Not only did Delaware celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Rutherford B. Hayes on Oct. 4, so did the Paraguayan ambassador to the United States.
José Antonio Dos Santos explained why the 19th U.S. president means so much to his country at a lunchtime talk in Ohio Wesleyan University’s Merrick Hall.
“It is a great honor to be representing Paraguay on the 200th birthday of President Hayes,” Dos Santos said. Beside him was a large map of South America. Paraguay is in the middle of the continent, landlocked but having river access to the Atlantic Ocean. Dos Santos said his country is the size of California, with a population of 7 million (similar to Massachusetts).
Dos Santos said Spanish explorers arrived in what is now Paraguay in 1524, and the country declared independence in 1811. However, it later fought in a war with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay from 1864-70. Dos Santos said it is known in Paraguay as the Triple Alliance War, while others know it as the Paraguayan War. At any rate, more than half of Paraguay’s population (and most of its men) died in what Dos Santos called “the bloodiest war in South America’s history.” In addition, it lost much of its land.
A few years later, Argentina and Paraguay were still disputing over its borders, so they agreed to have it settled by an independent arbitrator. Then-President Hayes was named, and his ruling more than doubled the size of Paraguay.
As a result, there is a large area of land (called a department) in Paraguay known as Presidente Hayes. Its capital is called Villa Hayes. Dos Santos described it as “still a very wild region” of the country. Each November (when the ruling was issued), there is a weeklong celebration in Presidente Hayes, although the man himself never visited the country.
“Hayes is truly a hero to the people of Paraguay,” Dos Santos said.
Given this background, it is perhaps fitting then Paraguay’s national motto is “Paz y justicia” (peace and justice). Dos Santos said all four nations involved in the war now have friendly relations.
Before Dos Santos spoke, three OWU students from the capital of Asunción, Paraguay, were introduced as part of a scholarship program that has been instituted between the nation and the university. The students said they were excited to be here. It was noted that not only was Hayes born in Delaware, but he also proposed to his wife, Lucy, at OWU and later became a trustee.