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This week I will be focusing on Paraguay with my theme being “Torture & Turmoil in Paraguay.” I hope everyone enjoys the vast scope of the history this week since I don’t usually go into pre-20th century history.
La Sangre y la Semilla (1959) tells the story of Paquita, a pregnant widow of the war of the Triple Alliance who after visiting her husband’s grave, rescues a wounded soldier. They both take care of each other but dangerous Argentinian soldiers lurk outside their house.
Independent Paraguay and the War of the Triple Alliance
José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia is often considered a founding father for Paraguay and served as the country’s first dictator. One of three major nineteenth-century rulers of Paraguay, Francia was viewed by his elite contemporaries and traditional historians as a ruthless dictator who isolated Paraguay from outside contact and whose iron rule destroyed all who opposed him. He also espoused Paraguayan independence from both Spanish and Argentine hegemony and wrote the first constitution of Paraguay, which the Congress adopted in October 1813. In contrast to other Spanish-American states after independence, Francia’s government was stable, efficient, and honest, but when he died he left no successor.
In March 1841 congress chose Carlos Antonio Lopez as the first consul after many coup attempts and in 1844 another congress named him president. He would serve until his death in 1862. In contrast to Francia who pictured himself as the first citizen of a revolutionary state, Lopez used the all-powerful state to enrich himself and his family. He became the largest landowner in the country. Under Lopez, Paraguay’s railroads were built, national defense was improved, and foreign relations increased in importance. Whereas Francia preferred a policy of neutrality in order to preserve Paraguayan independence, Lopez began meddling in Argentine politics with the encouragement of the Brazilian government. Lopez allowed unsettled controversies and boundary disputes with Brazil and Argentina to smolder. These two countries had tolerated Paraguay’s independence but Lopez’s antagonism was giving these countries a reason to unite.
In 1862, Lopez died and his son Francisco Solano Lopez became the dictator who some described as “a monster without parallel.” He would lead Paraguay into the War of the Triple Alliance. Brazil precipitated the conflict by invading Uruguay. In response, Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López closed the Paraguay River to Brazilian traffic, seized a Brazilian steamer, invaded the Brazilian province of Mato Grosso, and ignored Argentina’s denial of permission to cross the Misiones region to attack the province of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. The victory of the Colorados, the liberal party in Uruguay, which Brazil supported, along with Argentine anger over Paraguay’s invasion of its territory, concern over the growing power of Paraguay, and military attacks on Brazil led to an alliance of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, which declared war against Paraguay on 1 May 1865. From the opening of the war, López directed his own armies and then, after the first disasters, assumed field command. His use of brutal measures to continue the war, including the drafting of young boys, his intolerance of disagreement, and the execution, imprisonment, and torture of officers, government officials, and their family members during the last year of the war revealed him to be a desperate, cruel dictator. Yet his fight to defend Paraguay against overwhelming odds made him a national hero. Ultimately Paraguay was defeated even though it remained independent. The war destroyed a half-century of economic development and up to 90% of the male population died.
The Paraguayan Man
With the unbelievable loss of life that occurred in Paraguay, this film, which was the first to deal with the war, had to broach the topic delicately. The filmmakers chose to show that out of this blood came a seed. They needed to show that their deaths were not in vain but filled with honor. No Paraguayan man in this film acts with any less valor than Bolivar or Washington. The least the filmmakers can do is give them honor in death. Paquita’s husband leaves her even though she is expecting his child because he knows that his duty for his country is even greater than their individual love. Later in the film when he dies, he yells out “Viva el Paraguay!” Solidarity is always on his mind and it is clear that his death is for the greater good. He is not the only man to stand by this code of honor. The wounded soldier that Paquita nurses back to health may have needed some time to reach that height but he does so in stride. He takes the place of her husband. When Paquita goes into labor, he stands outside nervously pacing like any husband in that decade would, and when the baby is born silent, he rushes in. He is the one that slaps it until finally a scream is heard and Paquita can rest easy. With his health back, he risks his life while the Argentine army is outside in order to get Plaquita food. Though the tragedy of having lost these men is still alive, the film tries to find a silver lining.
The Paraguayan Woman
While it is the man’s duty to go out and fight and give their blood to the cause, it is the woman whose job it is to take that blood and grow a seed from it. Paquita has to keep the memory of her husband alive through her unborn son and pull the nation forward. The first scene of the film shows Paquita making the journey to her husband’s grave. It’s clear her main objective is honoring her husband and even though she meets a new man at this cemetery, he will always come second. She nurses this man back to health as an act of patriotism and love for her husband. She will make sure that life will be brought to the place where her husband died. Later when this soldier recovers and tells her to evacuate for her own safety, she says no because her son must be born in the place her husband died. Life will come from death. Her ultimate gesture of love and patriotism comes when the soldier declares his love for her. He would like to marry her and raise her son as his own but she denies him. She says that it is their job to carry the memory of their husband and the pride of their homeland with them at all times. There is no way she could possibly be with him because she is still faithful to her husband. She will carry his memory into the future and bring up her son in his honor.