Palacios, Manuel Antonio

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Paraguayan bishop, executed for his supposed involvement in a conspiracy against the republic; b. Luque, near Asunción, July 1824; d. Lomas Valentinas, Dec. 21, 1868. He attended the literary academy where he was a brilliant student. In September 1848 he was ordained by Bishop López. When he was curate of Villeta, he was proposed, on Nov. 20, 1862, as auxiliary bishop by the president of the republic, Francisco Solano López. He was consecrated in the Cathedral of Asunción on Aug. 30, 1863, by Bishop Urbieta, whom he succeeded on Jan. 29, 1865. From the beginning of the Paraguayan War, he served as first chaplain of the army, accompanying Marshal López as friend and confidant. However, by order of López, he was taken prisoner in San Fernando, along with several other persons accused of treason to Paraguay and its government. In 1868 he was condemned to death in a summary judgment at Lomas Valentinas and was executed by firing squad in company with Benigno López, the marshal's brother; Gen. Vicente Barrios, the marshal's brother-in-law; José Berjes, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Eugenio Bogado, Vicar General; José María Leite Pereira, Consul of Portugal; Capt. Simón Fidanza of the Italian Navy in the service of Paraguay; Col. Paulino Alem, former commandant of Humaitá; Juan Bautista Zalduondo, nephew of Palacios; and three distinguished ladies from Asunción.

The cause and manner of Palacios's death have given an unhappy fame to his episcopate, although the truth of the San Fernando conspiracy has been much discussed. The prosecutor himself, a relative of Palacios, later referred to it as a "supposed" plot. Further, the accused were denied the right of defense; the trials were secret; and the confessions were extracted by whippings, by an old form of military punishment known as "cepo," and by crushing the fingers with a hammer. Scholars now believe that the plot never existed, that the sentencing and execution of a group of prominent men and women was simply a desperate attempt by Marshal López to maintain the morale of a decimated population whose total destruction was increasingly imminent. According to the most reliable documents and the statements of some survivors, it had become clear that the Paraguayan cause in the war was definitely lost when Paraguayan resistance on the southern frontier was broken with the fall of Humaitá. Two opposing factions resulted: those who believed it preferable to risk total destruction of their country rather than see it submit to an iniquitous tyranny and become the victim of injustice; and those who believed that such an extreme position was inhuman and useless, that no people should be obliged to sacrifice itself completely. Bishop Palacios and the others who were executed held the second opinion, as the statements of the prosecutor of the trial indicated.

Bibliography: s. gaona, El clero en la guerra del 70 (2d ed. Asunción 1961).

[a. n. acha duarte]