I remember a conversation on a long winter evening during
In that year (1721) Don Jose de Antequera was appointed to succeed the Governor of Paraguay, Don Diego de los Reyes Balmaceda, when his term of office had expired. The situation was, as often happened in the Spanish colonies, complicated by an inquiry into the conduct of the Governor (Balmaceda), in progress at the High Court of Charcas, which court, as in the case of Cardenas, acted most cautiously, both on account of its position, so far from Paraguay, and on account of the inordinate procrastination of everything connected with the Spanish law. If Balmaceda were condemned, then Antequera would step into his shoes at once. If, on the other hand, he were acquitted, Antequera would have to wait until the legal time of office had run its course. So far all was in order, but the High Court, either in doubt of its own wisdom or of its power to pronounce judgment definitely, had issued a decree suspending Balmaceda from his functions, but without either condemning or acquitting him. This, too, they did after having taken more than three years to sift the evidence and summon witnesses, who either had to cross the country on a mule at the imminent risk of death by famine or by Indians, or, having descended the river Plate to Buenos Ayres (which journey often took a month), wait for a ship to take them round Cape Horn to Lima, and from thence travel to Charcas on muleback, following one of the Incas' roads.
Don Jose de Antequera y Castro was born at Lima, and being, as Father Charlevoix* says, an able, eloquent, but vain and most ambitious man, endowed with plenty of imagination, some talent, and but little ballast, was not content to wait till time should place him in his governorship. So, hearing that a judge inquisitor was to be sent to Paraguay to inquire into the case, and having graduated himself and held the position of procurator fiscal in the Charcas, he solicited the post, and by some error was appointed.
-- * Charlevoix, vol. ii., livre xvii. --
No sooner was the appointment signed than straight he posted off to Paraguay. As he had studied in the college of the Jesuits at La Plata, his first visit was to the reductions of the Jesuits. The missionaries received him well, and sent a troop of Indians to escort him to the boundary of their territories, never suspecting what Antequera was about to do. Having heard that the Governor, Balmaceda, was at a distant port upon the Parana, Antequera hastened to Asuncion. Arrived there, the same madness of authority seems to have come on him which came fifty or sixty years before his time on Cardenas. Finding no special seat reserved for him in the Cathedral, he publicly reproved the dean, to the great scandal of the worshippers. This seems not to have lost him the respect of the citizens of Asuncion, who were accustomed to all kinds of vagaries, both of their rulers and their spiritual guides. No sort of violence to laws and customs seems ever to affect a people unless the violence is done to benefit them, when instantly they rise against the breaker of the law, however heavily it may bear upon themselves.
But the devoted citizens of Asuncion were so accustomed to perpetual turmoil that, as Dean Funes* says, `they only stopped when it was absolutely necessary for them to breathe.' Even the overpraised citizens of Athens at the time of Pericles, who must have been in all their ways so like the Athenians of to-day, were not more instant in the Agora or diligent in writing patriots' names on oyster-shells than the noisy mob of half-breed patriots who in the sandy streets of Asuncion were ever agitating, always assembling, and doing everything within their power to show the world the perfect picture of a democratic State. Strange that such turbulent and patriotic people should have been ancestors of those whom I, after the termination of the war with Buenos Ayres and Brazil in 1870, knew as lethargic and downtrodden, as if the great dictator, Dr. Francia, whom the country people, speaking in bated breath, called `El Difunto', had still oppressed the land. Into the turbulent hotbed of Asuncion fell Antequera, one of those Creoles of Peru who, born with talent and well educated, seemed, either from the circumstances of their birth or the surroundings amongst which they passed their youth, to differ as entirely from the Spaniards as if they had been Indians and not Creoles of white blood. Like Cardenas, Antequera was endowed with eloquence; but, unlike Cardenas, he set no store on eloquence upon its own account, but only used it for his own advancement in the world. Finding the Governor absent from Asuncion and lying under a decree suspending him from all his functions, it seems at once to have occurred to Antequera to seize his place. On this account, having ingratiated himself with some of those opposed to Balmaceda, he raised an army, and sent to seize him; but the Governor, having notice of the plot, escaped to Corrientes, and Antequera instantly assumed his post. This was too much for the Viceroy of Peru, who, though he had befriended Antequera in the past, had some respect for law. Immediately he issued a decree replacing Balmaceda in the governorship, and ordering Antequera to give him back the power he had usurped. This Antequera had no thought of doing, and he embarked on a career of violence which induced some to believe he intended to proclaim himself an independent king. Whether this was or was not the case, a state of things arose in Paraguay more pandemonic even than in the good old times of Cardenas. The Jesuits, not having seen their way to sustain the cause of their ex-pupil, were expelled once more (1725), and as before took ship for Corrientes amongst the tears of the people, their historians say,** and as Ibanez and those who have written against them affirm as strongly, amongst universal joy. Certain it is that in Asuncion they played a different part from that played by them in the mission territory, and no doubt mixed, as did the other Orders of religion, in the intrigues which never seemed to cease in the restless capital of Paraguay.
-- * Funes, `Ensayo de la Historia Civil del Paraguay', etc., vol. ii., cap. v., p. 231. ** Del Techo, Lozano, Guevara, Charlevoix, etc., etc. --
Not being content with the expulsion of the Jesuits, Antequera defeated several generals sent against him by the Viceroy of Peru, and by a `coup de main' took prisoner the ex-Governor Balmaceda, having surprised him in his house in Corrientes, and carried him back to Asuncion under a close guard. The usual reign of terror then began, and everything fell into confusion, till at last the King (Philip V.) in 1726 commanded that the Jesuits should be reinstated in their college in Asuncion, and that the missions should be taken from the jurisdiction of the Governors of Paraguay and placed under the control of the Governor of the River Plate, as had been previously done in the case of the other Jesuit missions beyond the Uruguay. But Spain was far away, and on one pretext or another so much delay occurred that it was not till March 18, 1728, that the Jesuits were reinstated in the college in Asuncion, which they were now fated to hold but for a little space. At last the Viceroy of Peru, the Marquess of Castel Fuerte, sent Don Bruno de Zavala with a sufficient army and six thousand Indians from the missions against the usurper Antequera, who fled for refuge to the Franciscan convent in Cordoba, where he remained, till, finding his position quite untenable, he fled to Charcas, where he was arrested, and sent to Lima to await his trial. Four years he waited in perfect liberty, going and coming about the town as it best pleased him, whilst the High Court heard evidence, wrote to Madrid, received instructions from the King, and generally displayed the incapacity which in all ages has been the chief distinctive features of every court of law.
In 1731 an order came from Madrid to execute him, and without loss of time he was placed on a horse draped all in black, and, preceded by a herald and guarded by a troop of guards, taken out to the public square to be beheaded. But the good people of the capital, who, in the fashion of the world, would not most probably have stirred a step to save a saint, were mightily concerned to see a rogue receive his due deserts. The streets were filled with thousands crying out `Pardon!' stones flew, and the affair looked so threatening that the Viceroy had to get on horseback and ride amongst the crowd to calm the tumult. The people met him with a shower of stones, and he, fearing the prisoner would escape, called on his guards to fire upon him. Four balls pierced Antequera, who fell dying from his horse into the arms of two accompanying priests. Thus the most turbulent of all the Governors of Paraguay ceased troubling, and the executioner, after having cut off his head, exhibited it to the people from the scaffold, with the usual moral aphorism as to the traitor's fate.
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