Paraguay - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

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Paraguay (country), a landlocked republic in South America. The Paraguay and Paraná rivers provide access to the Atlantic Ocean and link the country to Argentina, its neighbor to the south. Asunción, 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 Guaraní Indians. Spanish colonists arrived in the 1500s, and Paraguay today is a fusion of the Guaraní and Spanish cultures. Nearly all of Paraguay’s people are mestizos of mixed Spanish and Guaraní ancestry. The Guaraní 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.


The Paraguay River divides the country into sharply contrasting regions: Paraguay proper (or Paraguay Oriental) east of the river, and the Gran Chaco (or Paraguay Occidental) west of the river. The Paraguay River is the country’s principal waterway. The Gran Chaco is part of an alluvial plain that extends from Paraguay into Bolivia on the west, Argentina on the south, and Brazil on the east. Grassy plains, swamps, and scrub forests cover the area.

Paraguay proper consists mainly of a low plain, rolling hills, and a plateau at an elevation of 300 to 600 m (1,000 to 2,000 ft) above sea level. The plateau is part of the Paraná plateau, which extends into Brazil. It descends sharply on its western edge to a region of fertile grassy foothills and valleys. Numerous streams water this area and drain into the Paraguay. The low plain near the river floods periodically. The plateau and the fertile hills and lowlands near the river contain most of the country’s population and economic activity. Asunción and Concepción are the principal cities on the Paraguay River.

The Paraná River flows southward across the plateau. It plunges over the edge of the plateau in a series of spectacular waterfalls known as Guaíra Falls. The river then enters a narrow canyon. After flowing across the country the Paraguay River enters the Paraná near the southwestern tip of Paraguay. Lake Ypoá is the only large inland body of water.

The Gran Chaco is a low, flat alluvial plain that extends into several South American countries—Bolivia on the west, Argentina on the south, and Brazil on the east. Grassy plains, swamps, and scrub forests cover the area. The Pilcomayo River and other streams cross the Gran Chaco. Flowing only during the rainy season, these streams shift their courses frequently. The Pilcomayo joins the Paraguay River at Asunción.

Climate in Paraguay

The climate of Paraguay is subtropical. In the summer warm winds blow from the northeast. During the mild winters cold winds sometimes blow from the south. The Chaco is hotter than the rest of the country. It has heavy rainfall in the summer and almost no rain in the winter. Rainfall is more evenly distributed throughout the year in the rest of the country.

At Asunción average temperatures range from about 17°C (about 63°F) in July, which is winter south of the equator, to about 27°C (about 80°F) in January. In the Chaco and other points to the north temperatures often reach 38°C (100°F). Annual rainfall averages some 1,120 mm (44 in) in the Asunción area, some 815 mm (32 in) in the Gran Chaco, and some 1,525 mm (60 in) in the eastern forest regions.

Natural Resources of Paraguay

The primary resources of Paraguay are its fertile soil and its forests. It has few mineral resources; limestone, copper, clay, and petroleum are the most important. Paraguay’s rivers, well suited for hydroelectric projects, are another important resource. Paraguay imports all of its petroleum.

Plants and Animals in Paraguay

The plants and animals of Paraguay are substantially the same as those of neighboring South American countries. Paraguay proper, where rainfall is heavy, is covered by dense evergreen forests interspersed with a wide variety of tropical grasses, ferns, palms, and exotic flowers. In the Gran Chaco, vegetation is comparatively sparse but includes the red quebracho tree, a rich source of tannin extract. The plains are covered by coarse tropical reeds, grasses, and stunted trees.

The animals of Paraguay include armadillos, capybaras (a type of large rodent), tapirs, jaguars, anteaters, wild boar, deer, caiman, and various species of snake. Among the local birds are toucans, ibis, herons, parrots, black ducks, partridges, rhea, and parakeets. Many of these birds exhibit strikingly beautiful plumage.


Paraguay has perhaps the most racially homogenous population in South America. About 95 percent of the people are mestizos (people of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry). Minority groups include individuals of pure Spanish ancestry, living mainly in Asunción; unassimilated Guaraní people of the eastern forest region; and small colonies of immigrants from Japan, Italy, Portugal, Canada, and other countries. The Mennonites, a German-speaking religious sect, form a notable immigrant group.

The overwhelming majority of Paraguay’s people live in the eastern third of the country. The western part of Paraguay is sparsely settled. Paraguay’s overall density of only 17 persons per sq km (45 per sq mi) is one of the lowest in South America. Population is most sparse in the Chaco. Some 42 percent of the population lives in rural areas.

The chief cities of Paraguay include Asunción;, the capital and a commercial city and port; Ciudad del Este, a town near the Itaipu Dam on the Paraguayan-Brazilian border; Encarnación, a railroad and agricultural center; Concepción, a river port; Coronel Oviedo; and Caaguazú.

Language and Religion in Paraguay

Paraguay is a bilingual country; its official languages are Spanish and Guaraní, which is commonly spoken by about 90 percent of the people. Guaraní is used in most folk poems and songs and in books and periodicals. See Tupí-Guaranian; Guaraní.

Roman Catholicism is the official religion and the faith of a large majority of Paraguayans. Freedom of worship is extended to other faiths. A number of small Protestant groups exist, of which the Mennonite group is the largest.

Education in Paraguay

Elementary education in Paraguay is free and nominally compulsory for children from 6 to 14 years of age. Primary school education lasts for six years. Lower secondary education lasts for three years. Upper secondary education, which is noncompulsory and lasts for three years, is divided into general (humanistic and scientific), commercial, and technical and professional branches. Higher education is provided by public and private universities, teacher training institutions, and other university-level professional institutions. Major institutions of higher education include the National University of Asunción (founded in 1890) and the Catholic University of Our Lady of Asunción (1960).

Culture of Paraguay

Paraguayan culture is a blend chiefly of Guaranian and Spanish elements, supplemented by more recent Argentine, German, and Italian influences. The culture of Paraguay has remained isolated and therefore has retained many features introduced in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Spanish conquerors, artisans, and Jesuit missionaries. The Ateneo Paraguayo, a leading cultural center, sponsors art exhibits, lectures, and concerts. Paraguayans are proud of their indigenous heritage, and institutions devoted to its study include the Academy of Guaraní Language and Culture, the Indian Association of Paraguay, and the Guaraní Theater.

Libraries and Museums in Paraguay

Among the notable libraries are the National Archives and American Library of the National Museum of Fine Arts, which also houses paintings and historical objects, and the library of the Paraguayan Scientific Society; all are in Asunción. Other important museums in Asunción include the Andres Barbero Ethnographical Museum and the Museum of Military History.

Literature and Music in Paraguay

Historical and legal writings occupy the leading place in Paraguayan literature; even poetry seldom loses touch with social realities. Among the foremost 20th-century Paraguayan writers are Juan Natalicio Gonzalez, Manuel Ortiz Guerrero, and Augusto Roa Bastos. Several works by Roa Bastos, considered the greatest of Paraguay’s 20th-century novelists, have been translated into English, including Hijo de hombre (1960; Son of Man, 1965) and Yo el Supremo (1974; I the Supreme, 1986). See Latin American Literature.

From remote times, the Guaraní have used simple wind and percussion instruments, mostly wooden flutes, whistles, rattles, and bells. Guitars and harps, introduced by early Spanish settlers, are basic instruments of contemporary Paraguayan music. One of the oldest forms of Paraguayan popular music is the polka, and ballads and songs preserve much of the country’s history and tradition. The Guarania, a song with a flowing lyric melody introduced by Paraguayan composer Juan Asunción Flores in the early 20th century, is the first distinctive variation of the Hispanic colonial tradition. Asunción Flores revived Guarani folk music and used its rhythms in composing symphonic music. See Latin American Music.

Art in Paraguay

Much Paraguayan art uses themes of native folklore and of religion, frequently expressed in church decoration. The earliest well-defined Paraguayan art dates from colonial times when Jesuit and Franciscan missions established art schools. Examples of early art, now extant, in both baroque Spanish and Native American styles, include pediments adorned with figures of saints, pulpits, seats carved in stone, and magnificent wood-carved altarpieces.

Among the greatest names in modern Paraguayan art are the painters Pablo Alborno and Juan Samudio. The most renowned Paraguayan craft is the production of the very delicate ñandutí lace. See Latin America Painting and Latin American Sculpture.


Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in South America. The economy was long based largely on agriculture, and economic development was slowed by lack of skilled manpower, transportation facilities, and investment resources. Beginning in the 1950s, the government initiated numerous programs to stimulate development, including increased public investment in roads, airports, and hydroelectric power, often involving foreign investment. Paraguay experienced rapid economic growth during the 1970s, as roads were completed, prices rose for its exports, and work began on the Itaipu dam. But political instability, falling prices, debt, and other problems stalled economic performance during the 1980s and 1990s.

In 2006 the gross domestic product (GDP) of Paraguay was $9.3 billion, or $1,541.80 per capita. (The GDP is a measure of the value of all goods and services produced by a country.) Services contributed 61 percent of the GDP; industry, 18 percent; and agriculture and forestry contributed 21 percent. Paraguay also has a large “informal” economy that includes street vendors and the resale of imported goods to Brazil and Argentina.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing in Paraguay

Nearly half of Paraguay’s workers are employed in the agricultural sector. Many of them farm on a subsistence basis. The leading agricultural products are cassava, seed cotton, sugarcane, corn, wheat, root crops such as sweet potatoes, and fruits such as bananas and oranges. Livestock breeding is a significant agricultural occupation; Paraguay has more cattle than people. Other livestock includes pigs, sheep, and horses.

Forestry has been important to the economy of Paraguay. However, the country’s forest resources have been depleted as trees are cut for timber and fuel, especially in eastern Paraguay. In addition to timber, other forest products include yerba maté (Paraguayan tea), quebracho extract (tannin), wax, oils, and nuts. In landlocked Paraguay, fishing is of minor importance.

Mining and Manufacturing in Paraguay

Mining is unimportant in Paraguay. Although deposits of various minerals are reported, they are not exploited commercially. Limestone, extracted in significant amounts, is used in producing cement.

Manufacturing is confined largely to agricultural and forestry products and to basic consumer goods. Most manufacturing establishments are small, and the processing of the country’s agricultural products are their chief function. Manufacturing is concentrated in the vicinity of Asunción. Among the important products are packed meat, sugar, and other foodstuffs; textiles; and electric power. A large steel mill opened in 1986 north of Asunción.

Energy in Paraguay

Almost all of Paraguay’s electricity is produced in hydroelectric facilities. The great Itaipu hydroelectric project on the Paraná became fully operational in 1991. The joint Paraguayan and Argentine Yacyretá Dam project was completed in 1994. Paraguay uses only a small part of the hydroelectric energy it produces.

Currency and Foreign Trade in Paraguay

The basic unit of national currency is the guaraní. The Central Bank of Paraguay (founded in 1952) issues currency and controls exchange.

In 2002 Paraguay’s imports cost $1.7 billion, and its exports earned $1.2 billion. Major imports were petroleum, machinery, transportation equipment, metal and metal products, and foodstuffs; leading exports were cotton, soybeans, timber, oilseeds, and meat. The chief purchasers of Paraguay’s exports are Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. The leading sources of Paraguay’s imports are Brazil, Argentina, China, and the United States. Paraguay is a member of two trade associations, the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA) and the Southern Cone Common Market (known by its Spanish acronym MERCOSUR). The LAIA, created in 1980 to replace the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA), works to integrate the economies of member countries, which include most South American countries as well as Mexico. MERCOSUR, a free trade association created in 1995, lowers tariffs between Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil.

Transportation and Communications in Paraguay

Internal waterways—chiefly the Alto Paraná and Paraguay rivers—long provided the main means of transportation in Paraguay. In 1999 Paraguay had 29,500 km (18,330 mi) of roads. Paraguay is served by a section of the Pan-American Highway, and the Trans-Chaco Highway links Asunción with Bolivia. Highways completed during the 1980s improved travel between Paraguay and neighboring Argentina and Brazil. Paraguay has about 440 km (about 275 mi) of operated railroad track. Asunción is served by an international airport completed in 1980. Local airlines operate within the country.

Paraguay has several daily newspapers and both government-run and commercial radio and television stations. Although the media express a variety of views, criticism of government corruption can provoke intimidation.


Paraguay is governed under a 1992 constitution that gives much power to the president but limits each holder of the office to one term.

Executive of Paraguay

The head of state and chief executive official of Paraguay is a president, who is elected to a single five-year term by a simple majority vote of the electorate. A vice president is elected concurrently under the same conditions. The president is assisted by a council of ministers and is advised by a council of state.

Legislature of Paraguay

Paraguay’s bicameral national legislature is made up of a 45-member senate and an 80-member chamber of deputies. The political party receiving the most votes in legislative elections receives two-thirds of the seats in each chamber, and the remaining third is divided proportionally among the other contending parties. Legislators serve terms of up to five years.

Political Parties of Paraguay

The leading political organization in Paraguay is the Asociación Nacional Republicana, known as the Colorado Party. Other groups include the Christian Democratic Party, the Liberal Radical Party, the Authentic Liberal Radical Party, and the Liberal Party.

Judiciary in Paraguay

The highest tribunal in Paraguay is the Supreme Court, made up of five judges chosen by the country’s president. Other judicial bodies include courts of appeal, courts of first instance, magistrates’ courts, and justices of the peace.

Defense of Paraguay

The armed forces have long dominated political institutions in Paraguay. In 2004 the country’s military included an army of 7,600 people, a navy of 1,600, and an air force of 1,100. Military service by males is compulsory for 18 to 24 months.

Local Government of Paraguay

Paraguay is divided into 17 departments (provinces), plus the capital district of Asunción. Fourteen of the departments are in Paraguay proper: Alto Paraná, Amambay, Caaguazú, Caazapá, Canendiyú, Central, Concepción, Cordillera, Guairá, Itapúa, Misiones, Ñeembucú, Paraguarí, and San Pedro. Three of the departments are in the Gran Chaco: Alto Paraguay, Boquerón, and Presidente Hayes. The departments are divided into districts, which are subdivided into municipalities and rural districts.


The aborigines of Paraguay were Native Americans of various tribes collectively known as Guaraní because of their common language. They were numerous when the country was visited, probably about 1525, by the Portuguese explorer Alejo García. During the next few years Italian navigator Sebastian Cabot, then in the service of Spain, partly explored the rivers of the country.

Spanish Settlement

On August 15, 1537, Spanish adventurers seeking gold established a fort on the Paraguay River, calling it Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Our Lady of the Assumption), because that day was the feast day honoring the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Colonial Paraguay and the territory of present-day Argentina were ruled jointly until 1620, when they became separate dependencies of the Viceroyalty of Peru.

Beginning about 1609, the Jesuits, working under great hardship, established many missions called reducciones, which were settlements of Native American converts, whom the missionaries educated. The communal life on these settlements was similar to the original life of the Native Americans. Granted almost complete freedom from civil and ecclesiastical local authorities, the Jesuits, through the missions, became the strongest power in the colony. In 1750 King Ferdinand VI of Spain, by the Treaty of Madrid, ceded Paraguayan territory including seven reducciones to Portugal, and the Jesuits incited a Guaraní revolt against the transfer. In 1767 the missionaries were expelled from Spanish America, including Paraguay; soon thereafter, the missions were deserted.

In 1776 Spain created the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, which comprised present-day Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia. Paraguay became an unimportant border dependency of Buenos Aires, the capital of the Viceroyalty, and sank gradually into relative insignificance until the early 19th century.


Paraguay proclaimed its independence on May 14, 1811. Three years later José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia made himself dictator and ruled absolutely until his death in 1840. Fearing that Paraguay might fall prey to stronger Argentina, Francia dictated a policy of national isolation. In the administrative reorganization following the dictator’s death, his nephew Carlos Antonio López became the leading political figure. In 1844 López became president and dictator. He reversed the isolationist policy, encouraged commerce, instituted many reforms, and began building a railroad. Under his rule the population of Paraguay rose to more than 1 million.

Ruinous War

At his death in 1862 López was succeeded by his son, Francisco Solano López. Solano López, who had been educated in France and mimicked Napoleon I, began training the largest fighting force in South America. In 1865, looking to build an empire, he led the nation into a war against an alliance of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. The war devastated Paraguay, and when the death of López in 1870 ended the conflict, more than half of the population had been killed, including two-thirds of the adult males. The economy had been destroyed, and agricultural activity was at a standstill. Territorial losses exceeded 142,500 sq km (55,000 sq mi). The country was occupied by a Brazilian army until 1876, and the peace treaties imposed heavy indemnities on the country. In 1878 President Rutherford B. Hayes of the United States was arbiter in the settlement of boundaries between Argentina and Paraguay. The boundary dispute was settled in Paraguay’s favor. Most of the land that Paraguay gained as a result of the settlement is in the Gran Chaco, and Paraguay named a province in the Chaco Presidente Hayes after the arbiter of the dispute.


Paraguayan history after the war was largely an effort to reconstruct the country. Immigration was encouraged, and Paraguay established subsidized agricultural colonies. The unsettling effects of the war, however, were apparent for many decades, particularly from 1870 to 1912, when no president was able to serve out a full term. Subsequently, periods of political stability alternated with periods of ferment and revolt. The administration (1912-1916) of Eduardo Schaerer was relatively enlightened. The country remained neutral and prosperous during World War I (1914-1918), and the administrations of Manuel Gondra (1920-1921), Eusebio Ayala (1921-1923), and Eligio Ayala (1923-1928) were on the whole periods of peace and progress.

The border with Bolivia in the Chaco Boreal, which had never been formally drawn, was the scene of numerous incidents between 1929 and 1932. Both countries put down isolated settlements in the Chaco, which was believed to contain oil deposits, but no boundary lines could be agreed upon. Both countries also wished to recover prestige after military defeats in the previous century. In 1932 year a full-scale war broke out. Paraguay was successful militarily and eventually received verification of its claims to most of the region, after driving the Bolivians back to the Andes. An armistice was declared in 1935, and a peace treaty was signed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1938. The agreement was facilitated by the exhaustion of both combatants and by the intervention of several neutral countries. In the final settlement Paraguay received about three-fourths of the disputed area. The Chaco War is regarded by many Paraguayans as a necessary and glorious episode in the development of their country. Once again, however, war paved the way for authoritarian government and political uncertainty.

After the war, the government was reorganized to permit widespread economic and social reforms. By a new constitution adopted in 1940, the state was given the power to regulate economic activities and the government was highly centralized. Paraguay declared war on Germany and Japan on February 7, 1945, shortly before the end of World War II. The country subsequently became a charter member of the United Nations.

Morínigo and Chávez

In 1940 General Higinio Morínigo had made himself president and ruled as a dictator for the next eight years. A coup d’état deposed him in 1948. In 1949, Federico Chávez, an army-backed leader of a faction of the dominant Colorado Party, was elected president without opposition. He imposed a dictatorship much like that of Morínigo. In 1951 the Chávez regime devalued the currency in an attempt to check inflation and the loss of gold reserves. The economic crisis was aggravated in 1952, when Argentina, itself the victim of depressed economic conditions, abrogated a barter agreement with Paraguay. During the year legislation granted various benefits to workers. In general elections held in 1953, President Chávez was reelected, again without opposition. He imposed wage and price controls later that year to check inflation. In May 1954 his government was overthrown by an army-police junta.

The Stroessner Regime

The electorate in July 1954 endorsed General Alfredo Stroessner, commander in chief of the army and head of the Colorado Party. He was the only candidate. Attempts by leftist forces to seize power were put down in 1956 and 1957. A plebiscite in 1958 confirmed President Stroessner for another five-year term. Stroessner imposed a highly dictatorial regime, exiling leaders of opposition political parties and banning newspapers critical of the government.

In elections for a new congress in 1960, all 60 seats were won by the president’s supporters in the Colorado Party. Diplomatic relations with Cuba were severed in December. Paraguay was among the states that favored collective action by the Organization of American States against the Cuban regime, but such measures were not approved by the two-thirds majority required. In 1963 Stroessner was reelected president, running against the first opposition candidate in a Paraguayan presidential election in 30 years. He enjoyed some popularity in the mid-1960s, partly because of continued economic progress, but many Paraguayans had also fled into exile from his dictatorship. Stroessner continued in power in 1968 after having had the constitution altered the previous year to permit his reelection. He was again reelected in 1973, 1978, and 1983.

A significant step was taken by the Stroessner regime in the late 1960s with the establishment of close economic relations with neighboring countries. In May 1968 the La Plata Basin Pact was signed by the foreign ministers of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. This agreement, calling for joint development of the La Plata River Basin, was expected to stimulate the economy of the entire region and would be of special importance to Paraguay, the least-developed nation in the area. The relationship between Paraguay and Brazil became closer after Brazil came under a military regime in 1964.

In the 1970s and early 1980s Paraguay was relatively calm. Itaipu, the largest hydroelectric dam in the world, was built on the Paraná River in a joint venture with Brazil. Inflation was controlled, but declining markets for Paraguayan exports led to rising unemployment and a worsening of the nation’s trade position. The mid-1980s brought limited political liberalization, including, in 1987, the lifting of the state of siege in Asunción. As Paraguay’s economic difficulties increased, opposition to the regime became more vocal, both among intellectuals and among poor farmers who demanded land reform. The choice of an eventual successor to Stroessner also became a source of tension, leading to bitter disputes with the Colorado Party. Reelected to his eighth term in 1988, Stroessner was ousted in a military coup in February 1989.

Recent Developments

General Andrés Rodríguez, one of Stroessner’s closest associates, led the coup that removed Stroessner from office. Rodríguez replaced Stroessner as president and later in 1989 won election to the presidency as head of the Colorado Party. In office, he inaugurated a program of privatizing state-owned enterprises, but the economy remained relatively stagnant, and his party lost some support. The Colorado nominee in the May 1993 presidential elections, Juan Carlos Wasmosy, won the office with only a plurality of the votes cast. Under Wasmosy, Paraguay joined Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in creating the Southern Cone Common Market (Spanish acronym MERCOSUR) in 1995. This trade association promised to lower tariffs and increase trade, sparking concerns that lower tariffs and economic integration would harm small Paraguayan businesses.

In 1996 a confrontation between Wasmosy and General Lino Cesar Oviedo, commander of Paraguay’s army, brought the country to the brink of a coup. Although the coup by Oviedo was averted, Oviedo won a presidential primary election in 1997 and emerged as the presidential candidate of the Colorado Party. Wasmosy was constitutionally barred from seeking reelection. Two weeks before the election, however, a military tribunal sentenced Oviedo to ten years in prison for his role in the coup attempt. The Colorado Party then nominated Raúl Cubas Grau, Oviedo’s vice-presidential running mate, to replace Oviedo as the party’s presidential nominee. Cubas won the election in 1998 and pardoned Oviedo soon after taking office. Oviedo’s pardon outraged many people, and the Supreme Court ordered him back to prison. Cubas ignored the court order and allowed Oviedo to remain free.

Amid growing political turmoil, Vice President Luis Maria Argaña, Cubas’s rival in the Colorado Party, was assassinated in March 1999. As speculation mounted that Cubas and Oviedo were responsible for the killing, the Congress began impeachment proceedings against Cubas. Cubas resigned as president, and he and Oviedo fled the country. Later in March Senate leader Luis Gonzalez Macchi was sworn in as president. Accusations of corruption marred his term in office. In 2003 Nicanor Duarte Frutos of the ruling Colorado Party was elected president. During the campaign, he pledged to improve the country’s depressed economy and crack down on corruption.

Limited by the constitution to one five-year term, Duarte backed the candidacy of Blanca Ovelar to succeed him. Ovelar secured the nomination of the Colorado Party and would have been the country’s first female president, but in the 2008 election she lost to Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop. Lugo’s victory ended nearly 60 years of one-party rule by the Colorado Party. Lugo resigned from the priesthood to run for the presidency on a platform of “change,” promising to end corruption in government, promote land reform, and improve education. As a bishop, Lugo had been identified with liberation theology, the belief that the Gospels are primarily about Jesus’ advocacy for the poor and outcast in society. The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, however, has distanced itself from liberation theology. Lugo was believed to be the first former Catholic bishop to be elected a chief of state.

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