History of Paraguay contra its Falsifiers: Chapter VIII

History of Paraguay contra its Falsifiers: Chapter VIII

Vespers of Independence.

Gen. Manuel Belgrano represented the most cherished ideals of the Junta of Buenos Aires, with all its submission to the British Empire. In this regard, the Paraguayan soldiers obtained a second victory against Britain: first in the British Invasions of the River Plate (1806-1807), where they played a key role defending Montevideo and the «Porteños’ City»; [1] and second, though more symbolically, in the «Paraguayan Campaign» (1810-1811) when Belgrano and Buenos Aires, loyal servants of Britain’s interests, were also defeated. [2]

But Belgrano was a very enchanting man. Many of the Paraguayan soldiers, including Manuel Atanasio Cabañas and Fulgencio Yegros, gave him the chance to expose his ideals. The «Porteño» claimed that he went to Paraguay, not for conquest but for liberty, for the ideals of the revolution and for saving the realms of the legitimate ruler (the Mask of Ferdinand VII once more). A War Council gathered and they were divided: some wanted to spare the life of Belgrano, others wanted his summary excecution, as was deserving for a traitor to King and Country. However, the intervention of Cabañas and Yegros was crucial for saving the disgraced Porteño commander and his troops: he was granted the permission to leave Paraguay with the remainder of his troops «with all honours» and with the promise not to mess with Paraguay anymore.

The Buenosaireans were, in military terms, completely defeated. But they obtained a certain prize for the massive failure: the Paraguayan born-officers were starstruck by Belgrano and his ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. At the same time, the «Propaganda Machine» of Buenos Aires started to hit hard, based on the spurious and fantastic tales of the «Black Legend» propelled by Britain and other Protestant nations, when Spain was at the peak of its power in the XVI and XVII Centuries. A Paraguayan author, Fulgencio R. Moreno, fell to the malignant versions coming from the Porteños and wrote:

«(About the Governor Velasco), the Junta Gubernativa claimed that he abandoned his post (during Belgrano’s Campaign) and that he fled the battlefield ignominiously, hiding himself in a lost place dubbed as the Cordillera de los Naranjos, where he remained out of all sights until he knew that our (Paraguayan) army emerged victorious». [3]

These versions remain largely unproven. But in case they were trutfhful, Governor Don Bernardo de Velasco had good reasons to remain hidden during Belgrano’s Campaign: he was the last Governor appointed by the King of Spain for the River Plate (on 5 May 1806) and, de facto, he was the Head of the Viceroyalty. For sure, Francisco Javier de Elío was also Governor of Montevideo (since 9 September 1808) and received the rank of Viceroy by the Junta of Cadiz and the Regency Council, but nobody recognized this act (proving, once more, how fake was the «Mask of Ferdinand VII» for the liberal-revolutionaries). In fact, Elío was appointed when Spain was already under Napoleonic Rule, something that pretty much annulled his authority in the eyes of many and Velasco had seniority over him because of his charge of Governor of Paraguay and Misiones. So, it could be said that in terms of legitimacy and legality, Don Bernardo de Velasco was «de facto», the last Viceroy of the River Plate, appointed by the last reigning monarch of Spain before the Napoleonic Invasions. This was enough reason to «hide» from being caught by the liberal-revolutionaries of Buenos Aires, and everyone knew how the «Vanquisher of the English», Don Santiago de Liniers, ended up when he fell in their hands…

But indeed, there was a large «Paraguayan elite» who favoured the ideals of the Junta of Buenos Aires and believed everything they muttered from their propaganda apparatus. However, one man was completely against everything coming from the «Porteños». He was Don José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia. He acrimoniously censored the liberation of Belgrano (sharing that opinion with Governor Velasco), [4] claiming that Belgrano should have been shot for being a «sectarian member of a cabal of revolutionaries» in Buenos Aires, probably alluding to the freemasons and their masonic lodges «Lautaro» and «Caballeros de América».

But the events were accelerated after this point. Some minor insurrections, on September 1810 and April 1811, took place in Paraguay. They were led by Spaniards who had close ties with the Junta of Buenos Aires and especially, young priests formed in the Royal College and Seminary of St. Charles (Real Colegio y Seminario de San Carlos, a public institute of higher education of that time, established in Asunción del Paraguay in 1783). Governor Velasco punished their actions by sending them in confinement to the Fort Bourbon, in the Paraguayan Mato Grosso.

The Independence of Paraguay had another relevant cause, maybe greater than the attempts of Buenos Aires to absorb the country. Governor Velasco was entering in secret communications with Governor Elío at Montevideo in order to secure the intervention of the Empire of Brazil. Paraguayans, loyal to the end to the Spanish Empire, saw this maneuvering of Velasco as an absolute betrayal. This happened because the Infanta (Princess) Doña Carlota Joaquina of Bourbon (1775-1830) was married with the King of Portugal Don Juan VI (1767-1826), and some counter-revolutionaries thought that a possible solution to the subversion led by Buenos Aires in the River Plate was to join forces with the Portuguese. This was deeply resented by the Paraguayans, ancestral enemies of the «Bandeirantes» of Brazil. That’s why it could be claimed that the Paraguayan Independence was more or less a reaction against the attempts of turning the country into a Portuguese (Brazilian) Protectorate rather than against the Spaniard Rule in the Americas. Of course, this has some simplification and there were many other factors around the process.

The Infanta of Spain, Princess Doña Carlota Joaquina of Bourbon, wife of King John VI of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves and therefore, Queen Consort of the Portuguese Empire. She was the last hope of Governor Velasco for the preservation of the Spanish Empire in the River Plate. [Image: Real Academia de la Historia de España].
The Infanta of Spain, Princess Doña Carlota Joaquina of Bourbon, wife of King John VI of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves and therefore, Queen Consort of the Portuguese Empire. She was the last hope of Governor Velasco for the preservation of the Spanish Empire in the River Plate. [Image: Real Academia de la Historia de España].

García Mellid, with his accustomed precision and sharpness, wrote:

«The great paradox of the Paraguayan insurrection is that the immediate cause, the trigger of the decisive events (…) was a reaction against the Portuguese penetration. The native spirits stood up against the insidious threats coming from the Brazil… In the turmoil of the affairs, from that moment onwards, everything was confused and mixed up: the Spaniards’ domination, the absolutism of Buenos Aires, the caudillos of the littoral and the Brazilian mameluks, the indians mbayas and payaguas, the real and imaginary hazards… But the prime impulse, the spark that lit the stakes of insurrection was, more especifically, the threat lurking in the Brazilian frontier… (Princess Carlota Joaquina) considered herself as the rightful ruler and regent of the Spanish Empire with all its possesions in the Americas. She made contact with several representatives in the River Plate… She did the same thing in Paraguay. The bridge for these procedures was none other but Don Diego de Souza, Captain General of the Province of the Río Grande do Sul. He dispatched Lieutenant of Dragoons José de Abreu, future Baron of Cerro Largo, to Asunción as an intermediary. In past times, Governor Velasco had communications with Diego de Souza, trying to obtain the support of Portuguese troops to secure the control of the territories under his rule. Sensible to this request, Captain de Souza established in the Ville of San Borja, at the margins of the Uruguay River, a force of some 1,500 men supported with heavy artillery… The emisary of Abreu arrived at Asunción on 9 May 1811. Velasco lodged him in his own house and gave a gala dance in his honour, as a sign of alliance between the Portuguese and the Paraguayans. It was arranged that 500 men were to be sent from Portugal to Asunción as reinforcements…». [5]

Indeed, the environment in Asunción was heated up. But when the rumours of a Portuguese intervention in Paraguay reached the ears of the patriots (according to Paraguayan tradition, a woman known as Juana María de Lara was their spy in Velasco’s court), they decided to act immediately.

Independence was coming…


[1] Pesoa, Manuel (1995): «Benigno Ferreira, General y Doctor: Su Biografía insertada en la Historia del Paraguay», pages 56-58. Asunción, Paraguay: Intercontinental Editora.

[2] In fact, Manuel Belgrano and Bernardino Rivadavia (1780-1845), another important «porteñista», requested permission to the Government of Britain for the formation of a Liberal and Constitutional Monarchy in the River Plate, with a British prince as head of the new state. See: Castillo, Leonardo: «Belgrano y el Rey Inca, la idea que pudo cambiar la historia de la Independencia». Telam (Buenos Aires), 8 July 2016. Link: https://www.telam.com.ar/notas/201607/154527-belgrano-y-el-rey-inca-la-idea.php

[3] Moreno, Fulgencio R. (1911): «Estudio sobre la Independencia del Paraguay», volume I, page 128. Asunción, Paraguay: Talleres Nacionales de H. Kraus.

[4] Pesoa (1995), op. cit. page 99.

[5] García Mellid (1963), op. cit. volume I, pages 145-146.

Emilio Urdapilleta