When Spanish colonizers in the early 16th
century came to what is today Paraguay, the area was
inhabited by close to a million guaraní and several
smaller peoples. A deeply rooted mixed culture emerged.
After 300 years of Spanish rule, Paraguay became
independent in 1811. But the small country, closed
between large and threatening neighboring countries, was
ruled dictatorially and lagged behind in development.
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Paraguay, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
The Spaniards came to the area from Argentina and
sought via the Paraná and Paraguay rivers a shortcut to
the gold and silver riches in Peru. Guaraní showed them
the way, and in return the Spaniards helped them in
fighting with other peoples, such as payaguá (which gave
Paraguay its name), guaycurú and abipón. The
interdependence caused Spaniards and guaraní to form
families together, and thus the mixed culture arose.
In 1537, the Spaniards founded the city of Asuncion,
which became the starting point for further colonization
of southern South America. But there was neither gold
nor silver and the area did not develop economically.
The colonizers' interest cooled and in the 17th century
Catholic Jesuits instead came to mission. They were
given large tracts of land which they developed into
self-sufficient collective with the indigenous peoples.
The approximately 100,000 so-called Indians who lived in
the collective were legally protected from being taken
to work on plantations, in mines or in the military. The
system tormented the upper class of Asuncion and in 1768
all the Jesuits from Paraguay were banished.
Independence from Spain
In 1811, Paraguay was liberated from colonial power
Spain. After independence, the country's history came to
be dominated by leaders who resorted to dictatorial
methods to hold the nation together against hostile
The first three dictators were civilians. During José
Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia's dictatorship (1814-1840),
the country underwent major social improvements, but
Francia demanded complete loyalty and an isolationist
policy of welding the country against Argentina, which
had plans to annex Paraguay. All emigration was stopped
and attempts to leave the country were punished with
After Francia's death, Carlos Antonio López assumed
power. He had the infrastructure and defense expanded
and the country's neutrality policy liquidated. Antonio
López was succeeded by his son Francisco Solano López,
who continued the industrial development.
Devastating war against the triple alliance
In 1864 Francisco Solano López ruled the country
straight into a disastrous war against Brazil, Argentina
and Uruguay (the Triple Alliance). Paraguay was
inextricably equipped and Argentina and Brazil conquered
large parts of the country, which were laid in ruins.
When the war was over 1870, 300,000 Paraguayans had lost
their lives, well over half the population. Over 90
percent of the adult male population died. Extensive
The situation was aggravated by internal conflicts
over how Paraguay would relate to the two powerful
neighboring states. The Liberal Party supported
Argentina and the Conservative Colorado Party supported
Brazil. The Conservatives had power in the late 1800s
and began selling off state land to become rich
themselves. It aroused strong protests and contributed
to the 1904 revolution, when the Liberals took power.
However, the Liberal Party was divided and the shifts of
power then became dense and violent.
The Chaco War against Bolivia
Some stabilization and economic recovery had been
achieved when oil was found in the 1920s in the Chaco
area near the Bolivia border. The country was drawn into
a land conflict with the neighboring country and
eventually an open war broke out. The Chaco War of
1932-1935 claimed the lives of 100,000 people, including
a third of Paraguayans. Paraguay was allocated a large
part of the disputed area when the border was later
established. But Bolivia got the area where the oil
should be. However, test drilling did not produce any
Dissatisfaction with the terms of the peace agreement
contributed to the so-called February Revolution of
1936, a military coup that set the point for the Liberal
government. The country had then had 22 presidents in 32
Civil War beds for the Colorado Party
The war against Bolivia was followed by a series of
new coups and counter-coups, in which officers and
parties dared to dismiss each other. In 1940 General
Higinio Morínigo took power. He banned all political
parties, cracked down on the labor movement, and
sympathized with the Nazis during World War II. The
military dictator Morínigo ruled with an iron hand but
beneath the surface, the contradictions between
different groups intensified. Political parties were
again allowed in 1946 and the following year a real
civil war broke out. The war was between the government
with the support of the Colorado Party on the one hand,
and liberals and left parties on the other.
After just under six months, the Colorado Party
emerged victorious, and Paraguay became a one-party
state from 1947.
Ban on foreign landowners
Foreigners are prohibited from buying land in Paraguay. Tensions prevail
between landless peasants and foreign, mainly Brazilian, landowners. The
government buys 22,000 hectares of land from Brazilian landowners in San Pedro,
to be allocated to landless farmers.
Violent in land occupation
One person is killed in a clash between police and farm workers who have
occupied land in Alto Paraná.
The President accuses representatives of the coup plans
Lugo accuses his representative Nicanor Duarte and former military leader
Lino Oviedo of forging dome plans. They refute the charges.
Lugo becomes President
Lugo is joining. He apologizes in the name of the state for the many abuses
of the dictatorship, which the Truth and Justice Commission has investigated for
four years (see Political system).
Historical victory for Lugo
Former Bishop Fernando Lugo wins in a historic presidential election that
marks the Colorado Party's more than half-century-long power holdings.