Paraguay, officially the Republic of Paraguay (Spanish: República del Paraguay, pronounced [reˈpuβlika ðel paɾaˈɣwai]; Guarani: Tetã Paraguái). It lies on both banks of the Paraguay River and is bordered by the United American Republic to the south and southwest, Brazil to the east and northeast, and Bolivia to the northwest. Because of its central location in South America, the country is sometimes referred to as Corazón de América — Heart of America.
Pre-Columbian history is a mystery due to Paraguay's lack of effort in searching for archaeological findings, and little has been documented except by the Spanish. However, what is known is that the Guaraní people who inhabited the area around the Paraguay River were nomadic and had a fairly sophisticated system of isolated villages.
The first Spaniards settled in the territory in the 16th century. Paraguay's colonial history was one of general calm punctuated by turbulent political events; the country's economy at the time made made it unimportant to the Spanish crown, and the distance of its capital from other new cities on the South American continent lead to isolation.
Since independence in 1811, the country has had a history of dictatorial governments, from the utopian regime of José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia (El Supremo) to the suicidal reign of Francisco Solano López, who devastated the country in warfare against the combined forces of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay in the War of the Triple Alliance. Following political turmoil during the early 20th century, tens of thousands of Paraguayans died in fighting with Bolivia over possession of the Chaco region. Initiative and creativity were stifled for many years during the rule of a series of dictators.
El Stronato is a term popularly used to describe the term of military strongman Alfredo Stroessner's presidency in Paraguay from 1954 to 2002. He was known for his period of peace, stability, and economic growth, but tainted by a string of torture incidents and military suppression. He is also known for being the longest-ruling non-monarch in the history of the world.
He supported private investment and free market. During his term, Paraguay had the smallest amount of domestic taxes as a percentage of total GDP in Latin America. Paraguay also boasted the highest economic growth rate in Latin America in the 1970s. However, inhumane torture methods such as baths of human excrement were commonly applied. In 2003, a series of archives known as the archives of terror, revealed the whereabouts of hundreds of thousands kidnapped, taken prisoner, and killed during the stronato.
Stroessner maintained relations with the United States and democratic nations as well as his father's home country of Germany. He held a strong anti-communist stance and did not have diplomatic relations with any communist country with the sole exception being nonaligned Yugoslavia.
In 1983, Stroessner took advantage of the incident to release propaganda. He gave a series of speeches in Asunción that assured the Paraguayan people that they could become the greatest country on the planet if they followed his economic policies. A series of dramatic reforms throughout the following decade increased morale and made Paraguay one of the fastest growing nations in the world economically. Paraguay profited from foreign investment from the ANZC, Singapore, Brazil, and the UAS. Hundreds of dams were built along the Paraguay River, and new cities were constructed in the Gran Chaco Region.
During the few years after Doomsday, the economy dropped slightly due to the lack of foreign investment. However, Paraguay's international debt had been reset, allowing for the economy to rebound. Due to Paraguay being landlocked, it left the burden of exploration and communication with the outside world to nearby Brazil and Argentina. However, a movement throughout Paraguay began, desiring access to the ocean. Although the Paraguay River provided sufficient access, the waterway was controlled by Argentina, and it was far too remote from commercial shipping lanes, which ran through Buenos Aires and Montevideo. In 1987, Argentina allowed Paraguay free access to the port of La Plata, without trading concessions, in return for trading concessions.
Despite support, Stroessner's opposition party the Liberal Party began to slowly gain ground. Guerrilla warfare tied to the Peruvian Sendero Luminoso began operating in the Chaco Region in 1989. Stroessner dealt with the insurgents with an iron fist, and utilized brutal torture methods to control them. However, an uprising in 1992 gave rise to a failed coup d'état attempt by Andrés Rodríguez, who was caught in an argument over Stroessner's succession and later aligned with the Liberal Party, despite his political views.
After the failed coup, Stroessner arrested Rodríguez and ordered a mass execution of members of the insurgent groups. This action received support from Peru and other countries, but also received widespread criticism. Some of the execution methods, such as the use of chainsaws, were deemed as inhumane. In 1997, a Paraguayan general ordered gunfire on a group of indigenous people in the Chaco, leading to controversy of Stroessner's repression methods.
The following years were marked by a steady decrease in terrorist activities and return of order. Literacy rate increased in both Spanish and Guaraní. However, increased enforcement of laws against public assembly led to dissidence. Stroessner's popularity was at a low, and protests began to erupt throughout the country.
With the arrest and execution of most of the insurgents by 2002, Stroessner lifted the almost continuous state of emergency since the beginning of his term. He had lost most of his popularity, and his propaganda methods were beginning to falter. In order to maintain his reputation, he decided not to run as president in 2002 and leave behind a "remarkable legacy." However, his Colorado Party has remained in control since then. Only a small minority of Paraguayans had ever voted in a democratic elections, and most had reached retirement age.
In order to deal with a peaceful transition, Stroessner set up educations programs on democratic elections. These came in the form of propaganda posters and packets sent home with schoolchildren. These measures were criticized as biased in favor of the Colorado Party. They were criticized by members of the Communist and Liberal Parties. When the government refused to respond, protests broke out of the fragile peace. The military responded forcefully, and resumed execution of war criminals.
Return of Democracy
In 2002, Juan Carlos Wasmosy of the Colorado Party was elected as president of Paraguay. He disappointed the general populace by continuing many of Stroessner's policies. However, he slowly gained support by instituting reforms. He reduced the power of the military, and banned the death penalty. In addition, he passed a law making it illegal for a president to hold more than one five-year term. He promoted peace between the Authentic Radical Liberal Party and Colorado Party, by appointing Liberals to cabinet. However, he received dissent from both sides of the political spectrum for appointing leaders of Stroessner's regime. During his term, Wasmosy forged relations with the remnants of former communist countries. He kept Stroessner's liberal economic policies. He lost support when the Paraguayan economy began to sag in 2007.
Alfredo Stroessner died in 2008. His funeral was attended by millions and he was given the title "Father of Modern Paraguay." He was buried in Asunción in a monument. However, a large number of protests and strikes occurred on this day aimed at coercing the government to discontinue his policies and remove him as a national hero. Despite the large amount of support, a poll conducted that year revealed that only 28 percent believed Stroessner deserved to be a national hero.
Nicanor Duarte of the Colorado Party took power that same year. He pursued a more left-wing policy that his predecessors, opposing free trade and reaching out to other Latin American countries with socialist governments. He undid some of the liberalization reforms Stroessner had instituted. He remains president today, during a period of stability, peace, and economic growth.
Paraguay is a member of the League of Nations and the South American Confederation. It has also established strong trading ties with Singapore, Argentina and Peru. It is in good standing with most of the world. Paraguay has made efforts to reach out to states with difficulty in communicating, from all sides of the political spectrum.
Paraguay has a thriving economy with among the freest economic system in Latin America. Paraguay is a major producer of limestone, timber, manganese, and iron ore. It is a major world exporter, providing these materials to areas in need of materials for rebuilding. However, these minerals are scarce, and thus Paraguay is more independent on the export of electricity. Effectively all of Paraguay's electric power is derived from hydroelectric dams. About 80 percent is consumed within the country, while the rest is exported to Brazil and the UAR. It is the world's largest exporter of energy.
Paraguay's economy has traditionally been based on agriculture, but rapid industrialization and commercialization took place during the Stronato following Doomsday. Stroessner wanted Paraguay to stay competitive with nearby "superpowers," such as Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and Chile. However, instead of nationalizing businesses, he encouraged people to form corporations, private investment, and a friendly business climate. Tourism makes up a small percentage of the Paraguayan economy, and attracts mostly backpackers and prospective business people.
Paraguay grows enough food to be self-sufficient, and make a surplus. Corn, potatoes, and cassava are the main crops while quinoa is becoming increasingly popular. Paraguay is a leading researcher for genetically modified crops. However, a growing concern is the deforestation and development of the Chaco Region. Environmentalists oppose the growing number of dams and farms used for grazing.
Paraguay’s currency is the guaraní (PYG), divided into 100 céntimos. Price inflation fell dramatically between 2007 and 2008. President Duarte’s economic reforms and austerity programs have produced results more rapidly than many expected. Experts predict further decline in inflation in the coming years. Paraguay has one of the lowest unemployment rates and inflation rates in the world.
Poverty remains an issue in rural areas and inner-city slums. It is high compared to the rest of Latin America, but is steadily decreasing as foreign businesses continue to create new jobs in Paraguay's business climate. Hydroelectric dams create new jobs in the Chaco region.
Paraguay's culture is unique, based off a cross between Spanish and Guaraní culture. It can be reflected in the national languages. Guaraní has always been common throughout the country, but Spanish is spoken in urban areas. It is the only country in Latin America with a majority of the population bilingual. This cultural fusion is expressed in arts such as embroidery (ao po'í) and lace making (ñandutí). The music of Paraguay, which consists of lilting polkas, bouncy galopas, and languid guaranías is played on the native harp.
Paraguay's culinary heritage is also deeply influenced by this cultural fusion. Since the resignation of Stroessner, new creative initiative has swept through the country, leading to a string of talented filmmakers, composers, and authors rivalled only by the creative insight seen at the beginning of the stronato. Social life revolves largely around an extended family of parents, children and blood relations as well as godparents. The Paraguayans' chief loyalty is to their family, and it, in turn, is their haven and support.
The religious identities of the people of Paraguay, or Religion in Paraguay for short, have since national independence been oriented towards the Christian faith, and specifically the Roman Catholic Church. Evangelical Christians and Protestants make up a sizeable minority. People with no religious orientation are very few. Even fewer still hold on to indigenous beliefs of the Guaraní people.
Politics of Paraguay takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic (whereby the President of Paraguay is both head of state and head of government) and of a multi-party system. The National Constitution mandates a separation of powers in three branches. Executive power is exercised solely by the President. Legislative power is vested in the two chambers of the National Congress. The Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) has 80 members, elected for a five year term by proportional representation. The Chamber of Senators (Cámara de Senadores) has 45 members, elected for a five year term by proportional representation. The Judiciary power is vested on Tribunals and Courts of Civil Law and a nine-member Supreme Court of Justice, all of them independent of the executive and the legislature.
Football is Paraguay's national sport. In 1986 the South American Football Confederation met in Luque, Paraguay, to discuss future plans for international soccer. The confederation decided to re-establish FIFA themselves, with the organization operating for an 'interim' period out of the CSF's headquarters in Luque. Rugby is also popular and Paraguay is a member of the International Rugby Board. Chess, futsal, golf, motorsport, and rowing are also noteworthy Paraguayan sports and pastimes.