Independence of Paraguay

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Fulgencio Yegros
Pedro Juan Caballero
Belgrano's campaign against Paraguay
Map of Paraguay in 1850

Independence of Paraguay de facto started on May 14 of 1811 after the Revolution of May 14 when a local ruling junta was created. In early 1811 Paraguayan forces had repeatedly defeated the Argentinian army which considered Paraguay to be a break-away province. On October 12, 1813 the Paraguayan Republic was proclaimed. Officially Independence was proclaimed only on November 25, 1842. Paraguayan independence was assured only after the Paraguayan War, when the Empire of Brazil resisted Argentine offers to divide and annex the country.


In 1776 Spanish king Carlos III created Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata with a capital city in Buenos Aires. It included parts of modern-day Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Rio Grande do Sul. In 1782 a system of municipalities was introduced. The municipality of Paraguay had only one town with city status – Asuncion.

During the era of the Napoleonic Peninsular War, when mainland Spain was allied with and later occupied by the French, The British Empire attempted to take control of the Viceroyalty by launching the River Plate invasions, occupying Buenos Aires and neighbouring parts of the Río de la Plata in 1806 and 1807. Paraguayan units led by Governor Velasco participated in the battles for Montevideo during the invasions.

Royalist rule[edit]

After the 1810 May Revolution in Buenos Aires and formation of the Primera Junta which aimed to rule over the whole Viceroyalty, junta sent Colonel Jose de Espinola to Asuncion with a task to bring the province under junta's authority. Espinola failed in his mission and was quickly chased out of the province.[1]

The royal governor of Asuncion, Bernardo de Velasco y Huidobro on July 24 organized a local Cabildo of 200 local notables, which sent a reply to Buenos Aires announcing continued loyalty to Spanish king Ferdinand VII and rejection of authority of Primero Junta.[2] Cabildo also announced mobilization and Velasco left with troops for the Yaguarón to establish defensive positions.

Political future of Paraguay was decided by conflicts between three groups, each of which had different plans for the future: gachupines (born in Spain), porteños (inhabitants of Buenos Aires) and the local Paraguayan-born Creole elite which was led by Fulgencio Yegros and Pedro Juan Caballero.[3]

In September 1810 a porteño conspiracy to seize the power in Asuncion was uncovered and arrested suspects were sent to Fort Borbon.[4]

Porteños wanted to extend their rule over the whole former Viceroyalty and in September 1810 Buenos Aires sent troops under General Manuel Belgrano to conquer the Paraguay province, but in early months of 1811 they were defeated at the Battle of Tacuarí and Battle of Paraguarí and Paraguay campaign ended in failure.

Governor Velasco, who had displayed cowardice by fleeing from these battles, then had plans to ask for Portuguese military protection and was ready to accept Portuguese sovereignty, which caused discontent among the victorious, Creole led Paraguayan troops as Portuguese were old enemies who had annexed many Paraguayan territories.

The double victories of the Creole army over Belgrano weakened position of royalists and governor Velasco and increased local patriotism of Creole officers who started a plot to overthrow Velasco.

Revolution of May 14[edit]

Initially the plan called for military uprising to start on May 25, the one-year anniversary of May Revolution. The military forces, under Fulgencio Yegros, were expected to march from Itapua supported by garrisons in other towns, but negotiations of governor Velasco with Portuguese representatives from Brazil, hastened the uprising.

In the evening of May 14, 1811 a military insurrection broke out in Asuncion garrison. Plotters led by Captain Pedro Juan Caballero went to the Governor's quarters located on the main square of Asuncion, where they were greeted by second lieutenant Mauricio Jose Troche, a supporter of plot, was on duty and in charge of the small garrison of 34 men from Curuguaty.

At midnight Ensign Vicente Ignacio Iturbe presented Governor Velasco with demands from plotters led by Caballero, which could be summarized as follows:

  • "Surrender of the main square, all the weapons and keys to the Cabildo."
  • "Governor Velasco stays in power, but as a part of three-man junta which should include two representatives appointed by the officers at the quarters."

A group of officers and politicians which included Captain Pedro Juan Caballero, Fulgencio Yegros, Vicente Ignacio Iturbe, Mauricio Jose Troche, Fernando de la Mora, Juan Valeriano de Zeballos and José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia forced governor Velasco to agree to a creation of a three-man executive junta.[5]

As Governor Bernardo de Velasco was reluctant to accept the conditions presented by plotters, additional revolutionary troops came to the square and set up a battery of eight cannons in front of the government house in Asuncion; Ensign Vicente Ignacio Iturbe brought a new ultimatum, setting a short deadline for response. It was already early morning on May 15, 1811. As the town garrison assembled, Governor Velasco was against any bloodshed, and came to the door to say: "If this is because of authority, I give up the command baton." This announcement was met with joy by the assembled crowd. The flag was raised and a 21-gun salute fired amidst the ringing of church bells. (This day is marked as Paraguayan Independence Day.)

On May 17 a public proclamation informed people that a ruling junta, consisting of Governor Velasco, Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia and Spanish-born Army captain Juan Valeriano de Zeballos has been created. Fulgencio Yegros reached Asuncion only on May 21, 1811.

Towards full independence[edit]

The Junta, which consisted of governor Velasco, local politician Francia and Spanish-born officer Zeballos, and still swore allegiance to the Spanish crown, ruled until the First National Congress was convened on June 17, 1811. Already before the Congress Velasco was placed under a house arrest on June 9 because of his continued conspiring with the Portuguese.[6]

Congress approved creation of a new five-man Junta Superior Gubernativa, led by Yegros. On July 20, 1811 the junta sent a letter to Buenos Aires expressing Paraguay's will to be independent and proposing a confederation of independent countries. On October 12, 1811 a short-lived treaty of a confederation was signed with Buenos Aires.

The Second National Congress was held from September 30 until October 12, 1813. It was attended by 1100 delegates and presided by Pedro Juan Caballero. Congress approved the new Constitution on October 12, 1813 when Paraguayan Republic was officially proclaimed. It also created a two-man executive body with two consuls – Yegros and Francia. The Third National Congress was held on October 3–4, 1814 and replaced two-man executive with a single man dictatorship, to which Francia was elected.[7]

International recognition[edit]

While Paraguay managed to isolate itself from the outside world under the rule of Francia and avoided military conflicts with Argentine Confederation or Empire of Brazil, its independence was still not recognized internationally.

Only on November 25, 1842 Paraguayan Congress formally declared an Act of Independence. It was recognized by Bolivia on June 17, 1843. However it was fully secure only after Empire of Brazil recognized it on September 14, 1844 and by Argentina on July 17, 1852. However, this recognition was rejected by the Congress of Argentina and the actual recognition of independence came only in 1856.

The United States of America recognized Paraguay as a separate and independent country on April 27, 1852. American Legation in Asuncion was established on November 26, 1861, when American Commissioner Charles A. Washburn presented his credentials.[8]