Cerro Corá, in the Departamento Amambay, about an hour away from the city of Pedro Juan Caballero, is famous as the location where Paraguayan hero President Francisco Solano López died, resulting in Paraguay’s defeat in the War of the Triple Alliance. López, who had been given the military title of “Mariscal” (or Marshal), is commonly referred to as Mariscal López.
Last week during my trip to Amambay, I had an opportunity to visit Cerro Corá, now a national park known as Parque Nacional Cerro Corá.
As the sign above states, walking, camping, bathing in the (very brown and dirty) river, taking pictures and enjoying the silence are all recommended. On the list of behaviors that are not recommended are the following: hunting and fishing; uprooting plants, flowers or fruit; making loud sounds; littering; setting fires where they aren’t permitted and damaging the monuments.
The War of the Triple Alliance began in 1864 when Mariscal López attacked Brazil after Brazil had invaded Uruguay and installed a new head of government. When Argentina refused to allow the Paraguayan army to pass through Argentina en route to Uruguay, Mariscal López retaliated by declaring war on Argentina, seizing two Argentine warships, occupying an Argentine town and announcing that Paraguay had annexed two Argentine provinces. In return, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay all banded together and signed the Treaty of the Triple Alliance declaring war on Paraguay, vowing to fight until Paraguay’s government was overthrown and without weapons of war.
It was a long, bloody war for the Paraguayans, lasting nearly seven years. Estimates of the Paraguayan dead range from 60% to 75% of the entire population, and for males over the age of 20, estimates of the dead range from 90% to 99%. To this day Paraguay remains an under-populated country.
In the battle of Cerro Corá, the Paraguayans were woefully outnumbered – approximately 450 Paraguayan soldiers (including 200 personal guards of López) against 4,000 Brazilian soldiers. At the end of the day, there would be approximately 300 dead Paraguayans and 150 dead Brazilians.
On March 1, 1870, addressing his wounded, malnourished and barely clothed men before battle, Mariscal López – well aware he was leading his men to their graves – reminded them that the victor would not be he who survived the day but rather he who died for a noble cause. He assured his men that their sacrifices would not be forgotten, proclaiming “other generations will come, and will do us justice, acclaiming the greatness of our immolation.” He was right. Paraguayans view López as their greatest hero and honor him and his men and their sacrifice with near-saintly reverence.
Mariscal López, after proclaiming, “I die with my country, a sword in my hand” (or, according to some “I die for my country”), was killed in battle suffering a lance wound to his side, a sword wound to his head and a bullet wound to his heart. If one didn’t already know López had suffered a grievous head wound, the detail on one of the park’s many busts, paintings, monuments and statues gives a pretty good hint.
Juan Francisco, known as Panchito, the eldest son of López and his mistress Madame Eliza Lynch, was 15 years old and had been promoted to Colonel during the war. After Mariscal López was killed, the Brazilian soldiers advanced to capture the civilians. When Panchito was told to surrender, he refused famously replying, “Un coronel Paraguayo nunca se rinde!” (A Paraguayan colonel never surrenders). He was then fatally shot by the Brazilian soldiers.
With her bare hands, Madame Lynch buried the bodies of her lover and their son. According to legend, she paid three gold bars and high quality French fabric in exchange for permission to bury them.
The upper right picture marks the spot where Madame Lynch buried the bodies. In 1936, the body of Mariscal López was dug up and moved to Asunción where it remains today. The bottom pictures are two memorials to Mariscal López.