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Population: 6.639 million (2015)
Area: 157,048 mi²
Capital City: Asunción


About Paraguay

Paraguay officially the Republic of Paraguay (Spanish: República del Paraguay; Guarani: Tetã Paraguái), is a landlocked country in central South America, bordered by Argentina to the south and southwest, Brazil to the east and northeast, and Bolivia to the northwest. Paraguay lies on both banks of the Paraguay River, which runs through the center of the country from north to south. Due to its central location in South America, it is sometimes referred to as Corazón de Sudamérica (“Heart of South America”). Paraguay is one of the two landlocked countries (the other is Bolivia) outside Afro-Eurasia, and is the smallest landlocked country in the Americas.
The indigenous Guaraní had been living in Paraguay for at least a millennium before the Spanish conquered the territory in the 16th century. Spanish settlers and Jesuit missions introduced Christianity and Spanish culture to the region. Paraguay was a peripheral colony of the Spanish Empire, with few urban centers and settlers. Following independence from Spain in 1811, Paraguay was ruled by a series of dictators who generally implemented isolationist and protectionist policies.
Following the disastrous Paraguayan War (1864–1870), the country lost 60 to 70 percent of its population through war and disease, and about 140,000 square kilometers (54,000 sq mi), one quarter of its territory, to Argentina and Brazil.
Through the 20th century, Paraguay continued to endure a succession of authoritarian governments, culminating in the regime of Alfredo Stroessner, who led South America’s longest-lived military dictatorship from 1954 to 1989. He was toppled in an internal military coup, and free multi-party elections (and the legalization of communist parties) were organized and held for the first time in 1993. A year later, Paraguay joined Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay to found Mercosur, a regional economic collaborative.


Currency

The Paraguayan Guarani is the currency of Paraguay. The currency code for Guarani is PYG, and the currency symbol is Gs.


Climate

The overall climate is tropical to subtropical. Like most lands in the region, Paraguay has only wet and dry periods. Winds play a major role in influencing Paraguay’s weather: between October and March, warm winds blow from the Amazon Basin in the North, while the period between May and August brings cold winds from the Andes.
The absence of mountain ranges to provide a natural barrier allows winds to develop speeds as high as 161 km/h (100 mph). This also leads to significant changes in temperature within a short span of time; between April and September, temperatures will sometimes drop below freezing. January is the hottest summer month, with an average daily temperature of 28.9 degrees Celsius (84 degrees F).
Rainfall varies dramatically across the country, with substantial rainfall in the eastern portions, and semi-arid conditions in the far west. The far eastern forest belt receives an average of 170 centimeters (67 inches) of rain annually, while the western Chaco region typically averages no more than 50 cm (20 in) a year. The rains in the west tend to be irregular and evaporate quickly, contributing to the aridity of the area.


Languages

Paraguay is a bilingual nation. Both Spanish and Guaraní are official languages. The Guarani language is a remarkable trace of the indigenous Guaraní culture that has endured in Paraguay, which is generally understood by 95% of the population. Guaraní claims its place as one of the last surviving and thriving of South American indigenous national languages. In 2015, Spanish was spoken by about 87% of the population, while Guaraní is spoken by more than 90%, or slightly more than 5.8 million speakers. 52% of rural Paraguayans are bilingual in Guaraní. While Guaraní is still widely spoken, Spanish is generally given a preferential treatment in government, business, media and education as one of South American lingua francas.


Economy

The macro-economy in Paraguay has some unique characteristics. It is characterized by a historical low inflation rate – 5% average (in 2013, the inflation rate was 3.7%), international reserves 20% of GDP and twice the amount of the external national debt. On top of that, the country enjoys clean and renewable energy production of 8,700 MW (current domestic demand 2,300 MW).
Between 1970 and 2013, the country had the highest economic growth of South America, with an average rate of 7.2% per year.
In 2010 and 2013, Paraguay experienced the greatest economic expansion of South America, with a GDP growth rate of 14.5% and 13.6% respectively.
Paraguay is the sixth-largest soybean producer in the world, second-largest producer of stevia, second-largest producer of tung oil, sixth-largest exporter of corn, tenth-largest exporter of wheat and 8th largest exporter of beef.
The market economy is 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. Nonetheless, over the last 10 years the Paraguayan economy diversified dramatically, with the energy, auto parts and clothing industries leading the way.
The country also boasts the third most important free commercial zone in the world: Ciudad del Este, trailing behind Miami and Hong Kong.[citation needed] 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. The economy grew rapidly between 2003 and 2013 as growing world demand for commodities combined with high prices and favorable weather to support Paraguay’s commodity-based export expansion.
In 2012, Paraguay’s government introduced the MERCOSUR(FOCEM) system in order to stimulate the economy and job growth through a partnership with both Brazil and Argentina.


Education

Literacy was about 93.6% and 87.7% of Paraguayans finish the 5th grade according to UNESCO’s last Educational Development Index 2008. Literacy does not differ much by gender. A more recent study reveals that attendance at primary school by children between 6 and 12 years old is about 98%. Primary education is free and mandatory and takes nine years. Secondary education takes three years. Paraguay’s universities include:
National University of Asunción (public and founded in 1889).
Autonomous University of Asunción (private and founded in 1979).
Universidad Católica Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (private and run by the church).
Universidad Americana (private).
The net primary enrollment rate was at 88% in 2005. Public expenditure on education was about 4.3% of GDP in the early 2000s.


Religion

Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, is the dominant religion in Paraguay. According to the 2002 census, 89.9% of the population is Catholic, 6.2% is Evangelical Protestant, 1.1% identify with other Christian sects, and 0.6% practice indigenous religions. A U.S. State Department report on Religious Freedom names Roman Catholicism, evangelical Protestantism, mainline Protestantism, Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform), Mormonism, and the Baha’i Faith as prominent religious groups. It also mentions a large Muslim community in Alto Paraná (as a result of Middle-Eastern immigration, especially from Lebanon) and a prominent Mennonite community in Boquerón.


Health

Average life expectancy in Paraguay is rather high given its poverty: as of 2006, it was 75 years, equivalent to far wealthier Argentina, and the 8th highest in the Americas according to World Health Organization. Public expenditure on health is 2.6% of GDP, while private health expenditure is 5.1%. Infant mortality was 20 per 1,000 births in 2005. Maternal mortality was 150 per 100,000 live births in 2000. The World Bank has helped the Paraguayan government reduce the country’s maternal and infant mortality. The Mother and Child Basic Health Insurance Project aimed to contribute to reducing mortality by increasing the use of selected life-saving services included in the country’s Mother and Child Basic Health Insurance Program (MCBI) by women of child-bearing age, and children under age six in selected areas. To this end, the project also targeted improving the quality and efficiency of the health service network within certain areas, in addition to increasing the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare’s (MSPBS) management.


Safety


There are three large cities in Paraguay, and they are generally safer than equivalently-sized cities in many parts of the world, and much more so than Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, New York or São Paulo. As long as common sense is applied – bearing in mind that as a foreigner you may naturally attract attention – you are unlikely to run into trouble. Personal ID should be carried at all times (ID card/photocopy of passport). The police have a reputation for corruption, and if you are stopped for any reason, they will require ID, and may expect a discreet bribe before allowing you to move on. However, this is more common in rural areas. Women should apply the same policy for being out alone at night as they would in cities in their own country. Loud and/or drunken behaviour in the street is unacceptable and will attract the attention of the police.
Ciudad del Este, on Paraguay’s eastern border with Brazil, is a shopping hub for people in the region. The city does have a name as a center for illicit activity such as smuggling, money laundering and counterfeiting, but this should not affect your travels. Be alert to pickpockets, and keep bags and wallets safe, as in any other large city. Do not take part, of course, in criminal activity on any level.
Paraguay’s legal system is based on Argentine and French codes, and Roman law; judicial review of legislative acts takes place in the Supreme Court of Justice.


Government and politics


Paraguay is a representative democratic republic, with a multi-party system and separation of powers in three branches. Executive power is exercised solely by the President, who is head of state and head of government. Legislative power is vested in the two chambers of the National Congress. The judiciary is vested on tribunals and Courts of Civil Law and a nine-member Supreme Court of Justice, all of them independent of the executive and the legislature.


The military of Paraguay consist of the Paraguayan army, navy (including naval aviation and marine corps) and air force.
The constitution of Paraguay establishes the president of Paraguay as the commander-in-chief.
Paraguay has compulsory military service, and all 18-year-old males and 17-year-olds in the year of their 18th birthday are liable for one year of active duty. Although the 1992 constitution allows for conscientious objection, no enabling legislation has yet been approved.
In July 2005, military aid in the form of U.S. Special Forces began arriving at Paraguay’s Mariscal Estigarribia air base, a sprawling complex built in 1982.


Paraguay consists of seventeen departments and one capital district (distrito capital).
It is also divided into 2 regions: The “Occidental Region” or Chaco (Boquerón, Alto Paraguay and Presidente Hayes), and the “Oriental Region” (the other departments and the capital district).


Transportation


Even though Paraguay was the first country in South America to have an operating railroad in the 1800s, as of 2006 there are no working regular passenger services. Almost all of the 235 mile railroad is disused, except for a heritage steam train which runs a 24 mile section between the Botanical Gardens in Asuncion and the village of Ypacarai, passing the city of Aregua. This is a weekly tourist service. Asuncion used to have a city tramway, but it was abandoned in 1997.
By far, bus travel is the most common form of public transport in Paraguay. Urban buses have routes around the big cities, although they are long so it can take a while to reach your final destination. Buses vary in shape and size, although generally they are old, mid-sized vehicles which don’t offer the most comfortable ride. But they are fun to look at since they are painted in a mix of bright colors. Long distance buses in general are large and comfortable, although you can still expect a bumpy ride on some journeys over seldom maintained roads. Various bus companies offer routes along with differing classes of comfort. NSA (+11-595-21-289-1000) offers comfortable trips to most major destinations.
Taxis are plentiful in the major cities of Asuncion and Ciudad del Este, while they are less readily available in cities like Concepcion and Pedro Juan Caballero. Compared to other forms of transport in Paraguay, they are fairly expensive so the locals don’t use them much. In Asuncion, taxis are meant to run on a meter, although drivers often choose not to use the meter, so it is worth negotiating the price before stepping in. Outside of Asuncion, meters are not used so always ask the price first.


Culture

Paraguay’s cultural heritage can be traced to the extensive intermarriage between the original male Spanish settlers and indigenous Guaraní women. Their culture is highly influenced by various European countries, including Spain. Therefore, Paraguayan culture is a fusion of two cultures and traditions; one European, the other, Southern Guaraní. More than 93% of Paraguayans are mestizos, making Paraguay one of the most homogeneous countries in Latin America. A characteristic of this cultural fusion is the extensive bilingualism present to this day: more than 80% of Paraguayans speak both Spanish and the indigenous language, Guaraní. Jopara, a mixture of Guaraní and Spanish, is also widely spoken.
This cultural fusion is expressed in arts such as embroidery (ao po’í) and lace making (ñandutí). The music of Paraguay, which consists of lilting polkas, bouncy galopas, and languid guaranias is played on the native harp. Paraguay’s culinary heritage is also deeply influenced by this cultural fusion. Several popular dishes contain manioc, a local staple crop similar to the yuca also known as Cassava root found in the Southwestern United States and Mexico, as well as other indigenous ingredients. A popular dish is sopa paraguaya, similar to a thick corn bread. Another notable food is chipa, a bagel-like bread made from cornmeal, manioc, and cheese. Many other dishes consist of different kinds of cheeses, onions, bell peppers, cottage cheese, cornmeal, milk, seasonings, butter, eggs and fresh corn kernels.
The 1950s and 1960s were the time of the flowering of a new generation of Paraguayan novelists and poets such as José Ricardo Mazó, Roque Vallejos, and Nobel Prize nominee Augusto Roa Bastos. Several Paraguayan films have been made.
Inside the family, conservative values predominate. In lower classes, godparents have a special relationship to the family, since usually, they are chosen because of their favorable social position, in order to provide extra security for the children. Particular respect is owed them, in return for which the family can expect protection and patronage.

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