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Francisco Solano López
Francisco Solano López

Francisco Solano López (24 July, 1827 - 1 March, 1870) was president of Paraguay from 1862 until his death in 1870. He was the eldest son of president Carlos Antonio López, whom he succeeded. Considered ambitious, perhaps arrogant, López is widely regarded as being responsible for the Paraguayan War, which led to his death.

Solano López was born near Asunción. He was made commander-in-chief of the Paraguayan army by his father, in 1846, during the spasmodic hostilities then prevailing with Argentina. He was sent in 1853 as minister to England, France and Italy, and spent a year and a half in Europe. He purchased large quantities of arms and military supplies, together with several steamers, and organized a project for building a railroad and establishing a French colony in Paraguay. In 1853 he met the Parisian courtesane Eliza Lynch. López fell in love with her and brought her with him back to Paraguay. There she was his mistress and de-facto first lady till his death, strongly influencing his later ambitious schemes. In Paris he also developed an interest in Napoleon.

Returning to Paraguay, he became in 1855 Minister of War, and on his fathers death in 1862 at once assumed the reins of government as vice-president, in accordance with a provision of his father's will, and called a congress by which he was chosen president for ten years. In 1864, in his self-styled capacity of protector of the equilibrium of the La Plata, he demanded that Brazil should abandon her armed interference in a revolutionary struggle then in progress in Uruguay. No attention being paid to his demand, he seized a Brazilian merchant steamer in the harbour of Asunción and threw into prison the Brazilian governor of the province of Mato Grosso who was on board. In the following month (December 1864) he dispatched a force to invade Mato Grosso, which seized and sacked its capital Cuiabá and took possession of the province and its diamond mines.

López next sought to send an army to the relief of the Uruguayan president Aguirre against the revolutionary aspirant Flores, who was supported by Brazilian troops. The refusal of the Argentinian president, Bartolomé Mitre, to allow this force to cross the intervening province of Corrientes, was seized upon by López as an occasion for war with the Argentine Republic. A congress, hastily summoned, and composed of his own nominees, bestowed upon López the title of marshal, with extraordinary war powers, and on April 13, 1865, he declared war, at the same time seizing two Argentine war vessels in the Bay of Corrientes, and on the next day occupied the town of Corrientes, instituted a provisional government of his Argentine partisans, and summarily announced the annexation to Paraguay of the provinces of Corrientes and Entre Rios. Meantime the party of Flores had been successful in Uruguay and that country on April 18th united with the Argentine Republic in a declaration of war on Paraguay. On the May 1st, Brazil joined these two countries in a secret alliance (the Triple Alliance), which stipulated that they should unitedly prosecute the war until the existing government of Paraguay should be overthrown "until no arms or elements of war should be left to it." This agreement was literally carried out. The war which ensued, lasting until the April 1st 1870, was carried on with great stubbornness and with alternating fortunes, though with a steadily increasing tide of disasters to López. In 1868, when the allies were pressing him hard, his mind, naturally suspicious and revengeful, led him to conceive that a conspiracy had been formed against his life in his own capital and by his chief adherents. Thereupon several hundred of the chief Paraguayan citizens were seized and executed by his order, including his brothers and brothers-in-law, cabinet ministers, judges, prefects, military officers, bishops and priests, and nine-tenths of the civil officers, together with more than two hundred foreigners, among them several members of the diplomatic legations. López was at last driven with a mere handful of troops to the northern frontier of Paraguay, where, on the April 1st 1870, he was surprised by a Brazilian force and killed as he was endeavouring to escape by swimming the river Aquidaban.

There is a debate within Paraguay as to whether he was a fearless leader who led his troops to the end, or whether he foolishly led Paraguay into a war which it could never possibly win, and which nearly eliminated the country from the map. This debate was not helped by the revisionist stance taken by the Stroessner regime, regarding national history. Conversely, he is considered by some Latin Americans as a champion for the rights of smaller nations against the aggressions of more powerful neighbours.

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