Effectively an independent state in South America as of 1811. Spanish explorers established a settlement in Asunción, on the eastern bank of the Paraguay River, in 1537. Its isolation and conflicts with Native Americans, Portuguese raiders, and Jesuits led its citizens toward a tradition of autonomy. In 1776, it became part of the newly organized Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. The change created resentment and conflict that would further alienate the territory from Spain. Paraguayan militia forces played an important role in the successful effort to defeat a British military invasion of the Río de la Plata in 1806 and 1807. The two surprise victories against British forces encouraged independence sentiments at the end of the region’s colonial era. Napoleon Bonaparte ’s invasion of Spain in 1807 set in motion a series of events that led the town council of Asunción to declare its independence from Spain and from the rebel movement in Argentina in 1811.The revolutionary junta pursued policies that isolated Paraguay and promoted its military capabilities. By 1814, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia emerged as dictator. He enforced strict border controls that maintained the country’s independence. He also strictly regulated trade, which limited the influence of European and North American merchants who hoped to capitalize on the collapse of Spanish authority as the independence struggle developed.
   Francia’s death in 1840 left the country in the control of dictators who modernized the military and promoted limited, state-controlled development of the economy.
   During this period, the government allowed limited contacts with European companies that helped the country develop its economic infrastructure. Francisco Solano López, who inherited dictatorial powers from his father, Carlos Antonio López, set Paraguay on a disastrous course in 1864 through attempts to expand Paraguay’s borders at the expense of the Argentine Confederation and the Brazilian Empire. The ensuing War of the Triple Alliance, which pit Paraguay against the combined forces of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, led to the utter destruction of Paraguay. It ceded disputed territories to its neighbors, lost as much as two-thirds of its population, and experienced political and economic instability as a result of its defeat for the following seven decades.
   See also <>.
    Whigham, Thomas. The Paraguayan War. Vol. 1 Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002;
    Whigham, Thomas. The Politics of River Trade: Tradition and Development in the Upper Plata, 1780–1870. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991;
    Williams, John Hoyt. The Rise and Fall of the Paraguayan Republic, 1800–1870. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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