Paraguay Facts

Paraguay Facts and History

South America

Paraguay – “Nowhere and famous for nothing?”

Paraguay is north of Argentina. In terms of area, Paraguay is roughly the same size as the Federal Republic of Germany and Switzerland combined, but only has a population the size of Hesse. The capital of the country is Asunción with about 1 million residents.

The South American inland Paraguay only has a water connection to the Atlantic Ocean via the Paraná. The tributary of this river is the Paraguay. In the Indian language it is called “the river that gives birth to the sea.” Paraguay was the site of one of the largest social experiments in a colonial country: the Jesuit state on the middle reaches of Paraná and Uruguay.

The long absence from the historical stage and the geographical location of the country made an English writer write: “Paraguay is nowhere and famous for nothing.” The same man surprisingly fell in love with the country while visiting and stayed longer than he thought.

Name of the country República del Paraguay
Form of government Presidential Republic
Geographical location In the southern center of South America
National anthem “Paraguayos, República o muerte!”
National holiday May 15 (independence from Spain 1811)
Population around 7 million residents (Credit: Countryaah: Paraguay Population)
Ethnicities Mestizo 90%, guaraní 3%, whites, creoles 2%
Religions Roman Catholic 80%, Protestantssmaller minorities of Mennonites and Bahais
Languages Spanish and Guarani (official languages) others are dying out
Capital Asunción with approx. 1 million residents (approx. 1.5 million in the metropolitan area)
Surface 406,752 km²
Highest mountain San Rafael with an altitude of 850 m
Longest river Paraná with a length of 4,880 km
Largest lake Ypacarai Lake with an area of 46 km²
International license plate PY
National currency Guariní
Time difference to CET -5 h
International phone code +595
Mains voltage, frequency 220 volts, 50 hertz, 3-pin plug
Internet TLD (Top Level Domain) .py

Paraguay: history

Until the 15th century

Until the arrival of the Europeans, the indigenous people, the Guarani Indians, lived as semi-nomads from hunting, gathering and farming. Unfortunately, their culture has been largely destroyed.

Colonial period from 1516 to 1816

According to Abbreviationfinder website, the Spaniards entered the country between the three rivers Paraná, Pilcomayo and Paraguay in 1525. Asunción was founded in 1537 by Juan de Salazar and Gonzalo de Mendoza and is one of the oldest cities in Latin America. The place was called Nuestra Señora Santa María de la Asunción. In 1543 the area of today’s Paraguay was annexed to the Spanish viceroyalty of Peru. The governor of the colony was Domingo Martínez de Irala, who promoted the merger between Spanish immigrants and the Guaraní. He himself set a “good example” and took 70 Guarani women with whom he gave birth to countless children. The mestizos resulting from these connections counted themselves to the white upper class and increasingly suppressed the Guaraní. The newly founded Buenos Aires in 1580 represented strong competition and the Spanish conquerors turned their interest more and more to Argentina. In 1776 Paraguay was annexed to the newly founded Spanish viceroyalty of Río de la Plata with today’s Argentina and Bolivia.

The Jesuit State 1609 to 1767

In 1608 the Jesuit order received the right to convert Indians in the province of Guairá. They settled in 1609 on the middle reaches of the Paraná and Uruguay. There they founded so-called “reductions”. The monks taught the Indians to read and write, agriculture and livestock, and handicraft techniques. The Indian language was recorded by the monks and they organized the military resistance of the Indians against the slave traders from Brazil. Within a few decades the Jesuits succeeded in founding 36 agricultural settlements.

In each of these “reductions” there lived between 4,000 and 10,000 Indians who farmed and lived according to Christian principles. For about 150 years the “Jesuit State” developed into an important economic factor in Spain and Paraguay. The upper class of Paraguay and the colonial rulers, however, saw their economic and exploitation policy endangered by the protection of the Indians and thwarted the work of the Jesuits with intrigues and letters of protest to the Vatican. In 1767 a decree was issued that included the establishment and transfer of all Jesuit missionaries in Paraguay to Spain. The colonial rulers left the reductions and their residents to their own devices.

Independence, wars and dictators

The French Revolution triggered profound changes in Paraguay as well. Paraguay, especially its governor Velazco, was the longest loyal to Spain of all South American states. A junta deposed the Viceroy of Buenos Aires in 1810. The revolutionary regime dispatched a force to remove the last Spanish bastion in South America. At Tacuarí there was a decisive battle. Although the Paraguayan party was numerically far inferior, it managed to win against the invaders with heavy losses. But since the governor had fled for fear of losing the battle, the Paraguayan troops resigned the Spaniards. This war gave birth to Paraguayan national pride. On May 14, 1813 Paraguay declared independence from Spain and Argentina,

In 1814 the form of government was transformed into a presidential republic. The new President, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, succeeded in consolidating the country’s independence during his 26-year presidency. He ordered the country to be largely isolated to prevent the country from coming under the rule of the United Provincescame on the Río de la Plata. He pursued a self-sufficient economic policy and disempowered the old elites. Francia was an avid supporter of the French Revolution. In contrast, he hated the Catholic Church, Spaniards and nepotism within the upper class. He dissolved monasteries and seminaries, declared prostitution an honorable profession and punished every marriage that was carried out within the white upper class with severe economic and physical punishments. In order to block all Spanish influences from outside, the borders to Argentina were closed and trade with other countries was subjected to severe penalties. Francia politics overshadowed Paraguay a significant economic boom.

Francia’s successor was the distantly related lawyer Carlos Antonio Lopez. In 1842 this abolished slavery in Paraguay by law. He reopened the national borders, had over 400 new schools built, founded newspapers and encouraged the immigration of foreign specialists. In addition, he enlarged the military enormously, so that Paraguay rose to a significant power factor within South America. In addition, the twenty-year reign of Carlos Antonio Lopez marked an unprecedented economic boom in the history of the country. The country’s exports were, a unique event in the entire economic history of Latin America, twice as high as imports.

Carlos Antonio Lopez chose his great-nephew Francisco Solano Lopez as his successor. Lopez led the country to war against the Triple Alliance (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay) between 1865 and 1870. After the befriended government of Uruguay was overthrown with the help of Brazil in 1864, Lopez took this as an opportunity to declare war on Brazil. After six years of war, Paraguay had lost about two thirds of its population. After the defeat, Paraguay also lost half of its national territory.

Reconstruction of the country proved difficult. In the following years there were repeated political upheavals. No president could stay in power for long. In addition, at the beginning of the 1930s there were increasing political tensions with Bolivia. The neighboring state made territorial claims on northern Paraguay, the Chaco region. In the largely uninhabitable area, rich oil deposits were suspected. Thus, after border incidents and skirmishes in 1932, an open war broke out, which was dogged and fought with great sacrifices on both sides. The “Chaco War” that raged until 1935cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers. Despite the numerical superiority of the Bolivian troops, Paraguay emerged as the undisputed winner of the fighting. In a 1938 peace agreement, Bolivia lost a large part of its legitimate claims to the Chaco region.

The military successes had significantly increased the prestige of the military that it was now the country’s most important domestic political power. But none of the military who took the lead in the state was initially able to hold onto power for long. In May 1954, the incumbent President Frederico Chávez was replaced by the chief of his armed forces, Alfredo Stoessner, crashed. In August of the same year Stroessner was confirmed as president. He stayed in power until 1989. He ruled the country with dictatorial severity. Countless human rights violations occurred during his tenure. Nevertheless, there was an economic boom in the country during his presidency. New hospitals, schools and universities were built. Specialists from abroad came to the country. The Cháco region was settled. The country’s infrastructure has been modernized. Despite all this positive development, Paraguay during the Stroessner era was above all a state in which most of the population lived in constant oppression. Stroesser himself experienced the same fate as his predecessor. He was appointed by the Chief of the Armed Forces, Andres Rodriguez, crashed.

Democracy since 1992

During the Rodriguez presidency in 1992, the country was given a democratic constitution. In 1993, Juan Carlos Wasmosy became the country’s first freely elected president.

From 1995 to 1998, however, a banking crisis rocked the country, as a result of which even the largest bank up to that point, the Banco Union, collapsed. In 1996 there was a nationwide general strike with bloody clashes between demonstrators and security forces. The opposition parties as well as the trade unions called for the resignation of the president, against whom corruption proceedings were ongoing. In addition, the high military officer Lino Caesar Oviedo launched a coup. Numerous high-ranking politicians traveled to Paraguay to support the president. The national crisis was settled. Oviedo was sentenced to ten years in prison.

In the new elections in 1998, Raúl Cubas Grau emerged victorious. Three days after taking office, he triggered a serious domestic political crisis with the pardon and release of Oviedo. The opposition parties (mainly consisting of supporters of ex-President Wasmosy) called the actions of Cubas, whose new government consisted mainly of Oviedo supporters, unconstitutional. They threatened Cubas with impeachment proceedings. In March 1999, the Vice-President of Paraguay, Luis María Argaña became, shot on the street in Asunción. Argaña was considered one of the most bitter party opponents of the president. Immediately after the murder, serious unrest broke out in the Paraguayan capital. There were street battles between supporters of Argañas and Cubas or Oviedas, as well as bloody clashes with the police. A few days later, the Paraguayan House of Representatives voted with a large majority for a dismissal procedure against President Cuba for abuse of office. In addition, he and the former army chief Oviedo were accused by the opposition of being involved in the assassination attempt against Vice-President Argaña. After Cubas resigned, Senate President Luis Angel González Macchi was sworn in as interim president.

Oviedo fled to Argentina and was arrested by the authorities there, whereupon he applied for political asylum. Argentina refused the request for extradition. Paraguay then withdrew its ambassador from Buenos Aires, which Argentina also responded to by withdrawing its ambassador from Asunción. In December 1999 Oviedo withdrew from his Argentine exile because the new President Fernando de la Rúa had already spoken out in favor of his extradition to Paraguay. After Oviedo’s escape became known, Paraguay issued an international arrest warrant. In May 2000, an attempted coup by supporters of Oviedo was suppressed by troops loyal to the government. The government in Asunción imposed a two-month state of emergency. Oviedo was arrested by Brazilian security forces in June. At the end of 2001, the Brazilian Supreme Court rejected Paraguay’s request for extradition for Oviedo. Oviedo was released.

The attorney general also issued an arrest warrant for Raúl Cubas Grau. He escaped arrest by fleeing to the Brazilian embassy in Asunción. He received political asylum and was flown to Brazil. He was arrested in Asunción in early 2002 after returning to Paraguay from three years of exile in Brazil “out of homesickness”.

In 2003 Nicanor Duarte Frutos was elected President of Paraguay.

Despite freedom and democracy, social problems are still the main problem facing the country. An example: On August 1, 2004, the Icua Bolanos shopping mall burned down. Immediately after the fire broke out, the owners of the office and commercial building instructed security personnel to close the emergency exits in order to force customers to pay for their purchases. The smoke and fire exposure killed 464 people and injured over 500.

It should be noted that the party of the dictator Stroessner, the “Colorados” in power since 1947, are the real masters in the country. However, that changed after the election on April 20, 2008. The Colorado party, ruling since 1947, lost the presidential election with its candidate Blanca Olevar. She received around 30% of the vote. The winner was the former Bishop of San Pedro – Fernando Lugo (born 1951), who describes himself as a supporter of liberation theology. He received around 40% of the vote.

Paraguay Facts