An Uncertain Future
Upon the expulsion of their Jesuit leaders, the indigenous within the missions faced an uncertain future. While some chose to remain in the missions, now under the supervision of the Franciscans, many opted for life outside the mission. Some returned to the forest while others decided to use their learned skilled trades to get by in nearby towns.
Independence & the Rule of Dr. Francia
Throughout the early 1800’s, one by one, Spain’s colonies in Latin America declared independence. When Argentina did so in 1810, it attempted to absorb Paraguay in the process, even going so far as to send an army to invade the country. However, Paraguay resisted, determined to hang on to its own dream of independence. On the night of the May 14, 1811, Paraguay declared itself independent from Spain. Over the course of the next several years, Paraguay was ruled by the new nation’s founding fathers. Slowly but surely, Dr. Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, the most educated and politically savvy of the group, emerged as their leader. In 1814 he was declared the ruler of Paraguay and in 1816 his rule was extended for life with the official title of dictador perpetuo (perpetual dictator).
The National Flag
Paraguay’s flag is the only one in the world with different seals on each side. On the front, there is a wreath of palms and an olive branch framing a blue circle with a yellow star. The phrase Republica del Paraguay encircles the wreath in yellow letters on a red background. The other side features a lion and behind it, a staff with a red Phrygian cap symbolizing liberty. Above is a semi-circular red banner with the words Paz y Justicia (Peace and Justice).
Dr. Francia’s twenty-six-year rule was marked by his policy of isolation. Above all, Dr. Francia sought to solidify Paraguay’s independence, protecting the young nation from Argentine and Brazilian expansionist ambitions. This was achieved through noninterventionist foreign policy and micromanagement of all aspects of life in Paraguay – political, economic, and even social. The country’s borders were shut and international trade was severely restricted. Dr. Francia ruled with a heavy hand, maintaining an extensive network of spies and jailing anyone who dared to challenge him. The majority of foreigners were suspected of being spies and many were held hostage in Paraguay for indefinite periods. Though his methods were harsh, they enabled Dr. Francia to maintain peace in Paraguay at a time when instability reigned throughout the region and neighboring countries continually eyed Paraguay’s vast territory. Dr. Francia died in September 1840, ending Paraguay’s first, but not its last, dictatorship.
Sidebar: In order to keep Asuncion’s power hungry elites at bay, Dr Francia forced the upper classes into marriages with Paraguay’s indigenous population. This kept the elite from consolidating power while also furthering the development of the country’s mestizo culture.
Under Dr. Francia, Paraguayans found themselves forced to become almost completely self – sufficient. Dr. Francia assigned goods for each town to produce, from textiles to bricks. In many towns, the cottage industries that were born during that era still thrive today. Perhaps the most notable example is the creation of ao po’i cloth in the town of Yataity and the poncho sesenta lista in Piribebuy (see Artesanias).
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