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History and Information About Paraguay
The Guaraní have been living in Paraguay since prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, when Paraguay became part of the Spanish colonial empire. Paraguay gained independence from Spain in 1811.
As of 2009 the population was estimated at 6.3 million. The capital and largest city is Asunción. The economic centre of the country is Ciudad del Este. The official languages are Spanish and Guaraní, both being widely spoken in the country, with around 92% of the general population speaking Spanish and 98% speaking Guaraní. Most of the population are mestizos.
In 2010, Paraguay experienced the largest economic expansion in Latin America and the second fastest in the world, only after Qatar.
The official name comes from Guaraní and the literal translation is: Para = of many varieties; Gua = from, belonging to or place river or lake.
There is not a final conclusion of the origin of the name "Paraguay". The most common interpretations along the nation's history suggest:
1. "River which originates a sea"
Paraguay is divided by the Río Paraguay into the eastern region, called Eastern Paraguay (Paraguay Oriental) and known as the Paraná region; and the western region, officially called Western Paraguay (Paraguay Occidental) and also known as the Chaco. The country lies between latitudes 19° and 28°S, and longitudes 54° and 63°W. The terrain consists of grassy plains and wooded hills in the east. To the west, there are mostly low, marshy plains.
The local climate ranges from subtropical to temperate, with substantial rainfall in the eastern portions, though becoming semi-arid in the far west.
Pre-Columbian society in the wooded, fertile region which is now present-day Paraguay consisted of seminomadic tribes, who were recognized for their fierce warrior traditions. These indigenous tribes were members of five distinct language families, and 17 separate ethnolinguistic groups still remain today.
Europeans first arrived in the area in the early sixteenth century, and the settlement of Asunción was founded on August 15, 1537, by the Spanish explorer Juan de Salazar de Espinosa. The city eventually became the center of a Spanish colonial province, as well as a primary site of the Jesuit missions and settlements in South America in the eighteenth century. Jesuit Reductions were founded and flourished in eastern Paraguay for about 150 years until the expulsion of the Jesuits by the Spanish crown in 1767. Paraguay overthrew the local Spanish administration on May 15, 1811. Paraguay's first ruler was the dictator Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia. He ruled Paraguay from 1814 until his death in 1840 with very little outside contact and influence, creating a utopian society based on Rousseau's Social Contract. After his death, Paraguay went through the very brief ownership of various military officers under a new junta, until the secretary Carlos Antonio Lopez, Francia's nephew, declared himself dictator. Lopez modernized Paraguay, and opened it up to foreign commerce. The relation with Buenos Aires was limited to a non-aggression pact; Paraguayan independence from Argentina was declared in 1842. After Lopez's death, power was transferred to his eldest son, Francisco Solano Lopez in 1862. Lopez's expansionist aims lead to the War of the Triple Alliance in 1864. Paraguay fought against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, and was defeated in 1870 after five years of the bloodiest war in South America. According to William D. Rubinstein, "The normal estimate is that of a Paraguayan population of somewhere between 450,000 and 900,000, only 221,000 survived the war, of whom only 28,000 were adult males." Paraguay also suffered extensive territorial losses to Brazil and Argentina.
The Chaco War was fought with Bolivia in the 1930s, and Bolivia was defeated. Paraguay re-established sovereignty over the region called the Chaco, but forfeited additional territorial gains as a price of peace.
The official narrative of Paraguay's history is fraught with disputes among historians, educators and politicians. The "authentic" version of historical events, wars in particular, varies depending on whether it was written in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Europe, or North America.
Both the Colorado Party and Liberal Party maintain distinct official versions of Paraguayan history. During the pillaging of Asuncion (Saqueo de Asunción) in 1869, the Brazilian Imperial Army ransacked and relocated the Paraguayan National Archives to Rio de Janeiro where they have been kept in secrecy, making Colonial and early National Period Paraguayan history difficult to study.
Between 1904 and 1954, Paraguay had thirty-one presidents, most of whom were removed from office by force.
From 1954 to 1989, the country was ruled by Alfredo Stroessner and the Colorado party. The dictator oversaw an era of economic expansion, but at the cost of a poor human rights and environmental record (see "Political History"). Torture and death for political opponents was routine. After his overthrow, the Colorado continued to dominate national politics until 2008.
Leftist former bishop Fernando Lugo achieved a historic victory in Paraguay's presidential election in April 2008, defeating the ruling party candidate and ending 61 years of conservative rule. Lugo won with nearly 41% of the vote compared to almost 31% for Blanca Ovelar of the Colorado party.
There is no official data on the ethnic composition of the Paraguayan population, because the Department of Statistics, Surveys and Censuses of Paraguay does not include the concepts of race and ethnicity in census surveys, although it does inquire about the indigenous population. According to the census of 2002, the indigenous population was 1.7% of Paraguay's total population.
Traditionally, the Paraguayan population is considered mixed (mestizo in Spanish), because of the widespread offspring of Guaraní women and Spanish settlers during Spain's domination of the country.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Paraguay has a population of 6,669,086, 95% of which are mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian) and 5% are labelled as "other" and are members of indigenous tribal groups. They are divided into 17 distinct ethnolinguistic groupings, many of which are poorly documented.
One remarkable trace of the indigenous Guaraní culture that has endured in Paraguay is the Guaraní language, generally understoood by about 90% of the population. However, nearly all Paraguayans speak Spanish. Spanish and Guaraní are official languages. Small groups of ethnic Italians, Germans, Russians, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Arabs, Ukrainians, Brazilians, and Argentines settled in Paraguay, and they have to an extent retained their respective languages and culture, particularly the Brazilians who represent the largest number. An estimated 400,000 Brazilians live in Paraguay. Many of the Brazilians are descendants of the German, Italian and Polish immigrants. There are also an estimated 63,000 Afro-Paraguayans, or 1% of the population. Some 25,000 German-speaking Mennonites live in the Paraguayan Chaco.
Paraguay has one of the more important and representative German communities in South America. German settlers founded several towns as Hohenau, Filadelfia, Neuland, Obligado, Nueva Germania, etc. Some specialized German sites that promote German immigration to Paraguay refers to 5%-7% of German descent Paraguayan population and 150.000 German-Brazilian descent population.
Paraguay's population is distributed unevenly through the country. About 56% of Paraguayans live in urban areas. The vast majority of the people live in the eastern region near the capital and largest city, Asunción, accounting for 10% of the country's population. The Gran Chaco region, which includes the Alto Paraguay, Boquerón and Presidente Hayes Department, and accounts for about 60% of the territory, is home to less than 2% of the population.
According to the 2002 census, 89.9 of the population is Roman Catholic, 6.2 is evangelical Christian, 1.1% is other Christian, 0.6% practice indigenous religions.
A U.S. State Department report on Religious Freedom names Roman Catholicism, evangelical Christianity, mainline Protestantism, Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform), Mormonism, and the Baha'i Faith as prominent religious groups and also mentions a large Muslim community in Alto Paraná as a result of Middle-Eastern immigration, especially from Lebanon, and also the Mennonite community in Boquerón.
Landlocked Paraguay has a market economy distinguished by a large informal sector, featuring re-export of imported consumer goods to neighboring countries, as well as the activities of thousands of microenterprises and urban street vendors. Between 1970 and 2009 the country had the highest economic growth of South America, with an average rate of 7.2% per year and the prospect of 9% annual growth from 2010, being the highest in South America. The country also boasts the third most important free commercial zone in the world: Ciudad del Este, trailing behind Miami and Hong Kong. A large percentage of the population, especially in rural areas, derives its living from agricultural activity, often on a subsistence basis. Because of the importance of the informal sector, accurate economic measures are difficult to obtain. On a per capita basis, real income has stagnated at 1980 levels. The economy grew rapidly between 2003 and 2008 as growing world demand for commodities combined with high prices and favorable weather to support Paraguay's commodity-based export expansion. Paraguay is the sixth largest soy producer in the world. Drought hit in 2008, reducing agricultural exports and slowing the economy even before the onset of the global recession.
In 2010, Paraguay is currently experiencing the greatest economical expansion of the zone and the highest of South America, with a GDP growth rate of 14.5% for by the end of the year.
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