The name "Paraguay" derives from the river that divides the eastern half of the nation from the western Chaco region. The vast majority of the population (95 percent) shares a Paraguayan identity, but several other cultural identities exist. The indigenous population is composed of seventeen ethnic groups from five linguistic families. Most immigrants have blended into the national population, but several groups have maintained distinct identities and cultures.
Those groups include Mennonites, who settled in the western (Chaco) and the northern regions early in the early twentieth century; Japanese, who settled in agricultural colonies primarily during the 1950s and 1960s; and more recent Korean, Lebanese, and ethnic Chinese immigrants, who have settled in the urban centers of Asunción and Ciudad del Este since the 1970s. In the 1960s and 1970s, large numbers of Brazilian immigrant farmers moved to the eastern frontier region and became the backbone of the soybean export sector. By the 1990s, a second generation of Brazilians had been born and raised in Paraguay, and a few intermarried with the local population. These brasiguayos form a distinct subgroup.
Location and Geography. Paraguay is a land-locked nation of 157,047 square miles (406,752 square kilometers) in South America, surrounded by Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. The inhospitable and semiarid Chaco forms the western part of the nation. Flat and infertile, much of it covered by scrub forests, the Chaco contains approximately 61 percent of the national land area but less than 3 percent of the population.
In contrast, eastern Paraguay has rolling hills, richer soils, lush semitropical forests, and grassy savannas. The region so impressed early explorers that they called it a "second Eden." Temperatures are high in a humid subtropical climate in the summer months of October to March, while in the winter months of July to September night frosts may occur. Rainfall occurs throughout the year but is usually heaviest between October and April; annual variations can be extreme.
The capital, Asunción, lies on the Paraguay River at the point dividing eastern and western Paraguay. The city was founded in 1537 by Juan de Salazar y Espinoza, a Spanish explorer who led an expedition upriver from the fort at Buenos Aires. Befriended by the local Guarani, he established the fort of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción overlooking the bay where Asunción now stands. The Asunción cabildo (city council) was established in 1541. Asunción has dominated national society and politics since that time.
In 1999 the population was estimated to be 5,222,000. Approximately 95 percent of the population is mestizo. The population has more than tripled since 1950 and is growing 2.5 percent annually, with a total fertility rate of 3.8 children per woman. The growth rate has declined slightly from the period preceding 1975. The population is relatively young; 40 percent is under age 15, and only 5 percent is sixty or older.
Population figures for the ethnic populations are disputed. Estimates place the indigenous population at less than 3 percent of the national population. The largest groups are the Enxet Lengua, Pai-Tavyter, Nivaclé (Chulupí), Chiripá, and Mbyá. The Japanese settlers and their descendants are estimated to number about eight thousand, and the Mennonites approximately fifteen thousand. There are no reliable estimates for Korean, Chinese, and Brazilian immigrants and their offspring. The 1992 census counted only several thousand Korean and Chinese immigrants, but observers place their numbers between thirty thousand and fifty thousand.
Most observers estimate that between 300,000 and 350,000 Brazilians settled in eastern Paraguay in the 1960s and 1970s.
Linguistic Affiliation. The majority of the people speak an indigenous language, although they do not self-identify ethnically as indigenous. Guarani, a Tupi Guarani language and the language of eastern Paraguay's dominant precolonial indigenous population, is recognized as an official national language along with Spanish. Spanish is the language of business and government, and Guarani is spoken in everyday life.
According to the 1992 census, nearly half the population speaks both Guarani and Spanish in the home and 39 percent speaks only Guarani. In rural areas and among the lower social classes, Guarani is the dominant language. Although most schooling is conducted in Spanish, children are required to study Guarani as well. There is considerable lexical borrowing and linguistic code switching in informal conversation.
The use of Guarani Language does not imply indigenous ethnicity; it is the language of the national culture. The form of Guarani spoken in the national culture is somewhat different from that used by indigenous Guarani speakers, and many indigenous people speak non-Guarani languages. Religion, residence, and community affiliation—not language—are the cultural markers of indigenous identity. Historians attribute the prominence of the Guarani language in the national culture to extensive interbreeding between Spanish men and Guarani women from the earliest colonial times.
Symbolism. The most powerful symbols of the national culture are the Guarani language and imagery derived from Paraguay's national history, especially its wars. More than a means of communication, Guarani is a powerful marker of national identity that can be used to assert unity among Paraguayans of disparate social classes and political persuasions, especially in contrast to foreigners. Related images of Paraguay's indigenous heritage that also symbolize the national culture include traditional harp music, certain foods, and crafts.
The national territory and sovereignty and the great sacrifices Paraguayans made historically to defend that territory and sovereignty figure prominently in the national imagery and tradition. The War of the Triple Alliance (1865–1870), in which Paraguay fought against Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, continues to haunt the national consciousness and remains a potent national symbol. The Chaco War (1932–1935)also symbolizes the sacrifices Paraguayans have made to defend their homeland. Key battles are commemorated with national holidays. The dominant imagery is that of blood shed to defend the national patrimony.
The origins of the modern population lie in the cultural and biological mixing that occurred in the earliest period of Spanish contact. The Guarani were horticulturists organized in chieftainships based on extended kinship. Although they traced descent patrilineally, they had matrilocal settlement patterns and alliances were formalized through the exchange of women. Few women came with the handful of Spanish explorers who established the fort of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in 1537. The Guarani caciques (chiefs) exchanged women to formalize their alliance with the Spanish against the hostile peoples of the Chaco. The Paraguayan people trace their origins to the children of those unions.
National traditions of autonomy and pride also have their origins in the early colonial years. Distant from colonial centers and lacking the mineral wealth of other regions, the colony remained isolated and impoverished. The Spanish landowners and encomenderos (recipients of Colonial grants to the labor and other tribute of specified indigenous groups) sometimes overruled and even overthrew the appointed governor. Colonial politics were tumultuous, with intense rivalry among the early conquerors and between the settlers and their economic rivals, notably the Jesuit missions.
Colonists also chafed under the economic dominance of Buenos Aires and taxation of their exports by the Argentinians. The colony faced military threats from hostile indigenous peoples, Brazilian slave hunters, and Portuguese attempts to annex part of the colony. Left to their own devices by the Spanish, the colonists had to defend themselves against those threats by raising citizen militias and arming themselves as best they could, and as a result the colony has been described as the most militarized in Latin America.
The colony was so impoverished and isolated that visitors commented on the obsolescence of the colonists' arms. Until the final years of the colonial period, barter was the normal means of exchange and the economy was based largely on subsistence activities. This period thus established the tradition of ethnic mixing, local self-sufficiency based on isolation and poverty, the need to defend life and land against continuous threat, and resentment of economic exploitation by Brazil and Argentina.
These orientations were reinforced by the experiences of the nineteenth century. After Argentinians deposed the Spanish viceroy in 1810, they attempted to extend their control to include the territory of Paraguay. Paraguayans resisted and in 1811 defeated the Argentinian army at the battle of Paraguari. In May of that year, Paraguayans overthrew the last Spanish governor.
After several years of political maneuvering, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia emerged as the leader of the new republic and was elected perpetual dictator by the Popular Congress in 1816. Popular, iron-fisted, and fiercely nationalistic, Francia implemented policies that benefitted ordinary residents while limiting or destroying the power of the Spanish and creole elites, the Catholic Church, the mercantile houses, and the landed estates. Although he was derided by foreign critics and enemies as an isolationist madman who drove his country into poverty, scholars now argue that Francia expanded internal and external trade.
However, he permitted trade only under his supervision, guaranteeing that the nation reaped the benefits, and strictly controlled the movements of foreigners in the national territory.
After Francia's death in 1840, the presidency was assumed by Carlos Antonio López and then, in 1862, by López's son, Francisco Solano. In 1864, Francisco Solano López declared war on the powerful Triple Alliance of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. The events that provoked López's declaration of war are debated. Although his motivations were long dismissed as megalomaniacal pretensions, some recent analysts have argued that López was forced into declaring war to preempt Brazilian and Argentinian designs to assume dominion over their smaller neighbors, including Paraguay.
This disastrous war resulted in the death of most Paraguayan men and many women and children and destroyed the nation's economy. It also ended Paraguay's brief period of self-determination and relatively egalitarian prosperity. Only the intervention of the U.S. president, Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1878 prevented Argentina from claiming a large part of western Paraguay. Argentina became the middleman for most of Paraguay's international trade, and foreigners acquired vast expanses of the nation's land.
The War of the Triple Alliance left Paraguay a nation largely of small farmers engaged in the production of basic food crops for subsistence and local trade. Ethnically and culturally, the population was homogeneous, with the family serving as the basic socioeconomic unit. Although the small political elite that emerged after the war emulated European styles, the vast majority of the population spoke Guarani and led a subsistence lifestyle based on indigenous and Spanish customs interwoven by the hardships of life on an isolated and impoverished frontier.
National Identity. The national identity derives from these historical antecedents. Although the Guarani language is its most salient symbol, that identity is not based on an actual or mythologized pre-Columbian Guarani past. Instead, it has its origins in the fusion of indigenous and Spanish peoples in colonial times and was shaped by threats to territory and sovereignty from the earliest colonial times. The strong sense of national identity also has been nurtured by the homogeneity of the population throughout the country's modern history.
Ethnic Relations. Despite the alliance of the Guarani and Spanish peoples that gave rise to the nation, Paraguayan relations with indigenous peoples typically have been marked by hostility and exploitation. Spanish colonists faced continual threats from the indigenous groups in the Chaco and repeatedly launched armed campaigns against them. Although the Guarani gave women to the Spanish to cement their alliance, the Spanish took many more women, as well as food and other goods, by force.
The Spanish also quickly organized to establish their control over Guarani labor through the encomienda system. While Francia recognized the land claims of some indigenous villages, Paraguayans later appropriated indigenous land through force, fraud, and bureaucratic maneuvers. Indigenous peoples remain at the fringes of the national society.
Relations with Mennonite and Japanese settlers have been limited to occasional bureaucratic and economic transactions. These immigrant enclaves, located primarily in remote rural areas, maintain their own economic, social, and cultural institutions and in most cases have greater economic resources than do the surrounding Paraguayan communities made up primarily of small farmers. Intermarriage is rare and is disapproved. Paraguayans perceive the immigrants as disdaining and rejecting the national culture.
In the 1970s and 1980s, critics charged that the influx of Brazilian immigrants threatened Paraguayan culture and national sovereignty in the eastern frontier region. However, most of those immigrants settled in ethnically homogenous communities, and there was little direct contact between them and the local population. Although there have been some confrontations between Paraguayan and Brazilian farmers over land, most conflicts have involved large tracts of land claimed by absentee owners rather than land farmed by immigrant settlers.
Until the mid-1970s, the majority of residents lived in rural areas, nearly all in the central region surrounding Asunción. Most lived on farmsteads in small adobe houses with palm-thatched roofs, with their fields surrounding the house. Towns were of typical Spanish colonial design, built around a central plaza and home to a few administrative, craft, and professional workers and shopkeepers. The central institutions of the national government as well as religious and educational institutions, commerce, and industry were and still are in Asunción.
Since the 1970s, the population has become increasingly urban, and by 1992, just over 50 percent lived in urban areas. Asunción is the largest urban center, with an estimated population of 550,000. The extension of roads, the construction of massive hydroelectric works on the eastern border, and agricultural colonization programs drew people from the central regions to the sparsely populated border regions, especially along the eastern border with Brazil. Ciudad del Este, founded in 1963, is now the second largest city and a major commercial center, with an estimated population of 234,000.
Food in Daily Life. Corn, mandioca (cassava), and beef form the basic diet. Typical dishes include locro (a corn stew), sopa paraguaya (a rich corn flour and cheese bread), chipa guazú (a cross between sopa paraguaya and a corn soufflé), and mbaipy so'ó (corn pudding with beef chunks). Mandioca root is commonly served boiled, and its starch is a main ingredient of several traditional foods, including chipa (a dense, baked bread of mandioca starch and cheese) and mbejú (an unleavened fried bread). The main meal of the day is eaten at noon and usually includes corn- or mandioca -based food.
A wide variety of tropical and semitropical fruits also are eaten. Drinks made of yerba maté (Paraguayan tea) are ubiquitous. The tea may be drunk hot ( maté ) or cold ( tereré ), and medicinal herbs often are added. The leaves also may be toasted and boiled to make a tea that is served at breakfast or for a late afternoon snack.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Special family celebrations and social gatherings call for an asado, or barbecue, with beef roasted over open fires and accompanied by boiled mandioca and sopa paraguaya. Chipa traditionally is prepared for the major religious holidays of Christmas and Holy Week. Special meals during these holidays also may include an asado of beef or a pit-roasted pig.
Basic Economy. Paraguay's currency is the guarani, with an exchange rate of approximately 3500 guarancies to one U.S. dollar in 1999. Until recently the economy was primarily rural and agricultural. The majority of the population, peasant farmers, produced subsistence crops as well as cash crops of cotton or tobacco. Approximately 40 percent of the population is still involved in agriculture, and the majority are small farmers who engage to some degree in subsistence production. Agriculture, together with forestry, hunting, and fishing, accounts for 25 percent of the gross national product (GDP) and nearly all exports.
Paraguay has few mineral resources, but its rivers have made hydroelectric power generation a major source of revenue. The manufacturing sector is small (15 percent of GDP). The economy also has a very large informal sector composed of thousands of urban street vendors, domestic workers, and microenterprises. An estimated 10 percent of the labor force was unemployed in 1996, and almost half was underemployed. Despite government promises of reform, public sector employment, long a major source of political patronage, has continued to grow, increasing 17 percent from 1989 to 1995.
Although the country is largely self-sufficient in the basic foodstuffs of corn, mandioca, and wheat, it depends on imports for processed foods, other consumer goods, capital goods, and fuels. Although many small farmers continue to rely on their own production for food, they have been drawn into the market economy to purchase processed goods such as soap, cooking oil, clothing, medicine, and other basic consumer items.
Land Tenure and Property. Land distribution is among the most unequal in Latin America. According to the 1991 agricultural census, 77 percent of the agricultural land was owned by barely 1 percent of the population. At the other extreme, small farms of less than 49.4 acres (20 hectares), accounting for over 80 percent of all agricultural holdings, occupied only 6 percent of the agricultural land.
Although the system of land tenure is based on private property, common practice and historical tradition play an important role in shaping notions of land rights. Peasants have long claimed the right to occupy unused public lands for agricultural purposes. Mechanisms for formalizing occupation rights were specified in twentieth century legal codes and the 1967 constitution, which recognized the right of every citizen to a plot of land. The right to own land for investment or speculation is viewed by the majority of the rural population as secondary to the right of peasants to use land for subsistence. While some peasants own clear title to the land they cultivate and some rent or sharecrop, informal occupation of land is widespread.
The private property regimen is complicated by a long history of bureaucratic fraud and ineptitude. During the Stroessner dictatorship (1954–1989), large tracts of land were illegally transferred to Stroessner's relatives and cronies, and some peasant and indigenous communities were violently displaced as powerful military figures took over their lands. Although most land claims have been regularized in central Paraguay, conflict over land continues to be a source of unrest in the eastern and northern frontier regions, where many titles are of questionable origin. Indigenous groups have lost vast expanses of their land and face legal and physical threats as a result of their efforts to gain recognition of their claims.
Commercial Activities. Agriculture and hydroelectric power account for the majority of commercial production. Major agricultural goods produced for sale include grains, oilseeds (soybeans), cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, meat and poultry, mandioca, fruits and vegetables, lumber, eggs, and milk. Large estates and immigrant settlers produce most of the grains, oilseeds, and beef. The Mennonites are known for dairy production. Small farmers produce mandioca, cotton, tobacco, and sugarcane as well as fruits and vegetables for sale on the domestic market. A multitude of microenterprises and artisans produce bricks for construction, clothing, furniture, and other small consumer items.
Because of lax border controls and low tariffs, resale and transshipment of goods account for a significant part of the commercial economy. These activities range from illicit transshipment of cocaine and other drugs from producing countries to the markets of North America and Europe to the resale of clothing, vegetables, and other inexpensive consumer items by individuals who purchase them in Brazil or Argentina and bring them into the country without paying import duties.
Major Industries. Aside from hydroelectric power generation, the major industries are heavily dependent on the agricultural sector. Small industries process flour, beer, cigarettes, soap, shoes, and furniture. There is some oilseed processing, meatpacking, and textile production, but most of the beef, cotton, and soybeans are exported in their raw state rather than being processed domestically.
Trade. No reliable figures on international trade exist because a large part of that trade consists of the reexportation and transshipment of licit and illicit goods. The major recorded exports include soybeans and cotton, meat products, and timber. Half of Paraguay's international trade is with nations in the Southern Cone Common Market (Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay). Brazil is the most important trade partner, followed by the Netherlands, which imports soybeans for crushing. Unrecorded reexports include a wide variety of goods that range from cigarettes to automobiles, contraband compact discs, and drugs.
Paraguay's major imports include machinery, vehicles, spare parts, fuels and lubricants, and alcoholic beverages and tobacco, much of which is reexported. Brazil and Argentina provide most of Paraguay's imports, followed by the United States and Japan.
Informal international trade centers on Ciudad del Este, which depends heavily on shopping "tourism." Brazilians and Argentinians travel to Ciudad del Este to take advantage of the low import duties to purchase consumer electronics, office equipment, perfumes, whiskey, cigarettes, and other consumer items.
This trade, along with illicit trade through the area, has earned Ciudad del Este notoriety as a smuggler's paradise. Shopping tourism declined in 1997 and subsequent years, because of weakening economic growth in Brazil and Argentina and stricter controls by Brazilian authorities.
Division of Labor. A person's economic position depends primarily on education and social status, with access to many positions in the government bureaucracy and state enterprises and sometimes private enterprises also dependent on a personal connection with politically powerful benefactors. Among the poor and working classes, young children are expected to help assure family survival by assisting in agricultural production or working outside the home. Among small farmers, most agricultural labor is provided by family members. However, peasant farmers still practice a form of cooperative labor known as minga, in which at critical times in the agricultural cycle neighbors or kin work together to prepare or harvest each other's fields.
Classes and Castes. Wealth and income distribution are extremely unequal. A small elite owns most of the land and the commercial wealth and reaped most of the benefits of economic growth in recent decades. Recent surveys indicate that 20 percent of the population of the greater Asunción metropolitan area and 60 percent of the population in rural areas live in poverty. Indigenous peoples are the most impoverished. Mennonite and Japanese immigrants have established thriving agricultural colonies, while the more recent Korean, Chinese, and Arab immigrant groups are concentrated in urban commercial activities and reexportation. Brazilian immigrants are disproportionately concentrated in midsize commercial farming enterprises but also include extremely impoverished small farmers and laborers as well as wealthy landowners and middle-class entrepreneurs.
Symbols of Social Stratification. Language is an important marker of social status. Members of the upper classes primarily speak Spanish in public and in private, although they may understand Guarani. Members of the poorer social groups speak Guarani primarily or exclusively, and may have only a limited understanding of Spanish. The social distance between classes has traditionally been extreme, and peasants or workers were expected to show deference toward members of the political and landowning elite.
Government. Paraguay is a republic consisting of the city of Asunción and seventeen additional departments, which are further subdivided into local administrative units known as municipios . The executive branch consists of the president and vice president, who are directly elected to five-year terms, and a council of ministers appointed by the president. The legislative branch is made up of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, which also are directly elected for five-year terms. The judiciary, including the Supreme Court, is appointed. In 1991, Paraguay initiated direct election of departmental and municipal executives and councils.
Contemporary political life has been shaped by General Alfredo Stroessner's thirty-five year dictatorship. After assuming power in a military coup in 1954, Stroessner ensured his control by fusing the ruling Colorado Party, government bureaucracies, and the military. Compliance to his personable authoritarian rule was achieved through a combination of brutal repression and patronage. Stroessner assured the allegiance of top military leaders and political cronies through grants of land, lucrative state contracts, and control of profitable smuggling activities. Benefits ranging from government posts to seeds were distributed to Colorado Party supporters, with the patron-client chains extending down to the poorest neighborhoods and rural towns.
Although a formal judicial system existed, de facto adjudication was by the law of mbareté (the rule of the strong), in which the more powerful party or the party with the more powerful benefactor prevailed, thus ensuring the dominance of Stroessner's allies.
In February 1989, Stroessner was removed from power in a coup led by General Andrés Rodríguez. Although Rodríguez was a longtime Stroessner ally, he carried out his promise to lead the nation to a more democratic government. Freedom of the press, freedom of association, and other basic rights are recognized, and civilian officials have gained office through open elections. However, the Colorado Party remains strongly entrenched, and many of Stroessner's top allies and officials are still in high government and party posts.
Leadership and Political Officials. Paraguay's two major political parties, the Colorados (National Republican Association), and the Liberals (Authentic Radical Liberal Party, have their roots in the period of the Triple Alliance. Affiliation with a political party commonly is based on family and personal ties. Both parties have hierarchical organizations with competing internal factions. In 1993, a new party, the Encuentro Nacional, was formed to challenge the traditional parties. Its strongest support is among younger, more educated urban voters. Several smaller parties also exist. There is little substantive difference among the major parties. Access to leadership positions is through the party hierarchy and personal ties.
Social Problems and Control. Paraguay has a civilian police force responsible for public order and a legal system based on French and Roman law. At the local level, justices of the peace and magistrates are responsible for administrative and criminal proceedings. There are also courts of appeal, the Tribunal of Jurors and Judges of First Instance, and judges of arbitration.
Street crime and violence increased during the 1990s with worsening economic conditions. The police force is widely perceived as corrupt and complicit in some crime. The judiciary has been the least affected among all the branches of government by the post-Stroessner political reforms, and local magistrates and justices of the peace are seen by many people as available for purchase, especially in rural areas. Government corruption at all levels is pervasive and contributes to widespread public cynicism toward politics and government.
Conflict over land intensified dramatically in the 1990s, especially in the north and the eastern border region. While there have been reports of peasant farmers taking up arms, most of the violence has been directed against them. Landowners (whether or not they have legitimate title) have employed private gunmen to defend their claims and have forcibly and illegally evicted occupants and destroyed their homes and crops. In the early 1990s, a number of peasant leaders were assassinated. The government has made no significant moves toward land reform and has acted slowly to resolve conflicting claims.
Military Activity. Under Stroessner, Paraguay was one of the most heavily militarized nations in the world, with an extremely high ratio of police and military personnel to civilian population. Military personnel enjoyed great benefits and power. Efforts to depoliticize the military since 1989 have been tenuous, and military privileges remain considerable. In April 1996, General Lino Oviedo led an attempted coup against then-president Guillermo Wasmosy. Although most of the military remained loyal to Wasmosy and the coup was unsuccessful, Oviedo later ran for and the won the Colorado Party's nomination for president. His candidacy eventually was nullified and he was imprisoned, but the resultant political uncertainty immobilized the government. Although the military has refrained from intervening directly in recent political affairs, it is never far from the halls of power.
The government runs a system of underfunded and understaffed public health posts and hospitals and provides retirement benefits for employees of the government and state enterprises and veterans of the Chaco War. Nominal government programs to benefit peasants and indigenous peoples are ineffective and corrupt. Religious organizations and nongovernmental agencies provide some social services and play a central role in promoting change.
Workers are represented through four major unions. Currently, three confederations of peasant organizations work to promote peasants' interests in national public policy discussion and occasionally intervene to support peasants in land conflicts. A number of regional peasant organizations assume similar roles at the local level and promote local development initiatives. A number of trade and business associations exist, the most powerful of which represent the interests of rural landowners and ranchers, cotton exporters, and grain enterprises.
Since 1989, a large number of nongovernmental organizations and associations have been formed, with interests ranging from the promotion of sustainable development to advocacy for women, street children, and indigenous peoples. Although the number of people directly involved in these organizations is small, they play an important role defending human rights and promoting social change.
Division of Labor by Gender. Although the dominant conception of gender roles gives responsibility for the domestic sphere to women while men dominate in the public sphere, women have long had a central role in providing for their families and are economically active outside the home. They played a critical role as workers in national reconstruction after the War of the Triple Alliance. They have always played an important role in agriculture, both in subsistence production and in the production of cash crops on small peasant farms.
However, the economic contributions of women frequently go unrecognized because their agricultural work, and informal sector work performed within the household, are difficult to distinguish from domestic activities. Recent surveys in urban areas indicate that women constitute at least one-third of the economically active population. Women are employed predominantly in domestic service and sales and as office workers, while men are employed across a wider range of activities. Women also are more heavily involved in the informal sector than are men.
Women assumed more active roles in political parties and government after the fall of the Stroessner dictatorship in 1989, and several women now have high-level positions in political parties, the legislature, and government ministries. However, positions of power are still held overwhelmingly by men. Although men dominate the formal bureaucracy of the Catholic Church, women are important in the practice of folk Catholicism.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. Paraguay is a conservative and male dominated society in which formal rights and privileges in many spheres were until recently denied to women. It was the last Latin American nation to grant women the right to vote (1961). Before the constitutional reforms of 1992, married women could not work outside the home, travel, or dispose of their own property without the consent of their spouses. Husbands had the right to dispose of conjugal property, including property the wife brought to the union, as they saw fit.
The 1992 reforms modified those provisions, formally granting women equal rights and interests within the marriage. Women are also disadvantaged economically. A 1990 survey in the Asunción metropolitan area found that women earned only 56 percent as much as men. The earnings gap was larger for more highly educated and trained workers. Female-headed households are among the poorest in the society.
Marriage. Marriages are formed by the choice of the couple and may be church, civil, or consensual unions. According to the 1992 census, 68 percent of women above age nineteen were in unions, of whom 78 percent were married in a church or civil ceremony. Legal divorce is rare, although unions are often unstable, especially among the poor. Although it is a conservative Roman Catholic society, Paraguay has long been characterized by unstable consensual unions and a high illegitimacy rate. Men's extramarital behavior draws little criticism as long as it does not impinge on the family's security, but women's behavior reflects on the family, and women are expected to be faithful if they are in a stable union.
Domestic Unit. Most people live in a nuclear family that consists of a married couple and their unmarried children or a single woman and her children. In 1992, 20 percent of households were headed by women. Extended households are rare, although relatively well-off urban families may take in the children of poorer rural relatives or those of an unwed female relative. The man holds formal authority within the family and is treated with respect by the children. The woman is responsible for managing the household, caring for the children, maintaining ties with extended kin, and often earning an income outside the home.
Inheritance. Land and other property pass by inheritance to a surviving spouse and then to biological or adopted children. The right to specify an alternative disposition of property is granted to the husband, but his wife may legally contest his decision.
Kin Groups. Family and extended kin are the most important center of loyalty and identity for individuals, and the ideal is an extensive and strong extended kin network. Kin may be called on to provide essential support and assistance in times of need, and the wealthy may mobilize extended kin to support their political ambitions. In addition to kinship ties by marriage and birth, great importance is placed on fictive kin ties established through god-parenthood. Parents select godparents for their children's baptism, confirmation, and marriage.
Those godparents have special rights and responsibilities toward their godchildren and are expected to assist in meeting a child's needs if necessary. Children are expected to show their godparents special deference and respect, but ties to the godchild's parents (coparents) may be even more important and extend beyond the death of the godchild. Social equals and extended kin are preferred as godparents, although poorer parents may seek more influential benefactors as godparents for their children.
Infant Care. Infants are showered with affection and attention by both women and men of all ages. A crying infant will be comforted instantly by the nearest adult or older child. Infants typically are carried in the arms rather than in a sling or stroller. They usually are left to play on the ground or floor or are placed on a bed to sleep, although the use of playpens and cribs is common among the urban middle and upper classes. Parents expect infants to be active and responsive.
Child Rearing and Education. While middle-class and upper-class children are indulged and expected to devote themselves to studying and playing, the children of poorer urban and rural families are expected to assume productive work roles at a very young age. These children assist in agricultural work, household chores, and the care of younger siblings. It is not unusual for very young children to work as street vendors. Physical discipline is common, and children are controlled through the threat of physical punishment.
Formal education consists of six years of primary schooling followed by six years of secondary schooling. Primary education is compulsory from ages six to twelve, but there are not enough schools, especially in rural areas. Although poor families value education, their children often must miss classes or drop out an early age to help the family financially. In 1994, 90 percent of primary age children were enrolled, while only 34 percent of secondary age children were.
Higher Education. Possession of a university degree is an important source of social prestige and access to higher-status jobs but is available to only a small proportion of the population.
Greetings vary by social class, gender, and the level of intimacy of the parties. Except in formal business situations, upper-class and middle-class women who are social equals greet each other with a kiss on each cheek, whether they are acquaintances or are meeting for the first time. Male and female acquaintances in these social classes greet each other the same way. Men in all social classes shake hands in formal situations. Leave-taking follows the same rules.
Religious Beliefs. Paraguay is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. There are also several Protestant sects and small groups of the Baha'i, Buddhist, and Jewish faiths.
Rituals and Holy Places. In addition to Roman Catholic holy days and rituals, Paraguay honors the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December. This day is celebrated with a pilgrimage led by religious and government officials to the holy shrine in Caacupé.
Death and the Afterlife. Beliefs and practices concerning death follow Roman Catholic tradition. The dead are interred in mausoleums, and the novena is traditionally observed, although this practice is declining in urban areas. Traditionally, All Saints' Day is celebrated on 1 November by decorating deceased family members' tombs and gathering in cemeteries to honor the dead.
Modern biomedical practices are combined with herbal and folk remedies. Public health clinics and hospitals are inaccessible to many people, especially in rural areas, and the urban and rural working classes and the poor often depend on self-medication or private pharmacies for medical treatments. Herbal remedies are used simultaneously with pharmaceuticals. Some herbal specialists exist, but most people are knowledgeable about the medicinal uses of common plants or resort to relatives or neighbors for advice on their use.
National holidays include 1 January (New Year's Day), 3 February (Ban Blas, patron saint of the nation), 1 March (Heroes' Day), 1 May (Labor Day), 14–15 May (Independence Day), 12 June (Peace of Chaco), 15 August (Foundation of Asunción), 25 August (Constitution Day), 29 September (Battle of Boquerón, the anniversary of a key victory in the Chaco War), 12 October (Day of the Race, the anniversary of the discovery of America), 1 November (All Saints' Day), 8 December (Immaculate Conception), and 25 December (Christmas). Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Corpus Christi are recognized as national holidays and are observed according to the religious calendar.
Literature. The internal market for literature was constrained until recently by the poverty and the limited education of the majority of the population and by repression and censorship under Stroessner's dictatorship. Nonetheless, there is an active literary tradition. Most literature is in Spanish, although contemporary authors may include Guarani phrases and dialogue in their works. The most renowned contemporary authors are Augusto Roa Bastos and Josefina Plá.
Graphic Arts. Traditional folk arts include ñanduti (a spider web-like lace made in the town of Itaugua), ao poí (embroidered cloth), several kinds of ceramic and clay work (especially in the towns of Aregua and Tobatí), and silver filigree jewelry (centered in the town of Luque). Paintings by contemporary artists are displayed in a number of galleries in Asunción.
Performance Arts. The country is known for slow and often melancholy harp and guitar music. Although European in origin, that music usually is performed in Guarani and reflects national themes. Music is performed by ordinary people for entertainment at social gatherings and celebrations as well as by professional musicians. Performances of traditional dance, including the bottle dance (so called because the performers balance bottles on their heads) and polkas are popular. Theater was introduced by Francisco Solano López, and in 1863 the first Italian opera by a touring company was performed in Asunción's National Theater. Theater today is centered in Asunción, and works occasionally are performed in Guarani as well as Spanish.
The physical and social sciences as well as the humanities are taught at the two major universities (National University and Catholic University), as are applied sciences (agriculture and engineering) and the professions. Funding for basic research and teaching is limited, and the faculties were under close surveillance during the Stroessner years. The independent Paraguayan Center for Sociological Studies was established in 1963, and has been the most important center for social science research.
In the last years of Stroessner's dictatorship, other private social science institutes were established, and the number of private research organizations grew rapidly after Stroessner's fall. These institutes obtain most of their funding from international sources.