March 19, 2012
0150 PARAGUAY - Sistema Ferrocarril Pte. Carlos Antonio López (UNESCO WHS - Tentative List)
Many nations have earned and maintained their independence at the price of blood, but only few have paid as much as Paraguay. Stretched on both banks of the river with the same name (the second major river of the strategic Rio de la Plata Basin), which runs through the center of the country from north to south, Paraguay is sometimes referred to as Corazón de América (Heart of America). Cramped between Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, which more than 100 years have expressed their expansionist tendencies on it, this landlocked country, traditionally isolated and underpopulated, has experienced until recently an endless series of coups and dictatorships, being strained by atrocious wars and haunted by utopian plans.
Between 1865 and 1870 took place the so-called War of the Triple Alliance (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay against Paraguay), the most destructive war of modern times, ended with the near annihilation of Paraguay, which lost in these five years over 60% of the population. Although passionate, ironical and obviously leftist, the image of this war presented by the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano in Memoria del fuego it worth mentioning:
"1865 / Buenos Aires
While in North America the history wins a war [The Civil War in the United States], in South America starts another one, which the history will lost it. […] With English blessing and English loans, governments of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay start to redemption Paraguay. They sign a treaty. The Treaty says that the three go to war on behalf of peace. Paraguay will have to pay its own extermination, and winners will give it in exchange an appropriate government. In the name of the territorial integrity of Paraguay, the treaty guarantees to Brazil one third of Paraguayan territory and gives to Argentina the provinces Misiones and Chaco. But the war is waged also in the name of freedom. Brazil, which has two million slaves, promises freedom Paraguay, which has none."
Too bad I can't quote more of this fascinating book, which I recommend wholeheartedly. I add only an excerpt about the end of the war: "Of destroyed Paraguay survives language. Guarani, the Indians language, the language of the conquered learned by the conquerors, has mysterious powers. Despite bans and contempt, Guarani is the national language of this ruined homeland and will continue to be it, even if the law will oppose. Here, the mosquito will be named further the nail of God, and the dragonfly devil's little horse. The stars will continue to be the moon's fires, and the twilight, the night's mouth. In Guarani the paraguayan soldiers have spoken their prayers, their passwords and their speeches, how long lasted the war, and also in Guarani they sang. Now, the dead shut up also in Guarani." Even today, Guarani is spoken by 98% of the population, and is official language alongside the Spanish, spoken by 92% of the population.
Four years before the war, in 1861, was inaugurated the first segment of the Paraguayan's railway (from Station Saint Francis to Ybyraty-Trinidad, current Botanical Station), which will play an important role in defense of the country. Asunción Central Station has become operational in 1863, and during the war it was used as hospital, as all the other stations in the country. In 1869, all the wagons and locomotives were taken to Buenos Aires by the Argentinian army. In 1876 the government sold the train to the Italian Luis Patri, and used the money to pay back the debt to Brazil, which repaired several stretches of rails few years ago. Privatized and renationalized several times, the railroad was finally nationalized in 1961, and named it Ferrocarril Presidente Carlos Antonio López (FCPCAL).
In 1993, Permanent Delegation of Paraguay to UNESCO proposed "Sistema Ferrocarril Pte. Carlos Antonio López" to be included in World Heritage Sites. For now, the railroad is on tentative lists. FCPCAL, consisting primarily in a 440 km main line of standard gauge, link the capital city, Asunción, for Encarnación, where it was connected via ferry with the Argentinian city of Posadas, from where can reach to Buenos Aires and to Uruguayan and Brazilian railroad systems.
In 1999, FCPCAL suspended most of its commercial operations, the only exceptions being a weekly tourist steam trains between Jardín Botánico de Asunción (Asunción Botanical Gardens) and the city of Areguá (23 km, on weekends, Tren del Lago), and an additional 15 km section to the village of Ypacaraí under renovation and cross-border freight trains between Posadas in Argentina and Encarnación.
In 2009, at Botánico Station, two locomotives were kept to work, but about 3.5km outside of Botánico, the base of a centre support of the rail bridge has been eroded by the river, leaving the track suspended in the air. The journey was a very short one, with realistic photographic opportunities limited to the first couple of km, before the line passes a military installation and enters heavy vegetation. On 2010 the level of the Yacyretá Dam reservoir was raised from 76m to 83m above sea level, to take full advantage of a new hydroelectric project’s potential, flooded the old Encarnación station yard, loco depot and the track linking the station with the interchange yard, rendering the railway absolutely useless. The former main station in Asunción has been converted into a railway museum.
As regards the locomotives, three batches of very elegant Edwardian 2-6-0’s totalling 15 locomotives were built for the Paraguyan Central Railway between 1909 and 1912. Over the years the fleet was supplemented with additional 4-6-0 and 2-8-0 locomotives purchased second hand from similar concerns in Argentina and quite amazingly, most of the engines achieved a working life of 100 years in regular service. Locomotive No. 235, which appears in the picture, is a 4-6-0 (under the Whyte notation, 4-6-0 represents the wheel arrangement of four leading wheels on two axles in a leading truck, six powered and coupled driving wheels on three axles, and no trailing wheels) built in 1912, and is now in San Salvador (the former Borja station), along with another one, with number 291.
The first stamp is part of MERCOSUR - Water, a resource in short supply set, issued on October 22, 2004. In addition to this, representing birds and having the denomination of 4000 PYG, series also contains another stamp, with cats (Felis pardalis), with the denomination of 3000 PYG. The second is a Christmas stamp from 2011.
Paraguay's isolation, even if today is history, has left, of course, traces, a petty consequence being that it's a "rare country" for collectors of postcards. I was lucky to get this gorgeous postcard from Irina, an argentinian located for a while in Paraguay, whose I can't ever thank enough for the joy that she did it to me.
sender: Irina Pavluk (direct swap)
sent from Lambare (Paraguay), on 11.02.2012
foto: Philippe Bernier