new internationalist
issue 229 - March 1992

Country profile: Paraguay

Where is Paraguay? 'An island surrounded by land' is how Paraguay is sometimes described partly because it is one of the two land-locked countries in the western hemisphere (the other is Bolivia) - but also because of its distinctive history and politics.

Since independence from Spain in 1811, Paraguay has had long periods of authoritarian-personalised regimes and two major wars with its neighbours. In 1865, Paraguay found itself at war with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. This 'War of the Triple Alliance' resulted in a genocide that reduced Paraguay's population from 450,000 to 220,000 by 1870. Sixty years later, a dispute over contested territory in the western region resulted in the Chaco War (1932-1935) against Bolivia.

General Alfredo Stroessner, the son of a German immigrant and a Guarani Indian, seized power in 1955 in a military coup. Stroessner's iron-fisted rule lasted for thirty-four years. The regime was characterised by institutionalised corruption and fraudulent elections where the General would be re-elected' every five years by more than 90 per cent of the vote. In this period, 25 per cent of the population emigrated to neighbouring Argentina and Brazil. Paraguay became a backward and isolated country and safe haven for Nazi expatriates such as Dr Joseph Mengele. The quiet capital city of Asunción, officially declared Sister City' with South Africa's Pretoria, is known for its statues of Nicaraguan dictator Somoza and Avenues named after Spanish 'Generalisimo Franco'.

Paraguay's economic activity centres around agriculture and livestock. But land tenure presents one of the most unfair distributions in Latin America. Estates covering some 27 million hectares are owned by less than 2,000 latifundistas (landowners) while over 120,000 peasants occupy and work 1 .9 million hectares - and 90 per cent of them have no titles to their land. The resulting deep-rooted conflict between peasants and landowners is one of the more explosive social problems in Paraguay.

The year of 1989 brought significant changes. In February, General Stroessner was deposed by fellow general Andrés Rodriguez, who promised to introduce democratic reforms. Three months later elections were held with the participation of most of the formerly banned political parties and General Rodriguez, supported by the Colorado Party, became the constitutional President with the support of 70 per cent of the vote. Freedom of the press and individual rights have been re-established. A Constituent Assembly elected at the end of 1991 will redraft the obsolete Stroessner Constitution.

While the country has embarked on the shaky road of transition to democracy, many still wonder whether the military-President will transfer his office to a freely-elected successor in 1993, or whether Rodriguez will follow in Stroessner's infamous steps and hang on to office.

Alfredo Forti



LEADER: President General Andrés Rodriguez.

ECONOMY: GNP per capita US $1 030 (US $20,910)
Monetary unit: Guarani.
Main exports are cotton, oilseeds, soya and meat products.

PEOPLE: 4.3 million.

HEALTH: Infant mortality 41 per 1 000 live births (US 9 per 1,000)

CULTURE: Most of the population is mestizo; about 5 per cent are Indians. Ninety-seven per cent are Roman Catholic. Spanish is the official language but most people speak Guarani.

Sources: The State of the World's Children 1992. Additional information supplied by author.

Last profiled in June 1982



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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Great inequality affects peasant population.

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LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
81%. 68% enrolment in 1st and 2nd schooling levels.

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SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Self-sufficient in most foods but dependent on fuel and other imports.

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FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Most political prisoners freed after 1989.

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POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Poor: conservative, male-dominated society. Women's right to vote came only in 1963.

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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
67 years (US 76 years) Severe public health problems in rural population.

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Politics now

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Governing Colorado Party has excessive
control over legislative and judiciary branches.


NI star rating

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