From Academic Kids

Dr. José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia y Velasco (January 6 1766September 20 1840) was the first leader of Paraguay following its independence from Spain. He ran the country with no outside interference and little outside influence from 1814 to 1840.

Although his father, a native of São Paulo, was simply García Rodríguez Francia, the dictator inserted de to style himself "Rodríguez de Francia y Velasco". He is often referred to simply as "Francia".

Born in Yaguarón, he became a doctor of theology and trained for the Catholic priesthood but never entered it. When Paraguay's independence was declared in 1811, he was appointed secretary to the national junta or congress. In 1814 he secured an election that gave him three years of absolute power to rule as the President of Paraguay. By the end of that term he was in a position to rule for his lifetime, and 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".

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.

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.

Francia later seized the possessions of the Catholic Church, nationalising the land as communal farms which proved successful. He appointed himself head of the Paraguayan church, for which the Pope excommunicated him.

He made marriage subject to high taxation and restrictions, insisting he personally conduct all weddings. To reduce the influence of the Spanish gentry, he forbade them to marry among themselves. He himself had no close relationships, but had a daughter, Ubalde García de Cañete.

Francia's later years were known for their seemingly arbitrary rulings. He ordered all dogs to be shot. Not only did everyone have to raise their hat when he passed, but those without hats had to carry brims to raise.

When Francia died in September 1840, his body was fed to caiman and his furniture burnt. His reputation abroad was negative, though Thomas Carlyle, no friend to democracy, found material to admire even in the publications of Francia's detractors and wrote in an 1843 essay "Liberty of private judgement, unless it kept its mouth shut, was at an end in Paraguay" but considered that under the social circumstances this was of little detriment to a "Gaucho population... not yet fit for constitutional liberty." A modern reader might consider this faint praise, taken all in all.

There is today a museum dedicated to Rodríguez de Francia in Yaguarón.

External links

he:חוזה גספר רודריגז דה פרנסיה sv:José Gaspar de Francia

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