150 years ago, just as the American Civil War was drawing to its close, Latin America’s deadliest war was just getting going. The War of the Triple Alliance pitted Paraguay against Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
The war was sparked by a coup in Uruguay in 1864, which Brazil and Argentina backed. Paraguay had been involved in boundary and tariff disputes with its powerful neighbours for years, and its dictator, Francisco Solano López, believed the coup threatened the regional balance of power so he went to war with Brazil.
Brazil joined up with Argentina and the new Uruguayan government to form the Triple Alliance, and they declared war on May 1, 1865. The fighting ended five years later in Paraguay’s total defeat. About 400,000 died, and the effect on Paraguay was devastating as the population was reduced from about 525,000 to just 221,000, of whom only 28,000 were men. There the conflict is known as the ‘Great War’.
An exhibition of remarkable photographs of the war is now being toured around Paraguay. They were commissioned by a Montevideo photo shop owner, who had spotted how well scenes of Civil War battlefields had sold in the US.