The Presidential Palace in Asuncion is one of the most striking and beautifully maintained buildings in the city. Tucked away in a side street is a cute little cafe with a terrace overlooking the Palace. What we thought would be a quiet breakfast turned out to be quite a show. There was an impeccably arranged procession taking place in the Palace entrance, with the military, navy (yes, Paraguay has a navy!) and the Police band.
My mother-in-law and I felt like royals overlooking the procession from the cafe balcony. We were the only ones there. Well, us and an armed security guard of course. The weather was spectacular with a nice breeze; an umbrella protected us from the sun. We casually sat and sipped our cafes con leche and ate our mixtos (ham and cheese toast).
We watched curiously as we tried to figure out what was happening. They even layed out a continuous red carpet from the street corner all the way to the entrance, so it had to be something grandious. We were told that it was the inauguration ceremony of new foreign Ambassadors to Paraguay. Sure enough, minutes later, a van arrived with about six Ambassadors from what looked like Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. They proceeded down the red carpet and then stood in front of the Palace as the Police band played the national anthem.
It was such a big hurrah for a procession and inauguration that couldn’t have lasted longer than 20 minutes. The military and navy had been standing for hours in the hot Paraguayan sun before the dignitaries arrived and then waited until the dignitaries were back on their way again. It was quite something. It does make you think how much goes into ensuring protocol and how many precious resources are spent on it. It’s beautiful to watch, sure, but is it really necessary?
Sitting there also made me reflect on the history of Paraguay in the context of what I was observing. Built by a Hungarian engineer and English architect in the 19th century, around 1857, the Presidential Palace – or Palacio de los Lopez – was the dream of the famous Francisco Solano Lopez, a.k.a Mariscal Lopez, who proceeded the reign of his father Carlos Lopez. Construction began during the reign of Carlos and continued through to the reign of Mariscal Lopez who led the country into the devastating Triple Alliance War during which parts of the Presidential Palace were destroyed.
What was set out to be a luxurious living quarter for the Lopez family, turned out to be a dream unaccomplished, for it wasn’t until long after their reign and the War that the Palace would be used as a Presidencial residence (in 1894). After serving as the residence for several decades, it was later only used as the workplace for the President and no longer the residence.
It was also in this building that the dictator Alfredo Stroessner governed Paraguay during 35 harsh years until 1989, the second longest dictatorship in modern Latin America behind Fidel Castro in Cuba. The building thus lived through some of Paraguays most important historical periods. It made me reflect on all the good and very bad times the country and its people have gone through.
All in all it was an unexpectedly interesting and historically reflective morning breakfast on a Wednesday morning in Asuncion.