In A Nutshell
From 1864 to 1870, Paraguay fought a devastating but little-known war against an alliance formed by Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. The ensuing conflict, starvation, and disease saw the death of 90 percent of Paraguayan men and the loss of 60 percent of Paraguay’s total pre-war population. The 1871 census shows that only 116,351 Paraguayans survived the war and that only 28,000 of these were men.
The Whole Bushel
In 1811, Paraguay was one of only a few Latin American countries to gain its independence peacefully. Dictator Rodriguez de Francia gained control of the country only a few years after its independence, and as a result of a policy of isolation and the fact that the country did not have the burden of a war of independence, free Paraguay enjoyed significant levels of economic development.
In 1840, the dictator died and Carlos Antonio Lopez assumed control. Moving away from the policy of isolation, Paraguay began to interact with its neighbors, including Brazil and Argentina. This brought about dispute over the new nation’s boundaries, and arguments which had existed since colonial times began to rise once again. Both Carlos and, after his death, his son, Francisco Solano Lopez, were unable to resolve the dispute and on December 13, 1864, Paraguay invaded Brazil in an attempt to gain the upper hand in an inevitable conflict.
By 1866, the initially successful Paraguayan offensive into Brazil had been all but halted by an Alliance of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Heavy losses, rampant disease, and hunger saw what was left of Lopez’s army fall back into Paraguay, followed by a quick and deadly offensive, (which has been called a genocide) by the enemy. Civilians inside Paraguay, mostly women, children, and the elderly who had not been drafted to the army, suffered just as hard as those fighting on the front. In 1870, after the last Paraguayan camp was taken, a treaty was signed and vast swaths of the country handed over. The government immediately fell, and those few who were left faced a country that had all but been wiped out and which would not fully recover even to this day.