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Franco, Rafael (1897–1973)

Franco, Rafael (1897–1973)

Rafael Franco (b. 1897; d. 1973), Paraguayan president (1936–1937), Chaco War military figure, and founder of the Partido Revolucionario Febrerista, or Febrerista Party.

In December 1928 Paraguayan forces led by Major Rafael Franco, a relatively unknown army officer, launched an unprovoked attack against Bolivian-held Fortín Vanguardia in the disputed Chaco region. This incident, though successful in its immediate aim, was repudiated by the Asunción government, which was seeking a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Now regarded as an uncontrollable hothead, Franco lost his command, only to be recalled in 1932 when the border dispute gave way to open war. Franco's military exploits in the conflict were noteworthy, though hardly more so than his open political maneuvering against the Liberal regime of Eusebio Ayala. With the conclusion of the fighting, Franco, now a colonel, made his own position clear: on 17 February 1936, he led the armed forces in a mutiny that swept Ayala from office and installed the colonel as dictator.

Franco had no intention of ruling in the manner of previous dictators. He announced a reform program that focused on land redistribution, workers' rights, and statist politics. Before he could implement these plans, his regime was overthrown in August 1937 by military leaders loyal to the Liberal Party. Franco went into exile, though he remained influential in revolutionary circles within Paraguay.

From exile, the former colonel organized the Febrerista Party, a curious movement that drew support from students, workers, some military officers, and both left- and right-wing ideologues. The Febreristas burst onto the Paraguayan political scene in 1946, when dictator Higínio Morínigo invited Franco to return to the country to participate in a coalition government. This coalition failed to materialize, however, and one year later the situation degenerated into civil war with the Liberals, Communists, and Franco's Febreristas on one side and the Colorados (and the majority of the military) on the other. Franco commanded the rebel forces in the fighting but, after a short time, had to accept defeat and exile once again.

The Febreristas retained some of their influence in Paraguay, though, as the years went by, the movement abandoned its earlier radicalism and adopted a social democratic line. Franco returned several times from exile at the behest of Alfredo Stroessner (president 1954–1989); the Febrerista Party was permitted, in a limited way, to contest several elections after 1964, with the understanding that they would present little more than token opposition to the governing Colorados. Franco accepted this as a necessary compromise, but his own death in 1973 left the Febreristas without viable leadership.

See alsoChaco War; Paraguay, Political Parties: Febrerista Party.


Harris Gaylord Warren, "Political Aspects of the Paraguayan Revolution, 1936–1940," in Hispanic American Historical Review 30: 1 (1950), pp. 2-25.

Paul H. Lewis, The Politics of Exile: Paraguay's Febrerista Party (1968).

José Carlos Marcet, Antecedentes, desarollo y resultado de la Guerra del Chaco (1974).

Additional Bibliography

Amaral, Raúl. Los presidentes del Paraguay (1844–1954): Crónica política. Asunción: Centro Paraguayo de Estudios Sociológicos, 1994.

Farcau, Bruce W. The Chaco War: Bolivia and Paraguay, 1932–1935. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.

Rahi, Arturo. Franco y la revolución de febrero. Asunción: Augusto Gallegos, 2001.

                          Marta FernÁndez Whigham

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