Francia died in September of 1840. When he died, the people fed the caiman with his body and burnt his furniture. Although his reputation was a negative one, there were still some that admired him, one of which was Thomas Carlyle.

“Liberty of private judgement, unless it kept its mouth shut, was at an end in Paraguay………Gaucho population... not yet fit for constitutional liberty.” Thomas Carlyle

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