Paraguay, officially the Republic of Paraguay (Spanish: República del Paraguay pron. IPA [re'puβlika del para'ɣwaj]; Guarani: Tetã Paraguái), is a landlocked country in South America. It lies on both banks of the Paraguay River, bordering Argentina to the south and southwest, Brazil to the east and northeast, and Bolivia to the northwest, and is located in the very heart of South America. The name "Paraguay" is derived from the Guaraní word pararaguay meaning "from a great river". The "great river" is the Paraná River, which produces the greatest amount of hydroelectric power in the world. [1] [2]

. History

Main article: History of Paraguay

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. 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. Paraguay declared its independence after overthrowing the local Spanish authorities on May 14, 1811.

Paraguay's history has been characterized by long periods of authoritarian governments, political instability and infighting, and devastating wars with its neighbors. Its post-colonial history can be divided into several distinct periods:

1811 - 1816:  Establishment of Paraguay
1816 - 1840:  Governments of José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia
1840 - 1865:  Governments of Carlos Antonio Lopez and Francisco Solano Lopez
1865 - 1870:  War of the Triple Alliance
1870 - 1904:  Post-war reconstruction and Colorado Party governments
1904 - 1932:  Liberal Party governments and prelude to the Chaco War
1932 - 1935:  Chaco War
1935 - 1940:  Governments of the Revolutionary Febrerista Party and Jose Felix Estigarribia
1940 - 1948:  Higinio Morinigo government
1948 - 1954:  Paraguayan Civil War and the re-emergence of the Colorado Party
1954 - 1989:  Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship
1989 to date:  Transition to democracy

In addition to the Declaration of Independence, the War of the Triple Alliance and the Chaco War are milestones in Paraguay's history. Paraguay fought the War of the Triple Alliance against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, and was defeated in 1870 after five years of the bloodiest war in South America. Paraguay 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, and 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, Brazil or Bolivia. Even European and American authors have been unable to avoid bias. Paraguay's history also has been a matter of dispute among Paraguay's main political parties, and there is a Colorado Party and Liberal Party official version of Paraguayan history.


More information on politics and government of Paraguay can be found at Politics of Paraguay, the main article in the Politics and government of Paraguay series.

Paraguay's politics 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 pluriform 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.

Administrative divisions

Main article: Departments of Paraguay

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

     Name Capital
1 Alto Paraguay Fuerte Olimpo
2 Alto Paraná Ciudad del Este
3 Amambay Pedro Juan Caballero   
4 Distrito Capital    Asunción
5 Boquerón Filadelfia
6 Caaguazú Coronel Oviedo
7 Caazapá Caazapá
8 Canindeyú Salto del Guairá
9 Central Areguá
     Name Capital
10 Concepción Concepción
11 Cordillera Caacupé
12 Guairá Villarrica
13 Itapúa Encarnación
14 Misiones San Juan Bautista   
15 Ñeembucú Pilar
16 Paraguarí Paraguarí
17 Presidente Hayes    Pozo Colorado
18 San Pedro San Pedro


The southeastern border is formed by the Parana River, containing the Itaipu dam shared with Brazil. It is currently the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world, generating nearly all of Paraguay's demand for electricity. Another large hydroelectric power plant on the Paraná river is Yacyretá, shared by Paraguay and Argentina. Paraguay is currently the world's largest exporter of hydroelectric power.

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


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 soybeans, and its beef exports are substantial for a country of its size. A large percentage of the population derive their living from agricultural activity, often on a subsistence basis.

Paraguay's economic potential has been historically constrained by its landlocked geography, but it does enjoy access to the Atlantic Ocean via the Paraná River. Due to its meditereanity, Paraguay's economy is very dependent on Brazil and Argentina, its neighbours to the east, south and west. Through various treaties, Paraguay has been granted free ports in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil through which it sends its exports. The most important of these free port is on the Brazilian Atlantic coast at Paranaguá.

The Friendship Bridge that now spans the Paraná River between Ciudad del Este and the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu permits about forty thousand travelers to commute daily between both cities, and allows Paraguay land acess to Paranaguá. A vibrant economy has developed in Ciudad del Este and Foz de Iguazu mostly based on international commerce and shopping trips by Brazilian buyers colloquially called sacoleiros.

About 60% of the GDP derives from trade and exports to Brazil and Argentina. Despite difficulties arising from political instability, corruption and slow structural reforms, Paraguay has been a member of the free trade bloc MERCOSUR since 1991.


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 Guaraní Indian descent. The only trace of the original Guaraní culture is the Guaraní language, spoken by 94% of the population. About 75% of all Paraguayans can speak Spanish. Guaraní and Spanish are both official languages. Small groups of Ethnic Italians, Germans, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Arabs, Brazilians, and Argentines settled in Paraguay and they have to an extent retained their respective languages and culture, particularly the Brazilians.

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, Asuncion, that accounts for 10% of the country's population. 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.


Paraguayans express their culture in arts such as embroidery (aho poí) and lace making (ñandutí). Their music, which consists of lilting polkas, bouncy galopas, and languid guaranías played on the native harp. They also enjoy eating sopa paraguaya which is like a thick corn bread. It consists of many cheeses, onions, bell peppers, cottage cheese, yellow cornmeal, milk, seasonings, butter, eggs and fresh corn kernels.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the flowering of a new generation of Paraguayan novelists and poets such as José Ricardo Mazó, Roque Vallejos, and Augusto Roa Bastos. Several Paraguayan films have been made.

The nation's upper classes are, typically, only a generation or two from the peasantry. That does not mean there is no social hierarchy, for the usual distinctions between town and country dweller, employer and laborer, and mental and manual worker still apply. But there is a fairly high degree of mobility between classes, and even the poorest peasant displays a strong degree of personal pride.[citat

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. Family interests determine to a large extent which political party they will join, what sort of job they will get, whether they will win a lawsuit, and—in some cases—whether they would be wise to emigrate for a time.

Inside the family, conservative values predominate. Godparents have a special relationship to the family, since usually they are chosen because of their favorable social position, in order to provide extra security for the children. Particular respect is owed them, in return for which the family can expect protection and patronage.[citations needed]

See also

Further reading

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