History of Paraguay contra its Falsifiers: Chapter XVII

History of Paraguay contra its Falsifiers: Chapter XVII

The Supreme Dictator.

Francia had everything under his control when the Paraguayan Republic was restored on 12 October 1813. But there were still many threats around and he needed to tighten the screws in order to succeed in the middle of conspirators and potential enemies.

A complicated issue rose with the appearance of Captain José Gervasio Artigas (1764-1850) with his own revolutionary movement which started on 15 February 1811 in Montevideo, when he abandoned the Corps of Blandengues and joined the Buenosairean Insurrection against the newly appointed Viceroy Francisco de Elío. However, Artigas quickly became an adversary of the Porteñistas’ Centralist and Unitarian ambitions. The «Uruguayan Caudillo» endorsed the ideals of a Federation of United but Autonomous Provinces. He called this grandiose project the «Liga Federal de los Pueblos Libres», bestowing himself with the title of «Protector». Artigas, openly a traitor to the Spaniard Crown, declared: «I only want to see my people free from the rule of Spain». The Porteñistas had a hard time against the Viceroy Elío and his resistence in Montevideo so they decided to sign a momentary truce with him. Artigas completely refused this and continued the fight on his own, gaining lots of support especially from indigenous people (Andrés Guasurary, a Paraguayan indian from an ancient Guaraní tribe, was his second officer and adoptive son). Buenos Aires feared the growing influence of the «Uruguayan Caudillo» because of his endorsement of a Federation instead of a Centralist Rule from the «Ciudad Porteña», and they started several moves in order to smash him. Artigas, caught under triple fire (the Royalists in Montevideo, the Porteñistas in Buenos Aires and the Portuguese advances in Misiones), escaped several times from capture fighting as a guerrilla warrior. [1]

Dr. Francia feared the growing influence of Artigas’ revolution. He knew that on one hand, the Uruguayan Warlord had no chances of victory because of the inmense superiority of his enemies in numbers, weaponry and finances. On the other hand, the Paraguayan Leader was a «Jesuit Reactionary» at heart while Artigas was a «liberal revolutionary» in mind and soul, that is, there were enormous ideological differences between them. In fact, after 10 years of relentless warfare against Porteñistas, Royalists and the Portuguese Army, Artigas was utterly defeated in the Battle of Tacuarembo on 22 January 1820 and afterwards he was betrayed by several of his men. [2]

Many Paraguayan officers were tempted to join Artigas’ movement. On Januray 1814, Captain Vicente Matiauda who was the military commander of the Misiones of Paraguay asked Dr. Francia for permission to join the Revolution of the «Liga de los Pueblos Libres». Some claim that even Don Fulgencio Yegros, then Second Consul of Paraguay (Francia was from the very beginning and for all practical purposes, the «First Consul») also kept communications with Captain Matiauda and he allegedly pushed his colleague to follow «Matiauda’s Proposal» of joining Artigas. Francia absolutely declined the idea and he forced Matiauda to resign his position. Later, Captain Matiauda would desert the Paraguayan Army to join Artigas. [3]

The «Artigas Issue» was not the only trouble that Francia had to face at the beginning of the «Consulate». The «Porteñistas», both Spaniards and Creoles, were still powerful and they used a classical method to increase their influence and wealth: arranged marriages. The Consuls ended with this threat with a single stroke by forbidding any arranged marriages whatever the circumstances (apparently, this was an idea of Yegros and Francia, for once, followed suggestions from someone else). Europeans and Creoles only had the possibility of getting married with mestizos and indians of the countryside. Another measure taken, under inspiration of Fulgencio Yegros once again, was the expulsion of some 200 Spaniards and Creoles that were considered «Porteñistas». However, because of Artigas’ menacing movements, the project was cancelled and these «200 Porteñistas» of European descent were distributed in distant territories of the country under vigilance of military commissars. [4]

These two ideas that came from Yegros were accepted by Francia mainly because he was suspected of being a «Crypto-Royalist» who favoured the Spanish Crown (something that, as matter of fact, seems to be true).

At last, on 7 September 1814 the Paraguayan Cabildo was summoned once again. The main leaders of this Congress were the Captain Juan Bautista Rivarola as well as José Tomás Isasi and Mariano Antonio Molas. All of them were loyal and faithful followers of Dr. Francia who proposed, as First Consul, the establishment of a «Dictatorship, in imitation of the Roman Empire, in order to preserve the Republic from the threats coming from the outer world». [5]

Using all methods of gerrymandering and electoral manipulations, Dr. Francia and his loyals managed to overwhelm the assembly with Deputies that were absolutely on his side, reducing, almost entirely, the possibilities of victory of Gen. Yegros, who was a respected military officer and patriot, but a poor politician. This way, in the «Templo de la Merced», the vast majority of the Deputies, virtually handpicked by Francia, voted for him. 7/8 of the total votes, to be accurate, were for him. This way, on 12 October 1814, Don José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia was given, by popular acclamation, the title of «His Excellency the Supreme Dictator of the Republic of Paraguay» for a period of five years and with the authority of summoning, at his own will, the Congress. Once again, this momentous event in Paraguayan History took place on 12 October, which is more than just a coincidence: it was a political message of Dr. Francia to the entire world. The Paraguayan Consul that was sitting in the chair of «Caesar» now became «Imperator», in the style of the Roman and Hispanic Empires. [6]

Julius Caesar wearing a Crown of Olives. On 12 October 1814, Don José Gaspar de Francia became the Paraguayan «Supreme and Perpetual Dictator in Quality of an Unparalleled and Exemplary Being» just like the «Divine» Julius Caesar [Image: History of Yesterday].

With almost total power in his hands, it will not take too much time for Dr. Francia to summon the Paraguayan Congress once more. And that happened on 30 May 1816, when 150 Deputies who were absolutely adept to «El Supremo», as he was now called, voted for the establishment of a «Perpetual Dictatorship». There was virtually no opposition and thus, Don José Gaspar became «Imperator» with the quality of «exemplary and unparalleled human being» (en calidad de ser sin ejemplar) for the remainder of his lifetime. [7]

Just like the «Divine» Julius Caesar, the «exemplary and unparalleled» José Gaspar de Francia was now the Absolute Ruler of the Paraguayan Republic. History has curious ways to repeat herself. It remains unknown to us how were the celebrations of Dr. Francia’s crowds when he was proclaimed as Perpetual Dictator. But we can infer that it was like an apotheosis. We don’t know if Francia was offered a crown just like with Julius Caesar. However, with some tongue-in-cheek imaginations, we may claim that the Paraguayan People chanted:

«Hail to the King! All Hail Caesar!».



[1] Luna, Félix (2009): «José Artigas: el Caudillo Revolucionario», pages 41-60. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Planeta de Agostini.

[2] Ramos, Jorge Abelardo (2012): «Historia de la Nación Latinoamericana. Con Prólogo de Jorge Coccia», digital version, Chapter VIII, pages 221-222. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Continente – Peña y Lillo.

[3] Ribeiro, Ana (2003): «El Caudillo y el Dictador», pages 68-70. Montevideo, Uruguay: Editorial Planeta.

[4] Chaves, Julio César (1964): «El Supremo Dictador…», op. cit. pages 166-170.

[5] Viola, Alfredo (1992): «El Dr. Francia: Defensor de la Independencia del Paraguay», pages 80-81. Asunción, Paraguay: Editorial Servilibro.

[6] Rodríguez Pardo, José Manuel (2011): «La Independencia del Paraguay no fue Proclamada en Mayo de 1811», op. cit. pages 92-93.

[7] «De la Independencia a la Guerra de la Triple Alianza (1811-1870)» , by Nidia R. Areces. Available in: Telesca, Ignacio et. al. (2010) «Historia del Paraguay», digital version, Chapter VIII, pages 167-168. Asunción, Paraguay: Intercontinental – Epub.

Emilio Urdapilleta