"During the War": The Rise of the Febreristas in Paraguay, 1936

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 3:10 PM
Great Republic Room (The Westin Copley Place)
Bridget M. Chesterton , Buffalo State College (State University of New York), Buffalo, NY
The Chaco War, fought between Bolivia and Paraguay over the sparsely populated Chaco frontier (1932-1936) provided the first chance for the peasants of Paraguay to come together as soldiers since the end of the Paraguayan War (1864-1870).  The Chaco War occurred in a frontier region, where the Liberal state could not control discourse and culture, thus providing Paraguayan peasants with an opportunity to define Paraguayan nationalism for themselves.  As a result Paraguayan soldiers came to redefine Paraguayan nationalism in dramatically different ways from Liberal elites. This paper posits that the fall of the Liberal regime to the dissatisfied soldiers and officers (commonly known as Febreristas) in February 1936 was the direct result of the fractured nature of Paraguayan nationalism.  

By studying literary magazines, music and poetry of the Chaco War period, this paper will demonstrate that soldiers living and working on the Chaco frontier were dramatically altering previously held Liberal notions about Francisco Solano López and the Guaraní language.  With demobilization in 1935-1936, men were quickly returned to Asunción to cut costs during a global recession.  Finding voice in Coronel Rafael Franco, soldiers quickly organized to overthrow the Liberal government.  The new government hoped to reform agriculture, health care, education and expressed the desire to remove foreign capital from Paraguayan industry.  Most importantly for this study, Febreristas desired to alter discourse about what they labeled as “patriotism” and “nationalism.”  

By focusing attention on ideas that developed a frontier, this paper will bring to the fore the challenges faced by the Paraguayan state when soldiers are stationed in far off regions.  In conclusion this paper will consider the cultural ramifications of the Liberal state’s failure to connect with the nationalistic discourse constructed on the Chaco frontier.