Well, that\’s Paraguay screwed then

Richard Gott likes the new President.

It\’s going to be a disaster, isn\’t it?

In his inaugural speech, Lugo called for an unusual combination of austerity and happiness. He had already renounced his presidential salary, and he called upon young people to embark on the task of reconstructing the country with a smile. He invoked the great political leaders of Paraguay in the 19th century like Francia and the López family…

Francia? That\’s this guy.

In 1814, a congress named him Consul of Paraguay, with absolute powers for three years. At the end of that term, he sought and received absolute control over the country for life. For the next 26 years, he ran the country with the aid of only three other people. He aimed to found a society on the principles of Rousseau\’s Social Contract and was also inspired by Robespierre and Napoleon. To create such a personal utopia he imposed a ruthless isolation upon Paraguay, interdicting all external trade, while at the same time he fostered national industries. He became known as a caudillo who ruled through ruthless suppression and random terror with increasing signs of madness, and was known as "El Supremo".

However, despite these seemingly authoritarian attributes, Dr. Francia helped to create one of the first per-industrial societies in Latin America. By closing the borders to free trade (which was at that time almost solely British), Dr. Francia allowed Paraguayan factories to open and begin producing manufactured goods. While the people were limited to buying only from Paraguayan companies, the country under Francia was the earliest example of a Latin American country exhibiting Henry Ford\’s more modern idea of paying the factory workers enough money to be able to afford the products they make.

However, since this closing of the market was viewed by Britain as counter to their system of free trade, they incited dissent with the newly industrializing nation in the neighboring countries of Brazil and Argentina, which eventually led to the War of the Triple Alliance, the reopening of Paraguay\’s market, and the end of industrialization. To this day, Paraguay\’s economy has never reached the same threshold of industrialization as it did under Dr. Francia and his successors.

He outlawed all opposition and abolished higher education (while expanding the school system), newspapers and the postal service. He abolished the Inquisition and established a secret police force. He had abolished higher education because he saw the need to spend more money in the military in order to defend Paraguayan independence from those that did not recognize it such as Argentina.

Leading a spartan lifestyle, Francia frowned on excessive possessions or festivities. He even returned his unspent salary to the treasury. He closed the borders of the country to both people and trade (including river trade with neighbouring Argentina, from which Paraguay had broken off during the Wars of Independence), reasoning this would prevent a national debt from forming, but also isolating the country from outside – especially modernising European influences.

Yup, fucked.

10 thoughts on “Well, that\’s Paraguay screwed then”

  1. Tim,

    The current president is a laicised bishop.

    A number of years ago, there was an absolutely wonderful novel written about Francia called ‘I, the Supreme’. Try and get a copy.

  2. Tim,

    The current president is a laicised bishop.

    There was a wonderful novel written about Francia about 20 years ago, called ‘I the Supreme’. Try to get your hands on a copy.

  3. ” Henry Ford’s .. idea of paying the factory workers enough money to be able to afford the products they make”: Henry Ford’s blatant spin, more like.

  4. dearieme:

    No–that’s not quite fair to Ford, who apparently saw himself as a social reformer.

    He first achieved prominence as manager of the Dodge Bros. auto works. When things were going well, he was apparently poular with both his employers and employees. But when tighter times came and he insisted on maintaining wages at higher-than-prevailing rates, The Dodges took him to court over the issue–and won the case (I think it went all the way to the SC) on the simple grounds that the company exists to generate profit for its owners.

    Ford was, apparently, somewhat of a socialist-moralist busybody who concerned himself, at first, with trying to assure that workers would have decent housing and neighborhoods but also with what they were up to even in their “off” hours. He was also noteworthy for subsidizing the publication of the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” and subscribing to the view of Father Coughlin, who railed against the “international Jew.” On the other hand, he seems to have been a close friend of Harvey Firestone (maybe his tires weren’t too international).

    Ford is just another of the many great men who came to believe that the greatness engendered by his brilliant innovations in one field would apply equally in anything else on which he might have an opinion–not an uncommon mistake.

  5. The War of the Triple Alliance led, by some estimates, to the death of 90% of the male Paraguayan population. It probably would have been kinder had Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina simply absorbed the remnants of Paraguay.

  6. ” Henry Ford’s .. idea of paying the factory workers enough money to be able to afford the products they make”

    A bizarre method for determining pay. It may work OK for the likes of Ford, but should the paperclip factory use this maxim to determine the salary of its employees? What about Boeing? Or Google?

  7. Ed:

    Whether it makes complete sense or not, it’s still a fairly powerful argument, especially in a popular venue. There’s no question but that Ford was a redistributionist of sorts–as long as it was him doing the re-.

    Of course, he was redistributing what, by rights, should have gone to the stockholders. But there’s another potentially exonerating argument on Ford’s behalf–though I don’t know whether he used it in his court case or others have made it for him–or even whether it was recognized in his time.

    It’s an argument similar to that made by unions–that the higher wages spur mechanization–and thus the advance of greater efficiency in a given operation. In Ford’s case, it could be argued that, in artificially raising the level of his workers’ wages, he was forming the “core” of a potentially expanding clientele: his workers, then workers in general. The argument might even be made that the particular fortunes of the enterprise he commanded (Dodge Bros.) were actually advanced by his practice or, even, that his practice was foundational to the ultimate common-man ownership of motor vehicles; i.e., that his practice affected and changed–for the better and to the advantage of motorcar manufacturing and society in general–the culture and industrial organization of American
    society. Though the spurious argument advanced by unions (mentioned above) can be logically demonstrated false, there is no such fundamental, over-riding reason why Ford’s actions were economically (as opposed to legally) untenable. Under other circumstances, it’s quite possible that stockholders might have approved of Ford’s behavior (and they did, for some time).

    Ford’s reputation for paying above-market rates for labor was made while an employee of the Dodge brothers. Whether or not he followed a similar pattern when ruler of his own empire is not known to me except that I do recall that he was actually involved in deadly unpleasantries with unions in his own enterprise.


    I’m not going to support Ford’s argument and don’t for a minute even he would have maintained its total applicability (but at least he, and some other employees, could afford Lincolns–or anything else they might want). And, in a certain sense, we can also see that paying higher than ordinary market prices for labor is a recognizable way of achieving several
    (unmentioned) management objectives: the forming of a willing, industrious force, less disposed to “unrest” and more able to be weeded through for any valued characteristics of apparent character, appearance, churchiness, etc. Just to emphasize the point, courts in the US have even found that payment of higher than prevailing rates may constitute an “unfair labor practice” in cases where “intention” can be shown to forestall “organization.”

    The entire history of modern capitalist production has been along the lines of “mass production for the masses” and Ford has an eminent–and unshakeable–position in that evolution, regardless of any personal attributes one might critique. Whether his pronouncements were self-serving (or even if he were a secret consumer of child pornography) has no bearing on the matter.

  8. Your mention of the Lincoln brand brought a memory to mind.

    I was once (in the ’50s) briefly acquainted with a man who was a journeyman (and frequently itinerant) printer, a “roving reporter” for the Readers’ Digest, and the author of a couple books serialized in the Digest. He owned and traveled in a ’37 Licoln Zephyr and understood that the car, a v-12, could be run (though weakly) on 6 cylinders by pulling one coil wire.

    Thus, he conceived the idea of testing the honesty of repair shops by presenting them with the struggling, half-disabled Lincoln. He took the idea to DeWitt Wallace (the owner of the Digest, whom I also met), who under-wrote the project. Instead of using the writer’s vehicle, they (in 1948) had Ford build an entirely new “old” car from parts, whereupon the guy drove it all over the country–putting the shops to the test, later publishing “Repair Shops May Gyp You–If You Don’t Watch Out!”

    He found that you got the best deal away from civilization, where only 50% of rural mechanics cheated the customer. The worst category was
    the shops (at that time) connected to big-city
    hotels (cheat-rate: 100%). All repairs (cheats or not) were paid. The ones who passed got (after completion and publicity in RD) some kind of certificate of commendation and a lifetime subscription to the Digest.

  9. OT: Using “Gyp” in an article today (in the US, at least) would invoke a feces storm of protest from Gypsies and affiliated, put-upon groups. I always enjoy the whinging, especially when there is ample historical precedent for the “racist” terminology.

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