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Political and Economic History of Paraguay

The Political and Economic History of Paraguay

Paraguay has some notably unusual aspects of its political, demographic and economic history that makes it worth special study. In the early days of the Spanish conquest the area that is now Paraguay was the site of some of the earliest colonizations in the region. When the settlement at Buenos Aires came under severe attack by the natives the colonists moved up the Paraguay River to establish Asuncion. This and the other colonies were the site of the power struggle between Domingo Martínez de Irala and Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca which Irala won. Because of the colonies isolation from Spain the Spaniards took native Guaraní wives and the mestizo character of the colonies began. The first ruler of Paraguay at independence in 1811 insisted that the criollos (American-born Spaniards) take native wives to prevent the perpetuation of a criollo elite. Later a devastating war in 1865-70 so reduced the male population of Paraguay that criolla women could not sensibly turn down mestizo proposals of marriage. For these reasons and others Paraguay came to have a population that is 95 percent mestizo. Although Spanish is the official language the Guaraní language is understood by about 90 percent of the population.

Another notably unusual episode in Paraguayan history is the period from about 1610 to 1767 when the Jesuits controlled the territory of much of Paraguay under a system of missions. There were about 100,000 Guaranis in the Jesuit missions. The missions were noted for their organization and efficiency.

After the expulsion of the Jesuits by the King of Spain and later under independence Paraguay was ruled by a series of military dictatorships. Military dictatorships were the usual form of government in Paraguay. This series culminated in the thirty-five-year reign of President (General) Alfredo Stroessner from 1954 to 1989.

The Geography of Paraguay

The Paraguay River divided Paraguay into two regions. To the west of the river is the Chaco, a harsh region alternatively flooded in one season and hot and dry in the other season. Although the Chaco region makes up 60 percent of country only about 5 percent of the population. The other 95 percent live in the region along the river and to its east. This region is called the Paraneña. While the Chaco is generally flat much of the Paraneña is mountainous.

(To be continued.)

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