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The Paraguayan Illustrated Press during the War of the Triple Alliancelocked

The Paraguayan Illustrated Press during the War of the Triple Alliancelocked

  • Leonardo de Oliveira SilvaLeonardo de Oliveira SilvaModern Language Studies, California State University San Marcos


The War of the Triple Alliance converted Paraguay into a scene of devastation. The conflict with Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay—the Triple Alliance—resulted in innumerous killings and the destruction of Paraguay’s economy as well as its natural and urban spaces. Halfway through the war, when the imminent collapse of the country was evident, Paraguayan president Francisco Solano López brought together a group of intellectuals to establish an illustrated press to boost the troops’ morale while criticizing and ridiculing the enemy. In only a few months, Paraguay saw the creation of three illustrated periodicals: El Centinela (April 1867–February 1868), Cabichuí (May 1867–August 1868), and Cacique Lambaré (July 1867–September 1868). Publishing texts and cartoons, these newspapers played a crucial role in engaging the heterogenous Paraguayan population while solidifying racial discrimination against Afrodescendants. The legacy of these illustrated publications was the increased valorization of the Paraguayan identity (which was fundamental during the reconstruction years). On the other hand, this state-controlled press promoted discrimination against groups portrayed as not belonging to the Paraguayan self-image.


  • History of Southern Spanish America
  • 1824–c. 1880
  • Afro-Latin History
  • Cultural History
  • Military History

The Destruction of Paraguay in the War of the Triple Alliance

In addition to armed conflict—to this day, the bloodiest in South American history—the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870) included a fierce battle of symbols. The illustrated press in Paraguay worked to raise the morale of the armed forces and promote the sentiment that the cause was worthy. Maintaining the population’s participation was vital to the maintenance of the Paraguayan government given destruction brought by the Triple Alliance (Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay). Paraguay had conducted a successful initial offensive, occupying Uruguaiana and part of the border with the Brazilian province of Mato Grosso. However, the Battle of Riachuelo on June 11, 1865, would end the Paraguayan expansion. The following five years saw the battlelines enter the Paraguayan territory. There is still debate about the exact number of deaths, yet there is a consensus that the war was catastrophic for the Paraguayan population in general, being especially impactful and violent on male citizens.1

The mobilization during these years went far beyond the armed forces. Women, children, and the elderly contributed to the country’s economic maintenance, assuming jobs in commercial production sectors such as salt extraction, yerba mate cultivation, and timber harvesting because of the many workers sent to fight on the battlefront. Women herded cattle and broke horses—activities previously assigned to men and associated with masculinity.2 The war demanded a lot from the Paraguayan economy and, despite the efforts to maintain production, essential goods became more and more scarce. In 1865, markets in Asunción saw the first restrictions on cassava flour. In 1867, there were shortages of salt, cassava, yerba mate, corn, cotton, and wood. The shortages (which also included meat, metals, paper, medicines, and other products) resulted not only from war expenses but also because the Triple Alliance blocked the access of merchant ships to Paraguayan waters. Adding to the effect of the high cost of the war and the blockade imposed by the enemy, Paraguayan president Francisco Solano López implemented a scorched-earth policy, demanding that the Paraguayan population leave territories threatened by the Triple Alliance and destroy all property and crops. This military strategy was extensively applied throughout the Paraguayan territory, from the countryside all the way to Asunción.3

Besides, the Allied troops looted several Paraguayan cities, which exacerbated the scarcity caused by the dedication of most of production and human labor to the war, the lack of resources, and the scorched-earth policy. Foreign diplomats protested that Brazilian soldiers had even stolen from official buildings such as the Portuguese and French consulates and the American Legation. Despite some officials and newspapers claiming that the looting was committed on Solano López’s orders or by foreign merchants and Paraguayans, several witnesses affirm that the Brazilian soldiers were responsible for pillaging the Paraguayan capital.4 Besides looting, Brazilian and Argentinian soldiers would even charge Paraguayan families to free children who were lost or kidnapped.5

Asunción was not a poor city, even after years of war. Travelers and military officials describe their admiration toward the town once it was taken over in 1869. Brazilian military engineer, politician, and writer Alfredo d’Escragnolle Taunay expresses his appreciation for the city’s landscape and imposing buildings, affirming that the city’s architecture made it evident that it was the capital city of a country.6 British explorer Sir Richard Burton also highlights the architecture, emphasizing Solano López’s palace (comparing it to Buckingham) yet contrasting its size with how small Asunción was.7 Therefore, these accounts demonstrate that the conception of Paraguay as a miserable country (which became a popular misrepresentation in the Triple Alliance countries) was inaccurate.

From the Paraguayan perspective, the War of the Triple Alliance had three different stages. The initial period consisted of the Paraguayan offensive, when Solano López reacted to the civil war in Uruguay and declared war against Brazil and Argentina. After the Battle of Riachuelo (June 1865), the conflict became a matter of resistance, as Paraguay attempted to stop the expansion of the Triple Alliance into the Paraguayan territory. After the fall of Asunción (January 1869), Solano López retreated, and the war became a manhunt in pursuit of the Paraguayan president in the north of the country. Such a long war, covering the Paraguayan territory from south to north, demanded the total dedication of the Paraguayan institutions and population to the war.

In this context of total war, the Paraguayan press played a fundamental role in disseminating patriotic discourse and boosting the troops’ morale. There was no press under the rule of Paraguay’s first president, Gaspar Rodríguez Francia (1814–1840). Carlos Antonio López (the second president and Solano López’s father) founded El Paraguayo Independiente (1845–1852), a weekly patriotic paper whose slogan was “Independencia o muerte” (Independence or death).8 The press was both a product and a foundation of Paraguayan patriotism, being a powerful instrument of diffusion of the government’s point of view. During the War of the Triple Alliance, the Paraguayan government expanded this political use of newspapers, creating three illustrated periodicals dedicated exclusively to the military conflict: El Centinela (1867), the Cabichuí (1867–1868), and El Cacique Lambaré (1867–1868).

War and Press

The illustrated press became popular in the Plata basin countries during the second half of the 19th century. These periodicals had weekly or biweekly editions, and South American cities saw the creation of several newspapers. For instance, Rio de Janeiro had the Semana Ilustrada (1861–1875), Montevideo had the ¡Zipi-Zape! (1862 and 1865), and Buenos Aires had El Mosquito (1862–1886), among many others. These magazines presented news, literary works, and essays as well as lithographs or woodcuts. Their distinctive characteristic was precisely having illustrations, such as cartoons and copies of daguerreotypes and paintings. This press gave access to a type of art and visual discourse which, until then, had been restricted to museums and art galleries.9 Given these newspapers’ rising popularity and the imperatives of a belligerent conflict, the war between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance became the main subject of these periodicals. This close relationship between war and the illustrated press culminated in the creation of a few magazines dedicated exclusively to the conflict.

On the one hand, this press could provide a new way of representing national disputes and international frictions. It was able to present the contradictions in the discourse of important political figures in a quick and impactful way:

Figure 1. Untitled cartoon by Angelo Agostini. Angelo Agostini’s cartoon exposes the hypocrisy in Brazilian pro-war discourse, which would often present the war as a means to free the Paraguayan people from Francisco Solano López’s tyranny. Diabo coxo: São Paulo, 1864-1865 (São Paulo: Edusp, 2005).

Figure 2. Untitled cartoon by V. Mola. Cartoon by V. Mola published in the front page of O Arlequim.

Courtesy of Arquivo Edgard Leuenroth, Unicamp.

The first illustration (figure 1), by Angelo Agostini—one of the most important cartoonists in 19th-century Brazil—places Brazilians and Paraguayans face to face at the border. The attack and the humor effect reside in the contradiction between the visual and the written texts. In the image, military commanders whip chained officials on both sides of the perimeter, but the speech of the Brazilian commander in the center of the cartoon reads: “Paraguayan, barbarians, I bring a group of volunteers to free you.” The cartoon condemns the contemporary portrayal of the war as a clash between civilization—represented by the Triple Alliance—and barbarism—represented by Paraguay.

Figure 2 is a caricature by V. Mola which was published on the cover of the magazine O Arlequim (Rio de Janeiro).10 In the image, a Brazilian official who is ready to depart for the war receives a bag with “lies” written on it; his interlocutor says: “go to Paraguay and come back with this bag filled.” In both figures 1 and 2, caricature serves as a means to challenge the pro-war discourse. The illustrated press in Brazil did not distinguish itself from the traditional one only by having images; its content was often more progressive. It criticized the official discourse and condemned the view that the conflict was a result of the Paraguayan attack against the neighboring nations’ honor. The press was, to a high degree, independent from the government in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. These periodicals were able to condemn the governments of their respective countries. Evidently, newspapers had different political affiliations, which resulted in some pro-war cartoons that would celebrate the Triple Alliance and portray the Paraguayans—especially its president—as vulgar and uncivilized.

The government controlled the press in Paraguay, and the periodicals served a propagandistic purpose. Solano López’s father, Carlos Antonio López, the Paraguayan president between 1844 and 1862, signed a law enshrining freedom of the press on August 1, 1855. However, despite this nod to freedom of expression, the directors of the Paraguayan newspapers had close relations with the state or were members of the government themselves. Carlos Antonio López founded El Paraguayo Independiente, a newspaper that served a role in affirming Paraguayan independence vis-à-vis Juan Manuel de Rosas, the Argentinian dictator. Carlos Antonio López was also the first director of the weekly publication El Semanario (1853–1868). During this period, Spanish intellectual Ildefonso Bermejo had a crucial role in expanding press and culture under governmental direction.11 Print media were a powerful tool for advocacy in favor of the government since their foundation.

This traditionally propagandistic role of the press continued during the war years. The only newspaper at the beginning of the war, the abovementioned El Semanario, was then directed by Natalicio de Maria Talavera Alarcón, man of arms and letters, who participated actively in the Paraguayan press and became a lieutenant in the Paraguayan forces during the War of the Triple Alliance. During the first years of the war, this periodical was the main means of informing the Paraguayan population about the conflict. In 1867, Solano López created a plan of incentivizing the creation of more newspapers to expand the dissemination of pro-government propaganda while making use of the new illustrated press techniques. Juan Crisóstomo Centurión describes the hunger and misery endured by the army at this point in the war and how the Paraguayan president insisted on employing measures to raise the troops’ spirits. According to this Paraguayan journalist, Solano López decided to move on with the project of founding a satirical illustrated magazine even after his brother Benigno López expressed doubt that the periodical would have enough readers to be successful.12 The president carried on with his plans and in 1868 Paraguay had three different illustrated magazines.

Before studying these publications closely, one must highlight that the press also had a political function in the countries of the Triple Alliance. Even though publishers had more freedom in comparison with Paraguay, they also played a fundamental role in promoting political interests. For instance, even before the war, the Argentinian newspaper La Nación Argentina published harsh criticisms of Paraguay, portraying Solano López as an evil tyrant in a primitive country and Bartolomé Mitre as a paladin of progress.13 La Nación Argentina would become La Nación under President Mitre’s direction in 1870. In Brazil, newspapers played a role in voluntarism. Given that the army was not sufficiently staffed for such a war, there was a massive mobilization to send volunteers to fight it. This effort involved forced enlistment and the freeing of black slaves to be sent as donations from their owners or their substitutes.14 Newspapers such as Correio Mercantil and Diário do Rio de Janeiro would publish articles reporting new enlistments and celebrating them as a way of incentivizing the population to get involved with war matters.15

Furthermore, this press may have criticized their government, but it sided with their country and attacked the war adversary. It used cartoons to celebrate political and military authorities and caricature to ridicule the enemies and promote distaste towards them. Solano López seized the opportunity to use this appeal to readers’ passions (empathy towards the domestic, aversion towards the foreign) as a tool to lift the spirits of a population. The Triple Alliance had already killed thousands of Paraguayans and laid waste to several regions of the country. Words, images, passions, and humor fueled the Paraguayan troops when even the most basic necessities could not be provided.

The Illustrated Press: El Centinela, Cabichuí, and Cacique Lambaré

The foundation of new periodicals in 1867 allowed a change of tone in the Paraguayan newspapers. Contrasting with the formal style of El Semanario, there was room for a publication of a lighter mood with a popular appeal.16 More than a matter of tone and reaching a different public, the effect of humor of these papers played a role in unifying Paraguayans against the enemy. Northrop Frye defines satire as “militant irony,” highlighting the fact that its success depends on a group agreeing on condemning the flaws of the criticized object, which presupposes not only the identification of the members of the laughing group but also a shared set of values to condemn the object of laughter.17 The concept of militant irony is very suitable in this case, as the Paraguayan newspapers about the war were produced by military members and distributed in the trenches.

El Centinela

The first number of El Centinela was published on April 25, 1867, and the paper was directed by Tristán Roca Suarez. Roca was a Bolivian exile who had to leave his country of origin because of political differences with the president, Mariano Melgalejo.18 Roca had founded a newspaper in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, La Estrella del Oriente, and contributed to El Semanario in Paraguay. El Centinela’s header announced its attitude towards the war events: “serio-jocoso” [serious-humorous]. Its first edition opens with a dedication to Solano López, followed by an essay that criticized the Triple Alliance and another about Bartolomé Mitre. The newspaper declared its military and political purposes in its first lines, portraying itself as a young soldier made famous on the battlefields.19

El Centinela (figure 3) served as a testing site of new practices in the Paraguayan press in terms of both visual and verbal discourse. Although it was an illustrated periodical, the number of drawings and the space devoted to them were quite modest. The first issue had only two small cartoons on the first and the third pages. In the following issues, however, there was an increase in the visual aspect of this newspaper, and, on June 13, 1867, the public saw the first full-page drawing, an imaginary scene in which Princess Isabel takes power in Brazil (figure 4).

Figure 3. The first issue of El Centinela (April 25, 1867).

Image courtesy of Biblioteca Nacional del Paraguay.

Figure 4. The first full page illustration of El Centinela (June 13, 1867).

Image courtesy of Biblioteca Nacional del Paraguay.

The other aspect which El Centinela pioneered was the use of Guaraní. In its first issue, the newspaper makes a statement about using this language as a patriotic act and a celebration of Paraguay’s unique tradition. Reverence for native cultures was typical of the Romantic mindset of South American intellectuals at the time, as a way of differentiation from the Portuguese and Spanish traditions. In this context of a clash between Brazil and Paraguay, both countries represented their national identity using the native population, but the latter was a bilingual country, whose native heritage was much more present. Spanish was more predominant among the elite, and Guaraní was widely spoken among the rest of the population, especially in the countryside.20 During Carlos López’s presidency, children were prohibited from speaking Guaraní in school.21 The oscillation between celebrating the South American language and condemning it continued until the 21st century and depended on the interests of different political groups. Serving the government’s interest of reaching a broader public with these newspapers, the expansion of the Paraguayan press during the War of the Triple Alliance included an increase in publications in Guaraní. This represented giving the non-European language a less marginalized place, and printing it also required developments in how to record Guaraní in writing. For instance, the editors had to adapt the Roman alphabet to represent some sounds, reserving the letter “y” for the central vowel [ɨ] and using “j” in lieu of “y” to represent the semivowel [j].22 El Centinela was last published on February 10, 1868.


Cabichuí followed the success of El Centinela. It was first published on May 13, 1867, and had more illustrations than its contemporary.23 Solano López established an army printing press in Paso Pucú, where this newspaper was printed. Juan Crisóstomo Centurión, who directed the publication, named it after a black wasp, and the masthead shows a black man with simian traits being attacked by such wasps (figure 5). The meaning of this drawing was clear to its public, as these illustrated papers usually portrayed Brazilian officials and authorities as monkeys in condemnation of slavery.

Figure 5. Cabichuí’s masthead (May 13, 1867). Cabichí’s masthead, which displays a group of wasps attacking a simian creature. The illustration symbolizes the newspaper’s role in criticizing Brazil and the Triple Alliance.

Image courtesy of Biblioteca Nacional del Paraguay.

As the war made paper scarce, the Cabichuí was printed on a local product made of cotton and caraguata fiber. Its purpose was similar to that of El Centinela: in the first issue, the publication characterizes itself as a soldier, committing to the “national cause” and saluting the other two contemporary newspapers.24 In his memoir, George Thompson classifies the jokes in the paper as “wretched and scandalous.”25 In response, Centurión affirms that this tone was intentional, as it was adequate to the “soldiers’ taste,” which “could not be compared with those of an educated and civilized society [the English].”26 This assertion by the newspaper’s director exposes the intent of addressing the masses—as well as his classist worldview. Centurión evaluates his newspaper’s success not by its aesthetic appeal but by its fame, classifying it as a hit.27

Military members produced this newspaper and, although Centurión affirms that it was read all over the country, its main virtual public consisted of the soldiers themselves.28 Its production was rustic and improvised, using planed wood and sharpened old knifes (unlike the lithographs used in the production of newspapers in cities distant from the war, such as Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires).29 Be it as a collective practice or to ensure that the newspaper would reach the illiterate Paraguayans, accounts register the public reading of its issues. Newspapers themselves portrayed these group readings. Michael Huner analyzes an illustration of Cabichuí (August 8, 1867) in which soldiers listen to an officer’s reading of the same newspaper. The self-reference consists not only of the fact that the officer is reading the Cabichuí, as the black wasp is also represented in the cartoon as part of the scene.30 The Cabichuí published its last issue on August 20, 1868.

Cacique Lambaré

The Cacique Lambaré had two illustrations present in all issues. One was a small header to its last section, huy-veve [sic] (hu’y veve, “flying arrow” in Guaraní). The other image was a half-page drawing that comprised the publication’s masthead. The first three issues show the cacique Lambaré pointing at a pit, and Lambaré Hill is in the background (figure 6). The newspaper’s motto on top of the drawing reads “Cuatia ñeê yvyty rusu güi osè bae [sic]” (Spoken newspaper which brings the truth from the top of the hill). The cacique’s attitude pointing at a pit has been described as meaning that he was ready to die for his land.31 The drawing could also be a reference to Ulrico Schmidl’s description of the Lambaré in Viaje al Río de la Plata.32 Schmidl writes that the Lambaré people had dug pits and set them as traps for protection from invaders.33 The newspaper used the legend of the cacique who fought to protect his land from foreign invaders to portray Paraguay in the War of the Triple Alliance.34

In its fourth number, the newspaper adopted the name Lambaré and published a new drawing, in which the cacique is fighting a chimera-like monster, who has each of the three heads pierced by the cacique’s arrows (figure 7). The three-headed monster portrays the Triple Alliance and such representation had already been made in the third issue of El Centinela.35 The chimera in the Lambaré masthead has, instead of a snake, a balloon for its tail, referring to the Brazilian employment of this technology during the war.36

Figure 6. Cacique Lambaré’s first masthead (July 24, 1867). Cacique Lambaré’s first masthead, with a native Paraguayan pointing at a pit.

Image courtesy of Biblioteca Nacional del Paraguay.

Figure 7. Lambaré’s second masthead (September 5, 1867). Besides the shortened name change, the second masthead had a new image, displaying an epic battle between a native Paraguayan and a chimera.

Image courtesy of Biblioteca Nacional del Paraguay.

The Lambaré had a sole full-page illustration in its fifth issue. In this drawing, three black children follow a white man and a black woman, and they all face another black man on a hot air balloon (likely Pedro II). The text in the cartoon explains—in Portuguese—that the drawing represents a group welcoming Pedro II on his arrival to Mato Grosso province, where the emperor came to free black slaves to join the Brazilian army.37 The subtitles also affirm that 99 percent of the Allied army had been killed by the Paraguayan artillery and the Black Death. The drawing references the Brazilian practice of freeing slaves to have them join the military and the fact that, besides fighting against Paraguay, the Brazilian soldiers had to struggle against diseases such as cholera and smallpox. The Lambaré was not the only Paraguayan newspaper to include material in Portuguese, as the Cabichuí also used the language in their illustrations, especially when portraying Brazilian officials. Brazilian soldiers knew the Paraguayan papers and had access to them. In his memoir, Dionísio Cerqueira mentions finding issues of the Cabichuí.38

Despite the reduced number of illustrations, the Lambaré innovated by having Guaraní as its predominant language. El Centinela and the Cabichuí predominantly used Spanish, with some texts or excerpts in Guaraní, and the Lambaré was the first to have the non-European language as a primary vehicle. This allowed the paper to reach a different public, as the Lambaré was destined to the countryside and predominantly Guaraní-speaking areas. The strategy was to have periodicals whose languages and tones would appeal to different social groups. El Semanario targeted the elite in Asunción. El Centinela’s text and visual language mixed the popular and the erudite. The Cabichuí was destined mostly for soldiers and their families.39 The Lambaré was last published in September 1968.

War defined these newspapers’ purpose, content, and means of production. Besides the need to develop new ways of manufacturing paper, the main printing technique of their illustrations was woodcut—in a century of expansion of lithography.40 As a consequence of the collective effort to produce these trench periodicals, there are several gaps in information concerning authorship. Some of Solano López’s appointees who edited these papers were Roca, director of El Centinela; Centurión, who managed the Cabichuí; and Solano Espinoza, editor-in-chief of Cacique Lambaré. However, several uncredited military members contributed illustrations. Alejandro Ravizza, an Italian architect based in Paraguay, was likely the artist who produced drawings for El Centinela.41 The cartoonists for Cabichuí could have been Ravizza’s students, but the names available are mostly the engravers’, not the artists’.42

Centurión referred to the illustrated press as periodiquines, which could allude to their size—as they were four pages long—and/or his judgment of their quality as substandard.43 Informing the reader was a secondary objective, as their narratives and the appeal to erudite and popular culture aimed at promoting the war and motivating the Paraguayan population at a time when the country’s desolation became more and more drastic and evident. They demonstrate Solano López’s skill as a strategist who understood the importance of the psychology of war when the Paraguayan population lacked basic necessities of life. These newspapers encouraged the Paraguayans to sacrifice themselves by fighting a larger country, whose emperor was determined to keep killing until the Paraguayan president died or surrendered.

War would also be responsible for the end of these newspapers. The lack of resources was an issue from their very foundation, and the prolonging of the conflict only aggravated such challenges. Deaths were also a factor, as most of their contributors were military members. Besides the many assassinations at the enemy’s hands, on more than one occasion Solano López allegedly ordered the execution of some of his confidants after supposed acts of treason.44 For instance, Carlos Riveros (Cabichuí contributor), Roca (ex-director of El Centinela), and Julián Aquino (press director) were executed for suspicion of conspiring against the Paraguayan president.

In sum, the war represented a period of agitation for the Paraguayan press. Besides causing the demise of these three newspapers, the conflict brought the oldest Paraguayan newspaper, El Semanario, to an end in November 1868. La Estrella, a newspaper that followed the structure of the defunct El Semanario, was published between February and July 1869. In other words, La Estrella was published only after the succession of battles that culminated with the Brazilian invasion of Asunción and before the battle of Piribebuy—a tragic episode that demonstrates the exhaustion of Paraguay’s resources and people to sustain the war and the cruel Brazilian assassination of whoever was left, including Paraguayan children and elderly sent to the fronts.45 Illustrated or not, these periodicals fulfilled their role to unify the Paraguayan population around state ideology. This process utilized specific humor strategies and a grotesque depiction of the war enemy, and slavery and blackness were the main targets of criticism.

The Depiction of the Enemy: Blackness and Otherness

Humor was a crucial tool in the illustrated papers’ task of unifying the Paraguayan population in alignment with the state’s political views. Laughter defines alterity between two groups: the laughing one and the one who is laughed at.46 As a political practice, humor defines the members of a community by opposing it to another group. In these papers, laughter functions as a distinctive factor, with Paraguay as the subject of laughter and the Triple Alliance as the object. The humor in these periodicals did have a function of distracting from the grim war scenario in Paraguay. However, more than just boosting morale, satire effectively popularized the values and worldview of the state.

The success of a satire relies on the agreement between author and the public on the undesirability of the criticized object.47 Satire portrays its object of attack as defective from a moral point of view. The two sides of the War of the Triple Alliance presented similar sets of values: progress, civilization, and freedom. The newspapers differed in who played the role of the unvirtuous object of attack. For instance, on one side, newspapers in Uruguay portrayed Paraguayans as an underdeveloped nation, unfit for war:

Figure 8. Cartoon from ¡Zipi-Zape! (August 13, 1865). The cartoon from ¡Zipi-Zape! exemplifies the criticism from newspapers in the Allied countries. Paraguay is commonly portrayed as primitive, poor, and underprepared.

Image courtesy of Proyecto Anáforas/Universidad de la República.

The cartoon from the Uruguayan newspaper ¡Zipi-Zape! titled Reclutamientos en el Paraguay [Recruitment in Paraguay] (figure 8) portrays two Paraguayan officials, one accompanied by a child and the other by an older man.48 Their dialogue reads, “Most in my stewardship are from the times of the Independence” and “In mine, most are from today.” The satire attacks Paraguay by portraying it as disorganized, its armed forces as weak, and its population as obliged to serve in the war regardless of age. Similarly, the Paraguayan press portrayed the members of the Triple Alliance as weaker and overall inferior:

Figure 9. Cartoon from Cabichuí (May 16, 1867). The cartoon illustrates the account of a man who supposedly used a whip to fight the Brazilian soldiers.

Image courtesy of Biblioteca Nacional del Paraguay.

Figure 9 portrays a Paraguayan official with a whip facing four members of the Allied armed forces. The text reads, “To the coward slaves! A crack of the guaireño whip is enough; they fear it more than a cannon. Be tough on them!” In the newspaper, the cartoon is followed by a text about a man from the Guairá region who fought the Brazilian army using his whip. The lash is also likely a reference to the physical punishments imposed on Brazilian slaves.

Allied and Paraguayan depictions of the enemy reached the same conclusions—that is, the target of humor is less prepared for war—but they differ a lot in their details. As targets of laughter, the Paraguayans were often portrayed as poor and as captives of their president. In contrast, the Paraguayan newspapers used race as their main way of attacking the enemy. The emphasis on criticizing Brazil is a consequence of the fact that this country’s participation in the war was far greater than that of Argentina or Uruguay.49 The illustrated press in Paraguay portrayed Brazilian officials and political authorities as dark-skinned or as monkeys.

Racist humor became the illustrated press’s most common way of criticizing Brazil. Insults such as “Orden del día. Matar macacos” [Today’s order. Kill monkeys] and “Fuego a los negros!” [Set the blacks on fire!] were frequent in every edition of these newspapers.50 Animalization—that is, the act of portraying someone as having bestial traits—was the favored means of producing grotesque representations in these satires (figure 10). On the one hand, they denounced the Brazilian slave system; on the other, they associated blackness with the murderous acts of the Brazilian Empire. Most Afrodescendants lived in precarious conditions in Brazil, and many were freed only to be sent to war, but the Paraguayan newspapers portrayed the Afrodescendants as the face of a murderous campaign that was actually led by men of European descent.

Figure 10. Cartoon from El Centinela (May 9, 1867). Pedro II and the military leader Tamandaré and Polidoro portrayed as monkeys as a reference to slavery and the African diaspora in Brazil.

Image courtesy of Biblioteca Nacional del Paraguay.

Racist caricature was much more predominant in the Paraguayan newspapers but not exclusive to them. Even though the Brazilian illustrated press became a vehicle of abolitionist discourse, there were still caricatures targeting the black population as objects of laughter:

Figure 11. Cartoon by V. Mola in O Arlequim (October 13, 1867). Although illustrated papers often positioned themselves against slavery some cartoons presented the black people as objects of laughter.

Image courtesy of Arquivo Edgard Leuenroth.

In the cartoon (figure 11), a slave owner offers one of his servants as a substitute to a white person. The effect of humor resides in a pun with the Portuguese word “peça.” The slave owner says, “My friend Major, I offer you a substitute to the army; behold this beautiful specimen [peça]!.” The major replies, “What specimen?! This is nothing but a brush to clean weapons [peças]!” Enlistment was a possible way for masters to deal with undesired slaves, and the cartoon questions the black man’s ability to do anything but cleaning.51 The exploration of the signifier “peça” in the illustration also approximates a human being to objects. Therefore, newspapers on both sides of the war reproduced the racist views of the white Europe-educated elite. The difference consists in the association of blackness and national identity. Slavery was a matter of political debate in the Brazilian newspapers, as the opposition used caricature and satire to attack the government. In the Paraguayan illustrated press, blackness was the main defining characteristic of the Brazilian identity.

This attack on the Brazilian ethos had heavy implications. First, it promoted a racist portrayal of the Brazilian population that remains in Latin America to this day: 150 years after the end of the war, “macaco” and “mono” are still used as insults to Afro-Brazilians internationally. In addition, the infamous image of Brazil promoted by the Paraguayan press could be one of the reasons why the Brazilian emperor, Pedro II, insisted in a war of pursuit of Solano López, when both foreign and Brazilian authorities insisted that the war needed to end.52

Humor can add nuance, dismantling ideology, yet it can also oversimplify and reinforce false discourse. Another consequence of the racist response to the destruction and murders performed by the Brazilian army in Paraguay was the distancing of Paraguay’s own relationship with the African diaspora. Historically, the Afro-Paraguayans have struggled with processes of erasure and unrecognition. Ignacio Telesca demonstrated that, at the end of the colonial period, Afrodescendants constituted 11 percent of the Paraguayan population—one third of them being slaves. In 1782, over 50 percent of the population of Asunción was of African descent, and toward the middle of the 19th century, 4 percent of the population were still slaves.53 The historian also demonstrated how Paraguayan authorities tried to promote an image of an absence of blackness in Paraguay, highlighting mostly its Spanish ancestry, with some room to the native roots.54 In a socio-political scenario of discrimination and vulnerability, the Afrodescendant population was pushed to conditions of subservience and indirect slavery. Free pardos had to pay a tax on their skin unless they were “protected” by a Spaniard, for whom they would work in a form of bondsmanship.55 Other free pardos joined militias, where the recruiting of people of color was vast and welcoming.56 As the Paraguayan army needed volunteers, slaveowners freed their servants—with restitution—so they would join the military, a common practice on the Brazilian side of the war as well.57 In his memoir, Thompson narrates the story of “the only black officer in the Paraguayan army”—this exclusivity that would later be denied by Josephina Plá in her study on Afroparaguayans—affirming that, for his accomplishments as a sergeant, the Afrodescendant would be promoted to ensign, “but Lopez sent him into every fight till he was killed, and thus got rid of the black officer.”58

In sum, the idea that the Paraguayan identity was a product of the miscegenation of the Spaniard and the native excluded the Afro-Paraguayans and contributed to their marginalization. The illustrated press contributed to the erasure of the Afro-Paraguayans by foreignizing the notion of blackness. In this process of erasing, blacks are only the Brazilians, the foreigners, the murderers, the others. Icons of the Paraguayan resistance, these newspapers were also a bastion of Latin American racism, associating skin tone with each of several alleged Brazilian defects. Even though the killing of over 50 percent of the Paraguayan population was commanded by European-educated white elites of Argentina, Uruguay, and—mainly—Brazil, it is the face of the enslaved population that was used as target of criticism of these deplorable acts.

Discussion of the Literature

Works on war and press have given some insight into the mindset of people affected by the War of the Triple Alliance. It has also provided complementary information to help understand some of the gaps left by the destruction of documents during the war. Plá’s El grabado en el Paraguay has served as a starting point for many researchers in the area and provided crucial information for further investigations.59 El Periodismo de Guerra (Triple Alianza), by Bernardo Neri Farina, analyzes the Paraguayan press before and during the War of the Triple Alliance.60 Chapter 3 provides a detailed description of the active newspapers during the war. Farina’s book is part of a collection released in Paraguay in observance of the sesquicentennial of the War of the Triple Alliance, which presents new and relevant research on the war, its causes, consequences, and impact on different social groups.61 André Toral’s Imagens em desordem: A iconografia da Guerra do Paraguai (1864-1870) analyzes visual depictions of the war that were produced in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, highlighting the illustrated press in Chapter 2.62 In A Batalha de papel: A charge como arma na guerra contra o Paraguai, Mauro César Silveira analyzes the political use of cartoons in Brazil.63 Toral observes the opportunism of members of the illustrated press, highlighting the contradictions in their discourse (for instance, concerning slavery) and the sudden changes of opinion according to their political interests. Silveira investigates the use of caricature to deteriorate Solano Lopez’s and Paraguay’s images. In La gran máquina de publicidad, María Lucrecia Johansson provides a transnational approach to the press during the War of the Triple Alliance, extending the scope to the European coverage of the war.64 The book highlights how different newspapers portrayed the conflict as a clash between civilization and barbarism.

The intricate matter of slavery and blackness in the War of the Triple Alliance has been a topic of increasing interest in the past decades, as scholars have elucidated imprecisions and mistaken popular beliefs. George Reid Andrews demystifies the notion that most Afro-Argentinians died fighting against Paraguay and investigates the living conditions of the African diaspora in Argentina in his book The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires: 1800-1900.65 Reid also has a book on the African diaspora in Uruguay.66 The study of the African diaspora in Paraguay investigates the erasure of this part of the population from national representation and the challenges that the Afro-Paraguayans face in search of political support. In Hermano Negro: la esclavitud en el Paraguay, Plá studies the discrimination against the Afro-Paraguayans and how forced labor changed yet continued to exist throughout Paraguayan history.67 Telesca provides a detailed description of the history of the population of African descent in Paraguay, investigating how blackness was distanced from national identity. Besides his work, see “La historiografía paraguaya y los afrodescendientes.”68 Ricardo Salles’s Guerra do Paraguai: escravidão e cidadania na formação do exército debunks the belief that most of the Brazilian officers were slaves.69 Peter Beattie in The Tribute of Blood: Army, Honor, Race, and Nation in Brazil, 1864-1945 investigates the use of freed slaves as substitutes and forced enlistment in Brazil. Vitor Izecksohn compared the role of the black population in the American Civil War and the War of the Triple Alliance in Slavery and War in the Americas: Race, Citizenship, and State Building in the United States and Brazil, 1861-1870.70

Primary Sources

Early 21st-century digitalization of collections has made it easier to access the periodicals of the War of the Triple Alliance. The Paraguayan National Library has an excellent website with several issues of El Centinela, Cabichuí, and Lambaré available, although a few collections are incomplete. The page also presents information on each of these newspapers as well as several other documents from the War of the Triple Alliance. There are many illustrated papers available in Brazilian National Library digital archives. The Biblioteca do Senado also has newspapers from the 19th century available, as does the Biblioteca Brasiliana Mindin. Some Uruguayan periodicals from the war period can be found through the Anáforas project of the Universidad de la República. The Argentinian National Library also has some digitalized newspaper collections, such as El Mosquito, available on their website.

Published primary sources include the Brazilian newspapers Diabo Coxo, issued in 1864 and 1865, in which the reader can find the first reactions to the war by the Brazilian press as well as Angelo Agostini’s first cartoons on the topic.71 The Cabrião (1866–1867) had a facsimile edition.72 There is a facsimile edition of Cabichuí from 1984 which is still available at several libraries.73 All issues of El Centinela were published together in 1988.74

Further Reading

  • Capdevila, Luc. Una guerra total: Paraguay, 1864–1870. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sb, 2010.
  • Crockett, Lawrence Edward, Jr. “Landlocked and Unwanted: The Afro-Paraguayan Dilemma.” PhD diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2017.
  • Beattie, Peter. The Tribute of Blood: Army, Honor, Race, and Nation in Brazil, 1864–1870. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.
  • Doratioto, Francisco. Maldita Guerra. São Paulo: Cia das Letras, 2002.
  • Farina, Bernardo. El periodismo de guerra. Asunción, Paraguay: El Lector, 2013.
  • Izecksohn, Vitor. Slavery and War in the Americas: Race, Citizenship, and State Building in the United States and Brazil, 1861–1870. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014.
  • Johansson, María. La gran máquina de publicidad: Redes transnacionales e intercambios periodísticos durante la Guerra de la Triple Alianza. Seville, Spain: Universidad Internacional de Andalucía, 2017.
  • Salles, Ricardo. Guerra do Paraguai: Memórias e imagens. Rio de Janeiro: Edições Biblioteca Nacional, 2003.
  • Silva, Leonardo. “O herói negro na poesia da Guerra da Tríplice Aliança: Marcílio Dias em Riachuelo.” Hispania 104, no. 2 (2021): 259–270.
  • Telesca, Ignacio. Historia del Paraguay. Asunción, Paraguay: Taurus, 2010.
  • Toral, André. Imagens em desordem: A iconografia da Guerra do Paraguai (1864–1870). São Paulo: Humanitas, 2001.
  • Whigham, Thomas. La Guerra de la Triple Alianza, vol. I-III. Asunción: Taurus, 2010–2012.


  • 1. Wilma Peres Costa, “The Paraguayan War and Brazilian National Identity”. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History, June 28, 2017.

  • 2. Luc Capdevila, Una guerra total: Paraguay, 1864–1870 (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sb, 2010), 60–61.

  • 3. Capdevila, Una guerra total, 62; and Alfredo d’Escragnolle Taunay also narrates how the Paraguayan military used fires to impede the Brazilian mobilization and restrict their access to resources in Alfredo d’Escragnolle Taunay, A Retirada da Laguna, trans. Sérgio Medeiros (São Paulo: Cia das Letras, 1997).

  • 4. Francisco Doratioto, Maldita Guerra: Nova história da Guerra do Paraguai (São Paulo: Cia das Letras, 2002), 384–385.

  • 5. Doratioto, Maldita Guerra, 386.

  • 6. Alfredo d’Escragnolle Taunay, Memórias (São Paulo: Iluminuras, 2004), 425.

  • 7. Richard Burton, Letters from the Battlefields of Paraguay (London: Tinsley Brothers, 1870), 431–432. HathiTrust Digital Library.

  • 8. Capdevila, Una guerra total, 73.

  • 9. André Toral, Imagens em desordem: A iconografia da Guerra do Paraguai (1864–1870) (São Paulo: Humanitas, 2001), 57.

  • 10. It is unclear whether V. Mola is the signature used by an Argentinian cartoonist working in Brazil or whether it is a pseudonym used by other artists. Luciano Magno, História da caricatura brasileira, vol. I (Rio de Janeiro: Gala edições, 2012), 232.

  • 11. Bernardo Farina, El periodismo de guerra (Asunción: El Lector, 2013), Chapter 2.

  • 12. Juan Centurión, Memorias o Reminiscencias Históricas de la Guerra del Paraguay (Asunción: Biblioteca Virtual del Paraguay, 2005), 213. Biblioteca Virtual del Paraguay.

  • 13. María Baratta, “La indentidad nacional durante la Guerra del Paraguay. Representaciones, lenguajes políticos y conceptos en el diario La Nación Argentina (1862–1870)”. Almanak s/v, no. 3 (2012): 91.

  • 14. Doratioto, Maldita Guerra, 272–273; Peter Beattie, The Tribute of Blood: Army, Honor, Race, and Nation in Brazil, 1864–1870 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press), 39–41; and Ricardo Salles, Guerra do Paraguai: escravidão e cidadania na formação do exército (Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1990).

  • 15. These would be published voluntarily or in the “Publications by Request” section. See, for instance, “Voluntários da pátria” in Correio Mercantil, February 23, 1865. Biblioteca Nacional Digital.

  • 16. José Antonio Vazquez, “Portada,” El Centinela (Asunción: Centro de Documentación e Investigaciones (CDI) del Centro de Artes Visuales, Museo del Barro, 1998), 2. HathiTrust Digital Library; María Johansson, La gran máquina de publicidad: Redes transnacionales e intercambios periodísticos durante la Guerra de la Triple Alianza (Seville: Universidad Internacional de Andalucía, 2017), 91–92.

  • 17. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), 223–225.

  • 18. Leonam Silva, A Bolívia e seu protagonismo na Guerra Grande (1865–1868) (Curitiba: Apris, 2021), 98.

  • 19. El Centinela, “Dedicatoria: Exmo. Señor Mariscal Presidente,” April 15, 1867.

  • 20. Toral, Imagens em desordem, 69.

  • 21. Centurión, Memorias, 51.

  • 22. Vázquez, “Portada,” 2.

  • 23. George Thompson, The War in Paraguay (London: Longmans, Green, and co., 1869), 207. Biblioteca Brasiliana Mindlin.

  • 24. Cabichuí, “A nuestros lectores,” May 13, 1867. Biblioteca Nacional del Paraguay.

  • 25. Thompson, War in Paraguay, 207.

  • 26. Centurión, Memorias, 214.

  • 27. Centurión, Memorias, 214.

  • 28. Centurión, Memorias, 214.

  • 29. Centurión, Memorias, 214.

  • 30. Michael Huner, “Toikove Ñane Reta!: Republican Nationalism at the Battlefield Crossings of Print and Speech in Wartime Paraguay, 1867–1868” in Building Nineteenth-Century Latin America, ed. William G. Acree Jr. and Juan Carlos González Espitia (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2009), 83.

  • 31. Hérib Caballero Campos and Cayetano Ferreira Segovia, “El periodismo de guerra en el Paraguay (1864-1870)”. Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos s/v, no. 6 (2006): n.p.

  • 32. Ulrich Schmidl, Viaje al Río de la Plata, trans. Samuel Quevedo (Buenos Aires: Cabut y cía, 1903). Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes.

  • 33. Schmidl, Viaje al Río de la Plata, 173.

  • 34. On the legend of the Lambaré, see Gustavo Laterza Rivarola, Historia de Lambaré: Un pueblo, un nombre y un cacique ignotos (Asunción: Servilibro, 2009).

  • 35. Centinela, “La ex-Triple Alianza y sus vencedores,” May 9, 1867.

  • 36. The Brazilian armed forces purchased the balloons from the United States and employed them during the War of the Triple Alliance. The Paraguayans started fires and used the smoke to hinder the balloons operators’ observation and study of their territory. As one of the leaders in the adoption of this military strategy, Brazilian military leader Luís Alves de Lima e Silva, Duke of Caxias would often be caricatured holding a balloon by the Cabichuí. Nelson Lavenère-Wanderley, Os balões de observação na Guerra do Paraguai (Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Histórico Cultural da Aeronáutica, 2017). Cabichuí October 7, 1867; October 16, 1867.

  • 37. Lambaré, year I, no. 5. Biblioteca Nacional del Paraguay.

  • 38. Dionísio Cerqueira, Reminiscências da Campanha do Paraguai (Rio de Janeiro: Biblioteca do Exército, 1980), 110.

  • 39. Centurión, Memorias, 214; and Johansson, La gran máquina de publicidad, 92.

  • 40. Toral, Imagens em desordem, 74; and Josefina Plá, El grabado en el Paraguay (Asunción: Alcor, 1962), 26. HathiTrust Digital Library.

  • 41. Vazquez, “Portada,” 2.

  • 42. Some contributors were Julián Inocencio Aquino, M. Pereira Francisco Ocampo, Gregorio Baltasar Acosta, Geronimo Gregorio Caceres, J. Bargas, Francisco Velasco, J.B.S., and Saturio Rios. Plá, El grabado en el Paraguay, 22.

  • 43. Toral, Imagens em desordem, 73.

  • 44. Centurión, Memorias, 115–117; and Farina, El periodismo de guerra, Chapter 3.

  • 45. The Battle of Piribebuy is a horrendous episode in human history. Refusing to surrender, Francisco Solano López sent an underprepared group—which included children and the elderly—to fight against the Triple Alliance. The Paraguayan defenders were outnumbered at a proportion of 18 to 1 and there are numerous reports of dreadful scenes of torture, decapitations, and executions. Doratioto, Maldita guerra, 404–411; Taunay, Memórias, 451–459; Centurión, Memorias, 77–82; and Thomas Whigham, La Guerra de la Triple Alianza, v. III (Asunción: Taurus, 2012), 320–330.

  • 46. Henri Bergson, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, trans. Cloudesley Brereton and Fred Rothwell (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2011), 9. Nook.

  • 47. Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, 224.

  • 48. August 13, 1865. Anáforas/Universidad de la República.

  • 49. Doratioto, Maldita Guerra, 456–464.

  • 50. Cabichuí, August 1, 1867.

  • 51. Arlequim, October 13, 1867; and Vitor Izecksohn, Slavery and War in the Americas: Race, Citizenship, and State Building in the United States and Brazil, 1861–1870 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014), 130.

  • 52. Lilia Moritz Schwarcs, As barbas do imperador: D. Pedro II um monarca nos tópicos (São Paulo: Cia das Letras, 1998), 479. Lilia Moritz Schwarcs also presents a family dispute and Pedro II’s desire to distinguish himself from other South American heads of state as possible reasons for the prolongation of the war.

  • 53. Ignacio Telesca, “People of African Descent in Paraguay,” in The Paraguay Reader, ed. Peter Lambert and Andrew Nickson (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), 413.

  • 54. Paraguayan authorities valorized the European colonization to deny the presence and the legacy of other ethnic groups. In 1889, Paraguayan diplomat Gregorio Benítez presented the Paraguayans as “a Christian people, European by race, who speak the Spanish language.” Arsenio López Decoud—journalist and politician—affirms that “a perfect ethnic homogeneity exists among us [the Paraguayans]: our skin is not darkened by black inheritance.” Telesca, “People of African Descent,” 412–413.

  • 55. Telesca, “People of African Descent,” 215.

  • 56. Josefina Plá, Hermano negro: La esclavitud en Paraguay (Madrid: Paraninfo, 1972), 161–162.

  • 57. Plá, Hermano negro, 163.

  • 58. Thompson, War in Paraguay, 120; Plá, Hermano negro, 165; and Thompson, War in Paraguay, 120.

  • 59. Lambaré, year I, no. 5. Biblioteca Nacional del Paraguay.

  • 60. Farina, El periodismo de Guerra.

  • 61. Pablo León Burián, Bernardo Neri Farina, and Herib Caballero Campos, eds., Colección 150 años de la Guerra Grande (Asunción: El Lector, 2013).

  • 62. Toral, Imagens em desordem.

  • 63. Mauro Cesar Silveira, A Batalha de papel: A charge como arma na guerra contra o Paraguai (Florianópolis: Editora UFSC, 2009).

  • 64. Vazquez, “Portada,”; and Johansson, La gran máquina de publicidad.

  • 65. George Reid Andrews (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980).

  • 66. George Reid Andrews, Blackness in the White Nation: A History of Afro-Uruguay (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

  • 67. Izecksohn, Slavery and War in the Americas.

  • 68. Ignacio Telesca, “La historiografía paraguaya y los afrodescendientes,” in Los estudios afroamericanos y africanos en América Latina: herencia, presencia y visions del otro, ed. María José Becerra, José Maria Nunes Pereira, Juan José Vagni, Luis Beltrán, Gladys Lechini, Marta M. Maffia, Luis Ferreira Makl, Luena Nascimento Nunes Pereira, Salvador Vázquez Fernández, Fátima Valdivia del Río, Alejandro Frigerio, Ignacio Telesca, Ana Flavio Cicchelli Pires, Mario Maestri, María José Becerra, Maguemati Wabgou, Gladys Lechini, Paula Cristina da Silva Barreto, Diego Buffa, María Elena Alvarez Acosta, Diego Buffa, and Marisa Pineau (Buenos Aires: Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales, 2008), 165–186.

  • 69. Salles, Guerra do Paraguai

  • 70. Doratioto, Maldita Guerra, 272–273; Beattie, The Tribute of Blood, 39–41; Salles, Guerra do Paraguai; and Izecksohn, Slavery and War in the Americas, 130.

  • 71. Angelo Agostini, Luís Gama, and Sizenando Barreto Nabuco de Araújo, Diabo coxo: São Paulo, 1864–1865 (São Paulo: Edusp, 2005).

  • 72. Délio Freire dos Santos, Cabrião: semanário humorístico editado por Ângelo Agostini, Américo de Campos e Antônio Manoel dos Reis, 1866–1867 (São Paulo: Editora UNESP, 2001).

  • 73. Ticio Escobar, Osvaldo Salerno, Josefina Plá, and Alfredo M. Seiferheld, Cabichuí: periodico de la Guerra de la Triple Alianza (Asunción: Museo del Barro, 1984).

  • 74. Vazquez, “Portada,” 2; and Johansson, La gran máquina de publicidad, 91–92.