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History


Pre-Columbian Era


Indigenous peoples have inhabited this area for thousands of years. Pre-Columbian society, in the region which is now Paraguay, consisted of semi-nomadic tribes which were known for their warrior traditions. These indigenous tribes belonged to five distinct language families, which were the bases of their major divisions. Differing language speaking groups were generally competitive over resources and territories. They were further divided into tribes by speaking languages in branches of these families. Today 17 separate ethnolinguistic groups remain.


Colonization


The first Europeans in the area were Spanish explorers in 1516. The Spanish explorer Juan de Salazar de Espinosa founded the settlement of Asunción on 15 August 1537. The city eventually became the center of a Spanish colonial province of Paraguay.
An attempt to create an autonomous Christian Indian nation was undertaken by Jesuit missions and settlements in this part of South America in the eighteenth century, which included portions of Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil. They developed Jesuit reductions to bring Guarani populations together at Spanish missions and protect them from virtual slavery by Spanish settlers, in addition to seeking their conversion to Christianity. Catholicism in Paraguay was influenced by the indigenous peoples; the syncretic religion has absorbed native elements. The reducciones flourished in Eastern Paraguay for about 150 years, until the expulsion of the Jesuits by the Spanish Crown in 1767. The ruins of two 18th-century Jesuit Missions of La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná and Jesús de Tavarangue have been designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.


Independence and rule of Francia

Paraguay overthrew the local Spanish administration on 14 May 1811. Paraguay’s first dictator was José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia who ruled Paraguay from 1814 until his death in 1840, with very little outside contact or influence. He intended to create a utopian society based on the French theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract.
Rodríguez de Francia established new laws that greatly reduced the powers of the Catholic church (Catholicism was then an established state religion) and the cabinet, forbade colonial citizens from marrying one another and allowed them to marry only blacks, mulattoes or natives, in order to break the power of colonial-era elites and to create a mixed-race or mestizo society. He cut off relations between Paraguay and the rest of South America. Because of Francia’s restrictions of freedom, Fulgencio Yegros and several other Independence-era leaders in 1820 planned a coup d’état against Francia, who discovered the plot and had its leaders either executed or imprisoned for life.


Rule of the López

After Francia’s death in 1840, Paraguay was ruled by various military officers under a new junta, until Carlos Antonio López (allegedly Rodríguez de Francia’s nephew) came to power in 1841. López modernized Paraguay and opened it to foreign commerce. He signed a non-aggression pact with Argentina and officially declared independence of Paraguay in 1842. After López’s death in 1862, power was transferred to his eldest son, Francisco Solano López.
The regime of the López family was characterized by pervasive and rigid centralism in production and distribution. There was no distinction between the public and the private spheres, and the López family ruled the country as it would a large estate.
The government exerted control on all exports. The export of yerba mate and valuable wood products maintained the balance of trade between Paraguay and the outside world. The Paraguayan government was extremely protectionist, never accepted loans from abroad and levied high tariffs against imported foreign products. This protectionism made the society self-sufficient, and it also avoided the debt suffered by Argentina and Brazil. Slavery existed in Paraguay, although not in great numbers, until 1844, when it was legally abolished in the new Constitution.
Francisco Solano López, the son of Carlos Antonio López, replaced his father as the President-Dictator in 1862, and generally continued the political policies of his father. Both wanted to give an international image of Paraguay as “democratic and republican”, but in fact, the ruling family had almost total control of all public life in the country, including Church and colleges.
Militarily, Carlos Antonio López modernized and expanded industry and the Paraguayan Army and greatly strengthened the strategic defences of Paraguay by developing the Fortress of Humaitá. The government hired more than 200 foreign technicians, who installed telegraph lines and railroads to aid the expanding steel, textile, paper and ink, naval construction, weapons and gunpowder industries. The Ybycuí foundry, completed in 1850, manufactured cannons, mortars and bullets of all calibers. River warships were built in the shipyards of Asunción. Fortifications were built, especially along the Apa River and in Gran Chaco. The work was continued by his son Francisco Solano.


Paraguayan War (1864–1870)

In 12 October 1864, despite Paraguayan ultimatums, the Brazilian Empire (sided with Argentina and the rebellious Gen. Venancio Flores) invaded the Republic of Uruguay (which then was an ally of the Lopez’s Government), thus starting the Paraguayan War. The Paraguayans, led by the Marshal of the Republic Francisco Solano López, held a fierce resistance, but were ultimately defeated in 1870 after the Death of Solano López, who was killed in action. The real causes of this war, which remains the bloodiest international conflict in Latin American history, are still highly debated.
About the disaster suffered by the Paraguayans at the outcome of the war, William D. Rubinstein wrote: “The normal estimate is that of a Paraguayan population of somewhere between 450,000 and 900,000, only 220,000 survived the war, of whom only 28,000 were adult males.” Paraguay also suffered extensive territorial losses to Brazil and Argentina.
During the pillaging of Asunción in 1869, the Brazilian Imperial Army packed up and transported the Paraguayan National Archives to Rio de Janeiro. Brazil’s records from the war have remained classified. This has made Paraguayan history in the Colonial and early National periods difficult to research and study.


20th century

In 1904 the Liberal revolution against the rule of Colorados broke out. The Liberal rule started a period of great political instability. Between 1904 and 1954 Paraguay had thirty-one presidents, most of whom were removed from office by force. Conflicts between the factions of the ruling Liberal party led to the Paraguayan Civil War of 1922.
The unresolved border conflict with Bolivia over Chaco region finally erupted in early 1930s in the Chaco War. After great losses Paraguay defeated Bolivia and established its sovereignty over most of the disputed Chaco region. After the war, military officers used popular dissatisfaction with the Liberal politicians to seize the power for themselves. On 17 February 1936, the February Revolution brought colonel Rafael Franco to power. Between 1940 and 1948, the country was ruled by general Higinio Moríñigo. Dissatisfaction with his rule resulted in the Paraguayan civil war of 1947. In its aftermath Alfredo Stroessner began involvement in a string of plots, which resulted in his military coup d’état of 4 May 1954.


Post-1989

The June 1992 constitution established a democratic system of government and dramatically improved protection of fundamental human rights. In May 1993, Colorado Party candidate Juan Carlos Wasmosy was elected as Paraguay’s first civilian president in almost 40 years, in what international observers deemed fair and free elections.
With support from the United States, the Organization of American States, and other countries in the region, the Paraguayan people rejected an April 1996 attempt by then Army Chief General Lino Oviedo to oust President Wasmosy.
Oviedo was nominated as the Colorado candidate for president in the 1998 election, however, when the Supreme Court upheld in April his conviction on charges related to the 1996 coup attempt, he was not allowed to run and was detained in jail. His former running mate, Raúl Cubas, became the Colorado Party’s candidate, and was elected in May in elections deemed by international observers to be free and fair. One of Cubas’ first acts after taking office in August was to commute Oviedo’s sentence and release him. In December 1998, Paraguay’s Supreme Court declared these actions unconstitutional. In this tense atmosphere, the murder of Vice President and long-time Oviedo rival Luis María Argaña on 23 March 1999, led the Chamber of Deputies to impeach Cubas the next day. On 26 March, eight student anti-government demonstrators were murdered, widely believed to have been carried out by Oviedo supporters. This increased opposition to Cubas, who resigned on 28 March. Senate President Luis González Macchi, a Cubas opponent, was peacefully sworn in as president the same day.
In 2003, Nicanor Duarte Frutos was elected as president.
For the 2008 general elections, the Colorado Party was favored in polls. Their candidate was Minister of Education Blanca Ovelar, the first woman to be nominated as a candidate for a major party in Paraguayan history. After sixty years of Colorado rule, voters chose Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic Bishop and not a professional politician in civil government. He had long followed liberation theology, which was controversial in South American societies, but he was backed by the center-right Liberal Party, the Colorado Party’s traditional opponents.


From Lugo’s 2008 election to his 2012 impeachment


Lugo achieved a historic victory in Paraguay’s presidential election, 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. Outgoing President Nicanor Duarte Frutos hailed the moment as the first time in the history of the nation that a government had transferred power to opposition forces in a constitutional and peaceful fashion.
Lugo was sworn in on 15 August 2008. The Paraguayan Congress continued to be dominated by right-wing elected officials. The Lugo administration set its two major priorities as the reduction of corruption and economic inequality.
Political instability following Lugo’s election and disputes within his cabinet encouraged some renewal of popular support for the Colorado Party. Reports suggested that the businessman Horacio Cartes became the new political figure amid disputes. Despite the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s strong accusations against Cartes related to drug trafficking, he continued to amass followers in the political arena.

On 14 January 2011, the Colorado Party convention nominated Horacio Cartes as the presidential candidate for the party. However, the party’s constitution didn’t allow it. On 21 June 2012, impeachment proceedings against President Lugo began in the country’s lower house, which was controlled by his opponents. Lugo was given less than twenty-four hours to prepare for the proceedings and only two hours in which to mount a defense. Impeachment was quickly approved and the resulting trial in Paraguay’s Senate, also controlled by the opposition, ended with the removal of Lugo from office and Vice President Federico Franco assuming the duties of president. Lugo’s rivals blamed him for the deaths of 17 people – eight police officers and nine farmers – in armed clashes after police were ambushed by armed peasants when enforcing an eviction order against rural trespassers.
Lugo’s supporters gathered outside Congress to protest the decision as a “politically motivated coup d’état”. Lugo’s removal from office on 22 June 2012 is considered by UNASUR and other neighboring countries, especially those currently governed by leftist leaders, as a coup d’état. The Organization of American States, which sent a mission to Paraguay to gather information, concluded that the impeachment process had been carried out in accordance with the Constitution of Paraguay.

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