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Guarani language, Itaipu Dam, Paraguay River, Spanish cultures, Gran Chaco

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Paraguay, a landlocked republic in South America. The Paraguay and Parana rivers provide access to the Atlantic Ocean and link the country to Argentina, its neighbor to the south. Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital and largest city, is the chief port on the Paraguay River. The city dates back to 1537.

Paraguay is about the size of California but has about one-sixth as many people. The Paraguay River runs from north to south and slices the country in two. Most of the people live east of the Paraguay, on fertile plains near the river or on a wooded plateau east of the plains. West of the river is a large, dry plain called the Gran Chaco. Marshy near the river, the Chaco becomes scrubland and forest farther west. This wilderness area is home to a great variety of animals, attracting birdwatchers and other animal lovers.

The original settlers of eastern Paraguay were Guarani Indians. Spanish colonists arrived in the 1500s, and Paraguay today is a fusion of the Guarani and Spanish cultures. Nearly all of Paraguay’s people are mestizos of mixed Spanish and Guarani ancestry. The Guarani language survives and is one of the country’s two official languages, along with Spanish.

Many of Paraguay’s people earn their living from farming. Paraguay also has large forested areas, and forestry contributes to the nation’s income. The Itaipu Dam, the largest hydroelectric project in the world, is on Paraguay’s southern border with Brazil. It provides power for both countries.

Paraguay was a Spanish colony before it gained independence in 1811. In 1865 Paraguay’s president dragged the country into a disastrous war with its more powerful neighbors, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Half of Paraguay’s people died before the fierce war ended in 1879. Paraguay also lost a fourth of its territory.

In the mid-1900s Paraguay gained notoriety for its military dictatorship run by army chief Alfredo Stroessner. After Stroessner seized power in 1954, Paraguay became known as a refuge for deposed dictators and former members of Germany’s Nazi Party. Stroessner remained in power until a military coup ousted him in 1989. Since then, Paraguay has taken steps toward democracy. In 1993, the country elected a civilian president, its first since 1954. But Paraguay continues to experience political instability and to struggle economically.


For younger readers

Jermyn, Leslie. Paraguay. Marshall Cavendish, 2000. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

Morrison, Marion. Paraguay. Children's Press, 1993. For readers in grades 5 to 8.


Dyck, Peter, and Elfrieda Dyck. Up from the Rubble. Herald, 1991. Details the history of 20th-century Mennonite immigration to Paraguay.

Lambert, Peter, and Andrew Nickson, eds. The Transition to Democracy in Paraguay. St. Martin's, 1997. Paraguay's struggle to free itself from the shackles of dictatorship.

Lewis, Paul H. Political Parties and Generations in Paraguay's Liberal Era, 1869-1940. University of North Carolina Press, 1992. A thorough political history of the era.

Lewis, Paul H. Socialism, Liberalism, and Dictatorship in Paraguay. Greenwood, 1982. Chronicles the dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner.

Warren, Harris G. Paraguay: An Informal History. Greenwood, 1982. A solid introduction to Paraguay's chaotic past.

Whitehead, Anne. Paradise Mislaid: In Search of the Australian Tribe of Paraguay. ISBS, 1998. Blends travel writing, history, and narrative of a personal journey.


Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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