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Paraguay, officially the Republic of Paraguay ( , ; Guaraní: Tetã Paraguái), is one of the two landlocked countries which lie entirely within the Western Hemispheremarker, the other being Boliviamarker, both in South America.

It lies on both banks of the Paraguay River and is bordered by Argentinamarker to the south and southwest, Brazilmarker 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. As of 2009 the population was estimated at over six million.


The country is named after the river that runs through the center of the country, from north to south. There are at least four versions for the origin of the river's name. The literal translation from Guaraní is Para = of many colors; Gua = from or belonging to or place; Y = water or river or lake.


Map of Paraguay
Paraguay is divided by the Río Paraguay into the eastern region, officially 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 southeastern border is formed by the Paraná Rivermarker, containing the Itaipúmarker dam shared with Brazil. It is currently the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world, generating almost all the electricity consumed by Paraguay. Another large hydroelectric power plant on the Paraná River is Yacyretámarker, a collaborative project by Paraguay and Argentina.

The terrain consists of grassy plains and wooded hills to the east. To the west, there are mostly low, marshy plains.

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


Pre-Columbian society in the wooded, fertile region which is now present-day 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 still remain today.

Europeans first arrived in the area in the early sixteenth century, and the settlement of Asunción was founded on August 15, 1537, by the Spanish explorer Juan de Salazar y Espinoza. The city eventually became the center of a Spanish colonial province, as well as a 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 declared its independence after overthrowing the local Spanish administration on May 14, 1811.
Rendition of Paraguayan soldier grieving the loss of his son by José Ignacio Garmendia

Paraguay's history has been characterized by long periods of political instability and infighting, and devastating wars with its neighbors.

Paraguay fought the War of the Triple Alliance against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguaymarker, and was defeated in 1870 after five years of the bloodiest war in South America. Paraguay's prewar population of approximately 525,000 was reduced to about 221,000 in 1871, of which only about 28,000 were men. 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 history of Paraguay is fraught with disputes among historians, educators and politicians. The official version of historical events, wars in particular, varies depending on whether you read a history book 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 secret , making Colonial and early National Period history difficult to study.

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

Leftist former bishop Fernando Lugo achieved a historic victory in Paraguay's presidential election in 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, whereby the President of Paraguay is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the National Congress. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Political History

After World War II, politics became particularly unstable with several political parties fighting for power in the late 1940s, which most notably led to 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. Paraguay modernized to some extent under Stroessner's regime, though his rule was marked by extensive human rights abuses.

The splits in the Colorado Party in the 1920s and the conditions that led to this — Stroessner's 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.

The PLRA leader Domingo Laíno served as the focal point of the opposition in the second half of the 1980s. The government's effort to isolate Laíno by exiling him in 1982 had backfired. On his sixth attempt, in 1986, Laíno 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 Laíno's return.

However, the Stroessner regime relented in April 1987 and permitted Laíno to arrive in Asunción. Laíno 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.

Paraguay was obviously stung by 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 PRLA, 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 Oviedomarker. Forty-eight hours before the elections, Laíno and several other National Accord members were placed under house arrest.

Although contending that these results reflected the Colorados' virtual monopoly of 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.

Relations between militants and traditionalists deteriorated seriously in the months following the elections. Although Chaves and his followers had not opposed Stroessner's re-election bid, Montanaromarker denounced them as "legionnaires" (a reference to those Paraguayan expatriates who fought against Francisco Solano López and who were regarded as traitors by the original Colorados).

By late 1988 the only major agencies still headed by traditionalists were the IBR and the National Cement Industry (Industria Nacional de Cemento). In September 1988, traditionalists responded to these attacks by accusing the militants of pursuing "a deceitful populism in order to distract attention from their inability to resolve the serious problems that afflict the nation." Traditionalists also called for an end to personalism and corruption.

Administrative Subdivisions

Paraguay consists of seventeen departments and one capital district (distrito capital). These are, with their capitals indicated:

Name Capital 1 Alto Paraguaymarker 2 Alto Paraná 3 Amambay 4 Distrito Capitalmarker 5 Boquerónmarker 6 Caaguazú 7 Caazapá 8 Canindeyú 9 Central
Name Capital 10 Concepción 11 Cordillera 12 Guairá 13 Itapúa 14 Misiones 15 Ñeembucú 16 Paraguarí 17 Presidente Hayesmarker 18 San Pedro

The departments are further divided into districts (distritos).


There is no official data on the ethnic composition of the Paraguayan population, because the Department of Statistics, Surveys and Censuses (DGEEC) of Paraguay does not include the concepts race and ethnicity in census surveys , although refers to the percentage of indigenous population (according to the census of 2002, the indigenous population represented 1.7% of the total inhabitants of the country). Traditionally, the Paraguayan population is considered mixed (mestizo in Spanish), because of the massive union between Guaraní women and Spanish settlers who came during the dominance of the Spanish crown on the country. The Ministry of Education and Culture of Paraguay refers thus to the population of the country: "The dominant ancestry is European, which represents a large proportion of the population, mostly descendants of Spanish, Germans, Italians (who have contributed to repopulate the country after the Triple Alliance War) but also a large number of people of German descent, because the German Mennonites (mostly in the western part of the territory). There are 17 Mennonite colonies, only in the Paraguayan Chaco. It is one of Latin American countries with less indigenous trait (because the traditional Paraguayan population - Guaraní-Spanish mix - has been destroyed by the Allies in 1870, for which it had to repopulate the country by resorting to the Italian immigration).

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, understood by 90% of the population.

About 75% of all Paraguayans speak Spanish. Guaraní and Spanish are official languages. Small groups of ethnic Italians, Germans, Russians, Japanese, Koreans, Chinesemarker, Arabs, Ukrainians, Braziliansmarker, and Argentinesmarker settled in Paraguay, and they have to an extent retained their respective languages and culture, particularly the Brazilians who represent the largest number. There are an estimated 400,000 Brazilians living in Paraguay. Many of the Brazilians are descendants of the German, Italian and Polish immigrants. There are also an estimated 63,000 Afro-Paraguayans, or 1% of the population. Some 10,000 German-speaking Mennonites live in the Paraguayan Chaco.

Paraguay's population is distributed unevenly throughout 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, Asunciónmarker, accounting for 10% of the country's population. The Gran Chaco region, which includes the Alto Paraguaymarker, Boquerónmarker and Presidente Hayes Departmentmarker, and accounts for about 60% of the territory, is home to less than 2% of the population.

Largest Cities


According to the 2002 census, 89.6% of the population is Roman Catholic, 6.2% is evangelical Christian, 1.1% is other Christian, 0.6% practice indigenous religions and 0.3% profess non-Christian religions.

A U.S. State Department report on Religious Freedom names Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Jewish (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), and Baha'i as prominent religious groups and also mentions a large Muslim community in Alto Paraná as a result of Middle-Eastern immigration, especially from Lebanonmarker, and also the Mennonite community in Boquerón.

Social Issues

Paraguay is a poor and unequal society. 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.

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 elites.


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 at contributing 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.

International Rankings

Organization Survey Ranking
Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, 2007 99 out of 157
The Economist Worldwide Quality of Life Index, 2005 ???
The Economist Democracy Index, 2006 71 out of 167
Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index, 2006 82 out of 168
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, 2006 111 out of 163
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 95 out of 177


Paraguay is a developing country with a 2005 Human Development Index score of 0.755. It ranks as the second poorest country in South America with a 2007 GDP per capita of US$4,000. Approximately 2.1 million, or 35%, of its total population is poor and approximately 1 million, or 18% of the population live off less than US$ 2 a day. However, Asuncion in Paraguay is ranked as the world's least expensive city to live in for the fifth year running.

Paraguay has a market economy marked by a large informal sector that features both re-export of imported consumer goods to neighboring countries, and thousands of small business enterprises. Paraguay's largest economic activity is based on agriculture, agribusiness and cattle ranching. Paraguay is ranked as the world's third largest exporter of chalk boards, and its beef exports are substantial for a country of its size.A 23.Aug.2008 Financial Times article about Paraguay states “Take record commodities prices, add a subtropical climate that gives farmers five harvests every 24 months and vast tracts of virgin arable land and it is no surprise that tiny Paraguay has emerged as one of the big beneficiaries of the global food crisis”. Such perception may put Paraguay into the focus of international agro producers. Reuters India reports that "Some of Indiamarker's top vegetable oil firms plan to lease or buy land in Paraguay."

Paraguay allows foreign land ownership of any size. Only nationals of Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia cannot own land in specific frontier regions. Some media reports at the end of 2008 stated that foreign land purchases will be restricted but were wrong. They were based on a misunderstanding of that Brazilians/frontier-regions-reglementations. Indeed land purchases by foreigners, attracted by low land valuations, have for long been a feature of the Paraguayan economy.A large percentage of the population derive their living from agricultural activity, often on a subsistence basis. Despite difficulties arising from political instability, corruption and slow structural reforms, Paraguay has been a member of the free trade bloc Mercosur, participating since 1991 as one of the founding members.

Paraguay's economic potential has been historically constrained by its landlocked geography, but it does enjoy access to the Atlantic Oceanmarker via the Paraná Rivermarker. Because it is landlocked, Paraguay's economy is very dependent on Brazil and Argentina, its major trade partners. Roughly 38% of the GDP derives from trade and exports to Brazil and Argentina.

Through various treaties, Paraguay has been granted free ports in Argentina, Uruguaymarker and Brazil through which it sends its exports. The most important of these free ports is on the Brazilian Atlantic coast at Paranaguámarker. The Friendship Bridgemarker that spans the Paraná River between Ciudad del Estemarker and the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçumarker permits about forty thousand travelers to commute daily between both cities, and allows Paraguay land access to Paranaguá. A vibrant economy has developed in Ciudad del Este and Foz do Iguaçumarker mostly based on international commerce and shopping trips by Brazilian buyers colloquially called sacoleiros.

Bilateral European Union (EU)-Paraguay trade in goods amounts to €437 million in 2005; the EU importing around €269 million and exporting roughly €168 million. In 2005, trade with EU represented 8.9% of Paraguay’s total trade. The EU market represents 13.7% of Paraguay exports and 6.1% of its imports.

While the country’s external debt is 40% of GDP, Paraguay’s economy is still driven by agricultural production (27% of GDP and 84% of exports). It is a structure which is vulnerable to climatic factors and price volatility. Those vulnerabilities, combined with inequality, explain why poverty currently affects 40% of the population.

Paraguay’s economy grew by 6.4% in 2007and 5.8% in 2008, fastest growing sector being agriculture with 10.5% growth.

Although ranked 112th out of 175 countries in the 2006 World Bank Doing Business ranking, Paraguay has ranked particularly well in the "Protecting Investors" sub-category within that index. The indexes vary between 0 and 10, with higher values indicating greater disclosure, greater liability of directors, greater powers of shareholders to challenge the transaction, and better investor protection, respectively.

The "Disclosure Index" for Paraguay is 6, whereas the Latin American region ranked only 4.3 (OECD countries ranked 6.3 on average). The country ranked 5 in "Director Liability Index", the same as OECD countries and better than the 5.1 attributed to its neighbors. In the "Shareholder Suits Index" category, Paraguay obtained 6 points, in contrast with 5.8 for its neighbors and 6.6 for OECD countries. The comprehensive "Investor Protection Index" attributed 5.7 to Paraguay, 5.1 to its neighbors and 6.0 to OECD countries on average.

Industry and Manufacturing

The industrial sector produces about 25 percent of Paraguay’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 31 percent of the labor force. Output grew by 2.9 percent 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 percent of domestic consumption and also have begun exporting 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 percent of the GDP, and the sector employed about 11 percent 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 percent annually) laid the foundation for 2002 and 2003, when the annual growth rate rose to 2.5 percent.


Literacy exceeds 90 %. Literacy does not differ much by gender. Primary education is free, mandatory and takes nine years. Secondary education takes three years. Paraguay has several universities. The National University of Asunción was founded in 1889.The net primary enrolment rate was at 88% in 2005. Public expenditure on education was at about 4.3 % of the GDP in the early 2000s.

See also


Further reading

  • Abdou, Selim The Jesuit Republic of the Guaranis 1609-1768, 1997
  • Aren, Richard Genocide in Paraguay, 1976
  • Attenborough, David Zoo Quest in Paraguay, 1950
  • Barret, William E. Woman on Horseback: the Biography of Francisco Lopez and Eliza Lynch, 1938
  • Brodksy, Alvin Madame Lynch and Friend, 2075
  • Cunninghame-Graham, Robert Bontine A Vanished Arcadia: Being Some Account of the Jesuits in Paraguay, 1607 to 1767
  • Durrell, Gerald The Drunken Forest, 1956
  • Gimlette, John At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay, 2003
  • Kerr, John A Naturalist in the Chaco, 1950
  • Lambert, Peter & Nickson, Andrew The Transition to Democracy in Paraguay, 1997
  • Lewis, Paul Paraguay Under Stoessner, 1980
  • Macintyre, Ben Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elizabeth Nietzsche, 1993
  • Meyer, Gordon The River and the People, 1965
  • Nickson, Andrew Historical Dictionary of Paraguay, 1993
  • Nickson, Andrew Paraguay: An Annotated Bibliography, 1999
  • Rees, Sián The Shadow of Elisa Lynch, 2003
  • Souter, Gavin A Peculiar People: the Australians in Paraguay, 1968
  • Whitehead, Anne Paradise Mislaid: In Search of the Australian Tribe of Paraguay, 1997

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