Francisco Solano López (1826-1870) was a Paraguayan dictator. He precipitated the War of the Triple Alliance, which almost destroyed Paraguay.
Francisco Solano López, the son of Paraguayan president Carlos Antonio López, was born at the family estancia near Asunción on July 24, 1826. Tutored by his father and Padre Fidel Maiz, he obtained a fair education. From an early age he participated in affairs of state, became a brigadier general at 18, and discharged a difficult mission to Europe with considerable success in 1853-1854. On this mission he acquired his notorious Irish mistress, Eliza Alicia Lynch, who is still a controversial figure in Paraguayan history.
Soon after the death of Carlos Antonio López, a subservient Congress ratified the selection of Francisco Solano López as president. A man of strong will and accustomed to command, López enjoyed the good life and denied himself nothing. Short and stocky, he adorned himself with fine clothes and fancy uniforms. Socially he could be a polished, charming host; to subordinates he was a bullying tyrant.
During his first 2 years as president, López continued his father's domestic policies, especially the promotion of agriculture, but foreign affairs overwhelmed him. Unable to foresee a peaceful solution to Brazilian demands on Uruguay and fearing both Brazil and Argentina, he intensified military preparations. Napoleon was his hero, and if indeed "he had Napoleon's campaigns at his fingertips, " the knowledge helped him little. Although he had practically no military training, López fancied himself a great strategist.
López became inextricably involved in the Uruguayan imbroglio, challenged the Brazilian empire before he was fully prepared, and in November 1864 precipitated what in a few months became the War of the Triple Alliance, also known as the Paraguayan War. At the end of 1864 he sent an expedition northward which defeated Brazilian troops in Mato Grosso and captured large quantities of material. In the spring López declared war on Argentina, which had refused him permission to cross its territory, invaded Corrientes Province with 25, 000 men, and sent a second army of 12, 500 men down the Uruguay River. Timid generals and poor logistics caused this planned blitzkrieg to fail, with loss of the entire Paraná expedition. Thereafter López was on the defensive in a horrible war that dragged on until more than half of Paraguay's population had perished.
In mid-1868 López became convinced that his family was involved in a conspiracy to overthrow him. Thereafter, until Brazilian troops killed him at Cerro Corá in northeastern Paraguay on March 1, 1870, the Marshal President tortured and executed hundreds of suspects, deserters, foreigners, and prisoners of war.
Paraguayans generally have forgiven López his savage cruelty because they attribute to him a fierce love of country for which no sacrifice was too great. In 1908 a young romantic, Juan E. O'Leary, whose mother had been a López victim, called for an end to rancors inherited from the war and began the apotheosis of López. A grand parade in Asunción in 1926 celebrated the centennial of the Marshal's birth, and his remains now lie in the national Pantheon of Heroes.
Further Reading on Francisco Solano López
The best short account in English is Lewis W. Bealer, "Francisco Solano López: A Dictator Run Amuck, " in the George Washington University Seminar Conference on Hispanic American Affairs, South American Dictators, edited by A. Curtis Wilgus (1937). A very inadequate biography in English is R. B. Cunninghame Graham, Portrait of a Dictator: Francisco Solano López (1933).