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U.S. Department of State Background Note

Paraguay

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Paraguay

PEOPLE

Pre-Columbian civilization in the fertile, wooded region that is now Paraguay consisted of numerous seminomadic, Guarani-speaking tribes, who were recognized for their fierce warrior traditions. They practiced a mythical polytheistic religion, which later blended with Christianity. Spanish explorer Juan de Salazar founded Asuncion on the Feast Day of the Assumption, August 15, 1537. The city eventually became the center of a Spanish colonial province. Paraguay declared its independence by overthrowing the local Spanish authorities in May 1811.

The country's formative years saw three strong leaders who established the tradition of personal rule that lasted until 1989: Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, Carlos Antonio Lopez, and his son, Francisco Solano Lopez. The younger Lopez waged a war against Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil (War of the Triple Alliance, 1864-70) in which Paraguay lost half its population; afterward, Brazilian troops occupied the country until 1874. A succession of presidents governed Paraguay under the banner of the Colorado Party from 1880 until 1904, when the Liberal party seized control, ruling with only a brief interruption until 1940.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Paraguayan politics were defined by the Chaco war against Bolivia, a civil war, dictatorships, and periods of extreme political instability. Gen. Alfredo Stroessner took power in May 1954. Elected to complete the unexpired term of his predecessor, he was re-elected president seven times, ruling almost continuously under the state-of-siege provision of the constitution with support from the military and the Colorado Party. During Stroessner's 35-year reign, political freedoms were severely limited, and opponents of the regime were systematically harassed and persecuted in the name of national security and anticommunism. Though a 1967 constitution gave dubious legitimacy to Stroessner's control, Paraguay became progressively isolated from the world community.

On February 3, 1989, Stroessner was overthrown in a military coup headed by Gen. Andres Rodriguez. Rodriguez, as the Colorado Party candidate, easily won the presidency in elections held that May, and the Colorado Party dominated the Congress. In 1991 municipal elections, however, opposition candidates won several major urban centers, including Asuncion. As president, Rodriguez instituted political, legal, and economic reforms and initiated a rapprochement with the international community.

The June 1992 constitution established a democratic system of government and dramatically improved protection of fundamental 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. The newly elected majority-opposition Congress quickly demonstrated its independence from the executive by rescinding legislation passed by the previous Colorado-dominated Congress. 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 Gen. Lino Oviedo to oust President Wasmosy, taking an important step to strengthen democracy.

Oviedo became the Colorado candidate for president in the 1998 election, but when the Supreme Court upheld in April his conviction on charges related to the 1996 coup attempt, he was not allowed to run and remained in confinement. His running mate, Raul Cubas Grau, became the Colorado Party's candidate and was elected in May. The assassination of Vice-President Luis Maria Argana and the killing of eight student anti-government demonstrators, allegedly carried out by Oviedo supporters, led to Cubas’ resignation in March 1999. The President of the Senate, Luis Gonzalez Macchi, assumed the presidency and completed Cubas’ term. Gonzalez Macchi offered cabinet positions in his government to senior representatives of all three political parties in an attempt to create a coalition government that proved short-lived. Gonzalez Macchi’s government suffered many allegations of corruption, and Gonzalez himself was found not guilty in a Senate impeachment trial involving corruption and mismanagement charges in February 2003.

In April 2003, Colorado candidate Nicanor Duarte Frutos was elected president. He was inaugurated on August 15. Duarte’s administration has established a mixed record on attacking corruption and improving the quality of management. In his first year, Duarte worked constructively with an opposition-controlled Congress, removing six Supreme Court justices suspected of corruption from office and enacting major tax reforms. While Duarte remains the most dominant political figure, he faced stiff opposition mid-term from the opposition strongly opposed to his efforts to amend the Constitution to allow him to run for reelection. Macroeconomic performance has improved significantly under the Duarte administration, with inflation falling significantly, and the government clearing its arrears with international creditors. Unemployment remains stubbornly high and the living standard of most households has not improved. The administration has placed a strong emphasis on participating in international institutions and has used diplomacy to promote the opening of international markets to Paraguayan products. In June 2004, Oviedo returned to Paraguay from exile in Brazil and was imprisoned for his 1996 coup-plotting conviction.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

President--Nicanor Duarte Frutos
Vice-President--Luis Castiglioni Soria
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Rubén Ramirez Lezcano
Ambassador to the U.S.--James Spalding Hellmers
Ambassador to the OAS--Manuel Maria Caceres
Ambassador to the UN--Eladio Loizaga Caballero

Paraguay maintains an embassy in the United States at 2400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-483-6960). Consulates are in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles.

ECONOMY

Agricultural activities, most of which are for export, represent about 25.5% of GDP and employ just under half of the workforce. More than 200,000 families depend on subsistence farming activities and maintain marginal ties to the larger productive sector of the economy. In addition to commercial sector with retail, banking and professional services, there is a significant activity involving the import of goods from Asia and the United States for re-export to neighboring countries. The recorded activities of this sector have declined significantly in recent years, largely in response to tighter controls on imports and contraband on the part of Brazil. The underground economy, which is not included in the national accounts, may equal the formal economy in size, although the greater enforcement efforts by the tax administration are having an impact on the informal sector.

DEFENSE

Paraguay is a member of the United Nations and several of its specialized agencies. It also belongs to the Organization of American States, the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), the Rio Group, INTERPOL, and MERCOSUR (the Southern Cone Common Market). Paraguay is closely aligned with its MERCOSUR partners on many political, economic, and social issues. It is the only country in South American that recognizes Taiwan and not the People’s Republic of China.

U.S.-PARAGUAY RELATIONS

The United States and Paraguay have an extensive relationship at the government, business, and personal level. Paraguay is a partner in hemispheric initiatives to improve counternarcotics cooperation, combat money laundering, trafficking in persons, and other illicit cross-border activities, and adequately protect intellectual property rights. The United States looks to Paraguay, which has tropical forest and riverine resources, to engage in hemispheric efforts to ensure sustainable development. The United States and Paraguay also cooperate in a variety of international organizations.

Paraguay has taken significant steps to combat terrorism-financing activity in the tri-border area it shares with Argentina and Brazil. It participates in antiterrorism programs and fora, including the Three Plus One Security Dialogue, with its neighbors and the United States.

The United States strongly supports consolidation of Paraguay's democracy and continued economic reform, the cornerstones of cooperation among countries in the hemisphere. The United States has played important roles in defending Paraguay's democratic institutions, in helping resolve the April 1996 crisis, and in ensuring that the March 1999 change of government took place without further bloodshed.

Bilateral trade with the United States has increased over the last four years, after a steady decline over several years due to a long-term recession of the Paraguayan economy. Although U.S. imports from Paraguay were only $51.28 million in 2005, down from $58.58 million the previous year, U.S. exports to Paraguay in 2005 were $895.53 million, up from $622.87 million in 2004, according to U.S. Customs data. (Not all exports and imports are reflected in Paraguayan government data.) More than a dozen U.S. multinational firms have subsidiaries in Paraguay. These include firms in the computer, agro-industrial, telecom, banking, and other service industries. Some 75 U.S. businesses have agents or representatives in Paraguay, and more than 3,000 U.S. citizens reside in the country.

U.S. Assistance
The U.S. Government has assisted Paraguayan development since 1942. In 2006, Paraguay signed a $34.9 million Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) Threshold Country Program (TCP) with the U.S. focused on supporting Paraguay’s effort to combat impunity and informality. Also in 2006, Paraguay signed and ratified an agreement with the U.S. under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act that provides Paraguay with $7.4 million in relief and zeroing out its remaining bilateral debt in exchange for the Paraguayan Government’s commitment to conserve and restore tropical forests in the southeastern region of the country. Separately, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supports a variety of programs to strengthen Paraguay's democratic institutions in the areas of civil society, local government and decentralization, national reform of the state, rule-of-law, and anti-corruption. Other important areas of intervention are economic growth, the environment and public health. The total amount of the program was approximately $10 million in fiscal year 2006.

The U.S. Department of State, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury provide technical assistance, equipment, and training to strengthen counter narcotics enforcement, combat trafficking in persons, promote respect for intellectual property rights, and to assist in the development and implementation of money laundering legislation and counter terrorism legislation.

  • On December 19, 2003, U.S. and Paraguayan officials signed a new Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen the legal protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in Paraguay. The MOU was extended in 2006 through the end of 2007.
  • Since 2003 the U.S. Government has had a Resident Justice Advisor in Paraguay to support efforts to combat money laundering and terrorist financing and other financial crimes as well as organized crime and corruption.
  • In 2006, the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) provided Paraguay with $494,000 in assistance to support its efforts to combat narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and violations of intellectual property rights.
  • Starting in 2004, a Resident Public Debt Advisor, a Resident Budget Advisor, and a Resident Tax Advisor from the Department of Treasury have been working with Paraguayan counterparts to implement essential reforms.

The U.S. Department of Defense (D0D) provides technical assistance and training to help modernize and professionalize the military, including by promoting respect for human rights and obedience to democratically elected civilian authorities. DOD also provides assistance to impoverished communities through its Humanitarian Assistance Program.

The Peace Corps has about 160 volunteers working throughout Paraguay on projects ranging from agriculture and natural resources to education, rural health, and urban youth development.

The Office of Public Diplomacy also is active in Paraguay, funding Fulbright and other scholarships to the U.S., U.S. scholars to Paraguay, other short- and long-term exchanges, English scholarship programs, donations of books and equipment, and a cultural preservation project to restore Paraguay’s National Library.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador-- James Cason
Deputy Chief of Mission--Michael J. Fitzpatrick
Political Officer--James P. Merz
Economic/Commercial Officer--Patrick R. O'Reilly
Consul--Sharon Weber
Management Officer--Graham Webster
USAID Director--John Beed
Public Affairs Officer--Bruce Kleiner
Defense Attache--LTC Dennis Fiemeyer
Office of Defense Cooperation--COL Arie Bogaard

The U.S. Embassy in Paraguay is located at 1776 Avenida Mariscal Lopez, Asuncion (tel. (595) (21) 213-715, fax (595) (21) 213-728). The embassy's home page address on the World Wide Web is: http://paraguay.usembassy.gov/

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Office of Latin America and the Caribbean
14th and Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: (202) 482-0477, 800-USA-TRADE
Fax: (202) 482-0464
http://trade.gov/

Paraguayan-American Chamber of Commerce
General Díaz 521, Piso 4, Oficina 1
Edificio El Faro Internacional
Asuncion, Paraguay
Tel: (595) 21-442-135
E-mail: pamchamb@conexion.com.py
http://www.pamcham.com.py/
(Branch office in Ciudad del Este)

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.

STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.

Revised: May. 2007

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