El Día de los Niños

Cerro Corá National Park, about five hours northeast of Asunción, is famous as the location where Paraguayan hero Francisco Solano López died in 1870.  His death led to Paraguay’s defeat in the War of the Triple Alliance, which had begun six years earlier in 1864.  López, who had been given the military title of “Mariscal” (or Marshal), is commonly referred to as Mariscal López.  

López became president of Paraguay in 1862 upon the death of his father.  Two years later, in 1864, as a revolution was forming in Uruguay, the government of Uruguay asked Paraguay to help counter Brazil’s support for the rising revolution.  López wrote a letter to the Brazilian government stating that any Brazilian occupation of Uruguay would be viewed as an attack on Paraguay.  Unfazed by Paraguay’s threat, Brazil invaded Uruguay, installing the revolutionary leader as the new head of the government.  In retaliation, Paraguay seized a Brazilian merchant ship harbored in the port of Asunción and jailed the Brazilian governor on board.  López then invaded Brazil, taking possession of diamond mines and a large number of weapons, gunpowder, and ammunition.

Intending to invade Uruguay, López sought permission to pass through Argentina but the Argentine president refused.  In April 1865, López declared war on Argentina, seized two war ships in the Argentine Bay of Corrientes, occupied the town of Corrientes, and announced that Paraguay had annexed two Argentine provinces.

The following month, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay formally joined forces and signed the Treaty of the Triple Alliance, vowing to fight against Paraguay until its government was overthrown and without weapons or elements of war.

By 1869, four years into the bloody war, López’s army had been practically decimated.  With dwindling numbers of adult soldiers, López sent an army of 3,500 children to battle.   

The child soldiers were all under 15 years of age, many with painted mustaches and fake beards glued to their faces to appear older.  The makeshift troops defended their county with nothing more than farm equipment and sticks painted to look like guns.  With no weapons and sometimes no clothes, the children were slaughtered by Allied troops again and again.   

   With the March 1870 death of Mariscal López and his son Panchito in battle at Cerro Corá, the devastating Triple Alliance war came to an end.  

The war was the longest and bloodiest inter-state war in Latin American history, with particularly catastrophic consequences for Paraguay, who ceded half its territory to Argentina and Brazil and whose economy was shattered and popultion nearly exterminated.  Between 70 and 90 percent of its adult male population had died.  Before the war, experts estimate roughly 550,000-700,000 people lived in Paraguay, but a post war census shows only 221,000 living Paraguayans – of those just 28,000 were men.

In Paraguayan history, the role of the child soldier has been memorialized and glorified.  

Asunción’s National Pantheon of Heroes houses the remains of the country’s greatest heroes. 

Caskets for both adult and child soldiers are prominently displayed.

Asunción also has a statue commemorating the heroism of women and children, showing a woman and child stepping over the body of fallen man and taking up the cause on their own. 

The sacrifices of the children are remembered and celebrated annually in Paraguay with “Children’s Day” on August 16, the anniversary of the battle at Acosta Ñu, a massacre that claimed the lives of over 2,000 children.

Despite the morbid history behind the creation of “Día de los Niños,” the day is currently known for happy celebrations and as the boys frequently reminded us, it is a day for adults to buy gifts for kids.  Patrick and Danny’s preschool had a party at a rented play place on Friday.  

They loved the gifts they got from school – each got a backpack and a ball. 

The boys had fun playing the drums on their new toys… 

…until it led to tears. The boys were worn out from the busy day of playing!

On Sunday, we gave the boys toy doctor kits for Día de los Niños.  They loved them!   

 

Patrick especially loved the glasses that came with his doctor kit.  When he wore his glasses and stethoscope the next morning to breakfast, he was convinced his disguise was foolproof and that our nanny Mercedes didn’t recognize him.  “Moooooom!” he said, “Stop calling me ‘Patrick’ or Mercedes is going to know who I am!”

¡Feliz Día de los Niños!

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