Landlocked country in South America, bounded northeast by Brazil, south by Argentina, and northwest by Bolivia.
Government Paraguay has a multiparty system, with a presidential political executive. The 1992 constitution provides for a president, who is head of state and government, and a two-chamber legislature, the National Congress (Congreso Nacional), consisting of a senate and chamber of deputies, both elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term. The president, popularly elected by simple plurality for a non-renewable five-year term, appoints and leads the cabinet, which is called the Council of Ministers.
The Senate has 45 members, elected by proportional representation from a single national constituency, and the Chamber has 80 members, elected by proportional representation from departmental constituencies.
History The Guaraní Indians had a settled agricultural civilization before the arrival of Europeans: Sebastian Cabot 1526–30, followed by Spanish colonists, who founded the city of Asunción in 1537. From about 1600 until 1767, when they were expelled, Jesuit missionaries administered much of the country. It became a province subordinate to the Spanish viceroyalty of Peru, then from 1776 part of the viceroyalty of Buenos Aires.
Independence In 1811 Paraguay declared its independence. The first president was J G R Francia (ruled 1816–40), a despot; he was followed by his nephew C A López and in 1862 by his son F S López, who involved Paraguay in a war with Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Paraguay was invaded and López killed at Aquidabán in 1870. When the war was finally over, the population consisted mainly of women and children. Recovery was slow, with many revolutions. Continuing disputes with Bolivia over the frontier in the torrid Chaco zone of the north flared up into war 1932–35; arbitration by the USA and five South American republics reached a peace settlement in 1938.
Military governments Since 1940 Paraguay has been mostly under the control of military governments led by strong, autocratic leaders. Gen Morínigo was president 1940–48 and Gen Alfredo Stroessner 1954–89. Stroessner ruled with the support of the military and the Asociación Nacional Republicana/Partido Colorado (ANR; National Republican Alliance/Colorado Party), which was the only political party permitted between 1947 and 1962. Stroessner imposed a state of emergency soon after becoming president, suspending constitutional freedoms, and this continued throughout his period of rule. A firm anti-communist, he aligned Paraguay with the USA, offering to send troops to support the USA in Vietnam.
During the 1977–80 US presidency of Jimmy Carter the Stroessner regime came under strong criticism for its violation of human rights. Stroessner maintained his supremacy by ensuring that the armed forces and business community shared in the spoils of office (and in corruption) and by preventing opposition groups from coalescing into a credible challenge. Around a third of state spending went on the military and police, but Stroessner also promoted development of the country's infrastructure. This allowed the country to enjoy one of the highest rates of economic growth in Latin America in the 1970s. The biggest project was building the world's largest hydroelectric power plant at Itaipu, which opened in 1984.
Ousting of Stroessner In the later 1980s, under the leadership of Domingo Laino, the opposition Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (PLRA; Authentic Radical Liberal Party) organized demonstrations against the Stroessner regime and encouraged people to abstain from voting in the 1988 presidential election. This did not prevent Stroessner from winning a landslide victory and eighth consecutive term, with 89% of the vote, but the opposition claimed that turnout was below 50% in some areas.
The army responded in February 1989, under the leadership of by Gen Andrés Rodríguez, a close friend and colleague, by ousting Stroessner, who fled the country to live the rest of his life in exile in Brazil. Rodríguez was elected president in May 1989 and the Colorado Party also kept its control over congress.
Democratic elections In 1991 the opposition made gains in local elections and Rodríguez responded by introducing political and economic reforms to create a more genuine multiparty democracy. A new constitution came into force in 1992. The Colorado Party won the first multiparty elections in May 1993, and in August 1993 its candidate, Juan Carlos Wasmosy, became the country's first freely elected president. International observers assessed the elections to be free and fair.
In April 1996 the country faced a political crisis when Wasmosy sought to dismiss army chief Lino Oviedo, who refused to go and threatened a coup. With popular support, and backing from the USA and Organization of American States, Wasmosy stood his ground and prevailed in what was an important test for democracy.
Oviedo responded by seeking the ruling Colorado Party's candidacy for the 1998 presidential election. He developed a populist platform which looked set to win him the candidacy, but in April 1998, a month before the election, he was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for his 1996 attempted coup. But his running mate, Raul Cubas, won the election and, within days of taking office, freed Oviedo.
In March 1999 vice-president Luis Argana, who was a political enemy of Oviedo, was murdered. Riots broke out and President Cubas, facing impeachment for abuse of power, resigned, and the Senate leader, Luis Gonzalez Macchi, took over the presidency, forming a coalition government. Oviedo fled to Argentina and then Brazil, facing accusations from within Paraguay that he had ordered the murder of Argana, and Cubas obtained asylum in Brazil.
Opposition win vice-presidency In August 2000 Julio César Franco of the PLRA was elected vice-president. It was the first national defeat for the ANR, in power since the 1940s, and left an opposition vice-president sharing power with a ruling party president. In November 2000 Congress approved the start of a programme of privatizations, including rail, water, and telecommunications.
The Colorado Party's candidate, Nicanor Duarte Frutos, won the April 2003 presidential election, with 37% of the vote, and took office in August. His government was less conservative than previous Colorado Party administrations, reaching out to a number of left-leaning governments in Latin America.
Colorado Party loses presidency In April 2008, after 61 years in power, the Colorado Party finally lost a presidential election. Its candidate, Blanca Ovelar, the first major-party female presidential candidate in Paraguay, won only 32% of the vote. She was defeated by Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop, who won 42% of the vote representing the 12-party Patriotic Alliance for Change (APC) coalition, which included the centre-right PLRA and Lugo's small centre-left Christian Democratic Party. Lugo's uncle had been a Colorado party dissident and rival to General Stroessner and his father had been imprisoned 20 times for opposition to the Stroessner regime. Lugo was ordained as a priest in 1977 and worked as a missionary in Ecuador 1977–82 and became bishop of the poor diocese of San Pedro in 1994, before stepping down to run for the presidency in 2008.
Lugo was sworn in as president in August 2008, in what was the first time in Paraguay's history that a ruling party peacefully surrendered power to the opposition. Lugo had campaigned on a platform of social and land reform, pledging to reduce poverty and inequality, tackle corruption, and remove US troops from Paraguay territory. He announced that he would not accept the presidential salary and he appointed for the first time a member of an indigenous ethnic group, the Aché, to their first ever ministerial post.
President Lugo removed after impeachment proceedings On 22 June 2012 President Lugo was controversially removed from office after successful impeachment proceedings by the two houses of the ANR and PLRA-dominated Congress. The chief ground for impeachment was a police operation on 15 June 2012 to evict landless farmers which resulted in the death of 17 police and farmers. Paraguay's neighbours Argentina and Brazil criticized Lugo's removal and the Mercosur trading bloc suspended Paraguay's membership temporarily (until 2013) in protest. Opponents viewed it as a semi-coup, but a delegation from the Organization of American States concluded that the impeachment process had been in accordance with the constitution. Lugo's successor as president, pending new elections in 2013, was Federico Franco, of the PLRA, formerly the vice-president.
Colorado returns to power under Cartes The April 2013 presidential elections were won by the right-wing Colorado Party candidate, Horacio Cartes, a millionaire cigarette and soft drink magnate and member of the wealthy elite that controlled the country's politics. One of his main rivals, retired general Lino Oviedo, died in February 2013 in a helicopter crash.
Cartes was sworn in as president in August 2013 and pledged to lead the country in a new direction. Within days, the National Congress voted to give him new powers to deploy the military against left-wing rebels of the Paraguay People's Army (PEP). In January 2015 army special forces launched a campaign against the Armed Peasant Association (ACA) rebel group, a spin-off from the PEP, and shot dead its leader, Albino Jara, in jungle north of the capital Asunción.
On 31 March 2017 violent riots erupted in the capital Asunción, claiming the life of one protester. They were triggered by government attempts to amend the constitution to allow Cartes to stand for re-election. On 17 April the situation was defused when Cartes announced that he would not seek a second term, and on 26 April the chamber of deputies rejected the proposed constitutional amendment.
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