History of Paraguay contra its Falsifiers: Chapter XIII

History of Paraguay contra its Falsifiers: Chapter XIII

The Supreme Enigma.

Dr. José Gaspar de Francia abandoned the Junta of Asunción on 30 July 1811 for the first time. He did the same on 18 December 1811. These were enigmatic moves and most of Paraguayan historians refuse to give an accurate explanation for them. But that is not because there aren’t plausible arguments, rather, because using more accurate descriptions and contexts about these moves goes against the narrative of a «Revolutionary Dr. Francia».

No doubt, the main reason for Francia’s first departure from the «Junta Superior Gubernativa» was the «Porteñismo» of the main Próceres of the Coup of May. When Governor Velasco was removed from office and the Spanish Influence reduced to a minimum, the «Junta» was completely ruled by the vassals of Buenos Aires. Don Fulgencio Yegros, the newly appointed President, was a moderate Porteñista but the rest of the revolutionaries were total fanatics of Buenos Aires’ cause. The «Royalist» plan was shattered, however, still there were many dangers for the liberal-doctrinnaires behind the Paraguayan Revolution. First of all, Don Juan Valeriano de Zeballos held the office of President of the Cabildo (an influential position, but under the Junta) and he was asking, on behalf of his collegiate, the return of Dr. Francia to his former position. In the meantime, some priests like Father Fernando Caballero and the very same Father Francisco Xavier de Bogarín (vocal member of the Junta) were vociferous against the political dispositions of the Junta in the absence of Don José Gaspar. Caballero demanded the restitution of Francia in the Junta and Bogarín even reached the point of claiming that the Paraguayan «Junta Superior Gubernativa» had lost all legitimacy after sacking Governor Velasco under false pretenses. [1]

But if we go deeper into this terrain, remembering that Don Bernardo de Velasco followed the «Carlotist Movement» (and that wasn’t a false pretense), the defense of the former Governor by the closest allies of Dr. Francia in that particular moment is very revealing.

And even more oddly, in those days a counter-revolutionary coup, led by Commander Teodoro Fernández and Lieutenant Mariano Mallada, was attempted. This plan consisted in restoring Governor Velasco’s rule alongside two vocal secretaries (Colonel de Zavala and Juan Bautista de Achar) in a new Triumvirate. Aware of this conspiracy against their power, the members of the Junta of Asunción used a «false flag» to bait the Royalists. The trap worked perfectly and many «Españolistas» (pro Spaniards) were captured and executed on sight. Dr. Francia, who was in his Ibiray Manor during those days (coincidence?), harshly criticized the actions of the Junta against the Spaniards and pledged mercy for their lives.

Because of this episode, once again, suspicions arose around Francia’s real position. In the judiciary process against one Españolista Ramón Duarte, it was written: «In the capital (Asunción) there were three parties. One of the Patricians, one of the Europeans and one of the Porteños. Dr. José Gaspar de Francia was a rascal who took place in the side of the Europeans and for this and other reasons, he was kicked out of the Junta». [2]

Francia’s «Españolismo» (Spanishness) is no surprise. In fact, it fits perfectly into his aristocratic and loyalist mindset as well as in his counter-revolutionary feeling. He supported Governor Velasco as much as he could, he had the «European Party» in his side and he was also supported by the commoners, the people, whom were fiercely contra any attempt to attach Paraguay to the destiny of Buenos Aires. So, Dr. Francia was at the same time, a crypto-royalist and an open defender of the Popular Paraguayan position. That’s why he had such an inmense support in the populace.

This was very well understood by an intelligent but severely blinded liberal-doctrinnaire of Paraguay, Don Benjamín Vargas Peña. This author, a slave of the anglo-french ideological liberalism and the «Black Legend» crafted contra Spain, however, observes with penetrating eye the real position of Dr. Francia in those days of turmoil. He claims that Dr. Francia was a «Carlotista» and he wrote (the parenthesis are mine):

«(Dr. Francia) was a dauntless defender of the old Spaniard Absolutism… First, he insisted in his monopoly and his conservation of power at all costs. He needed this in order to fulfill his secret project of restoring the Colonial Rule (of Spain) in the Americas… About his retirements from the Junta, a lot was said and more should be said. He always acted favouring the Royalist position. In 1808, he sided with the Conspiracy led by his fellow Don Martín de Álzaga. On 29 September 1811, he colluded with the uprising of Lieutenant Mallada. And before that, alongside his co-worker Governor Velasco in the Triumvirate, he conspired for the Portuguese to restore the power abated on 14 May 1811, according to his communications to Lieutenant José de Abreu… When he acted under the revolutionaries, he always did it carrying the dagger of treason. While he was following orders of Captain Pedro Juan Caballero, at all times he insisted in swearing allegiance to his «beloved» King Ferdinand VII. This can be easily proved by reading all the documents written by his hand in those days…». [3]

The second time Dr. Francia abandoned the Junta of Asunción was on 18 December 1811, returning only on 16 November 1812. And as far fetched as it may sound and despite his flamboyant and biased views, Benjamín Vargas Peña is spot on regarding Don José Gaspar’s loyalty to the Spanish Crown, at least at the beginning of the «May Revolution». Concerning Don Martín de Alzaga (1755-1812), he was a Royalist who fought gallantly against the British Invasion of 1806-1807 being the second officer of Viceroy Liniers. In early 1812, Alzaga was part of a Royalist Plot in Buenos Aires, in a striking coincidence with Francia’s second absence in the Junta of Asunción. Alzaga’s alleged plot was discovered by his personal enemy Bernardino Rivadavia, a staunch porteño sectarian who accused him of high treason against the Junta of Buenos Aires. Some 50 individuals, including Alzaga himself, were hanged and quartered in the in the Plaza de la Victoria of Buenos Aires on 6 July 1812, after a mock trial that was kept secret for the public. This was the civilization, the enlightenment, the refinement of the liberals and revolutionaries. [4]

Paraguayan liberal historians, always behind the narrative of Buenos Aires, usually have two positions around Dr. Francia’s initial loyalty to the Spanish Crown. One faction tries to be apologetical towards «el Supremo» by simply ignoring his persistent faithfulness to the Catholic Monarchs, presenting him as a follower of Rousseau and a pragmatic revolutionary leading the Independence Movement. The other faction, more accurately despite their «Porteñism», portraits him as a cunning and deceitful counter-revolutionary who painstakingly had to accept the Independence as a «fait accompli» despite his initial efforts to remain loyal to Spain. The rest of the historiographical positions about Dr. Francia rotate around these two main narratives.

And in fact, all evidence available, when observed and measured carefully, points to the conclusion that Dr. Francia was a crypto-royalist indeed. When he figured out about the Riego Revolution and the «Trienio Liberal» in Spain (1820-1823), he understood that the cause of the restoration of the Spanish Crown in the Americas was inevitably doomed to fail and only then he changed his plans, closing Paraguay to all foreign influences and transforming the nation into a Fortress against all the attempts of penetration driven by the sectarian ideologues of the liberal revolutions.

Manuel Pesoa, another fanatical warrior of Paraguayan liberalism, wrote about it. After the encyclical of Pope Pius VII published on 30 January 1816 (in which His Holiness pronounced himself against the revolutionary movements in Hispanic America while exhorting all the faithful to remain loyal to the Catholic King Don Fernando VII and ordering all Bishops of the region to repudiate any rebellious agitation), Dr. Francia maintained secret channels of communication with diplomats of the Kingdom of Spain, whom described «el Supremo Dictador» as favourable to the cause of the Restoration of the Old Regime. This was mentioned by the Spaniard Ambassador in Río de Janeiro and there are documented evidences in the General Archives of Seville about it. Moreover, Paraguayan Royalists such as Pío Ramón de la Peña constantly claimed that Francia was, though discreetly, one of them. According to Pesoa, Dr. Francia confessed to his friend Antonio Recalde that he desired the failure of the «May Revolution» so that Paraguayans could remain as Spaniards. Another Paraguayan historian, Manuel Domínguez (1868-1935), affirmed that Dr. Francia was in close contact with King Ferdinand VII himself in 1817-1821 and that he even wanted to join forces with the Count of Bisbal General Don Enrique José de O’Donnell (1769-1834), who was about to depart from Cadiz with 17.000 men to reconquer the Hispanic Territories from the hands of the traitors, but this was halted by the Revolution of Colonel Rafael del Riego (1784-1823). [5]

After the Revolution led by General Rafael de Riego, a Liberal Regime was established in Spain (1820-1823). King Ferdinand VII was forced to accept the Cadiz Constitution. [M.C. Esteban/Museo de Historia de Madrid].
After the Revolution led by General Rafael de Riego, a Liberal Regime was established in Spain (1820-1823). King Ferdinand VII was forced to accept the Cadiz Constitution. [M.C. Esteban/Museo de Historia de Madrid].

Is Dr. Francia’s loyalty to the Spanish Crown a stain to his reputation as a fervent and honest patriot?

Absolutely not. Quite the contrary. Despite the intense hammering of propaganda and the Black Legend contra Spain, the liberal sectarians and revolutionaries could never broke the admiration towards «el Supremo» and to the Hispanic Heritage of the nation in the hearts of the Paraguayans. And in terms of personal values, of course that Francia’s fidelity to the Catholic Monarchs is to be esteemed as a high virtue. In those days, patriotism was linked to the defense of the Crown with its traditions that could be traced back to Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon. Being a patriot meant to be a defender of the rights of the Monarch. The real traitors were the ones who, deluded and decieved by nefarious and perfidious ideologies that only served the objectives of the traditional enemies of Spain, started a bloody and destructive revolution against their King and Realm, killing thousands who opposed them.

Don José Gaspar de Francia was a real patriot, that is, defender of the Spanish Crown, the Hispanic Traditions and Customs, and protector of his Paraguayan Fatherland from the infectious and destructive virus of liberalism. But he had to work carefully, with strategic vision and pragmatism. He was completely surrounded by traitors and silly daydreamers fooled and mystified by the poisonous intentions of the enemies of Spain, represented by the cabal of vipers in Buenos Aires and its vassals.

The enigmatic Dr. Francia retired from the Junta two times to recalculate his plans, and two times he came back with the support of the common people. But in his absence, the «Próceres» were playing their cards. The game was on and in that tumultuous year 1811, no one could fortell what was about to happen with Paraguay and its struggle to remain free from the contagion of the Porteños.


[1] Rodríguez Pardo (2011): «La Independencia del Paraguay no fue Proclamada en Mayo de 1811…», op. cit. pages 75-76.

[2] «Proceso de Ramón Duarte». Archivo Nacional de Asunción, Sección Criminal. Vol. 38. Cited by Chávez, Julio César (1964): «El Supremo Dictador…», op. cit. pages 125-126.

[3] Vargas Peña, Benjamín (1993): «El Perfil del Tirano», pages 28-29. Asunción, Paraguay: Editorial Estudio Gráfico. – This work is completely driven by a nonsensical and biased ideological liberalism, which makes it fall short of a mere pamphlet. But it has the merit of recognizing Francia’s Royalism.

[4] García Mellid, Atilio (1957): «Proceso al Liberalismo Argentino…», op. cit. pages 101-102.

[5] Pesoa, Manuel (1995): «General Doctor Benigno Ferreira…», op. cit. pages 119-121.

Emilio Urdapilleta

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