13:19 GMT06 August 2020
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    This weekend marks the beginning of the start of the War of the Triple Alliance, which wiped out 90 percent of Paraguay's men. But how did it start and how does the map of South America look different from how it did before the war began?

    Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and Francisco Solano López Carrillo - all were dictators who wanted to enlarge their nation’s territory but ended up leading their homelands to the brink of destruction.

    Solano Lopez led Paraguay into a war with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay which ended 150 years ago this month with nine out of ten Paraguayan men dead.

    Jenny Dominguez, a journalist and executive producer with Paraguayan TV channel NPY, told Sputnik: “The war still hurts. Many of us believe that it condemned our future. We could never recover from that war.”
    She said: "If that war had not happened, the reality of this country would be different. It devastated the republic, decimated the population, and subjected us to the allies, mainly Brazil."

    In the aftermath of the conflict, huge tracts of state-owned land were sold off to foreigners to pay off the war debt.

    Today 14 percent of Paraguayan land is in the hands of Brazilian farmers and a tiny elite owns 85 percent of the best agricultural land.

    Solano Lopez, a former brigadier general, became President of Paraguay in 1862 - succeeding his father - half a century after the country came into existence after declaring independence from Spain.

    Francisco Solano López Carrillo
    © Photo : Domenico Parodi
    Francisco Solano López Carrillo

    He had spent time in France, where he became obsessed with Napoleon and he would later modernise the Paraguayan army, improving soldiers’ training, equipping it with uniforms similar to the Grande Armée and ordering weapons from Europe.

    But most of these weapons had yet to arrive when conflict broke out with Paraguay’s neighbours.

    Paraguay was land-locked between two giant nations - the Empire of Brazil, which became independent from Portugal in 1822, and Argentina, which had only come into being in the 1850s and only included the northern half of the modern state.

    Fabian Chamorro, a member of the Paraguayan Academy of History, said Solano Lopez wanted to challenge Brazilian regional dominance and found an ally in Uruguay’s President Bernardo Berro, of the National Party, known as the Blancos.

    In August 1864 civil war broke out in Uruguay between the Blancos and their rivals, the Colorados, who were backed by Brazil.

    Mr Chamorro, a cultural ambassador and member of the Paraguayan Academy of History said: "Solano Lopez went to war because he believed that Brazil threatened the region with its war policy. Brazil unnecessarily invaded Uruguay, endangering the entire region. Paraguay considered Uruguay a strategic ally."

    In February 1865 the victorious Colorados gave Uruguay’s support to the Brazilian emperor, Pedro II.

    The Paraguayans invaded Brazil's Mato Grosso state and when Argentina’s President, Bartolomé Mitre, refused permission for his army to cross Corrientes province - the tongue of territory which separates Paraguay from Brazil - Solano Lopez gathered his country’s congress in March 1865.

    ​On 23 March the Paraguayan Congress bestowed the rank of Marshal-President of the Paraguayan Armies on Solano Lopez and six days later - 155 years ago on Sunday - Paraguay declared war on Argentina.

    Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay formed the Triple Alliance and over the next five years they would gradually grind down the Paraguayans, who had been whipped up into a patriotic fervour and were fanatically committed to Solano Lopez.

    Defeated in conventional warfare in May 1866, they fought on as guerrillas for almost four years.

    Solano Lopez made his final stand at the battle of Cerro Cora on 1 March, 1870 and it was to become a scene worthy of a Hollywood film, possibly one directed by Quentin Tarantino or Sergio Leone.

    His 400 men were outnumbered 10 to one by a Brazilian Army and after being routed, Lopez was surrounded by six cavalrymen but refused to surrender.

    Corporal José Francisco Lacerda - known as Chico Diablo (Devil Boy) - thrust a spear through Solano Lopez’s stomach but he still was not finished.

    He evaded the Brazilians by diving into some woodland and reached the Aquidabán-Niquil stream, but was unable to climb up the steep bank on the other side.

    The Brazilians found him and, when he again refused to surrender, he was finally shot in the back and his last words were: "I die with my homeland."

    Before the war Paraguay’s population was 525,000. Afterwards it was 221,000, of which only 28,000 were men.

    ​Brazil - which lost 50,000 men - and Argentina - which lost 18,000 - would occupy Paraguay for six years and swallow up much of its territory.

    It took decades for Paraguay to recover emotionally, economically and politically but in 1935 they regained their national pride when they defeated Bolivia in the Chaco War and doubled the size of the nation.

    ​By then Bolivia had also lost the Saltpeter War - against Chile - and lost its only access to the sea, in the Atacama Desert.

    The map of South America has remained the same since 1935 and - apart from Argentina’s failed attempt to recapture the Falkland Islands in 1982 - there has been no major conflict between countries, although Venezuela still covets a portion of Guyana.

    Solano Lopez, like Napoleon in France, is still revered by many in Paraguay - his face is on the national currency and his name is born by many streets and by the presidential palace.

    But Mr Chamorro said: "Opinion on Lopez is divided in Paraguay. The state considers him its ultimate hero, but opinion is divided between those who glorify him and those who accuse him of starting the war."
    Tags:
    Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay
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