History of Paraguay contra its Falsifiers: Chapter XIX

History of Paraguay contra its Falsifiers: Chapter XIX

Good Friday Conspiracy.

Many officers and «próceres» of Paraguay favoured, one way or another, the union with the Liberal Revolution taking place in the rest of the River Plate region. Dr. Francia, a counter-revolutionary, firmly opposed them and established his reign as a big, beautiful and powerful wall against all poisonous intentions of introducing the liberal germs in the nation. That’s why, since late 1819 and early 1820, the «porteñistas» and «artiguistas» joined secretly in order to overthrow Francia’s Government. The revolutionaries were led by Pedro Juan Caballero, Manuel Iturbe, Miguel A. Montiel, Juan Aristegui and the Brothers Acosta. Don Fulgencio Yegros was also part of the movement that was inspired by Buenos Aires and General Artigas himself. [1]

The Conspiracy of 1819-1821 was clearly connected with the artiguista project, continued by Colonel Francisco Ramírez. This former officer of Artigas betrayed his commander and took power while keeping communications with the «porteñistas and artiguistas» of Asunción via the Paraguayan Lieutenant Colonel Juan Baltasar Vargas, a former agent of the Porteño Governor Juan Martín de Pueyrredón (1777-1850) who was dubbed by the conspirators as «Balta Vargas». According to the chronicles of Mariano Molas, who wrote to Governor Manuel Dorrego of Buenos Aires in 1828:

«We knew very well about the indomitable fiber of the guy that was ruling us, and the sole medium that our reasoning presented to us was to adopt the insurrection against him. The intrigues and plots were the only right that we had against a despot who, sheltered by brute force, was crushing all the rights of our community. To that wicked violence we attempted to oppose a fair violence. To repel that force with our own force was a natural right endowed to all living beings. But, what a surprise, when we knew that a weak man as Bogarín, who composed the circle of revolutionaries, revealed all the plans to Friar Anastasio Gutiérrez during a confession! The priest ordered him to inform it to the authority, he did it and the tyrant took the punitive measures…». [2]

Most of the revolutionaries were either «porteñistas» or «artiguistas». Only a small minority were Penninsular Spaniards, although many of them also had close ties with Buenos Aires. The details of the plot against Francia are summarized by Richard Alan White: [3]

«Without worrying about the investigations done by the Government, the conspirators continued with their clandestine gatherings in the house of Dr. Marcos Baldovinos in Asunción, where they decided they should carry out their coup on Good Friday. That day, Francia was supposed to be murdered while he was in his usual promenade of the afternoon. At the same time, a group of other killings should have taken place, the projected victims included secretaries of government as well as military commanders and officers of Asunción’s Headquarters. In fact, as the very same Francia revealed once, «every person with a ruling charge was meant to be destroyed (by the revolutionaries)». After the purge, Captains Pedro Juan Caballero and Miguel Antonio Montiel were supposed to take charge of the Army and the Government, with the help of other officers initiated in the plot».

«However, on March 28, only three days away from the planned killings, the police detained four conspirators when they left Baldovinos’ house (…). At the end of the following month, the number of prisoners in Asunción rose to 178. The arrested individuals, according to a member of the porteñista oligarchy, were from the «finest families of the people». Francia, adopting an extremely benevolent behavior towards his potential murderers, pleased himself simply by sending them to prison and confiscating their properties. Six months afterwards, the imminent threat of an invasion alongside the conspiracy, elevated the situation into a national crisis».

Indeed, it was a dangerous moment. The artiguistas were lurking around, the porteñistas plotting and conspiring overtly. But Francia aborted their plans with quick and firm resolution.

Another fact that made the insurrection fail, was the rift between General José Gervasio Artigas and his ally, Colonel Francisco Ramírez. The «Protector of the Federal League» was betrayed and had to run away, hiding from his enemies… In Paraguay!! On 5 September 1820, Artigas crossed the Paraná River and was imprisoned by the troops of Dr. Francia. He requested mercy from the Supreme Dictator and, if possible, at least a miserable place were to life, trusting in the generosity and hospitality of the Paraguayan People.

Don José Gaspar never forgot the attacks Paraguay suffered by the hands of his defeated foe Artigas, and he didn’t recieve him personally despite the requests of the Uruguayan Caudillo, who was initially imprisoned in the Convent of the Order of the Mercedarians. The Oriental Chief even offered himself to become a General under Francia’s Army and to be sent again to the battlefield to destroy the enemies of Francia, another laughable plot for the Supreme Dictator who, for all practical purposes, banished Artigas to the distant town of San Isidro of Curuguaty, almost 400 kilometers away from Asunción, lost in the deep jungles of Paraguay, under strict surveillance, but with all necessary provisions for subsistence. However, Colonel Francisco Ramírez, now siding with Buenos Aires, continued his quarrel with Artigas, demanding Dr. Francia to send the Uruguayan prisoner back to Entre Ríos in order to face charges for treason against the revolution. Of course, the Supreme Dictator was impervious to any threat coming from an insurgent bandit such as Colonel Ramírez and he never even answered him. Meanwhile, the «artiguistas» in Paraguay, knowing that their Caudillo was imprisoned and exiled by Francia, now entered in contact with Ramírez and the conspiracy continued. But by mid 1821, all the Paraguayan traitors were caught and imprisoned. [4]

A rumour claims that General Artigas revealed to Dr. Francia, via a confession to a priest (Friar Bernardino de Enciso, Prior of the Order of Mercy) in the Convent of the Mercedarians, many of the names of the conspirators in order to be spared of his own life and to qualify for residence in Paraguay, though in a semi-exile at Curuguaty. That rumour remains unproven, but a well known fact is that Francia considered the imprisonment of Artigas in Paraguay both as an «humanitarian act» and as a move for winning political prestige in the face of the Portuguese and Porteñistas:

«No doubt, the Portuguese are happy because of the ruin of Artigas. They also had their intelligences and communications with the bandit Ramírez, who probably intrigued them about the refuge of Artigas in Paraguay; but the fact is that the perfidious intruder in the other side (Ramírez) is openly infamous and he will be resented by all the impartial world. You may ask to a Portuguese whether if they would like to see a Portuguese General who, after an adverse event during a war, had to endure an insurrection and had to become hunted down as a prey by his own troops and weapons, by his own second officers, in order to be shot to death to prevent him from talking. By the way, you can say to Craveiro, the Portuguese Commander of Fort Coimbra, that Artigas is well guarded in Paraguay, just like Bonaparte, former Emperor of the French, was also well guarded by the English after his final disgrace and even though England was his most relentless enemy, they kept him and even today they are still assisting him with generosity in St. Elena’s island». [5]

The trials and executions against the individuals who were part of the «Conspiracy of 1819-1821» took place on July 1821, using all the classical methods in place at that time around the world in order to make them confess. The Paraguayan «Balta Vargas» was captured by Dr. Francia and in the «Chamber of Truth» (cámara de la verdad), without any torture, the ex-agent of Buenos Aires working for Colonel Ramírez confessed everything. It was Juan Baltasar Vargas who implicated Don Fulgencio Yegros in the plot by using his credentials as a former Envoy of the Porteño Government communicating with the former Consul of the Paraguayan Government. With great ingenuity, General Yegros fell into that trap… There is absolutely no doubt that the «Good Friday Conspiracy» existed, but the real participation of Don Fulgencio Yegros in that movement remains unknown. Probably, he was implicated because of his position as Second Consul, so he was the natural inheritor of Francia’s power in the case the Supreme Dictator became overthrown. The real conspirators contacted him via «Balta Vargas» in order to make him join their ranks, but we don’t know for sure if Yegros accepted being a traitor to Francia’s government. Don Fulgencio wasn’t an ambitious and prideful man and most likely, he was in total agreement and allegiance with the Supreme Dictator. But the contacts made by the conspirators with Yegros caused his unfortunate demise.

Following the «Balta Vargas» link, Dr. Francia discovered and captured all the conspirators, one by one. With or without torture, every single one of them confessed in the «Chamber of Truth». The plan was to murder «El Supremo» during the Good Friday of 1820, but they didn’t know that Don José Gaspar already knew everything thanks to the delation of Lieutenant Colonel Baltasar Vargas, as well as the revelation made by Bogarín to the Priest and very possibly, Artigas’ own spontaneous confession given in the Convent of the Mercedarians. «Balta Vargas» not only revealed that he was working with Ramírez, but that Pueyrredón, Sarratea and the Buenosaireans also were behind the maneuvers against Francia.

Many of the implicated individuals were shot to death. The total number of detained persons reached 178 in the whole country and according to Mariano Antonio Molas, who was imprisoned during the process, 68 of them were executed by orders of the Supreme Dictator, although it remains impossible to figure out an exact number of death sentences that were carried out. The rest of the imprisoned individuals were either exiled to the interior of the country after a confiscation of property, kept in the jail or sent to domestic prison. The fate of Baltasar Vargas remains a mystery, but an oral tradition, probably with great exaggeration, claims he was beheaded, with his severed head placed on a pike in the center of the Governors’ Plaza. If truth, this would have been the only act of cruelty ever committed by the Supreme Dictator, although most sources indicate that «Balta Varga» was simply shot to death.

El Verdugo cortando Cabeza
Lieutenant Colonel Juan Baltasar Vargas, agent of Buenos Aires and the Artiguistas, was allegedly decapitated by an executioner during the trials of the «Good Friday Conspiracy» of 1819-1821 against Dr. Francia’s Government. [Imagen: Facts Verse/Youtube].

Pedro Juan Caballero took his own life in his cell on 13 july 1821, allegedly claiming: «I know suicide is against the laws of God and Men, but I won’t allow the tyrant’s bloodthirst to be quenched with my blood». General and Consul Don Fulgencio Yegros was executed on 17 July. Dr. Baldovinos, Dr. Aristegui, the Brothers Acosta and Captain Montiel were shot to death the following day. The executions by firing squad took place in the legendary square of the «Naranjo Triste» (known by that name because the place was surrounded by many Orange Trees) near the Barracks of La Rivera in Asunción. Two notable participants of the insurrection, Fernando de la Mora and Mariano Molas, had their lives spared and they remained under house arrest for long time, as well as most of the other conspirators.

A brave and gallant soldier, however, Caballero wasn’t a clear sighted intelectual and he failed to understand that it was Francia who preserved the real liberty and integrity of the Paraguayan Nation against the despotism of Buenos Aires and its liberal revolution. Same happened with Molas and De la Mora, who exaggerated all the stories about the alleged cruelty of the Supreme Dictator because they wanted the «porteñistas» to launch an invasion against Paraguay. And General Yegros, with great tragedy and misfortune, was entangled by the revolutionaries despite he was always loyal to the Government of Dr. Francia.

Painstakingly, the Supreme Dictator had to decide and Don Fulgencio fell under the stroke of the hammer of doom. Oh, how many innocents had to perish because of the fatal errors of the guilty ones!

This was the final attempt of the «Artiguistas» and «Porteñistas» to end with Dr. Francia’s Rule. Since Ramírez betrayed Artigas, Artigas also betrayed Ramírez by revealing everything to the Paraguayan Regent. «El Supremo» was ready to face the projected invasion of the newly established «Republic of Entre Ríos» led by the treasonous bandit who overthrew the Uruguayan Caudillo. Around 5,000 Paraguayans were prepared to fight against the possible attack of Ramírez, who had 3,000 men standing for battle and already occupying Corrientes, adding to that some 2,000 soldiers with ammo and cannons that Manuel de Sarratea (1774-1849), then Governor of Buenos Aires, promised to the «Entrerriano» Warlord in the case of an invasion against Paraguay. However, «porteñistas» and «ramiristas» had a very unstable alliance and eventually, instead of attacking Dr. Francia, they decided to clash one another. Colonel Francisco Ramírez was killed in action during the Battle of Villa María del Río Seco in the Province of Córdoba on 10 july 1821 and subsequently, the plans for invading Paraguay were decisively halted. [6]

General Artigas lived a relatively good life under Francia. He was visited almost daily by an agent of the Supreme Dictator and by a Priest of the Mercedarian Order. He had a nice manor in Curuguaty, recieving from the Paraguayan Government the salary of 32 pesos (that was assigned for lieutenants of the Spanish Army) and he was closely assisted by the military commander of the district, who got strict orders of treating the Uruguayan Caudillo with the finest disposition and considerations. The «Protector of the Federal League» became the most humble subject of the Supreme Dictator, working as a farmer and cattle breeder in the prosperous town of Curuguaty. After Dr. Francia’s death, Artigas, griefstricken by that event, was summoned by the López Family and he lived with them in the Ibiray Manor of Asunción for nearly 10 years, treated by young Francisco Solano López as «Uncle Gervasio». The legendary Warlord of the Uruguayans recieved the last rites and passed away on 23 september 1850, loved by the people and with Don Carlos Antonio López and Sons at his deathbed. His final words, according to oral tradition, were: «Please, bring me my horse!». Artigas’ descendants and former servants fought for Paraguay during the Paraguayan War (1864-1870). [7]

After the failed «Good Friday Conspiracy», Dr. Francia’s Regency was finally consolidated. His internal enemies crushed and kept under control. The external threats halted by his intelligent and superior maneuvering and by the constant conflicts between Buenos Aires and the rest of the scattered provinces. But there still was one thing he had to control in order to secure his position: the Catholic Church in Paraguay.

REFERENCES.

[1] Areces, Nidia R., “Capital político y soberanía en Paraguay: de la independencia a la conspiración de 1820”, en Dimensión Antropológica, vol. 35, septiembre-diciembre, 2005, pp. 59-93. Disponible en: http://www.dimensionantropologica.inah.gob.mx/?p=1071

[2] Báez, Cecilio (1985): «Ensayo sobre el Dr. Francia y la Dictadura en Sudamérica», pages 140-141. Asunción, Paraguay: Imprenta Cromos S.R.L. – Editorial Mediterráneo.

[3] White, Richard Alan (1989): «La Primera Revolución Popular en América: Paraguay 1810-1840», pages 99-100. Asunción, Paraguay: Carlos Schauman Editor.

[4] Chaves, Julio César (2019): «Compendio de Historia Paraguaya», op. cit. pages 140-141.

[5] José Gaspar de Francia to Bernardino Velázquez, Commander of Fort Bourbon. Asunción, 12 may 1821. Cited by: Benítez, Justo Pastor (1984): «La Vida Solitaria del Dr. José Gaspar de Francia», pages 118-120. Asunción, Paraguay: Carlos Schauman Editor.

[6] White (1989): op. cit. pages 101-102. – Busaniche, José Luis (1938). «Lecturas de Historia Argentina: Relatos de Contemporáneos, 1527-1870», page 266. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Ferrari Hnos.

[7] García Mellid, Atilio (1963): «Proceso a los Falsificadores de la Historia del Paraguay», op. cit. volume I, pages 250-254. – Peirano, Ricardo (2002). «Gran Enciclopedia del Uruguay». Barcelona, España: Sol 90 Editorial. OCLC 51576630.

Emilio Urdapilleta