South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

The Tyrants of Paraguay

After the expulsion of the Spanish the first tyrant of Paraguay was Dr. Francia. He was born in Asuncion, 1761. By profession he was a lawyer. He was made consul in 1811, Dictator for three years in 1814, and Dictator for life in 1817. He recognized no law but that of his own will. He arrested and executed innocent men without any trial. He was to the last degree cruel and unpatriotic. He died in his native city in 1840.

Thomas Carlyle has a word of charity for him. In his essay on Dr. Francia, he says: "Francia's treatment of Artigas, his old enemy, the bandit and firebrand, reduced now to beg shelter of him, was good, humane, even dignified. Francia refused to see or treat with such a person, as he had ever done; but readily granted him a place of residence in the interior, and 'thirty piasters a month till he died.' The bandit cultivated fields, did charitable deeds, and passed a life of penitence for his few remaining years. His bandit followers, such of them as took to plundering again, says M. Rengger, were instantly seized and shot.'

"On the other hand, that anecdote of Francia's dying father requires to be confirmed. It seems the old man, who, as we saw, had long since quarreled with his son, was dying, and wished to be reconciled. Francia 'was busy; what use was it? could not come.' A second still more pressing message arrives: 'The old man dare not die unless he see his son; fears he shall never enter heaven if they be not reconciled.' 'Then let him enter,' said Francia; 'I will not come!' If this anecdote be true, it is certainly of all that are in circulation about Dr. Francia by far the worst. If Francia, in that death-hour, could not forgive his poor old father whatsoever he had done, or could in the murkiest, sultriest imagination be conceived to have done against him, then let no man forgive Dr. Francia! But the accuracy of public rumor in regard to a dictator who has executed forty persons is also a thing that can be guessed at. To whom was it, by name and surname, that Francia delivered this extraordinary response? Did the man make, or can he now be got to make, affidavit of it to credible articulate-speaking persons resident on this earth? If so, let him do it, for the sake of the psychological sciences.

"One last fact more. Our lonesome Dictator, living among Gauchos, had the greatest pleasure, it would seem, in rational conversation with Robertson, with Rengger, with any kind of intelligent human creature, when such could be fallen in with, which was rarely. He would question you with eagerness about the ways of men in foreign places, the properties of things unknown to him. All human interest and insight was interesting to him. Only persons of no understanding being near him for the most part, he had to content himself with silence, a meditative cigar, and cup of mate. Oh, Francia, though thou hadst to execute forty persons, I am not without some pity for thee!"

The principal tyrant of Paraguay was Francisco Solano Lopez, or Lopez the Younger. He was born July 24, 1826, or, according to another authority, July 26, 1827. His early life was passed in the Paraguayan military service, in the times of the tyrant Dr. Francia, and in that he learned little but the arts of a spy.

Paraguay declared her independence of Spain in 1810. In 1814 Dr. Francia was proclaimed Dictator for three years, and afterward for life. He held the office until his death in 1840, which was followed by anarchy. In 1842 the Congress elected two nephews of Dr. Francia, Don Alonso Lopez and Don Carlos Antonio Lopez, consuls of the republic. In 1844 a new constitution was proclaimed, and Don Carlos Lopez, called Lopez the Elder, was made President with dictatorial power for a term of seven years, which office was continued. He died in 1862, when he was succeeded as Dictator by his son Don Francisco Solano Lopez, then thirty-six years of age.

This man, the South American Nero, may be regarded as the darkest character in all American history. To him may be directly or indirectly assigned the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings. He caused his own brother to be murdered, and his mother and sisters to be tortured. He had a passion for blood that was never satiated. Scarcely a day passed in his last years that the torture of innocent people was not made to feed his passions. He was governed by the lowest and basest of animal passions, without any regard for justice or mercy, yet he claimed to govern by the appointment of God. If he imagined that any man looked unfavorably upon his monstrous crimes he brought him to torture and death, without judge or jury. "He was not a man; he was a monster," said one of his own blood after his miserable death.

Like all tyrants, he was a coward, and surrounded himself by spies. Lopez had nearly all the vices, and was a slave to them all. He practised them openly. To rebuke him for these was death. He had no fear of the laws of God, yet he believed that his office was ordained of God. He did not fear priests. He compelled priests not only to confess to him as the "Lord's anointed," but to reveal to him the secrets of the confessional. He was as vainglorious as he was depraved.

The Hon. Charles A. Washburn, commissioner and minister resident of the United States at Asuncion from 1861 to 1868, thus pictures this tyrant:

"In person he was short and stout. His height was about five feet four, and, though always inclining to corpulency, his figure in his younger days was very good. He dressed with great care and precision, and endeavored to give himself a smart and natty appearance. His hands and feet were very small, indicating his Indian origin. His complexion was dark, and gave evidence of a strong taint of Guarany blood. He was proud of his Indian descent, and frequently used to boast of it. As he could not pretend to be of pure Spanish blood, he would rather ascribe his swarthy color to a mixture with the Indian than the negro race. Hence he was as prone to talk of his Indian ancestry as ever were the descendants of Pocahontas. He also had many of the tastes peculiar to the savage. Before going to Europe he dressed grotesquely, but his costume was always expensive and elaborately finished. He wore enormous silver spurs, such as would have been the envy of a Gaucho, and the trappings of his horse were so completely covered with silver as almost to form a coat of mail. After his return from abroad he adopted a more civilized costume, but always indulged in a gorgeous display of gold lace and bright buttons. He conversed with fluency and had a good command of language, and when in good humor his manners were courteous and agreeable. His eyes, when he was pleased, had a mild and amiable expression; but when he was enraged the pupil seemed to dilate till it included the whole iris, and the eye did not appear to be that of a human being, but rather of a wild beast goaded to madness. He had, however, a gross animal look that was repulsive when his face was in repose. His forehead was narrow and his head small, with the rear organs largely developed. He was an inveterate smoker of the strongest kind of Paraguayan cigars. His face was rather flat, and his nose and hair indicated more of the negro than of the Indian. His cheeks had a fulness that extended to the jowl, giving him a sort of bulldog expression. In his later years he grew enormously fat, so much so that few would believe that a photograph of his figure was not a caricature. He was very irregular in his hours of eating, but when he did eat, the quantity consumed was enormous. He was a gormand, but not an epicure. His drinking was in keeping with his eating. He always kept a large stock of foreign wines, liquors and ale, but he had little discrimination in the use of them. . . . Though he habitually drank largely, yet he often exceeded his own free limits, and on such occasions he was liable to break out in the most furious abuse of all who were about him. He would then indulge in the most revolting obscenity, and would sometimes give orders for the most barbarous acts. When he had recovered from such debauches he would stay the execution of his orders, if they had not already been enforced. . . . It would generally be too late, the victims having already been executed.

"Of the three most noted tyrants of South America, Francia, Rosas, and the second Lopez, all have been distinguished for one quality, that is, personal cowardice. Francia was in such perpetual fear of his life that he kept himself constantly surrounded by a guard, and imagined that an assassin lurked behind every bush or wall or building he passed. Rosas was a notorious coward. Many instances in which he showed the most craven fear are well known to the older residents of the Plata. But the cowardly nature of Lopez was so apparent, he scarcely took pains to conceal it. He never exposed himself to the least danger when he could possibly avoid it. He usually had his headquarters so far in the rear that a shot from the enemy could never reach him.... Nevertheless, such a thing was possible, and he therefore had another house built close adjoining the one in which he lived, surrounded on all sides with walls of earth at least twenty feet thick, and with a roof of the same material, so thick that no shot or shell that might light upon it could ever penetrate deep enough to do any damage. While all was still along the enemy's lines Lopez would bravely remain in the adjoining house; but so surely as any firing was heard in the direction of the enemy's nearest batteries, he would instantly saunter out in feigned carelessness, trying hard to disguise his fear, and slink into his hole, and not show his face again outside until the firing had ceased. . . . At the very time he was thus hid away from danger he had his correspondents for the 'Semanario' around him, writing the most extravagant articles in praise of his valor, his sacrifices, and his generalship. The people of Paraguay could never pay the debt they owed him, who, while they were living in security and abundance, was daily leading his legions to battle."

Colonel George Thompson, in his history of this dark period, draws a like picture. He says:

"One evening I was waiting to see Lopez, as were also several officers, and a sergeant of the guard entered into conversation with me. After a short time there was a great stir, officers going in and out of Lopez's room, the guard relieved, and the other officers who were waiting all arrested. One of Lopez's aides-de-camp came and said to me: 'His Excellency sends word to you to write down all the conversation you have had with the sergeant of the guard, and bring it to-morrow morning.' I went away, not expecting to be able to remember a twentieth part of the silly talk of the sergeant; but as things looked serious, I tried, and probably remembered it all. It filled a whole sheet of paper, and was all of it somewhat in this style: 'The sergeant asked me if Queen Victoria always wore her crown when she went out to walk. The sergeant asked me if I should wear the Paraguayan uniform when I went to England.' It was sealed and taken next morning to Lopez, about 7 A. M. He was not up yet, but the sergeant was already shot, and all the soldiers of the guard had received one hundred lashes each."

In the troubles of Uruguay, Brazil had intervened. Lopez declared war against her. This involved him in war with the Argentine Republic. On May 1, 1865, Brazil, the Argentine Republic and Uruguay (Banda Oriental) formed an alliance against him, which led to one of the most desolating wars ever known in South America, and which in the end scarcely left him a thousand men.

As the war between the allies and Paraguay went on in merciless savagery, Lopez became involved in troubles with foreign powers. Asuncion fell.

In 1868 the allied army, well prepared for the overthrow of Lopez, numbered thirty-two thousand men. The Brazilians took up a position near Villeta, north of Angostura, on the pass of the river Paraguay made famous by the exploits of Sebastian Cabot in 1526, nearly three hundred and fifty years before. Lopez had planted his guns so as to command the river.

The Brazilians marched into the rear of the Paraguayan army by the way of Chaco. They outnumbered the Paraguayans three to one. If Lopez should be defeated here, it would be the end of his power. The battle-field is known in history as the Pikysgry. Lopez made his headquarters on a hill overlooking the country for leagues around, some four miles from Angostura. The Brazilians from the first saw that they had Lopez in their power. The latter could trust only to the valor of his men for victory. The battle began with a furious attack on the Paraguayans. Lopez took a position on horseback behind the walls of his adobe house, ready to run at a moment's notice. It is said to have been the first time that he had been under fire since the war began. He was filled with terror from the first rattle of the musketry. At first the Paraguayans fought with desperate valor. After a four days' battle both armies were greatly reduced, and the Paraguayans almost utterly destroyed. Lopez saw that his men could not long sustain the bombardment. He prepared for flight with a body-guard. While his officers, after a week's valor, were leading their few remaining troops against the victorious allies, Lopez suddenly disappeared. There were not left of his army a thousand men. Lopez now began the flight of death. He was shot like a dog in a muddy stream, as he was struggling to recover himself from a lance thrust from his victorious pursuers. His last words are reputed to have been: "I die for my country."

The battle of Pikysgry brought to an end the life of Lopez and tyranny in Paraguay.