Understanding Paraguay: History and Key Facts

By Autumn at Legal Language
Posted on 07/09/2012
In International Law

Paraguay was recently in the news after its Congress suddenly ousted President Fernando Lugo. Reportedly, the Obama administration has not reacted very strongly for or against this unexpected action.

In fact, many US citizens are unsure of what to think, possibly because they have little knowledge of Paraguay’s history.

Paraguay’s Early Political History

The first person to explore this country was Sebastian Cabot, who arrived in 1526. By 1608, the Jesuits were in charge, until Spain took control in 1767. However, Paraguay revolted in 1811, finally becoming its own country, independent of Spain.

Within Paraguay’s initial 60 years as a country, three dictators ruled. During that time, one of the most crucial events was the War of the Triple Alliance. The war took place between 1865 and 1870, and it began when dictator Francisco López started a fight against Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

According to reports on Paraguay’s history, not only did the country lose nearly two-thirds of its men at that time, but it also lost a lot of land. By 1912, Paraguay seemed somewhat stable, and it even gained some land back after it defeated Bolivia in the Chaco War from 1932 to 1935. But the stability did not last past World War II.

As of 1954, Alfredo Stroessner took over as dictator. Though Paraguay improved economically during that time, human rights were largely ignored. In fact, Stroessner was said to have tortured and killed numerous rival politicians.

By 1989, General Andres Rodriguez overthrew Stroessner. June of 1992 was a proud point in Paraguay’s history since the country got a new constitution that created a democratic government. This established free elections, and in 1993, civilian businessman Juan Carlos Wasmosy won the vote. He ruled for five years.

Overthrow Attempts Are Not New for Paraguay

Just one look at Paraguay’s history will show that Army Chief General Lino Oviedo attempted to oust President Wasmosy from office in 1996. However, the people of Paraguay did not allow it, and he was eventually arrested. His colleague Raúl Cubas Grau was then elected in 1998.

What followed in Paraguay history was a series of dramatic and illegal moves by those in charge. For example, Raúl Cubas Grau stepped down from office when it was discovered that he was involved with the murder of a political figure. Luis Ángel González Macchi was appointed after him but apparently mishandled millions of dollars, and he was later incarcerated in 2006.

Nicanor Duarte Frutos was elected president in 2003, and unlike much of Paraguay’s history, there were no major wrongdoings on his part. Paraguay made it to the 2008 elections without incident, and though the right-wing party was largely in charge, former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo was elected.

This was a surprise since the popular Colorado Party, which had been in charge for more than 60 years, was favored. By 2012, few of Fernando Lugo’s new plans for Paraguay had been implemented, partly due to the fact that the country’s right-wing faction still resisted him as a leader. On June 21, the lower house of Paraguay’s legislature voted to impeach him, giving him only a day’s notice.

Vice President Federico Franco has since taken office, while Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina are just some of the countries to condemn the overthrow. So far, the US has not taken sides.

Key Facts

  • Official Name: Republic of Paraguay
  • Capital: Asunción
  • Population: 6.5 million (as of 2011)
  • Land Area: 153,398 square miles, just smaller than California
  • Major Religion: Roman Catholic
  • Major Language: Spanish, Guaraní
  • Literacy Rate: 94 percent
  • Life expectancy: 74 years (for men), 79 years (for women)
  • Main exports: leather, feed, cotton, edible oils, electricity, meat, soybeans, wood

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