Paraguay

Paraguay

Paraguay ˈpɛərəɡwaɪ/, officially the Republic of Paraguay (Spanish: República del Paraguay, pronounced: [reˈpuβlika ðel paɾaˈɣwai]; Guaraní: Tetã Paraguái [teˈtã paɾaˈɣʷaj]), is a landlocked country in South America. It is bordered by Argentina to the south and southwest, Brazil to the east and northeast, and Bolivia to the northwest. Paraguay lies on both banks of the Paraguay River, which runs through the center of the country from north to south. Due to its central location in South America, it is sometimes referred to as Corazón de América, or the Heart of America.

The Guaraní have been living in Paraguay since prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, when Paraguay became part of the Spanish colonial empire. Following independence from Spain in 1811 Paraguay was ruled by a series of dictators who followed isolationist and protectionist policies. This development was truncated by the disastrous Paraguayan War (1864–1870) against Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Since then Paraguay's relations with these three countries have improved and in 1994 the country joined with them to found Mercosur.

As of 2009 the population was estimated at 6.3 million. The capital and largest city is Asunción. The official languages are Spanish and Guaraní, both being widely spoken in the country, with around 92% of the general population speaking Spanish and 98% speaking Guaraní. Most of the population are mestizos.

In 2010, Paraguay experienced the largest economic expansion in Latin America and the second fastest in the world, only after Qatar.

Etymology

The name of the river, Paraguay, is thought to come from Guaraní para, "of many varieties", and gua, "riverine".

There is no conclusive explanation for the origin of the name Paraguay, however. The most common interpretations that have been suggested include:

  1. "River which originates a sea"
  2. The Spanish officer and scientist Félix de Azara suggests two versions: water from the Payaguas (Payaguá-and Payagua-i), referring to natural Payaguas living on the coasts of the river, and the other was due to the name of a great chief called "Paraguaio."
  3. The French-Argentine historian and writer Paul Groussac argued that it meant "river that flows through the sea (Pantanal)."
  4. The ex-president and Paraguayan politician, Juan Natalicio Gonzalez said it meant "river of the habitants of the sea."
  5. Fray Antonio Ruiz de Montoya said that it meant "river crowned."

Geography

Paraguay is divided by the Río Paraguay into the eastern region, called Eastern Paraguay (Paraguay Oriental) and known as the Paraná region; and the western region, officially called Western Paraguay (Paraguay Occidental) and also known as the Chaco. The country lies between latitudes 19° and 28°S, and longitudes 54° and 63°W. The terrain consists of grassy plains and wooded hills in the east. To the west, there are mostly low, marshy plains.

Climate

The local climate ranges from subtropical to temperate, with substantial rainfall in the eastern portions, though becoming semi-arid in the far west.

History

Pre-Columbian society in the wooded, fertile region which is now Paraguay consisted of seminomadic tribes, who were recognized for their fierce warrior traditions. These indigenous tribes were members of five distinct language families, and 17 separate ethnolinguistic groups remain today.

Europeans first arrived in the area in the early sixteenth century, and the settlement of Asunción was founded on 15 August 1537, by the Spanish explorer Juan de Salazar de Espinosa. The city eventually became the center of a Spanish colonial province, as well as the primary site of the Jesuit missions and settlements in South America in the eighteenth century. Jesuit Reductions were founded, and flourished in eastern Paraguay for about 150 years, until the expulsion of the Jesuits by the Spanish crown in 1767. Paraguay overthrew the local Spanish administration on 15 May 1811. Paraguay's first ruler was the dictator Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia. He ruled Paraguay from 1814, until his death in 1840, with very little outside contact or influence, creating a utopian society based on Rousseau's Social Contract. After his death, Paraguay went through the very brief ownership of various military officers under a new junta, until the secretary Carlos Antonio Lopez, Francia's nephew, declared himself dictator. Lopez modernized Paraguay, and opened it up to foreign commerce. The relationship with Buenos Aires was limited to a non-aggression pact; Paraguayan independence from Argentina was declared in 1842. After Lopez's death, power was transferred to his eldest son, Francisco Solano Lopez in 1862. Lopez's expansionist aims lead to the War of the Triple Alliance in 1864. Paraguay fought against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, and was defeated in 1870 after five years of the bloodiest war in South America. According to William D. Rubinstein, "The normal estimate is that of a Paraguayan population of somewhere between 450,000 and 900,000, only 220,000 survived the war, of whom only 28,000 were adult males." Paraguay also suffered extensive territorial losses to Brazil and Argentina.

The Chaco War was fought with Bolivia in the 1930s, and Bolivia was defeated. Paraguay re-established sovereignty over the region called the Chaco, but forfeited additional territorial gains as a price of peace.

The official narrative of Paraguay's history is fraught with disputes among historians, educators and politicians. The "authentic" version of historical events, wars in particular, varies depending on whether it was written in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Europe, or North America.

Both the Colorado Party and Liberal Party maintain distinct official versions of Paraguayan history. During the pillaging of Asuncion (Saqueo de Asunción) in 1869, the Brazilian Imperial Army ransacked and relocated the Paraguayan National Archives to Rio de Janeiro where they have been kept in secrecy, making Paraguayan history in the Colonial and early National periods difficult to study.

Between 1904 and 1954, Paraguay had thirty-one presidents, most of whom were removed from office by force.

From 1954 to 1989, the country was ruled by Alfredo Stroessner and the Colorado party. The dictator oversaw an era of economic expansion, but at the cost of a poor human rights and environmental record (see "Political History"). Torture and death for political opponents was routine. After his overthrow, the Colorado continued to dominate national politics until 2008.

Leftist former bishop Fernando Lugo achieved a historic victory in Paraguay's presidential election of April 2008, defeating the ruling party candidate, and ending 61 years of conservative rule. Lugo won with nearly 41% of the vote, compared to almost 31% for Blanca Ovelar of the Colorado party.

Government and politics

Paraguay is a representative democratic republic, with a multi-party system and separation of powers in three branches. Executive power is exercised solely by the President, who is head of state and head of government. Legislative power is vested in the two chambers of the National Congress. The judiciary 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.

Political history

Pre-1980

Paraguay gained its independence from Spain in 1811, and its first president was Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, who was originally appointed with Fulgencio Yegros as alternative consul, but in 1814, de Francia was appointed president. He established new laws that more or less completely removed the powers of the church and the cabinet, forbade colonial citizens from marrying one other, being allowed to marry only blacks, mulattoes or natives, and cut off Paraguay from the rest of South America. Because of de Francia's abolition of freedom, and his drive for complete power, Yegros and several other ex-politicians attempted to host a coup-d'etat against him, which failed, and they were imprisoned for life.

After World War II, politics became particularly unstable, with several political parties fighting for power in the late 1940s, which most notably brought about the Paraguayan civil war of 1947. A series of unstable governments ensued until the establishment, in 1954, of the stable regime of dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who remained in office for more than three decades, until 1989. Paraguay was modernized to some extent under Stroessner's regime, although his rule was marked by extensive abuses.

Post-1979

The splits in the Colorado Party in the 1980s, and the conditions that led to this — Stroessner's advanced age, the character of the regime, the economic downturn, and international isolation — provided an opportunity for demonstrations and statements by the opposition prior to the 1988 general elections.

PLRA leader Domingo Laino served as the focal point of the opposition in the second half of the 1980s. The government's effort to isolate Laino by exiling him in 1982 had backfired. On his sixth attempt, in 1986, Laino returned with three television crews from the U.S., a former United States ambassador to Paraguay, and a group of Uruguayan and Argentine congressmen. Despite the international contingent, the police violently barred Laino's return.

However, the Stroessner regime relented in April 1987, and permitted Laino to arrive in Asunción. Laino took the lead in organizing demonstrations and diminishing somewhat the normal opposition party infighting. The opposition was unable to reach agreement on a common strategy regarding the elections, with some parties advocating abstention, and others calling for blank voting. Nonetheless, the parties did cooperate in holding numerous 'lightning demonstrations' (mítines relámpagos), especially in rural areas. Such demonstrations were held and disbanded quickly before the arrival of the police.

In response to the upsurge in opposition activities, Stroessner condemned the Accord for advocating "sabotage of the general elections and disrespect of the law", and used the national police and civilian vigilantes of the Colorado Party to break up demonstrations. A number of opposition leaders were imprisoned or otherwise harassed. Hermes Rafael Saguier, another key leader of the PLRA, was imprisoned for four months in 1987 on charges of sedition. In early February 1988, police arrested 200 people attending a National Coordinating Committee meeting in Coronel Oviedo. Laino and several other opposition figures were arrested before dawn on the day of the election, 14 February, and held for twelve hours. The government declared Stroessner's re-election with 89% of the vote.

While contending that these results reflected the virtual Colorado monopoly on the mass media, opposition politicians also saw several encouraging developments. Some 53% of those polled indicated that there was an "uneasiness" in Paraguayan society. Furthermore, 74% believed that the political situation needed changes, including 45% who wanted a substantial or total change. Finally, 31% stated that they planned to abstain from voting in the February elections.

1989 military coup and later developments

On 3 February 1989, Stroessner was overthrown in a military coup headed by General Andrés Rodríguez. As president, Rodríguez instituted political, legal, and economic reforms and initiated a rapprochement with the international community.

The June 1992 constitution established a democratic system of government and dramatically improved protection of fundamental rights. In May 1993, Colorado Party candidate Juan Carlos Wasmosy was elected as Paraguay's first civilian president in almost 40 years, in what international observers deemed fair and free elections.

With support from the United States, the Organization of American States, and other countries in the region, the Paraguayan people rejected an April 1996 attempt by then Army Chief General Lino Oviedo to oust President Wasmosy, taking an important step to strengthen democracy.

Oviedo became the Colorado candidate for president in the 1998 election, but when the Supreme Court upheld in April his conviction on charges related to the 1996 coup attempt, he was not allowed to run and remained in confinement. His former running mate, Raúl Cubas, became the Colorado Party's candidate, and was elected in May in elections deemed by international observers to be free and fair. One of Cubas' first acts after taking office in August was to commute Oviedo's sentence and release him from confinement. In December 1998, Paraguay's Supreme Court declared these actions unconstitutional. In this tense atmosphere, the murder of Vice President and long-time Oviedo rival Luis María Argaña on 23 March 1999, led the Chamber of Deputies to impeach Cubas the next day. The 26 March murder of eight student antigovernment demonstrators, widely believed to have been carried out by Oviedo supporters, made it clear that the Senate would vote to remove Cubas on 29 March, and Cubas resigned on 28 March. Senate President Luis González Macchi, a Cubas opponent, was peacefully sworn in as president the same day.

In 2003, Nicanor Duarte Frutos was elected and sworn in as president.

For the 2008 general elections, the Colorado Party was once again a favorite. This time, their candidate was not an internal opponent to the President and self-proclaimed reformer, as in the two previous elections, but Minister of Education Blanca Ovelar, the first woman to appear as a candidate for a major party in Paraguayan history. However after sixty years of Colorado rule, voters chose a non-politician, former Roman Catholic Bishop Fernando Lugo. Although he was a longtime follower of the controversial liberation theology he was backed by the center-right Liberal Party, the Colorado Party's traditional opponents.

Outgoing President Nicanor Duarte Frutos hailed the moment as the first time in the history of this nation that a government had handed power to opposition forces in an orderly and peaceful fashion.

Lugo was sworn in on 15 August 2008, but unlike other South American countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, Lugo's leftist agenda remains largely unimplemented as the Paraguayan Congress continues to be dominated by right-wing elected officials.

Political instability in the past year, fueled by disputes within Fernando Lugo's cabinet, has led the right wing Colorado Party to regain popularity. Reports suggest that the businessman Horacio Cartes is the new political figure amid disputes. Despite the DEA's strong accusations against Cartes involving him in drug trafficking, he continues to amass followers in the political arena.

On 14 January 2011, the Colorado Party convention enabled Horacio Cartes to run as the presidential candidate for the party, even though, as reports suggest, the party's constitution didn't allow it.

Demographics

There is no official data on the ethnic composition of the Paraguayan population, because the Department of Statistics, Surveys and Censuses of Paraguay does not include the concepts of race and ethnicity in census surveys, although it does inquire about the indigenous population. According to the census of 2002, the indigenous population was 1.7% of Paraguay's total population.

Traditionally, the Paraguayan population is considered mixed (mestizo in Spanish), because of the widespread offspring of Guaraní women and Spanish settlers during Spain's domination of the country.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Paraguay has a population of 6,669,086, 95% of which are mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian) and 5% are labelled as "other" and are members of indigenous tribal groups. They are divided into 17 distinct ethnolinguistic groupings, many of which are poorly documented.

One remarkable trace of the indigenous Guaraní culture that has endured in Paraguay is the Guaraní language, generally understoood by about 90% of the population. However, nearly all Paraguayans speak Spanish. Spanish and Guaraní are official languages. Small groups of ethnic Italians, Germans, Russians, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Arabs, Ukrainians, Brazilians, and Argentines settled in Paraguay, and they have to an extent retained their languages and culture, particularly the Brazilians, who represent the largest number. An estimated 400,000 Brazilians live in Paraguay. Many of the Brazilians are descendants of the German, Italian and Polish immigrants. There are an estimated 63,000 Afro-Paraguayans, or 1% of the population. Some 25,000 German-speaking Mennonites live in the Paraguayan Chaco.

Paraguay has one of the more important German communities in South America. German settlers founded several towns as Hohenau, Filadelfia, Neuland, Obligado, Nueva Germania, etc. Some specialized German sites that promote German immigration to Paraguay refers to 5–7% of German-descent Paraguayan population and 150.000 German-Brazilian-descent population.

Paraguay's population is distributed unevenly through the country. About 56% of Paraguayans live in urban areas. The vast majority of the people live in the eastern region near the capital and largest city, Asunción, accounting for 10% of the country's population. The Gran Chaco region, which includes the Alto Paraguay, Boquerón and Presidente Hayes Department, and accounts for about 60% of the territory, is home to less than 2% of the population.

Religion

According to the 2002 census, 89.9 of the population is Roman Catholic, 6.2 is evangelical Christian, 1.1% is other Christian, 0.6% practice indigenous religions.

A U.S. State Department report on Religious Freedom names Roman Catholicism, evangelical Christianity, mainline Protestantism, Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform), Mormonism, and the Baha'i Faith as prominent religious groups and also mentions a large Muslim community in Alto Paraná as a result of Middle-Eastern immigration, especially from Lebanon, and also the Mennonite community in Boquerón.

Social issues

Various poverty estimates suggest that 30–50% of the population is poor. In rural areas, 41.20% of the people lack a monthly income to cover basic necessities, whereas in urban centers this figure is 27.6%. The top 10% of the population holds 43.8% of the national income, while the lowest 10% has 0.5%. The economic recession has worsened income inequality, notably in the rural areas, where the Gini coefficient has risen from 0.56 in 1995 to 0.66 in 1999.

More recent data (2009) show that 35% of the Paraguayan population is poor, 19% of which live in extreme poverty. Moreover, 71% of the later live in rural areas of the country.

Similarly, land concentration in the Paraguayan countryside is one of the highest in the globe: 10% of the population controls 66% of the land, while 30% of the rural people are landless. This inequality has caused a great deal of tensions between the landless and land owners.

Economy

Landlocked Paraguay has a market economy distinguished by a large informal sector, featuring re-export of imported consumer goods to neighboring countries, as well as the activities of thousands of microenterprises and urban street vendors. Between 1970 and 2009 the country had the highest economic growth of South America, with an average rate of 7.2% per year and the prospect of 9% annual growth from 2010, being the highest in South America. The country also boasts the third most important free commercial zone in the world: Ciudad del Este, trailing behind Miami and Hong Kong. A large percentage of the population, especially in rural areas, derives its living from agricultural activity, often on a subsistence basis. Because of the importance of the informal sector, accurate economic measures are difficult to obtain. On a per capita basis, real income has stagnated at 1980 levels. The economy grew rapidly between 2003 and 2008 as growing world demand for commodities combined with high prices and favorable weather to support Paraguay's commodity-based export expansion. Paraguay is the sixth largest soy producer in the world. Drought hit in 2008, reducing agricultural exports and slowing the economy even before the onset of the global recession.

In 2010, Paraguay experienced the greatest economic expansion of the zone and the highest of South America, with a GDP growth rate of 14.5% for by the end of the year.

Industry and manufacturing

The industrial sector produces about 25% of Paraguay’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 31% of the labor force. Output grew by 2.9% in 2004, after five years of declining production. Traditionally an agricultural economy, Paraguay is showing some signs of long-term industrial growth.

The pharmaceutical industry is quickly supplanting foreign suppliers in meeting the country’s drug needs. Paraguayan companies now meet 70% of domestic consumption and have begun to export drugs. Strong growth also is evident in the production of edible oils, garments, organic sugar, meat processing, and steel.

Nevertheless, capital for further investment in the industrial sector of the economy is scarce. Following the revelation of widespread financial corruption in the 1990s, the government is still working to improve credit options for Paraguayan businesses.

In 2003, manufacturing made up 13.6% of the GDP, and the sector employed about 11% of the working population in 2000. Paraguay’s primary manufacturing focus is on food and beverages. Wood products, paper products, hides and furs, and non-metallic mineral products also contribute to manufacturing totals. Steady growth in the manufacturing GDP during the 1990s (1.2% annually) laid the foundation for 2002 and 2003, when the annual growth rate rose to 2.5%.

Education

Literacy was about 93.6% and 87.7% of Paraguayans finish the 5th grade according to UNESCO's last Educational Development Index 2008. Literacy does not differ much by gender. A more recent study reveals that the assistance to primary school of children between 6 and 12 years old is about 98%. Primary education is free, mandatory and takes nine years. Secondary education takes three years. Paraguay's universities include:

  • National University of Asunción (public and founded in 1889) Web Site
  • Autonomous University of Asunción (private and founded in 1979) Web Site
  • Catholic University (private and run by the church). Web Site
  • American University (private).

The net primary enrollment rate was at 88% in 2005. Public expenditure on education was about 4.3 % of GDP in the early 2000s.

Health

LIfe expectancy at birth was 75 years in 2006, and the 8th best position in America's ranking according to World Health Organization. It is the same level as Argentina. Public expenditure on health is 2.6 % of GDP and private expenditure on health 5.1 %. Infant mortality was 20 per 1,000 births in 2005. Maternal mortality was 150 per 100,000 live births in 2000. The World Bank has helped the Paraguayan government reduce Paraguay's maternal and infant mortality. The Mother and Child Basic Health Insurance Project aimed to contribute to reducing mortality by increasing the use of selected life-saving services included in the country's Mother and Child Basic Health Insurance Program (MCBI) by women of child-bearing age, and children under age six in selected areas. To this end, the project also targeted improving the quality and efficiency of the health service network within certain areas, in addition to increasing the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare's (MSPBS) management.

  • Recommend Us