Paraguay is a landlocked country in South America. The Rio Paraguay divides it into two large landscapes: the tropical savannah areas of the Chaco Boreal in the west and the subtropical rainforest areas in the low and mountainous regions of the east.
Paraguay is an agricultural country with export-oriented agriculture. It is one of the poorest developing countries in South America with many social problems.
Apart from Bolivia, Paraguay is the only landlocked country in South America. Only the Rio Paraná connects the country with the Atlantic Ocean, which is over 1000 km away. As far as the capital Asunción, however, no ocean-going vessels, only larger inland vessels.
Paraguay lies on both sides of the Tropic of Capricorn. The size of its land area is close to that of Sweden. Its neighboring countries are Bolivia in the north, Brazil in the east and Argentina in the south and west.
The largely flat land, partly criss-crossed by hill formations, is divided into two large natural areas by the Paraguay River.
In the west, the lowlands of the Chaco Boreal (Northern Chaco) spreads out, which occupies almost two thirds of the country. The embankment level is mostly flat. Only in the north-west does it become hilly, with the elevations barely exceeding 400 m.
The Chaco Boreal is still in the tropics. Summer temperatures rise to 40 °C and there is relatively little rainfall. In this dry and hot region, therefore, predominantly dry forests, palm and thorn bush savannas grow. The character tree of the dry forests is the quebracho, which is used for forestry because of its hard and heavy tannin-containing wood and is an important export good. Many species of cacti and succulents also thrive in the Chaco.
The border area to Brazil and Argentina in the east of the country is occupied by up to 700 m high foothills of the Brazilian mountainous country.
These mountain and plateau lands break off abruptly to the west with a steep step to the lowlands through which the Rio Paraguay flows. In its southern part there are wide swamp and floodplains.
In contrast to the west, the entire eastern part of Paraguay is subtropical. Since the average temperatures do not fall below 20 °C even in winter and there is also high rainfall, evergreen rainforests covered large parts of eastern Paraguay until the middle of the last century. Most of these forests had to give way to arable land.
The mighty rivers Rio Paraguay and Rio Paraná, which dominate the lowlands, give the country rich reserves of water energy. In 1991, for example, the Itaipú hydropower plant with the world’s most powerful dam was completed on Paraná together with Brazil. Further power plants on the rivers are planned, so that energy export is becoming an increasingly important economic factor in the country.
Important data about the country
|Surface:||406 752 km²|
|Population density:||15 residents / km²|
|Growth of population:||at 2.6% / year at the end of the 1990’s the highest in South America|
|Life expectancy:||71 years|
|Form of government:||Presidential Republic|
|Population groups:||Mestizo 95%, Indians (Guarani) around 2%, Europeans, including Germans and Asians together 3%|
|Languages:||Spanish and Guarani as official languages on an equal footing|
|Climate:||in the north tropically humid, otherwise subtropical with summer rain; Average temperatures in Asunción in July 17 °C, in January 27 °C|
|Land use:||Forest 52%, pasture land 39%, arable land 5%|
|Main export goods:||Cotton, soybeans, cooking oil, precious wood, meat, sugar|
|Gross domestic product:||US $ 6,030 million (2003)|
(share of GDP 2003):
|Agriculture 27%, industry 24%, services 49%|
|Gross National Product:||US $ 1,110 / residents (2003)|
Paraguay is predominantly an agricultural country. Although favored by nature, it is one of the poorest and most backward developing countries in South America with high unemployment and inflation rates.
About half of the population lives from agriculture, which is dominated by large estates. Less than 2% of farms have more than two thirds of the usable area.
The main pillars are, on the one hand, livestock farming in the savannahs of the west, and, on the other, the production of soybeans and cotton for export. Other traditional export cultures include mate, a type of tea made from the leaves of the native mate bush, tobacco, sugar cane and coffee.
The industry, which is mainly concentrated around Asunción, is generally poorly developed. Most of the farms process local agricultural products.
Paraguay has made heavy sacrifices over its nearly 200-year history.
As the country was on its way to becoming an influential power in South America, it plunged one of its numerous dictators into a war against its neighbors Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina that lasted from 1865 to 1870. Less than a quarter of Paraguay’s population survived the bloody slaughter. In addition, the country lost more than half of its territory to the victors.
Despite this heavy defeat, another dictator started another war, this time against Bolivia. In the so-called Chaco War (1932 to 1935) it was about the Chaco Boreal, in which one suspected extensive oil deposits.
Paraguay won this war, took over large parts of the Gran Chaco, in which hardly a drop of oil has been found to date, and sacrificed 40,000 people for this “victory”.
From 1954 the country was ruled by its last dictator, General ALFREDO STROESSNER. He was notorious for his extremely brutal crackdown on any opposition across South America.
After its fall in 1989, Paraguay held the first truly free elections in history, and the country then began to break away from international isolation in the context of cautious democratization measures. However, many social problems remain unsolved.