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Old Apr 28, 2012, 08:48 PM   #1
Cheezy the Wiz
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Article: Paraguayan Consequences of the War of the Triple Alliance

One last history paper from the vault.

The Consequences of the War of the Triple Alliance on Paraguay

Much attention is paid to the myriad wars of the North American continent, numerous and bloody as they were. However, to neglect the War of the Triple Alliance as a minor sideshow in world politics would be to do a major conflict, and four nations, a serious injustice. By some measures, the War of the Triple Alliance, or the Paraguayan War, as it is often known, was the bloodiest war of the Americas. By any measure, it is a fantastically tragic story of a smaller nation’s stand against neighbors who would see her smothered, her eventual capitulation to those powers, and the horrific consequences she suffered for her heroics.

It is first perhaps appropriate to give a brief summary of the Paraguayan War, though the primary focus will shift to postwar Paraguay expeditiously. The war began in 1864, in response to what was considered by Paraguay to be inexcusable meddling by Brazil in Uruguay’s political affairs; specifically, through fraudulent elections. The resulting campaign proved to be heavily in Paraguay’s favor: at the outset of the war, Paraguay’s army was the largest in South America, numbering nearly 80,000 men, with the armies of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina combining to only 55,000. However, the isolation of Paraguay from its Uruguayan objective required use of the Rio Parana and Rio Paraguay, which the superior Brazilian navy denied them. This, combined with a series of strategic yet often Pyrrhic victories by the Allies, quickly put Paraguay on the defensive. By 1867, the Paraguayan army, combined with many Paraguayan citizens, had degenerated into waging a protracted guerilla war against the advancing Allies, finally culminating in the occupation of Asunción in 1870, and the death of the Paraguayan President Francisco Solano López.

The consequences of this terrible war were myriad for Paraguay. By agreement prior the outset of the war, large pieces of appropriately adjacent territory were awarded to Argentina and Brazil, who received roughly one-fourth of Paraguay’s territory between them, though both Argentina and Brazil had initially sought far more. Evidence exists suggesting that it was Brazil’s desire to completely incorporate Paraguay into the Empire, and that forging an alliance with Uruguay and Argentina was the only way to prevent their involvement in it. The official agreement between the Allies established that “the Empire of Brazil will be divided from the Republic of Paraguay: on the side of the Parana by the first river below the cataract of the Seven Falls…on the left bank of the Paraguay, but the river Apa, from its mouth to its source; in the interior, by the heights of the sierra Maracaju…and following the same range along a line…between the sources of the Igurei and the Apa. The Argentine Republic will be divided from the Republic of Paraguay by the rivers Parana and Paraguay to the boundaries of the Empire of Brazil, which on the right bank of the Rio Paraguay is Bahia Negra.” These territorial losses amount to those south and west of the Rio Pilcomayo and Rio Paraguay, plus the Misiones region to the east, and all land to the north and east of the Rio Apa and its confluence with the Rio Paraguay.

Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of Paraguay’s postwar bereavement lay in the demographics of the war. Unfortunately, no reliable censuses date from before the war. An incomplete census in 1870 suggests a population of around 116,000 postwar; with the lowest possible estimate of the 1864 population being 285,000. Thus, even at the absolute least, Paraguay lost 60% of its population in six years’ time, with women outnumbering men two to one postwar. Other estimates place the pre-war population at nearly 450,000, while still others suggest a population of just over one million. However, all the statistics tell the same devastating story: more than one-half the population of Paraguay died during President Lopez’s war.

While many of these losses are resultant casualties of war, many more died of disease. Definite numbers do no exist for causality rates, as no accurate records were kept at the time. It is certain, however, that the leading killer of The War was not the lead bullet, but rather vibrio choleræ: epidemic cholera. Such a case is by no means unique; indeed, disease often claimed more lives than those inflicted by combat in wars of the time. However, the intense lethality rate of cholera, combined with its ability to quickly spread via the extreme lack of proper sanitary procedures that were most certainly present during these campaigns only proves to exacerbate the terrible loss inflicted upon the Paraguayan people. Not to suggest that the Allies did not suffer their own set of evils from the war, but such is beyond the scope of this topic.

Paraguay also suffered terrible economic strains as a result of this war. Perhaps the most obvious problem is the severe lack of men in the workforce postwar. With half the population dead, and only one in three Paraguayans male, it is no mystery why the Paraguayan economy collapsed. Before the war, Paraguay boasted one of the more stable economies in the Western Hemisphere. She had constructed her own foundries at Asuncion and Ybycui, capable of casting many types of cannon. And iron smelter also existed at Ybycui, as well as a shipyard and a brick kiln in Asuncion. Her recent Presidents had practiced policies of isolation and protectionism, which encouraged development and investment by Paraguayans in other Paraguayan industries. President Lopez also imported foreign experts to install telegraph lines and railroads, which served to benefit Paraguay’s growing steel industry. Paraguay’s other great economic strength lay in agriculture. The cultivation of Yerba mate, a fleshy, nutritious fruit, and a number of hardwoods, as well as a significant textile industry all greatly aided Paraguay in its preparations for war, but also served as the bulk of their few exports, a system carefully overseen by the state. Other exports included tobacco, sugar, coffee, and oranges.

The Paraguayan War effectively destroyed these industries. Without the men to work in the foundries, they fell into disuse. With villages destroyed by war, the citizens who did not die of cholera or other disease re-settled around the shadow of their capital, Asuncion.

Because of her protectionist policies, Paraguay had accepted no foreign investments, and thus, had collected no debt. Though Paraguay made the switch to a paper currency backed by gold in the 1850s, and experienced significant initial inflation as a result of it, those troubles had stabilized by the 1860s. However, as the war wore on, and the government made the decision in 1865 to make all purchases using the paper money, inflation again arose as a major problem, and the value of the Paraguayan peso quickly deteriorated. By 1869, the paper peso had lost sixty to seventy percent of its original value. An attempt to assuage these economic pains, the Paraguayan government attempted to partially add silver to the backing of the peso, and also began minting silver coins, though neither of these served much a purpose, and was discontinued in August 1869.

It is abstract to declare that Paraguay was devastated after the Triple Alliance War without the frame with which to compare it. However, in the face of empirical data, the anguish forced upon the Paraguayan people becomes much more apparent. With the terrible death toll of disease and war, and the loss of nearly one-quarter of her territory, it is of little question why Paraguay has never been able to recover in the 150 years since. However, there were no winners of this war; though her enemies sought to carve her up, even to rob her of sovereignty, their tribulations suffered were also of great scale; such is the nature of war. As Bertrand Russell so cacophonously put it: “war does not determine who is right, only who is left;” and there can be no question that not much was left of Paraguay.

Bibliography
  • Codman, John. Ten Months in Brazil, With Notes on the Paraguayan War. New York: James Miller Publishing, 1872.
  • Cooney, Jerry W. “Economy and Manpower.” In I Die With My Country: Perspectives on the Paraguayan War 1864-1870, edited by Hendrick Krayy and Thomas L. Wigham. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.
  • Leuchars, Chris. To the Bitter End: Paraguay and the War of the Triple Alliance. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.
  • Warren, Harris Gaylord. Paraguay and the Triple Alliance: The Postwar Decade 1869-1878. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1978.
  • Wigham, Thomas L. The Paraguayan War: Causes and Early Conduct. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
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Old Apr 29, 2012, 01:19 AM   #2
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Interesting read! South America is an oft-forgotten place of conflict in human history,
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