June 2, 2012, 5:44 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

AsunciĆ³n. Source: Felipe Antonio

Paraguay is a nation of six-and-a-half million people in South America southest of Bolivia, west of Brazil,  and north of Argentina. It is one of two land-locked countries in South America. Its population is concentrated in southern part of country around the capitol Asuncion.

Major environmental issues include:

Paraguay is susceptible to local flooding in southeast (early September to June); and poorly drained plains may become boggy (early October to June).

In the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance (1865-70) - between Paraguay and Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay - Paraguay lost two-thirds of all adult males and much of its territory. It stagnated economically for the next half century.

In the Chaco War of 1932-35, Paraguay won large, economically important areas from Bolivia.

The 35-year military dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner ended in 1989, and, despite a marked increase in political infighting in recent years, Paraguay has held relatively free and regular presidential elections since then.


Location: Central South America, northeast of Argentina

Geographic Coordinates: 23 00 S, 58 00 W

Area: 406,750 km2 (397,300 km2  land and 9,450 km2 water)

Land Boundaries: 3,995 km - border countries: Argentina 1,880 km, Bolivia 750 km, Brazil 1,365 km

Natural Hazards: Local flooding in southeast (early September to June); poorly drained plains may become boggy (early October to June)

Terrain: Grassy plains and wooded hills east of Rio Paraguay; Gran Chaco region west of Rio Paraguay mostly low, marshy plain near the river, and dry forest and thorny scrub elsewhere.  The lowest point: junction of Rio Paraguay and Rio Parana (46 metres). Its highest point is Cerro Pero (Cerro Tres Kandu) (842 metres).

Climate: Subtropical to temperate; substantial rainfall in the eastern portions, becoming semiarid in the far west.

Biodiversity and Ecology

1.  Dry Chaco

2. Pantanal

3. Cerrado

4. Alto Parana Atlantic forests

5. Humid Chaco

6. Paraná flooded savanna

Map source: World Wildlife Fund.

See also:

People and Society

Population: 6,541,591 (July 2012 est.)

Paraguay's population is distributed unevenly throughout the country. The vast majority of the people live in the eastern region, most within 160 kilometers (100 mi.) of Asuncion, the capital and largest city.

The Chaco, which accounts for about 60% of the territory, is home to less than 2% of the population. Ethnically, culturally, and socially, Paraguay has one of the most homogeneous populations in South America. About 95% of the people are of mixed Spanish and Guarani Indian descent. Little trace is left of the original Guarani culture except the language, which is understood by 95% of the population. About 90% of all Paraguayans speak Spanish. Guarani and Spanish are official languages. Brazilians, Argentines, Germans, Arabs, Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese are among those who have settled in Paraguay with Brazilians representing the largest number.

Ethnic groups: mestizo (mixed Spanish and Amerindian) 95%, other 5%

Age Structure: Median age: 21.9 years

0-14 years: 28.5% (male 936,298/female 905,285)
15-64 years: 65.4% (male 2,121,632/female 2,100,740)
65 years and over: 6.1% (male 183,440/female 211,663) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate:  1.256% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 17.22 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 4.59 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -0.08 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 76.4 years 

male: 73.78 years
female: 79.14 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 2.06 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Spanish (official), Guarani (official)

Literacy: 94%

Urbanization: 61% of total population (2010) growing at a 2.5% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)


Pre-Columbian civilization in the fertile, wooded region that is now Paraguay consisted of numerous semi-nomadic, Guarani-speaking tribes, who were recognized for their fierce warrior traditions. They practiced a myth-based 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. Duarte's administration established a mixed record on attacking corruption and improving the quality of management. Duarte worked constructively with an opposition-controlled Congress, removing six Supreme Court justices suspected of corruption from office and enacting major tax reforms. Macroeconomic performance improved significantly under the Duarte administration, with inflation falling significantly, and the government clearing its arrears with international creditors. In June 2004, Oviedo returned to Paraguay from exile in Brazil and was imprisoned for his 1996 coup-plotting conviction. In November 2007, Oviedo's criminal charges were overturned by the Supreme Court, and he was allowed to participate in the April 2008 presidential elections.

On April 20, 2008, former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo (representing a coalition of opposition parties) was elected President. According to the National Election Tribunal (TSJE), Lugo won 40.8% of the vote. Colorado candidate Blanca Ovelar came in second with 30.6% of the vote, and UNACE's Lino Oviedo came in third with 21.9% of the vote. President Lugo assumed office on August 15, 2008. Lugo has identified reduction of corruption and economic inequality as two of his priorities.


Government Type:  constitutional republic

Paraguay's highly centralized government was fundamentally changed by the 1992 constitution, which provides for a division of powers. The president, popularly elected for a 5-year term, appoints a cabinet. The bicameral Congress consists of an 80-member Chamber of Deputies and a 45-member Senate, elected concurrently with the president through a proportional representation system. Deputies are elected by department and senators are elected nationwide. Paraguay's highest judicial body is the Supreme Court. A popularly elected governor heads each of Paraguay's 17 departments.

Capital: Asuncion - 1.977 million (2009)

Asuncion. Source: Felipe Méndez


Administrative divisions: 17 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento) and 1 capital city*;

  1. Alto Paraguay,
  2. Alto Parana,
  3. Amambay,
  4. Asuncion*,
  5. Boqueron,
  6. Caaguazu,
  7. Caazapa,
  8. Canindeyu,
  9. Central,
  10. Concepcion,
  11. Cordillera,
  12. Guaira,
  13. Itapua,
  14. Misiones,
  15. Neembucu,
  16. Paraguari,
  17. Presidente Hayes,
  18. San Pedro

Independence Date: 14 May 1811 (from Spain)

Legal System: civil law system with influences from Argentine, Spanish, Roman, and French civil law models; judicial review of legislative acts in Supreme Court of Justice. Paraguay  accepts compulsory International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction; and accepts International criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

International Environmental Agreements

Paraguay is party to international agreements on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands.


Total Renewable Water Resources: 336 cu km (2000)

Freshwater Withdrawal:   0.49 cu km/yr (20% domestic, 8% industrial, 71% agricultural)

Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal: 80 cu m/yr (2000)


Agricultural activities, most of which are for export, represent about 20% of GDP and employ about one-quarter of the work force. More than 250,000 families depend on subsistence farming activities and maintain marginal ties to the larger productive sector of the economy. Paraguay is the sixth largest soy producer in the world. Drought hit in 2008, reducing agricultural exports and slowing the economy even before the onset of the global recession. The economy fell 3.8% in 2009, as lower world demand and commodity prices caused exports to contract.

Agricultural products: cotton, sugarcane, soybeans, corn, wheat, tobacco, cassava (tapioca), fruits, vegetables; beef, pork, eggs, milk; timber

Irrigated Land: 670 sq km (2008)


Natural Resources: hydropower, timber, iron ore, manganese, limestone

Land Use:

arable land: 7.47%
permanent crops: 0.24%
other: 92.29% (2005)


Landlocked Paraguay has a market economy distinguished by a large informal sector, featuring re-export of imported consumer goods to neighboring countries, as well as the activities of thousands of microenterprises and urban street vendors. On a per capita basis, real income has stagnated at 1980 levels.

Paraguay has a predominantly agricultural economy, with a struggling commercial sector. There is a large subsistence sector, including sizable urban unemployment and underemployment, and a large underground re-export sector. The country has vast hydroelectric resources, including the world's second-largest hydroelectric generation facility built and operated jointly with Brazil (Itaipu Dam). Paraguay is the world's largest net exporter of electricity. However, it lacks significant mineral or petroleum resources. The government welcomes foreign investment in principle and accords national treatment to foreign investors. The economy is dependent on exports of soybeans (as the world’s fourth-largest exporter and seventh-largest producer), cotton, grains, cattle, timber, and sugar; electricity generation; and to a lesser extent on re-exporting to Brazil and Argentina products made elsewhere. It is, therefore, vulnerable to the vagaries of weather and to the fortunes of the Argentine and Brazilian economies. Given the importance of the informal sector, accurate economic measures are difficult to obtain.

The economy grew rapidly between 2003 and 2008 as growing world demand for commodities combined with high prices and favorable weather to support Paraguay's commodity-based export expansion. Drought hit in 2008, reducing agricultural exports and slowing the economy even before the onset of the global recession. The economy fell 3.8% in 2009, as lower world demand and commodity prices caused exports to contract. The government reacted by introducing fiscal and monetary stimulus packages.

In 2010, Paraguay experienced its fastest economic growth of the past 30 years. Globally, only Qatar and Singapore had a greater increase in GDP. Fueled by a significant rebound in the agricultural sector, which had contracted sharply in 2009 due to a severe drought, Paraguay’s economy grew 14.5% during 2010. Economic growth for 2011 was much more modest, with a rate of 6.4%. Paraguay’s 2011 GDP was estimated at $22.3 billion.

The account deficit increased from -0.22% of GDP in 2009, to -1.49% of GDP in 2010, to -7.5% of GDP in 2011. Official foreign exchange reserves were $4.17 billion for 2010 and $4.93 billion for 2011. Inflation was 7.2% for 2010 and 4.9% for 2011. Standard & Poor's has upgraded Paraguay’s long-term debt rating from B to B+.

In addition to the commercial sector with retail, banking, and professional services, there is significant activity involving the import of goods from Asia and the United States for re-export to neighboring countries. The underground economy, which is not included in the national accounts, may be almost twice the size of the formal economy in size, although greater enforcement efforts by the tax administration and customs are having an impact on the informal sector.

According to the Central Bank of Paraguay, Paraguay’s exports were $1.66 billion by April 2011. That was an 8.7% increase over exports as of April 2010. Imports as of April 2011 were $3.39 billion, a 26.9% increase over April 2010. In 2011 exports totaled $10.539 billion, while imports were $12.212 billion.

Political uncertainty, corruption, limited progress on structural reform, and deficient infrastructure are the main obstacles to growth.

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $36.21 billion (2011 est.)

GDP: (official exchange rate): $22.3 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $5,500 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 23.1%
industry: 19.2%
services: 57.7% (2011 est.)

Industries: Sugar, cement, textiles, beverages, wood products, steel, metallurgic, electric power

Natural Resources: Hydropower, timber, iron ore, manganese, limestone.

Currency: sugar, cement, textiles, beverages, wood products, steel, metallurgic, electric power



Agency, C., Fund, W., International, C., & Department, U. (2012). Paraguay. Retrieved from


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