The First Colorado Era
Cándido Bareiro, López's ex-commercial agent in Europe, returned
to Paraguay in 1869 and formed a major Lopizta faction. He also
recruited General Bernadino Caballero, a war hero with close ties
to López. After President Juan Bautista Gil was assassinated in
1877, Caballero used his power as army commander to guarantee
Bareiro's election as president in 1878. When Bareiro died in 1880,
Caballero seized power in a coup. Caballero dominated Paraguayan
politics for most of the next two decades, either as president or
through his power in the militia. His accession to power is notable
because he brought political stability, founded a ruling party--the
Colorados--to regulate the choice of presidents and the
distribution of spoils, and began a process of economic
Despite their professed admiration for Francia, the Colorados
dismantled Francia's unique system of state socialism. Desperate
for cash because of heavy debts incurred in London in the early
postwar period, the Colorados lacked a source of funds except
through the sale of the state's vast holdings, which comprised more
than 95 percent of Paraguay's total land. Caballero's government
sold much of this land to foreigners in huge lots. While Colorado
politicians raked in the profits and themselves became large
landowners, peasant squatters who had farmed the land for
generations were forced to vacate and, in many cases, to emigrate.
By 1900 seventy-nine people owned half of the country's land.
Although the Liberals had advocated the same land-sale policy,
the unpopularity of the sales and evidence of pervasive government
corruption produced a tremendous outcry from the opposition.
Liberals became bitter foes of selling land, especially after
Caballero blatantly rigged the 1886 election to ensure a victory
for General Patricio Escobar. Ex-Legionnaires, idealistic
reformers, and former Lopiztas joined in July 1887 to form the
Centro Democrático (Democratic Center), a precursor of the Liberal
party, to demand free elections, an end to land sales, civilian
control over the military, and clean government. Caballero
responded, along with his principal adviser, José Segundo Decoud,
and Escobar, by forming the Colorado Party one month later, thus
formalizing the political cleavage.
Both groups were deeply factionalized, however, and very little
ideology separated them. Colorado and Liberal partisans changed
sides whenever it proved advantageous. While the Colorados
reinforced their monopoly on power and spoils, Liberals called for
reform. Frustration provoked an aborted Liberal revolt in 1891 that
produced changes in 1893, when war minister General Juan B.
Egusquiza overthrew Caballero's chosen president, Juan G. González.
Egusquiza startled Colorado stalwarts by sharing power with the
Liberals, a move that split both parties. Ex-Legionnaire Ferreira,
along with the cívico (civic) wing of the Liberals, joined
the government of Egusquiza--who left office in 1898--to allow a
civilian, Emilio Aceval, to become president. Liberal
radicales (radicals) who opposed compromising with their
Colorado enemies boycotted the new arrangement. Caballero, also
boycotting the alliance, plotted to overthrow civilian rule and
succeeded when Colonel Juan Antonio Ezcurra seized power in 1902.
This victory was Caballero's last, however. In 1904, General
Ferreira, with the support of cívicos, radicales, and
egusquistas, invaded from Argentina. After four months of
fighting, Ezcurra signed the Pact of Pilcomayo aboard an Argentine
gunboat on December 12, 1904, and handed power to the Liberals.
Data as of December 1988