How The Bloodiest War In The Americas Killed Almost All Of Paraguay's Men
May 16, 2018|Ariel Rodriguez
If President Francisco López hadn't interfered in Uruguay's civil war, no Paraguayans would have died.
Ask any Paraguayan about the most tragic event in their country’s history and they’ll tell you about the Triple Alliance War, a war like no other and whose name doesn’t come near to describing the horrific story behind it. This dark chapter in Latin American history resulted in the death of almost 60% of Paraguay's population in an unfair scenario, considering that the other three countries (Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil) were allied against a smaller one. The blood of Paraguayan soldiers, who believed that their patriotic sacrifice would serve a higher purpose was brutally spilled on the fields of their homeland. This incident, also referred to as the “Great War” or the “War of the '70,” is painful to remember because it was carried out by neighbor nations in such a systematic and unjustified way that can even suggest genocide.
This war was an exception.
Other wars in Latin America became a symbol of sovereignty. In fact, the boom of independence from European monarchies that took place from the late 18th century to the early 19th century led to the foundation of many republics in this region. These wars are remembered as heroic events that freed nations from the tyranny of kingdoms. However, the Triple Alliance War is a major exception. This war has been forgotten for decades, and it hasn’t been given importance by the rest of the world –perhaps because the value in Latin American history is often overlooked. Regardless of that, the chain of events that lead to the war’s climax originated during a time when Latin American countries were emerging as independent nations (except for Brazil, which was still tied to Portugal, and its participation in the war caused the most of killings) and they struggled to structure their ideal form of government. Thus, this war was a product of many factors: territory, rising governments, alliances, and betrayal. And it all started with the one of the main protagonists of this incident: Paraguayan President Francisco López, who sought to turn his nation into a world power that anyone could admire. This is the chain of events that led to the bloody killing of almost an entire nation.
Other countries in the region were already independent.
Most countries in Latin America had achieved their independence from European monarchies by the mid 19th century. However, not everything was happiness and joy afterwards: these countries were still seeking to construct their ideal form of government, but the distribution of land often caused them to engage in conflict with others. Many wars were fought, even after the boom of independences throughout the region. Some were civil wars fought by political parties who sought power, and others were simply conflicts between leaders. At the time, there were two major powers in the region: Argentina and Brazil, which was still very attached to Portugal. It was then expected that Uruguay and Paraguay would follow these two nations' lead, but that’s not what happened. In 1860, Paraguay was turning into a powerful nation, independent and without a debt. The nation quickly became an industrial country focused on education, industrialization, and military investment.
The president wanted full independence.
Often believed to be a cruel dictator, Francisco López contributed much to the development of Paraguay, and many people supported him. His government was self-sufficient and flourishing, which is probably the reason why he decided to close all the country’s borders to the international market (this caused anger in Europe). His quest to seek all independence from Europe was the reason why he had no allies, and Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina turned easily against him.
Francisco Lopez, Paraguay; Pedro II, Brazil; Bartolome Mitre, Argentina; Venancio Flores, Uruguay
If López hadn't gotten involved, none of this would have happened.
Meanwhile in Uruguay, a civil war broke out between two political parties: Blancos and Rojos. The conflict ended in 1864, when Atanasio Cruz Aguirre, from the Blanco Party, took over the nation’s power. However, a little after that, Brazil had demanded Cruz for compensation from the conflict that affected Brazil’s interests. Cruz refused to pay Brazil, and this lead to Brazilian President Pedro II and Argentina to arm the defeated Rojos and cause another war. Here's when Paraguay gets involved: López then decides to support the Blancos, and this lead to a year-long conflict that ended with Paraguay declaring war on Argentina in 1865. One thing lead to another, and after the Blanco Party had been defeated, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil signed the Triple Alliance Treaty and declared war on Paraguay.
The bloody war: Brazil had no mercy
Argentina faced off against Paraguay first. There were victories and defeats from both sides, because the truth is that Paraguay wasn’t an easy target to defeat. Argentina’s big loss to Paraguay happened in the Battle of Curupayti on April 1866, which left about five thousand soldiers from the Argentinian and Brazilian troops dead. Argentina then retreated and left everything to the Brazilian troops of Conde d’Eu, who showed no mercy to the Paraguayan people. With an extreme violence, Brazilian troops marched forward, killing as many men and women as they could. In 1869, they took over the capital of Paraguay, Asunción, and destroyed much of what was left, including the national documents.
In 1870, López died in battle against the Brazilians. Although much of the damage was carried out by Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay did nothing to stop them and so they became complicit in the massacre. Paraguayan territories were distributed among the three allied nations, and they took over much of the country’s resources. Therefore, this sad event in Paraguay’s history left the nation without resources, economic stability, and much of its people since about 90% of the men died in during this conflict. It is up to us to remember this fatal incident that wiped out an entire generation in this country. The war is often ignored due to the shame and guilt it brings to Latin Americans, but recalling the event honors the lives of the people who died and reminds us about the power of alliances.
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