Higinio Morínigo

Higinio Morínigo (1897-1985) was president of Paraguay from 1940 to 1948. He was considered one of the more important figures in Paraguay's modern political evolution.

Higinio Morínigo was born on January 11, 1897, in the small city of Paraguarí, in east-central Paraguay, 40 miles from Asunción. His father, Juan Alberto Morinigo, had participated in the battle of Acosta-Ñ ú, during the 1869 War of the Triple Alliance, and his mother, Pabla Martínez, was a native of Villeta, a river port south of Asunción.

Selecting the military for his professional career, Higinio Morínigo was educated in Paraguay and graduated from the military college as a second lieutenant in 1922. A stolid, serious, and dedicated professional, he built a record which reflected steady promotions to the rank of general and continuous active duty including service throughout the Chaco War with Bolivia.

Following the Febrerista revolt of 1936 and the collapse of the short-lived Febrerista administration in 1937, Morínigo was named war minister in the Cabinet of President José Félix Estigarribia. Upon the latter's death in an airplane accident on September 7, 1940, an army high command council nominated Morínigo to assume the presidency for Estigarribia's unexpired term. He became president the following day. Reelected in a general election of 1943 in which he was the unopposed sole candidate, he remained president through the period of World War II and the postwar period until June 1948, when he was deposed by a coup d'etat.

As Paraguay's wartime president, Morínigo decreed the suspension of internal political activity, clamped strict censorship on newspapers, and pursued a neutrality policy which was regarded by some observers as being pro-Axis in its innuendos. In 1943, at the invitation of President Franklin Roosevelt, he traveled to Washington, becoming the first Paraguayan president to visit the United States. The tour featured his prodemocracy address before Congress; he subsequently made a series of official visits to other American republics.

In Paraguay, Morínigo's administrations were marked by his efforts to form a new nationalist revolutionary state, based on the principles of order, discipline, and hierarchy, which would supplant the two traditional parties, the Liberals and Colorados, as well as the new Febrerista party. Failure to generate enthusiasm for this program was followed by renewed rivalry among the three regular parties; in March 1947 this rivalry erupted into full-scale civil revolt.

The revitalized Colorado faction supported Morínigo and the government against a largely Febrerista uprising backed by heavy sectors of the army. By August the 1947 revolution collapsed before the combined efforts of loyal government troops and peasant volunteers recruited by the Colorado party. Now in full control, the Colorados secured their position with the exiling of thousands of Febrerista and Liberal opponents and the subsequent deposing of President Morínigo in June 1948.

Higinio Morínigo went into exile with his wife and sons in a suburb of Buenos Aires. He withdrew from participation in politics but visited Asunción frequently. His major contributions to Paraguay are the eight years of stability which marked his administrations—a term of relative order in sharp contrast to the nation's previously troubled past—and his stout defense in the 1947 revolution, which presaged the modern era of Colorado party hegemony. He died in 1985.

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Further Reading on Higinio Morínigo

George Pendle, Paraguay: A Riverside Nation (1954; 3d ed. 1967), has a solid biographical study of Morínigo. A discussion of Morínigo's role in Paraguay an history is contained in Harris Gaylord Warren, Paraguay: An Informal History (1949), and in Philip Raine, Paraguay (1956). See also Hubert Clinton Herring, A History of Latin America: From the Beginnings to the Present (1955; 3d rev. ed. 1968).