The Republic of Paraguay is a landlocked republic in South America. Lying on both banks of the Paraguay River, it borders Argentina to the south and southwest, Brazil to the northeast and Bolivia to the northwest. The name "Paraguay" is derived from the Guarani words "para", meaning "this side" and "guay", meaning "river". The expression in Guarani is thought to refer solely to Asuncion, but in Spanish refers to the entire country.
Main article: History of Paraguay
Europeans first arrived in the area in the early 16th century and the settlement of Asunción was founded in 1537. The city eventually became the centre of a Spanish colonial province, as well as a primary site of the Jesuit missions and settlements in South America in the 18th century. Paraguay declared its independence by overthrowing the local Spanish authorities on May 15, 1811.
In the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance (1865-1870), Paraguay lost two-thirds of all adult males and much of its territory. It stagnated economically for the next half century. In the Chaco War of 1932-1935 invading Bolivian troops, trying to gain a port on the Paraguay river for their landlocked country, were expelled by the Paraguayan Armed Forces from most of the Chaco region. The Chaco had been claimed by both countries, but the settlements in the region were mostly Paraguayan. The 35-year military dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner was overthrown in 1989, and, despite a marked increase in political infighting in recent years, relatively free and regular presidential elections have been held since then, however the democracy that exists in the country, while a great improvement on the 'stronato' is very limited. It is hampered by the widespread corruption and lack of any democratic political culture.
Main article: Politics of Paraguay
Paraguay's highly centralised and often dictatorial government was fundamentally changed by the 1992 constitution, which provides for a division of powers. The president and vice president are elected on the same ticket by popular vote for five-year terms, after which the president appoints a cabinet. The president functions as both head of state and head of government.
The bicameral parliament, the Congress or Congreso, consists of an 80-member Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) and a 45-member Senate (Cámara de Senadores), elected concurrently with the president through a proportional representation system. Deputies are elected by department and senators nationwide on a list system, both for five-year terms. Each of Paraguay's 17 departments is headed by a popularly elected governor.
Paraguay's highest court is the Supreme Court. The Senate and the president select its nine members on the basis of recommendations from a constitutionally created Magistrates Council. A Paraguayan peculiarity is its flag, which features a slightly different design on the reverse side.
Main article: Departments of Paraguay
Paraguay consists of 18 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento):
The (Gran) Chaco features mostly low, marshy plains near the river and dry forest and thorny scrub further west. The highest point is the Cerro Pero (Cerro Tres Kandu ) at 842 m. The southeastern border is formed by the Parana River, containing the impressive Itaipu dam it shares with Brazil. It is currently the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world, generating nearly all of Paraguay's electricity.
The local climate ranges from subtropical to temperate, with substantial rainfall in the eastern portions, though becoming semi-arid in the far west.
Main article: Economy of Paraguay
Paraguay has a market economy marked by a large informal sector. The informal sector features both re-export of imported consumer goods to neighbouring countries as well as the activities of thousands of microenterprises and urban street vendors. Because of the importance of the informal sector, accurate economic measures are difficult to obtain. A large percentage of the population derives their living from agricultural activity, often on a subsistence basis.
Paraguay's economy is very dependant from Brazil, its neighboor in the east. Ciudad del Este is the third major free-tax commerce zone of the world, only behind to Hong Kong and Miami, and is where the second biggest dam of the world, the Itaipu dam, is located. The selling of cheaper goods and electric energy to Brazil generates about 60% of the annual GDP of the country.
The formal economy grew by an average of about 3% annually in 1995-1997, but its GDP declined slightly in 1998, 1999, and 2000. Although political uncertainty, corruption, lack of progress on structural reform, substantial internal and external debt and deficient infrastructure contributted to the actual estagnation of Paraguay's economy, the main fact to consider is the desvalorization of the Real, Brazil's actual currency, forced many to stop buying more expensive goods (which are mostly dolarized), almost crushing Ciudad del Este's economy.
in 1995, Paraguay became a charter member of the free trade bloc MERCOSUR.
Main article: Demographics of Paraguay
Ethnically, culturally, and socially, Paraguay has one of the most homogeneous populations in Latin America. About 95% of the people are mestizos of mixed Spanish and Guarani Indian descent. Little trace is left of the original Guarani culture except the language, which is understood by 90% of the population. About 75% of all Paraguayans speak Spanish. Guarani and Spanish are official languages. Germans, Japanese, Koreans, ethnic Chinese, Arabs, Brazilians, and Argentines are among those who have settled in Paraguay and they have to an extent retained their respective languages.
Paraguay's population is distributed unevenly throughout the country. The vast majority of the people live in the eastern region, most within 160 kilometers of Asunción, the capital and largest city. The Chaco, which accounts for about 60% of the territory, is home to less than 2% of the population. The country is predominantly Roman Catholic, with some Mennonite and other Protestant minorities.
Main article: Culture of Paraguay
- Portal del Gobierno Electrónico http://www.paraguaygobierno.gov.py/ - Official governmental portal
- Recipes for Chipas http://laca.com.au/telelatina/chipas.html , a cheese and cornmeal bread
- The American School of Asuncion http://www.asa.edu.py/
- Living in Paraguay http://www.thowra.com/paraguay.html A point of view: Asuncion and Paraguay
- Paraguay de Antes http://www.meucat.com/album.html Old pictures and postcards from Paraguay
Last updated: 02-07-2005 00:21:29
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01