Additionally, over time the relations between the Europeans
and the local people varied depending on who was in power and what his personal
relations were with the local people. Additionally, as more and more settlers arrived
less married the locals, hurting the relationship between the groups. This was especially
true among the Guarani people who didn't live in or near Spanish settlements.
In many cases, the relations were so poor the Spanish used
the local people to work the fields. Many of these landowners essentially enslaved
the indigenous people and, while settling the lands, often times encroached on indigenous
lands. So while the relations were generally good, there were conflicts and those
conflicts always escalated with more aggressive Spanish governors.
Despite the conflicts, from the 1500s into the 1700s relations were generally peaceful
as the Spanish slowly took over local cultures, but often
in cooperation with the locals. These people also adopted the Spanish language and
as missionaries arrived they often converted the people to Catholicism. For those
who converted, which was most of the population, they were often given great rights
and often avoided slavery.
From the 1500s into the 1700s the Jesuit missionaries dominated the region and even
the government and economy. As the region had little economic value to
Spain, the land was left alone and the Jesuits came to control nearly every
aspect of the culture and society. Over time the Jesuits took a more active role
in politics and gained many local Spanish enemies. They began to convert people
at any expense, even killing those who refused to convert, and many of the people
living in the region began to view them as more of a detriment than a blessing.
By the early 1700s most of the people began to protest their rule and Spain conceded
in 1767 when the Jesuits were removed from power.
Despite the hostile end to the rule, the Jesuits successfully converted nearly the
entire region to Catholicism and with this came great cultural changes. Spanish
became the de facto language of communication and Spanish culture dominated the
region as the economy shifted to a base of agriculture and trade, not unlike that
of Spain at the time. The enslavement of the Guarani people
also nearly ended as the Spanish were hesitant to enslave Catholics, with whom they
had good relations.
Due to the protests against the Jesuits, who were given power by Spain,
and the seemingly complete lack of interest in the colony from Spain, the people
had little loyalty to Madrid. The people were divided between the Jesuits, the indigenous
people, the wealthy Spanish, and the mestizos. The politics in the region also proved
that the region meant little to Spain as they primarily sought to control the lands
to prevent Portuguese expansion as the people living here
fell further and further into poverty.
Also in the 1700s slavery in Paraguay increased dramatically.
While some of the indigenous people were still enslaved, during this time there
was a significant increase in the number of African slaves.
These slaves primarily worked on the cattle ranches and farms and hence brought
more diversity to the country. Although slavery vastly increased in relative numbers,
the slave population in Paraguay was still small in comparison to many other
South American nations at the time.
In Europe, Spain fell to
France in 1808 with the Napoleonic Wars and most of Spain's American
colonies quickly sought independence. Paraguay declared
independence in 1811 while they were on the verge of war with
Argentina, with whom they had a long standing rivalry and with whom they
were united under Spanish rule. Paraguay turned to Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia
to rule the country and to lead them forward to independence from Argentina, which
he did, but he did so essentially as a dictator from 1814 until 1840.
Francia, like many other people in Paraguay, was part Spanish
and part indigenous and it was the indigenous people and the poorer population that
he truly represented. He protected the poor and lower classes so strongly that he
forced Europeans to marry non-Europeans and removed many
rights from everyone to guarantee his control. He also sought to control the country
to such a vast degree that he cut off trade and didn't allow anyone to leave
Francia also targeted the wealthy and the church, eventually creating a state focused
on justice, although only on justice based on Francia's definition. Through
this process he forever changed the culture as ethnic Europeans
became concerned due to this radical fight against the wealthy. Perhaps more than
any other country in the Americas, Paraguay's culture
became tied to the indigenous culture and historic lifestyle as religion and education
were discouraged. Francia also magnified this growing culture, its diversity, and
its lack of wealth as a part of the people's identity. Paraguay was very different
from its neighbors in nearly every way and this time made those differences more
After Francia's death in 1840 and a little chaos that followed, a second dictatorship
began, this time under the leadership of Carlos Antonio Lopez, and later under his
son, Solano Lopez, who ruled until 1870. Under their rules and throughout the latter
half of the 1800s, the country began a modernization campaign that encouraged education
and healthcare, while improving infrastructure and communication. During this time
slavery also ended slowly and the economy was opened to the world.
The younger Lopez also tried to make Paraguay a military power by starting ill-advised
wars with both Argentina and Brazil.
However, he also somewhat successfully held off these powers and remains a national
hero in the country today.
After Solano Lopez's death in 1870 the country fell into chaos. The economy
was a mess, many people had died in earlier wars, and the country had lost lands
to both Argentina and Brazil. Despite
having the opportunity to take more lands, neither Argentina nor Brazil made an
attempt to take over the country due to its disastrous economic state. Instead these
foreign powers got involved in Paraguay through domestic
politics by supporting local politicians and parties.
In the late 1800s numerous political parties arose as the people finally had some
say in the government. However, it was clear the people had a strong distrust for
foreigners and foreign ideas as many people still supported the idea of a dictatorship
as they viewed that as protection from the foreign enemies. Especially considering
many of these new political parties were being supported by foreign governments,
most notably by Brazil and Argentina. It seems the people preferred stability over
freedom, but the dynamic was changing and the political parties were well on their
way to taking power.
In 1904 the fairly stable government fell as conflict and later, civil war broke
out. The people were divided and this cost the country more lands and money as their
economy continued to struggle and their neighbors again picked at the country's
borders. This led to war with Bolivia in 1932 as Bolivia
sought lands in the Gran Chaco. Despite victory, political stability was far from
assured for Paraguay.
Internal disputes finally ended in the 1940s with the outbreak of World War II.
The United States sought
Paraguay as an ally since Argentina had an alliance
with Germany prior to the war. This led to financial assistance,
as well as a market for their export goods. Despite this, Paraguay listened to the
Germans and readily accepted assistance and favors from them as well, never actually
taking a side in the war until German defeat was guaranteed.
Despite the brief economic and political boost, the country fell back into war in
the late 1940s. This political fighting led to a number of leaders and governments
taking power in quick succession as the economic state was instable. This state
began to end in the 1960s and 1970s when Paraguay became
more active on the international stage. They gained strong allies in the
United States (partially due to their anti-communist stances) and
Brazil as Brazil even offered them duty-free ports on the Atlantic Ocean.
The people changed in much the same way the government did as xenophobia (fear of
foreigners) has subsided in the past century and the people began to gain greater
levels of education. This increased knowledge also helped the people fight corruption
and dictatorial actions within their government, leading to another government overthrow
Since this time the government has somewhat stabilized, although political upheavals
and changes are still a regular occurrence in Paraguay.
The people still seem to be seeking out an identity and future as they remain very
distinct in South America and especially in comparison
to their neighbors of Argentina and Brazil.