Higinio Moríñigo

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Higinio Morínigo
Morínigo and Roosevelt.jpg
Higinio Morínigo (right) and Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House, June 9, 1943.
President of Paraguay
In office
September 7, 1940 – June 3, 1948
Preceded by José Félix Estigarribia
Succeeded by Juan Manuel Frutos
Minister of War and Navy of Paraguay
In office
May 17, 1940 – September 7, 1940
Preceded by Eduardo Torreani Viera
Succeeded by Paulino Ántola
Minister of the Interior of Paraguay
In office
January 25, 1939 – August 15, 1939
Preceded by Arturo Bray
Succeeded by Nicolás Delgado
Personal details
Born Higinio Morínigo Martínez
January 11, 1897
Paraguarí, Paraguay Paraguay
Died January 27, 1983(1983-01-27) (aged 86)
Asunción, Paraguay Paraguay
Nationality Paraguayan
Political party None
Spouse(s) Dolores Ferrari (1932–1983)
Children Higinio Emilio, Juan Alberto, Guillermo Gerardo

General Higinio Morínigo Martínez (January 11, 1897 – January 27, 1983[1]) was a general and political figure in Paraguay. He was the President and military dictator of Paraguay from September 7, 1940 to June 3, 1948. Opposition to his rule led to the Paraguayan Civil war of 1947. Paraguayan city General Higinio Morínigo is named in his honor.

Military career[edit]

Morínigo was born in 1897 in Paraguarí, Paraguay, in a family a merchant of a mixed European and Guarani descent. He was fluent in Spanish and Guaraní languages. Little else is known of his early life.

He attended military college and entered army in 1922. He participated in the Chaco War and was appointed Army's Chief of Staff in 1936. Moríñigo gained fame in Paraguay during the February Revolution by heading the 1936 expedition to the site of Battle of Cerro Corá to retrieve remains of Francisco Solano López. President José Félix Estigarribia, himself a Chaco War hero and supporter of the Liberal Party, promoted Morínigo to general and appointed him as Minister of War on May 2, 1940.

After Estigarribia was unexpectedly killed in an airplane crash on September 7, 1940, Morínigo was chosen by the army and Liberal ministers as a temporary President for the two-month period leading to new Presidential elections.[2]


On September 30, 1940 after growing disagreements with Morínigo, the Liberal Party ministers resigned from the government and on October 16 Morínigo announced that the Presidential elections will be postponed for two years. Soon afterward he announced a policy of disciplina, jerarquia, y orden (discipline, hierarchy and order) and stated that persons who spread subversive ideas would be "subject to confinement".[3]

On November 30 Morínigo announced in a noontime radio address that "The people and the Army from this moment will be under a single command." All political parties were banned and he established a military dictatorship. In his coup and subsequent rule he was greatly helped by the 1940 Constitution that was written by Liberals and Estigarribia and had greatly increased the powers of President.

To strengthen his authority, on February 4, 1941 he removed influential colonel Peredes from the post of Interior minister. On April 17, 1941 he suppressed a febrerista uprising by supporters of the February Revolution.[4]

On April 25, 1942 he banned the Liberal Party, accusing them of conspiring with the Bolivians and exiled Party’s leaders.[5] His only remaining supporters were radicals from the Colorado Party and army. During his dictatorship, Morínigo faced widespread resistance, including general strikes ar military revolts, but he survived by maintaining the loyalty of the Paraguayan Army, which received 45% of the country's budget.

Morínigo relied on the right-wing Colorado faction Guion Rojo (the "Red Banner") led by Juan Natalico Gonzalez, as a paramilitary police force to intimidate febreristas and Liberals. Opposition newspapers were shut down and publishers exiled.[6]

In the rigged Presidential elections of February 15, 1943 he won as the only candidate.[7]

Pro-fascist sympathies[edit]

Just like in other South American countries, pro-Nazi and pro-fascist sympathies at this time were quite strong in the society and among military officers. The United States had to exert some pressure on Morínigo to limit influence of Axis supporters after the war started in 1941. He kept Paraguay neutral and officially declared war against Axis powers only in February 1945, without actually sending any soldiers to fight.

A surge of German influence in the region and Argentina's pro-Axis leanings alarmed the United States, which sought to wean Paraguay away from German and Argentine influence. At the same time, the United States sought to enhance its presence in the region and pursued close cooperation with Brazil, Argentina's traditional rival. To this end, the United States provided to Paraguay sizable amounts of funds and supplies under the Lend-Lease Agreement, provided loans for public works, and gave technical assistance in agriculture and health care. The United States Department of State approved of closer ties between Brazil and Paraguay and especially supported Brazil's offer to finance a road project designed to reduce Paraguay's dependence on Argentina.

United States protests over German and Argentine activities in Paraguay fell on deaf ears. While the United States defined its interests in terms of resisting the fascist threat, Paraguayan officials believed their interests lay in economic expediency and were reluctant to antagonize Germany until the outcome of the war was no longer in doubt. Many Paraguayans believed Germany was no more of a threat to Paraguay's sovereignty than the United States.

Much to the displeasure of the United States and Britain, Moríñigo refused to act against German economic and diplomatic interests until the very end of the war. German agents had successfully converted many Paraguayans to the Axis cause. South America's first Nazi Party branch had been founded in Paraguay in 1931. German immigrant schools, churches, hospitals, farmers' cooperatives, youth groups, and charitable societies became active Axis backers. All of those organizations prominently displayed swastikas and portraits of Adolf Hitler.

It is no exaggeration to say that Moríñigo headed a pro-Axis regime. Large numbers of Paraguayan military officers and government officials were openly sympathetic to the Axis. Among these officials was the national police chief, who named his son Adolfo Hirohito after the best-known Axis leaders. By 1941, the official newspaper, El País, had adopted an overtly pro-German stance. At the same time, the government strictly controlled pro-Allied labor unions. Police cadets wore swastikas and Italian insignia on their uniforms.

The December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany's declaration of war against the United States gave the United States the leverage it needed, however, to force Moríñigo to commit himself publicly to the Allied cause. Moríñigo officially severed diplomatic relations with the Axis countries in 1942, although he did not declare war against Germany until February 1945. Nonetheless, Moríñigo continued to maintain close relations with the heavily German-influenced Argentine military throughout the war and provided a haven for Axis spies and agents.

The outbreak of World War II eased Moríñigo's task of ruling Paraguay while keeping the army happy because it stimulated demand for Paraguayan export products, such as meat, hides, and cotton, and boosted the country's export earnings. More important, United States policy toward Latin America at this time made Paraguay eligible for major economic assistance. Paraguay received American financial help which was used for improving roads and other infrastructure projects.

Postwar liberalization[edit]

During the democratization period that under the USA pressure swept the South America after the war, on June 9, 1946 he dismissed the right-wing head of the army, Colonel Benitez Vera and crushed a short uprising by Vera’s supporters. He then created a civilian coalition government formed by Colorado party and leftist febreristas, followers of former dictator Rafael Franco and allowed some political freedoms, going so far as legalizing the Paraguayan Communist Party.[8] Despite all this, in September 1946 he ordered suppression of opposition groups and used Red Banner paramilitary group of Colorado Party which was led by Juan Natalico Gonzalez to attack office of Liberal newspaper El Pais.

Civil war of 1947[edit]

Feeling that Morínigo was favouring the right-wing Colorados, the febreristas made common cause with the Liberal Party and the Communist Party of Paraguay in the Civil War of 1947.

Relaxation of dictatorship was used by political parties to assert their influence in state institutions. In January 1947 officers loyal to the Colorado Party gained control of the army, and on January 11 febreristas quit the government and called on the army to overthrow Morínigo, who responded by declaring a state of siege and arresting febreristas, Liberals and Communists.[9]

On March 7 a bloody civil war started, soon led by Rafael Franco. Despite the fact that 80% of soldiers and 90% of officers were against him, with the help of Colorado party militias and Argentinian President Juan Peron Morínigo managed to win this struggle which caused many thousand deaths and up to 300 000 refugees.[10] The future dictator Alfredo Stroessner was one of the few officers who remained loyal to Morínigo during the civil war. For the next 15 years, the Colorados were the only legal party in Paraguay.

Removal from power[edit]

On February 15, 1948 he organized Presidential elections which were won by the only candidate allowed to run, the leader of right-wing Red Banner faction of Colorado Party candidate Juan Natalico Gonzalez, with whom he had reached agreement that in support of Gonzalez for President, Morínigo will continue as army’s commander-in-chief. To prevent this, on June 3 some Colorado Party loyalists under Felipe Molas López revolted and sent Morínigo in exile to Argentina. Supreme Court Chief Justice Juan Manuel Frutos was sworn in as interim President, serving the last two months of Morínigo's term until González was officially inaugurated on August 15, 1948.[11]


  1. ^ "TESTIMONIOS DE UN PRESIDENTE – ENTREVISTA AL GRAL. HIGINIO MORÍNIGO," by Augusto Ocampos Caballero. Retrieved October 29, 2014.
  2. ^ Current Biography 1941, pp608-10
  3. ^ Id. at 609
  4. ^ A Reference Guide to Latin American History
  5. ^ The Cambridge History of Latin America, Volume 6
  6. ^ Richard B. Baldauf and Robert B. Kaplan, Language Planning and Policy in Latin America, p249 (Multilingual Matters, 2007)
  7. ^ Paraguayan Civil War (1947)
  8. ^ Historical Dictionary of Paraguay
  9. ^ The Cambridge History of Latin America, Volume 6
  10. ^ The South America Handbook
  11. ^ "Paraguay President Deposed by Army," El Paso Herald-Post, June 3, 1948, p1
Political offices
Preceded by
José Félix Estigarribia
President of Paraguay
Succeeded by
Juan Manuel Frutos