PARAGUAY is located in the central part of South America, and hence called the HEART OF SOUTH AMERICA. It is an inland republic, bounded by Bolivia, Brazil, and Argentina.
The Paraguay River (which names the country) divides the country into two contrasting regions. The oriental region is covered by dense forests with tropical grasses, palms, exotic flowers and many rivers and waterfalls. In the west, the Chaco, a plain which extends into Boliva and Argentina until the Andes, is covered by coarse tropical reeds, grasses, and stunted trees. Elevation of the country varies from 100 to over 800m, having many hills on the Oriental region.
Total area of Paraguay is 406,752 sq km (157,048 sq mi), and it is politically divided into 17 departments, plus Asunción, the capital city (ZP5 amateur radio prefixes). Three departments are in the Chaco: Alto Paraguay (ZP1), Boquerón (ZP1) and Presidente Hayes (ZP2), and the rest are in the Oriental Region: Concepción (ZP3), Amambay (ZP3), Canindeiyu (ZP4), San Pedro (ZP4), Central (ZP6), Cordillera (ZP6), Paraguarí (ZP6), Caaguazú (ZP7), Caazapá (ZP7), Guairá (ZP7), Misiones (ZP8), Ñeembucú (ZP8), Alto Paraná (ZP9) and Itapúa (ZP9).
Population is around 5 million, most of it located in the Oriental region, formed by mestizos (originated by the mixture of Spanish conquerors and native Guaranies during colonial era), nationals of neighboring countries, minority groups of Guaraní tribes, and small colonies of immigrants from Spain, Japan, Korea, Italy, Germany, Russia, Canada, and other countries. The Mennonites, a religious sect, are notable immigrants from Germany, Russia and Canada. They were given tax excemptions and extense areas at the central Chaco, where they settled around 1920's, in prosperous colonies, dedicated to agricultural activities. Most of the milk and its derivatives are produced at these colonies.
Paraguay is a bilingual country. Spanish and Guaraní are both official languages. Guaraní is commonly spoken by most of the population, and it's the main language at rural areas. Paraguayan culture is a blend of Spanish and Guaraní elements. It has retained many features introduced in the early 1600's by the Spanish conquerors, artisans, and Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries.
Climate of Paraguay is subtropical, as it is crossed by the Tropic of Capricorn. Temperatures range from about 15° C in July to about 35° C in January. Annual rainfall averages 1000mm. Paraguay standard time is UTC minus 4 hours, although it is changed to UTC minus 3 from October to March, during the Spring and Summer seasons.
Education is compulsory for children from 7 to 14 years of age, and free at public schools. There are secondary, vocational, and higher level institutions, like the National University of Asunción (stablished 1890), and the Catholic University of Our Lady of Asunción (1960) among others.
Native animals of Paraguay include armadillos, jaguars, anteaters, wild boar, deers, alligators, and various species of butterflies, spiders and snake. Some native birds are toucans, parrots, ducks, partridges, herons and parrakeets. Many of these exhibit beautiful colored plumage. Some of the native animals are endangered species.
Paraguay's main natural resources are its forests, fertile soils, mineral deposits, and the most important, its rivers. They are commonly used as paths of communication. For those living by riversides, fishing is important, with a large variety of fishes. Although they don't have a taste like the sea variety, some of them like the Corvina and the brave Dorado (named after its golden scales) destach among the others
Being a partner with Brazil on Itaipú, the most powerful dam in the word, and with Argentina on Yacyreta, besides the Acaray dam on the Acaray river, allows all of the country's electrical power to be generated on hydroelectrical plants, and even export the remainings to neighboring countries.
The principal industry of Paraguay is farming. The leading agricultural products are cotton, sugarcane, corn, soybeans, potatoes, bananas, oranges, wheat, beans, tobacco, mandioca (yucca), and yerba nate (Ilex Paraguaiensis) or Paraguayan tea, which is very popular among country residents in the form of an infusion with cold water (Tereré) or warm water (Mate). Live stock breeding is also a major occupation, and most favored areas are located at the Chaco and southern oriental region.. Forestry is also important to the economy. Although there are deposits of petroleum, natural gas, iron, manganese, bauxite, and other minerals, they are not exploited commercially. Other important source of income is Tourism.
Manufacturing is confined largely to agricultural and forestry products and to basic consumer goods. Among the important products are packed meat, vegetable oils, and other foodstuffs, textiles, clothes, wood products, tannin, petitgrain oil (used as a perfume base), plastics and chemicals.
Paraguay native inhabitants, were aborigines of various tribes known as Guaranies because of their common language, when the country was first visited, about 1524 by Alejo García, an explorer who crossing the brazilian forests and the Parana river, reached what we know as Bolivia, while looking for a path to El Dorado. He was killed by the natives.
On August 15, 1537, Spanish adventurers lead by Juan de Salazar y Espinoza, established a fort on the eastern side of the Paraguay River, calling it Nuestra Señora Santa María de la Asunción, because it was the feast day honoring the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
Beginning about 1607, the Jesuits, established missions called reducciones, which were settlements of Guaraní converted to Catolicism. After time, the Jesuits, through the missions, became the strongest power in the colony.
In 1617, the Giant Indias' Province, as the whole territory was known, was divided in two, the River Plate Government having Buenos Aires as capital, and the Paraguay Government, with Asunción as its capital.
In 1721 a political movement known as Comuneros, lead by Jose de Antequera y Castro, was the first attempt to proclaim independence of the viceroyalty of Peru and the Spanish crown, but it failed and their leaders were executed.
In 1750 King Fernando VI of Spain, traded part of the eastern Paraguayan territory including seven reducciones to Portugal, which in turn ceded the Philippines to Spain. The Jesuits and the natives argued against the transfer, and incited a Guaraní revolt against it in 1754. This was known as the Jesuit war.
In 1767 the Jesuits missionaries were expelled from America by King Carlos II of Spain. The missions were soon deserted as the natives abandoned them, until they were destroyed about 1816.
Franciscans missionaries were also important educating and assisting the natives, having founded many towns and left many important wood carvings, wood statues, paintings and colonial buildings.
When the british empire invaded Buenos Aires and Montevideo about 1806, Paraguayan troops also took part in their fight against the invaders. These actions gave them a sense of power which was later used against the Spaniards.
Paraguay proclaimed its independence of Spain on May 14, 1811, followed by Chile in 1817 and Peru in 1820. Some years later José Gaspar Rodríguez Francia, the ruling dictator, stated a policy of national isolation. In 1844 after his death, Carlos Antonio López became president, backed by a new constitution. He reversed the isolationist policy, encouraged commerce, instituted many reforms, and founded the first newspaper. Under his rule european experts were hired to aid in the development of industries and communications, and thus the country had in 1861 the first telegraphic and steam locomotive train service in South America.
At his death in 1862 López was succeeded by his son, Francisco Solano López. In 1865, influenced by his visits to the british and french empires, he tried to build his own empire, and thus led the nation into a war against Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, known as the Triple Alliance War. It devastated Paraguay, and ended with the death of López in 1870. More than half of the population was killed, the economy was destroyed, and territorial losses exceeded 142,500 sq km (55,000 sq mi). The country remained occupied by Brazil until 1876. After the war the country made a large effort to reconstruct its cities and economy. Immigration was encouraged, and subsidized agricultural colonies were established.
The country remained neutral and prosperous during World War I (1914-1918). The border with Bolivia in the Chaco, was the scene of many incidents since 1929. In 1932 a full-scale war, known as the Chaco War broke out when Bolivia invaded the area, and it just ended by 1935. By the peace treaty, Paraguay was given about three-fourths of the disputed area in 1938, while Bolivia kept important petroleum deposits.
After years on unstable political situation, a relative calm was attained at mid 1950s. Economic treaties were signed with neighboring countries, expecting to improve the economy of the entire region.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Itaipú, the most powerful hydroelectric dam in the world, was built on the Paraná River in a joint venture with Brazil. During the 1980s and 1990s, Yacyreta, a second hydroplant on the Paraná River was built with Argentina. In 1991 after servere political and economical changes, Paraguay joined Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in creating the Southern Cone Common Market (Spanish acronym MERCOSUR), one of the most important trade agreements of the world.
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