Ciriaco Duarte and Anarchism in Paraguay

Ciriaco Duarte (1908-1996) was an anarchist printing worker and writer born in Encarnación (Paraguay) on 8 August 1908. He trained as a printer in his home town under Félix Cantalicio Aracuyú in the late 1920s. Aracuyú was a Paraguayan mestizo of mixed Indian and Black ancestry, an anarchist agitator in two languages, Spanish and Guarani.

In the early 1900s a ‘Rafael Barrett Cultural Centre’ had been opened by Paraguayan anarcho-syndicalists. It built up a sizable collection of books by fellow Paraguayan and foreign writers. Out of this centre grew the first 20th century Paraguayan trade unions. The FORP (Federación Obrera Regional del Paraguay/Paraguayan Regional Workers’ Federation) was founded in 1906. The drive for unionisation was strong and had been fed by foreigners such as Luis Pozzo, José Bertotto and Pietro Gori and culminated in the encouragement offered by Rafael Barrett. The outlook of the Paraguayan FORP was modelled on the approach of Argentina’s FORA (Federación Obrera Regional Argentina) organisation.

In 1916, the man who was to become a renowned Paraguayan sculptor, Ignacio Núñez Soler (1891-1983), son of a leading Liberal politician, joined with Leopoldo Ramos Giménez, Rufino Recalde Milesi, Modesto Amarilla, Manuel Núñez and others to launch a workers’ group calling itself the ‘Primero de Mayo’ (First of May) and using the black flag as its banner. Out of this body in turn in 1916 emerged the CORP (Centro Obrero Regional del Paraguay/Paraguayan Regional Workers’ Centre). The CORP enjoyed the active support of ‘Primero de Mayo’ and of Félix Cantalicio Aracuyú, Lorenzo Martinez, Silvio González Medina, Neri Caballero, Cayetano Raimundi, Máximo Larrosa, Vicente Alvarenga, Leopoldo Ruiz, Juan Venider, Tomás Flecha, J. Cano, Francisco Florentín, Anacleto Meza, Eugenio Rueda, F. Artigas, Pedro Martinez, Lorenzo Martinez, Anselmo Vega, Juan G. Cardozo, Isidoro López, Martin Correa, Alfredo Benitez, Rodolfo Morales, Carlos Irala, Estanislao Méndez, Pedro Cataldi, J. Amarilla, Tomás Roa, Emilio Cutillo and Alejo Flecha among others. CORP managed to establish branches in nearly every city across the country and its had press mouthpieces - El Combate appeared in 1919 and there were also Renovación, Protesta Humana and Prometeo (the latter run by Leopoldo Ramos Giménez and appearing in 1914). In 1922 a delegation from the Paraguayan anarchist paper Renovación published in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción attended the very first Argentinean regional anarchist congress in October. During the 1920s the IWA based in Berlin corresponded with sympathetic groups in Paraguay and the CORP was affiliated to the IWA’s continental organisation for the Americas, the ACAT (Asociación Continental Americana de Trabajadores/ American Continental Workers’ Association).

From a very early age Duarte was giving talks and making speeches at the union premises in Itapúa where the regional committee of the CORP (Paraguayan Regional Workers’ Centre) was based. After a strike by tram workers in Asunción, the government tried to break the anarcho-syndicalists, who were strong in the unions. They were rounded up and Aracuyú and a group of comrades were dumped on the Sugarloaf Mountain in Matto Grosso in the middle of the jungle, the expectation being that there they would perish. But one day the entire group arrived back in Encarnación having made the 280 league trip through the mountains under Aracuyú’s guidance by surviving on roots and fruit and whatever game they could catch.

For a time Ciriaco Duarte lived in Posadas before moving on to Asunción to work on La Palabra, the mouthpiece of the ‘Nuevo Ideario National’ (NIN) movement published between October 1930 and January 1931. This was a student- and anarchist-driven attempt at a sort of a new departure/new beginning in Paraguayan thinking. Part of its manifesto from 1929 stated: “For this struggle we will call the people on to the streets and open up the School of Revolution in the squares and on the street corners. [] Let us fight for the third and final emancipation of the Paraguayan people.” In early 1931 Duarte was on the Mixed Delegates’ Council. He also served on the strike committee of the striking bricklayers and was implicated in the planned revolution which involved the “seizure of Encarnación”. Ciriaco Duarte wrote the foreword to an essay (1985) by the Argentinean anarchist Fernando Quesada entitled 1931: The Seizure of Encarnación. The seizure of the city was the culmination of a rash of strikes and widespread leafleting by anarchists and students explaining that the coming revolution would establish anarchism in Paraguay. A ‘Nationalist Revolutionary Alliance’ (Alianza Nacionalista Revolucionaria/ALN) had been launched by anarchists among the peasantry in 1928 and the objective was to establish Paraguay as a Communal Republic, part, ultimately, of a ‘Federal Union of the Peoples of Latin America’. On 20 February 1931 the city was overrun by a group of workers from a range of nationalities, including the Portuguese José de Brito (later deported back to Portugal). One participant was Ciriaco’s old mentor, Félix Cantalicio Aracuyú. Another participant, the then anarchist Obdulio Barthe went on to join the Communist Party of Paraguay (established in 1928) in 1934, ultimately becoming its leader. The attempted revolution failed after sixteen hours when no backing was forthcoming from activists elsewhere, the revolts in Asunción, Concepción and Villarica having failed As a result of this Ciriaco found himself jailed and interned on Margarita Island in February 1931 after (Liberal Party) President José P Guggiari outlawed trade unions under Decree 39436. Seventeen captured revolutionaries, including a wounded Aracuyú were bundled on board the Tacuari, supposedly for transfer to Asunción but the boat travelled up the Paraná river, dropping the occasional ‘revolutionary’ off in the jungle until only ten remained on board; there was some talk of their being shot out of hand but a squabble with the ship’s captain resulted in their being taken back to Asunción where they spent the next 3 to 4 months in prison, after which they were released but deported to Posadas in Argentina. Aracuyú survived into the 1970s.

Duarte secretly re-entered Asunción, serving as secretary of the Workers’ Trade Union Reorganisation Council (Consejo Obrero de Reorganización Sindical/CORS). In the police crackdown on a student revolt outside the National Congress after 23 October 1931, he was injured and hospitalised. There he received first aid and managed to evade police custody thanks to help from his wife, Guillermina Torres.

He then moved with his family to the city of Caacupé, only to be rearrested and jailed in Clorinda.

He served in the Chaco War (against Bolivia, 1932-35), performing duties in the rearguard and worked as a type-setter for the presses of La Opinión, Colorado, Patria, La Tarde, La Tribuna and El Liberal and so on.

For some decades he was on the leadership of the Printing Federation, serving as Cultural Secretary. And was manager of El Obrero Gráfico (The Print Worker) which was shut down and resurrected several times at the beginning of the 1940s. He wrote articles for Emancipación during 1941 and 1946 opposing the policies of the newly created CPT (Confederación Paraguaya del Tabajo/Paraguayan Workers’ Confederation), the fascist dictatorship and the communists’ hold on the trade union movement, secured by means of the COP (Consejo Obrero Paraguaya/Paraguayan Workers’ Council). Under the government of General Morinigo, early in 1941, Ciriaco Duarte was appointed Worker Representative at the National Labour Department Departamento Nacional del Trabajo/DNT) and was targeted by innuendo coming from communist leaders with whom he bitterly argued.

Months later, a Workers’ Coordinating Committee (Comité Obrero Coordinadora/COC) embracing seamen, tram workers, bakers, print workers and other trades issued a note to President Morinigo protesting infringements of the rights of assembly and the rights to unionise and strike, acting on resolutions passed by the DNT and prompted by the police crackdown on seamen’s leaders.

They threatened to withdraw the Workers’ Delegate from the DNT unless their rights and freedoms were restored and when no response came Ciriaco Duarte tendered his resignation in October 1941. In December that year he fled a crackdown and went into exile in Formosa (Argentina), from where he was permitted to return and resume his appointment in July 1942.

He battled on relentlessly and in a later crackdown in the wake of the February 1944 general strike he was arrested by the police but freed within a few days.

After the labour movement was hijacked after 1947 by the ORO (Organización Republicana Obrera/ Republican Workers’ Organisation), he dropped out of trade union activity and devoted his time to publishing articles in trade union publications abroad and in urging research into Paraguayan trade union history. By the 1950s he was living in Formosa province in Argentina. On his return he managed for a short time to publish “news-sheets” with titles such as Cultura Socialista, El Sol or La Mañana up until Emancipación appeared in 1961. In 1966 he was jailed for a further three months for smuggling a publication called A Letter of Democracy or A Letter to Culture into the country; it had been published by franquistas (supporters of Colonel Rafael Franco, a populist leader promising social reforms, a sort of a Paraguayan Juan Perón offering social improvements from above) based in Buenos Aires. During the 1970s he had articles published in the review Reconstruir in Buenos Aires and up until he died he corresponded assiduously with South American and European anarchist bodies. And suffered harassment from dictator General Alfredo Stroessner’s secret police. He brought his collection of anarchist books to the police station and asked if he could have one to read to while away the time he was made to stand motionless facing the wall by Stroessner’s torturers; he was in his 70s at the time.

In 1985 he published a short over-view entitled Hombres y Obras del sindicalismo libre en el Paraguay (Personalities and Feats of Free Trade Unionism in Paraguay), out of which grew his book Sindicalismo Libre en el Paraguay, published in 1987, containing doctrinal, historical and autobiographical materials. It was later reprinted in an expanded edition in Asunción by R. Péroni. The book is divided into four sections: 1. Doctrinal and tactical aspects of Free Trade Unionism, 2. Historical Background: Mutual Societies and Labour Unions, 3. The Paraguayan Regional Workers’ Federation (FORP) and 4. Precursors and Protagonists. Duarte helped Ignacio Nùñez Soler, three times secretary of the CORP, write a memoir of his syndicalist youth, Evocaciones de un sindicalista revolucionario (1980).

By then quite elderly, Duarte was still working on Asunción’s Hoy newspaper as a proof-reader. Regarded as the last towering figure in Paraguayan anarchism, he died in Asunción on 27 September 1996.