LIBERALS VERSUS COLORADOS
The Postwar Period
Ruined by war, pestilence, famine, and foreign indemnities
(which were never paid), Paraguay was on the verge of
disintegration in 1870. But its fertile soil and the country's
overall backwardness probably helped it survive. After the war,
Paraguay's mostly rural populace continued to subsist as it had
done for centuries, eking out a meager existence in the hinterland
under unimaginably difficult conditions. The allied occupation of
Asunción in 1869 put the victors in direct control of Paraguayan
affairs. While Bolivia pressed its nebulous claim to the Chaco,
Argentina and Brazil swallowed huge chunks of Paraguayan territory
(around 154,000 square kilometers).
Brazil had borne the brunt of the fighting, with perhaps 150,000
dead and 65,000 wounded. It had spent US$200 million, and its
troops formed the senior army of occupation in the country, so it
was logical that Rio de Janeiro temporarily overshadowed Buenos
Aires in Asunción. Sharp disagreements between the two powers
prolonged the occupation until 1876. Ownership of the Paraguayan
economy quickly passed to foreign speculators and adventurers who
rushed to take advantage of the rampant chaos and corruption.
The internal political vacuum was at first dominated by
survivors of the Paraguayan Legion. This group of exiles, based in
Buenos Aires, had regarded Solano López as a mad tyrant and fought
for the allies during the war. The group set up a provisional
government in 1869 mainly under Brazilian auspices and signed the
1870 peace accords, which guaranteed Paraguay's independence and
free river navigation. A constitution was also promulgated in the
same year, but it proved ineffective because of the foreign origin
of its liberal, democratic tenets. After the last foreign troops
had gone in 1876 and an arbitral award to Paraguay of the area
between the Río Verde and Río Pilcomayo by an international
commission headed by Rutherford B. Hayes, United States president,
the era of party politics in Paraguay was free to begin in earnest.
Nonetheless, the evacuation of foreign forces did not mean the end
of foreign influence. Both Brazil and Argentina remained deeply
involved in Paraguay because of their connections with Paraguay's
rival political forces. These forces eventually came to be known as
the Colorados and the Liberals.
The political rivalry between Liberals and Colorados was
presaged as early as 1869 when the terms Azules (Blues) and
Colorados (Reds) first appeared. The National Republican
Association-Colorado Party (Asociación Nacional Republicana-Partido
Colorado) dominated Paraguayan political life from the late 1880s
until Liberals overthrew it in 1904. The Liberal ascent marked the
decline of Brazil, which had supported the Colorados as the
principal political force in Paraguay, and the rise of Argentine
In the decade following the war, the principal political
conflicts within Paraguay reflected the Liberal-Colorado split,
with Legionnaires battling Lopiztas (ex-followers of Solano López)
for power, while Brazil and Argentina maneuvered in the background.
The Legionnaires saw the Lopiztas as reactionaries. The Lopiztas
accused the Legionnaires of being traitors and foreign puppets. The
situation defied neat categories, since many people constantly
changed sides. Opportunism characterized this era, not ideological
The Legionnaires were a motley collection of refugees and exiles
who dated from Francia's day. Their opposition to tyranny was
sincere, and they gravitated toward democratic ideologies. Coming
home to backward, poor, xenophobic Paraguay from cosmopolitan,
prosperous Buenos Aires was a big shock for the Legionnaires.
Believing that more freedom would cure Paraguay's ills, they
abolished slavery and founded a constitutional government as soon
as they came to power. They based the new government on the
standard liberal prescriptions of free enterprise, free elections,
and free trade.
The Legionnaires, however, had no more experience in democracy
than other Paraguayans. The 1870 constitution quickly became
irrelevant. Politics degenerated into factionalism, and cronyism
and intrigue prevailed. Presidents still acted like dictators,
elections did not stay free, and the Legionnaires were out of power
in less than a decade.
Free elections were a startling, and not altogether welcome,
innovation for ordinary Paraguayans, who had always allied
themselves with a patrón (benefactor) for security and
protection. At the same time, Argentina and Brazil were not content
to leave Paraguay with a truly free political system. Pro-Argentine
militia chief Benigno Ferreira emerged as de facto dictator until
his overthrow with Brazilian help in 1874. Ferreira later returned
to lead the 1904 Liberal uprising, which ousted the Colorados.
Ferreira served as president between 1906 and 1908.
Data as of December 1988