History in Paraguay
Paraguay's flamboyant history is one of a small country led by larger-than-life strongmen whose personal goals usually conflicted with the needs of the people. (The old movie stereotype of the mustachioed Latin American leader, decked out in military uniform complete with epaulets, medals, and sunglasses, defined Paraguay until the early 1990s.) The first president, José Gáspar Rodríguez de Francia, whose stern gaze graces the 10,000-guaraní bill, set the tone by calling himself "El Supremo." He preached a policy of complete self-sufficiency, forbidding trade and immigration, and set the stage for Paraguay's history of isolation. He also forbade citizens from looking at his home (now the Palacio Legislativo) or even at him as his carriage passed through the streets. Then came the López family, father and son, the younger of whom, Francisco Solano, led Paraguay into the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance (1865–70) against Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay; he lost half the country's territory and 80% of the male population. A succession of presidents culminated in the 35-year authoritarian regime of General Alfredo Stroessner, who was toppled in a 1989 coup and died in exile in Brazil in 2006.
The transition to democracy has been lurching at times. The government continues to battle corruption and smuggling, and the financial roller coaster in next-door Argentina and Brazil, Paraguay's primary sources of trade and tourism, has taken its toll here as well. Since freedom of the press was restored, daily accounts of grievances against current officials fill the country's now-lively media. Yet, we vote to label Paraguay as a glass half full rather than half empty. The 2008 election of former bishop Fernando Lugo to the presidency ended six decades of one-party monopoly and raised new hopes that the government will better address the plight of its poor. And that Paraguay functions as well as it does, given its odd history, is a testament to the will of its people, who are determined to take that newfound democracy and make their country work.