Squeezed between the giants of Brazil and Argentina, Paraguay – ‘El corazon de America’ – is one of the least developed countries of the American subcontinent. Its political, social and economic structure is the fruit of a long history of authoritarian governments and debilitating international clashes. Independent from Spain since 1811, at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Paraguay was the protagonist of two bloody armed conflicts. In fact, between 1865 and 1870 he fought against Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay: the defeat involved the loss of a large part of the territory and the death of about half of the population. Later, between 1932 and 1935, he faced a war against Bolivia for the conquest of the Chaco region: the conflict went down in history as the bloodiest of the twentieth century in Latin America. Paraguay won but paid a very high blood tribute: the victims were 100,000 and the Chaco, considered rich in hydrocarbon reserves, it turned out to be an arid territory, without any strategic value, so much so that it is still sparsely populated. The unfortunate fate of international conflicts was followed by a long period of internal tensions, military governments, coups d’etat and failed reforms. Political turbulence which, however, has not affected the hegemony of the Asociación Nacional Republicana, commonly known as Partido Colorado (Pc), the undisputed protagonist of the Paraguayan institutional scene from 1947 to today.
According to itypeusa, the US supported, in an anti-communist key, the presidency of General Alfredo Stroessner from 1954 to 1989, the year in which they decided to support the coup of General Andrés Rodríguez, which did not change the authoritarian line of the PC. Rodríguez, despite strong US support, preferred to expand alliances: he opened up to dialogue with Russia and Cuba and, in 1991, signed the birth document of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) in Asunción, together with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. The Paraguayan Democratic Constitution, still in force, was also approved under Rodríguez’s presidency.
The 1990s and early 2000s were marked by highly corrupt PC governments, frequent and heated popular protests, fruitless attempts at liberalization and privatization reforms, new coups d’etat and, finally, a gradual international opening. A new political phase began in 2008 with the presidential victory of Fernando Lugo, leader of Alianza Patriótica para el Cambio (Apc) and former Catholic bishop, who put an end to the supremacy of the PC(in government for 61 consecutive years). Despite the toughness of the opponent to face and the manifest opposition of the Catholic Church (contrary to its inevitable resignation from the bishopric), Lugo managed to win the elections. To bring him success, an electoral campaign with populist tones, focused on the themes of agrarian reform and the fight against corruption and poverty.
However, the hopes nurtured by the population for a new social justice and for the affirmation of democracy in the country have been betrayed by the initiation of an impeachment procedure.against Lugo. The former president was accused of ‘ineptitude and lack of decorum’ by the nation’s Congress, in which his party had never achieved a majority, and had to leave power. The spark that triggered the procedure provided for by the Constitution was an episode that took place on June 15, 2012 in Curuguaty: the occupation of a farm by a group of farmers asking for land, which ended in a clash with the police who caused six casualties among the military and 11 among farmers. On June 23, only one day after the go-ahead from the Senate, Federico Franco took over the office of president, who did not allow his former ally the time necessary for defense.
The leaders of many South American countries have expressed their dissent against the provision – deemed a serious blow to popular sovereignty – and have implemented a series of measures to diplomatically isolate Paraguay. Appealing to the clause that provides for the suspension of a member in the event that the government of the latter is attentive to the rule of law, the states of Mercosur and Unasur (Union of South American Nations) have confirmed the removal of Paraguay from organizations until elections in April 2013. From this last round of elections the winner was Horacio Cartes, a millionaire businessman, new to politics, who brought Partido Colorado back to power. Cartes obtained the majority of the governorates and composed a technocratic government. On the international level, Paraguay’s absence from the Mercosur table has unlocked the entry of Venezuela, which had started the accession process seven years ago, but which for the whole period had been hindered by the Paraguayan opposition. For Asunción, Venezuela was ruled by an undemocratic president and, therefore, could not have access to Mercosur.
Cartes is carrying out an effort to modernize the country, which involves the reform of the public administration and the modernization of infrastructures, in order to attract investments. However, Cartes’ program is fiercely opposed by trade unions, left-wing parties and members of the old guard of his own party.
The president has so far managed to mend relations with Mercosur, including Venezuela, and to maintain the most important existing collaborations. Notably, Brazil is Paraguay’s main partner on cross-border economic and security issues. In this sector, the aim is to combat the trafficking of arms, counterfeit goods and laundered money, especially in the ‘ triple frontera ‘ area (the border between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina). The government has also declared its intention to diversify trade and financial ties. This is why it is seeking full membership in the Pacific Alliance. Outside the South American continent, Paraguay is instead interested in safeguarding aid from donor countries, including the U sa, and to improve relations with China, the second largest import partner, after neighboring Brazil. However, ties with Beijing are still tense, as Paraguay is the only country in South America to recognize Taiwan, which has supported Paraguayan economic growth with huge financial capital.