Latin America & Caribbean

Paraguay country profile

Map of Paraguay

Landlocked Paraguay is at the heart of South America, surrounded by Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil.

Political unrest, corruption and chronic economic problems have plagued the country's fragile democracy since it emerged from the 35-year dictatorship of the late Gen Alfredo Stroessner in 1989.

It remains one of the region's poorest countries, with over 40% of its people living in poverty. Much of the land is in the hands of a tiny elite and successive governments have been slow to implement land reform.

Its economy is reliant on agriculture and hydroelectric power. Unlike its neighbours, Paraguay has evaded mass tourism.

Most of the population is of mixed Spanish and Guarani descent, known as mestizos, and speak the indigenous language Guarani as well as Spanish.

The Triple Frontier region, where Paraguay meets Argentina and Brazil, has long been associated with drug-smuggling and other contraband trade.

FACTS

Republic of Paraguay

Capital: Asuncion

  • Population 6.7 million

  • Area 406,752 sq km (157,048 sq miles)

  • Major languages Spanish, Guarani

  • Main religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 71 years (men), 75 years (women)

  • Currency guarani

Getty Images

LEADER

President: Horacio Cartes

Image copyright Getty Images

Tobacco magnate Horacio Cartes won a five-year presidential term in April 2013, beating main rival and Liberal Party candidate Efrain Alegre.

His victory returned the right-wing Colorado Party to the executive office it held for six decades before left-wing former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo won the presidential election in 2008.

Mr Lugo was impeached in June 2012 over his handling of a deadly land dispute, a move that several regional governments denounced as a "legislative coup" by the conservative assembly. Mr Cartes' election has helped bring Paraguay back into their good graces.

He has pledged to lead Paraguay in "a new direction". A week after he was sworn in, parliament voted in favour of giving Mr Cartes new powers allowing him to deploy the military against left-wing rebels of the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP).

Mr Cartes is one of Paraguay's wealthiest people and part of the tiny elite that controls just about everything in the country.

MEDIA

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Rural workers and unions have been agitating for land reform

Private and public outlets make up the broadcasting landscape and media ownership is highly concentrated.

The media operate with few official curbs. Crime reporting can be perilous in an area bordering Brazil and Argentina.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Paraguay's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Long-term leader Alfredo Stroessner persecuted the indigenous population

1500s - Originally inhabited by the indigenous Guarani people before the arrival of the first Spanish settlers.

1811 - Declares independence from Spain and becomes a republic

1865-70 - War of the Triple Alliance - Paraguay goes to war with Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in a bid to dominate the region but loses two-thirds of its adult male population and much of its territory. The government begins selling off land to pay off a crippling war debt leading to much of Paraguay's land being owned by a tiny elite.

1932-35 - After decades of economic stagnation, Paraguay wins swathes of land from Bolivia in the Chaco War.

1947 - Following a brief civil war, the right wing National Republican-Colorado Party rules Paraguay as a one-party state and goes on to dominate politics for the next 60 years.

1954-1989 - Army chief Alfredo Stroessner seizes power in a coup and rules for 35 years until he is overthrown by Gen Andres Rodriguez.

1992 - New constitution paves the way for free elections. Despite a failed coup attempt in 1996 and a succession of presidents, there is a long period of political instability and party infighting.

1999 - Bloody street protests follow the assassination of Vice-President Luis Maria Argana, President Raul Cubas resigns. A military coup is foiled the following year.

2008 - Six decades of rule by the right-wing Colorado Party is brought to an end when former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo is elected president, but the party returns to power in 2013 with election of political newcomer Horacio Cartes.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Paraguay's semi-arid Chaco region is home to Ayoreo-Totobiegosode Indians, whose way of life is under threat from land developers and ranchers

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