Paraguay. The fate of the underdog.
“The border area between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil is considered a paradise for organized crime, drug traffickers and terrorists. For years, special operations teams have tried to clean up the region, but to no avail. An operative code-named Pope, after years of tracking, finally discovers the hideout of drug lord Lorea and enlists his retired comrades to pull off an adventurous operation.”
Announcement for “Triple Frontier” (“Triple Frontier”), 2019
When the whole town is a mall
The Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu and Paraguay’s Ciudad del Este are separated by the Paraná River, and connected by a bridge, which we crossed early this morning.
The driver Sandro, hired by us for all three days of our stay in Iguazu Falls, promised to show us Saltos del Monday waterfall, the most powerful hydroelectric power station Itaypu, well Ciudad del Este itself, the second most populous city in Paraguay.
As we crossed the bridge, we also crossed the border between Brazil and Paraguay, with no typical border attributes, except for two uniformed women. They stood by the side of the road, gazing lazily at the traffic on the bridge.
However, the purpose of their service remained unknown to us, and the border between the countries was as transparent as possible. As you know, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay are members of MERCOSUR, a South American customs union created to promote free trade, unimpeded movement of goods, people and currency. The degree of integration of the countries participating in this organization is less than that of the European Union, which functions as a monetary union, but nevertheless it is also very significant.
There were a lot of people who wanted to enter Ciudad del Este in the morning, as well as to leave it in the evening. The fact is that the city was originally founded as a border trade center and always had the status of a franco port. Ciudad del Este, is a free economic zone, by the way, the third largest turnover in the world, after Miami and Hong Kong, which provides about 60% of the GDP of Paraguay. Accordingly, people travel to the city from neighboring countries in the morning to buy cheaper goods for themselves or for resale, and in the evening they return in the opposite direction with their purchases.
As for goods, some of them enter the country quite legally from Southeast Asia, but most of them are clearly smuggled.
Moreover, there are many clandestine factories in the border areas of the three countries that produce counterfeit goods. The range of their products is very wide, from tobacco products to technologically sophisticated goods, such as televisions or computer equipment.
Dozens of airstrips have been set up in the region to handle the turnover, and illegal banks for financial transfers and money laundering operate in small border towns.
This is a very peculiar city, as is the entire border region in general.
I don’t know if any of you have heard of its existence, but I personally had not until my trip to Paraguay. And I think I’ve always loved political geography and country studies. There is an explanation for that. First, the city is young, since 1957, and second, it was originally named after the odious dictator Stressner. In the Soviet Union, Stressner, to put it mildly, was not in honor, so on Soviet political maps of the world such a city simply was not. Now the city is called politically neutral – Eastern City.
Paraguay, “born in agony and disease”.
The city of Ciudad del Este in cultural and historical terms is not interesting at all, for one simple reason, there is neither culture nor history.
With difficulty parked somewhere in the center, Sandro tried to take us through some stores. But we were not interested in it, and in general, fussy city impregnated with mercantile spirit caused incomprehensible irritation.
Like Alexander Pryanikov from My Planet, I sometimes like to walk through a particular market, such as the famous Kapaly Charshi in Istanbul, because it is a unique experience to observe the local way of life.
Here in Ciudad del Este, however, it was hard to find any exoticism or noteworthy traditions. Moreover, it was so uncomfortable that I wanted to escape as soon as possible.
One good thing was that there was somewhere to run to. The Saltos del Monday waterfall, in Monday National Park, was very close to the center of town.
Imagine, a cascade of waterfalls consisting of three main streams and many other smaller ones, throwing down endless tons of water from a height of 40-45 meters.
The waterfall is located at the mouth of the Monday River, that is, not far from where it flows into the Parana River. We spent an hour and a half near the waterfall, observing it from above and below. As always, nature was at its best, it did not let us down, but once again conquered.
However, you know, amidst all this power and splendor, it made me want to reflect on the fate of Paraguay, which had gone wrong from the beginning.
Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil were born in the second half of the 19th century, when descendants of Spanish and Portuguese settlers decided to break away from their forebears and start living independently.
I don’t know, maybe they gave Paraguay the wrong name, just as the biblical Javis (“born in anguish and sickness”) was doomed in advance to have a life full of suffering and sickness? If not, then why is Uruguay rich and successful, while his counterpart and peer Paraguay has had a miserable existence all his life.
I have an interesting story about this. It is about a certain Paraguayan war, as a result of which Paraguay lost 90 percent of its men, falling into a demographic hole, poverty, and oblivion for the next hundred and fifty years.
I have always been interested in theories that explore the special role of the individual in history. It is when certain historical figures are at the head of any significant events. The strong-willed and the weak-willed, the purposeful and the weak-willed, the shrewd and the visionary, and vice versa. Historical personalities influence the course of events by their decisions, action or inaction, and often their outcome. In this sense, Paraguay has been unlucky.
One of the first leaders of independent Paraguay was a president, in fact a dictator named Francisco Lopez. An ambitious, opinionated, and incredibly stubborn dictator, Lopez considered himself a great military leader. He spent most of his efforts preparing the country for war: he actively built fortifications, bought armaments, including a navy. These latest acquisitions seemed, at first glance, very strange, given that Paraguay had never had access to the sea, but President López had far-reaching plans.
Thinking his country was ready for battle, dictator and military leader Lopez started a war that most of us are hardly familiar with, but nevertheless, it has gone down in history as the “Paraguayan War” and is considered one of the most futile and inhumane.
It must be said that all the countries of the region were actively at enmity with each other at the time. Brazil and Argentina fought with varying success over the La Plata region, which was a coveted and disputed territory for each side. I have mentioned a little about those events in the story from Uruguay, but obviously something else should be added.
Uruguay, small and battered at the time, was a geopolitical plaything in the hands of Argentina and Brazil. Brazil, by the way, was then an empire and ruled by Emperor Pedro II. Each of these two countries wanted to bring to power dictators under their control and everything would have been fine if the small and weak, but militant Paraguay decided not to interfere in this dispute between the two political giants.
Dictator Lopez made a military pact with one of the Uruguayan opponents in power at the time, while Brazil supported their political opponents. The political platforms of those Uruguayan parties are known, but there is no need to voice them, since the real struggle was over lands and natural resources.
As for dictator Lopez, his goal was to make Paraguay great. He dreamed of giving his country access to the sea, seizing some ports from Brazil, thus crawling out of the center of the continent to the ocean and becoming a great maritime power. That is why the dictator ordered and paid in advance for the construction of battleships in Europe, which, however, never managed to be in the hands of their master.
The Paraguayan War broke out in August 1864, when Brazil introduced troops into Uruguay. Uruguay, in turn, mindful of an earlier treaty, asked for help from Paraguay. Dictator Lopez, after some deliberation, decided on a military venture, and war was officially declared on Brazil.
Paraguayan troops were sent to help Uruguay, but had to pass through Argentina in order to enter Uruguayan territory. The latter refused to give the troops the right of passage and, excited by the refusal, General Lopez at the same time declared war on Argentina. Soon the regime in Uruguay changed and political forces loyal to Brazil came to power.
As a result, by March 1865, the situation in the region was very sweet, a small militaristic Paraguay at war with three of its neighbors – Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
A whirlwind of intrigue worthy of a Latin American TV series, and it would be funny if it weren’t so sad. The suicide of dictator Lopez, as well as the entire Paraguayan nation, lasted exactly five years.
Paraguay’s brash aggressiveness was countered by the cowardice and incompetence of its triple enemy. Surprisingly, at first Paraguayan troops succeeded in a two-pronged blitzkrieg, moving south and north at the same time.
Both Argentina and Brazil had significant territories occupied.
However, Paraguay was clearly not outnumbered. I will not recount all the twists and turns of that tedious and sluggish military campaign, for it is the outcome that is most interesting.
The main result of the war was the deaths of 300,000 Paraguayans and 71,000 Brazilians, Argentines and Uruguayans. At the same time, more than 60% of all losses on both sides were noncombatant, with soldiers dying more from cholera and starvation than on the battlefield. The Paraguayan army was woefully short of soldiers, and by the end of the war children as young as 9 years old had been drafted.
During the years of a botched war, because of the ambition of dictator Lopez to become emperor of Latin America, Paraguay lost 90% of its men, so that only infants and the elderly were left. The loss of almost half of its territory did not seem to be such a big deal in the face of such a massive loss of human life.
President Francisco Lopez also died in one of the battles, along with his 15-year-old son, whom he had managed to appoint a general. Legend has it that before he died, the dictator Lopez shouted, “I die for my country.
Maybe this fact was in fact, or maybe it is a myth, it is difficult to say. President Lopez has gone down in history as a stubborn autocrat, but in Paraguay he is still a national hero, a martyr and a liberator.
On Lebanese immigration and the Islamic threat
After learning that 90% of the men died in the Paraguayan war, one question troubled me: how did the Paraguayan nation survive after that at all?
On the one hand, the male individual is not as valuable for the continuation of the tribe as the female one. It is known that a tribe consisting, for example, of 50 women and one man has many chances for survival, but a tribe of 50 men and one woman is definitely doomed. But still, such a catastrophic loss of men is too critical.
I think the demographic problems were eventually solved by immigration. In the years that followed, the country began to receive quite a few immigrants from other countries, and I wanted to look into these processes as well.
I noticed that Paraguay has a very large Lebanese diaspora. By the way, most of them live in Ciudad del Este and I think I met them in the commercial establishments of that city. Although I’m not so sure about that, because it is difficult to distinguish an ethnic Lebanese from a descendant of the same Italian people, especially if they all speak Spanish.
Lebanon was the last country I visited before the South American voyage. I love to make parallels and connections between my travels, and the opportunity presented itself.
So, how did it happen that there were Lebanese in Paraguay? But it was not too difficult to guess the reasons and the periods of Lebanese immigration. The memories I had brought back from that small Mediterranean country were too fresh, and the reasons for the military conflicts of Lebanon’s recent past and present were well understood, and I even wrote a story about them, “Beirut. Before and After the War”.
Parrot Ara, Paraguay. Photo by Isabel Chauvel.
Paraguay is a wonderful world filled with contradictions, natural beauty and interesting architectural monuments. There are chic palaces and modest colonial-style buildings, old houses with unusual facades, luxurious shopping centers, churches, and museums. Paraguay’s nature is also fascinating, especially if visitors to the territory take in the highlights mentioned below.
Paraguay is a state that can give tourists a lot of positive emotions, because it is characterized by its unique features. Beautiful cities and villages with their life style, preserved architectural monuments and a lot of religious unique sanctuaries – this is just a small part of the objects, which you can get acquainted with in Paraguay.
For most people, this state is associated with the area where you can go rafting. This is true, but in addition to sport rafting here offers equestrian sports, sport fishing, mountain hiking and other outdoor activities.
Paraguay has attracted the attention of many filmmakers. In the lens of the camera hit different parts of the country. The film “Train Paraguay”, as well as “7 Boxes” will help you get acquainted with some of the places of this amazing republic beforehand.
Corn, Paraguay. The author of the photo is Mario Abdo Benitez.
Features of the location of Paraguay
Paraguay is a republic located in the territory of South America, right in the heart of it, so the state is not landlocked or oceanic. The territory neighbors Brazil, as well as Bolivia and Argentina. The area of Paraguay occupies slightly more than 406 square kilometers, which is conventionally divided into two parts by a flowing river. The Chaco region is located in the western part. It is a desert area occupying more than half of the country. The eastern region, home to a larger percentage of the population, has subtropical forests and fertile plains.
The main city of Paraguay is Asuncion. Spanish and Guaraní are spoken throughout the state. The country’s population reaches the 2.8 million mark, with almost all being mestizo.
Salto del Guaira, Paraguay. The author of the photo is Anibal Ovelar.
The animal world of the Republic of Paraguay
Many caimans, armadillos, and pampas deer are found throughout the state. Occasionally you may see capybara rodents, or waterfowl. The forest and swamp areas are home to an incredible variety of tropical birds, ranging from ibises and parrots to nandu. It is not uncommon to see the appearance of blood-sucking bats. The large number of insects in the area is a definite nuisance. Mosquitoes, locusts, and ticks harm the local population and livestock. Walking through places in Paraguay you can also find termites, the above-ground part of termite lodges. This dwelling, which has the appearance of a tall truncated cone, has a reddish hue, and to some extent acts as a decoration of the plains landscapes.
Capybara, Paraguay. Photographed by Martin Witherwyrd.
Plant kingdom of Paraguay
The annual abundant rainfall is favorable for the Paraná plateau. The Republic’s fertile areas, which are developed on basalts or other volcanic rocks, are covered with subtropical evergreen forests. These have been intensively deforested for 10 years, starting in 1980. This is why they now cover about 5 % of the original area. Soils formed in the sandstone zone are poorer. Deciduous forests grow on them. Towards the western part of the republic, precipitation decreases significantly.
The flat lands, as well as the low-hill areas that are near the Paraguay River, also receive sufficient rainfall (about 1,300 mm annually), but this occurs between October of the month and the onset of May. These areas contain savanna landscapes with entire groups of palm trees and cereals. It is only in the river valley that evergreen forests can be found that boast densities. In the western part of the Paraguay River, where rainfall decreases by almost 50%, there are drier areas that are wrapped in xerophytic shrubs. Among their thickets, only occasional areas with palm trees can be found. On the same land also grows the famous tree, distinguished by the increased hardness of the wood. It is used for the purpose of obtaining tannin extracts.
If one finds oneself in the area of the far west of the state, one encounters a great number of thorny thickets, which are the “creation” of numerous shrubs and deciduous trees.
Buraco das Araras, Paraguay. The author of the photo is Orvar Eliasson.
Climatic conditions of Paraguay
The state is distinguished by its relatively small size, but this has not prevented the climate from being “original”. The fact is that in different parts of the country it is heterogeneous, with significant differences with the climatic conditions of the neighboring states. The eastern part of Paraguay enjoys a humid tropical climate, while the northwestern part has a dry tropical climate.
Temperatures in January (local summer) in the southern part of the country range from 27 to 29 degrees Celsius. During the same period in the northwestern part of the country, the thermometer ranges from 22 to 34 degrees Celsius, and some days it can be unbearably hot (43 degrees).
In July (local winter) the temperature reaches 19 degrees Celsius, while in the north it ranges from 16 to 24.
Green iguana, Paraguay. Photo by Susan Ford Collins.
The most striking sights of Paraguay
Tourists who want to get acquainted with all the beauties of the state should start with a visit to the capital Asuncion. This is the largest city of the country, which is built on the coast of the incredibly beautiful river named Rio Paraguay. The city is decorated with stunning skyscrapers and old colonial buildings. For the entertainment lovers, Asunción is a true paradise. There are plenty of bars with fiery Latin American tunes, restaurants with delicious international cuisine, theaters, museums, and a variety of attractions.
The foundation of the city dates back to 1537. It was founded by the Spanish conquerors on August 15 – the day of the celebration of a significant religious holiday. The city itself became the capital not at once, but only after a long time. It managed to get the status of the main settlement in 1811, after the proclamation of independence.
Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, Asunción, Paraguay. Photo by Alfonso.
Zoological and Botanical Gardens of the capital city
In 1914 the German scientist C. Friebig decided to establish unique gardens. With the advent of 1921 the number of animals living in the created place has increased significantly, thanks to the gifts of private individuals.
Today’s Zoological and Botanical Gardens occupy an area of 110 hectares of natural forests, which is home to about 70 species of animals and birds, reptiles and mammals. Almost every species is representative of South American fauna, including turtles, snakes, as well as monkeys, anteaters, lizards, armadillos, sloths and many others.
In addition to the botanical garden and the zoo, the territory of the gardens is adorned with several interesting objects, namely the Institute of Science, the Museum of History, the Golf Club and the Agronomic Institute. There are also active nurseries of crops and medicinal plants. They are open to the public and everyone can see the “inhabitants” of the nurseries.
Toucan, Paraguay. The author of the photo is Flavio Cruvinel Brandao.
It is located in the capital of Paraguay and is a government building. Here is the residence of the head of state. The building was built in 1867 at the request of C. A. Lopez, thanks to which it got its name.
Lopez Palace is one of the most symbolic sites in Paraguay. The snow-white facade is designed in the neoclassical style and has features of Palladianism. Relief columns adorn the central entrance of the building. Also here you can see numerous arches, the surface of which is covered with stucco. The whole perimeter of the Palace has rather high windows.
The inside of the Palace is also a delight. Many antique paintings, chic French furniture, statuettes made of bronze – these are not all the objects that delight the eye. The floral ornaments painted on the vaults of the halls were created by leading European artists. Huge marble staircases as well as giant mirrors are decorated with openwork patterns.
At night, this palace is particularly eye-catching as it delights passersby with a real colorful show, thanks to the presence of special illumination.
Lopez Palace, Paraguay. Photo by leonardoserikaw.
Pantheon of Heroes
This National Pantheon is a real architectural gem, a symbol of the country’s history as well as a cultural heritage site. The Pantheon of Heroes is a memorial that was erected to honor the fallen soldiers who gave their lives during the battles for independence. Many heroes of Paraguayan history are buried here, including C. Lopez, who was the first president, and his son, F. Lopez, who had the title of military marshal. In addition, the wife of C. Lopez and unknown soldiers.
The inhabitants of Paraguay have a special respect for this memorial site. The entrance area of the pantheon is “guarded” by two soldiers cast in bronze. In the interior is a sarcophagus covered with the national flag. The walls are studded with inscriptions of the names of Russian and Paraguayan soldiers who died in the Chuck War.
National Pantheon of Heroes, Asunción, Paraguay. Photo by Leandro Newmann Kiuffo.
This is one of Paraguay’s most significant natural landmarks. Cerro Corra is an amazing park that was created in 1976. The natural reserve occupies an impressive area (5.5 thousand hectares). During the war, it became the site of the bloodiest battles.
The modern park attracts visitors of Paraguay not only with its many natural beauties, but also with historical monuments that have been preserved. Recently, during the research, scientists managed to find caves with ancient drawings. Their age is more than 3000 years.
Cerro Cora, Paraguay. Photo by Andrew Bouma Gearhart.
An amazing little town.
Those tourists who enjoy exploring historical sites can visit a small ancient settlement – a town called Trinidad. Walking through the city streets, you can admire a variety of buildings made of stone. Their peculiarity is that the construction was carried out several centuries ago. The town looks more spectacular during sunset and after it. The territory of this village was included in the list of UNESCO sites a few years ago.
Trinidad, Paraguay. Photo by Enrique Campo.
The Village of Maca
If you want to experience the culture of Paraguay, explore the traditions of the local people and get away from the bustling life, you should go to the village of Maca. This is one of the few places in the state that has survived several wars as well as the colonial period. The way of life in this area has remained unchanged for the last 500 years. The local population is still engaged in farming, fishing, as well as crafts. Visiting this village you can buy original souvenirs, get acquainted with the unusual national costumes, which are still used by the inhabitants of the village. Their peculiarity is that the outfits are made of feathers.
This incredibly beautiful lake was formed in the south-eastern part of Paraguay. The area of this water body reaches an area of about 60 sq. km. The lake belongs to the shallow-water type of reservoirs because its depth does not exceed 3 meters. The water of Ipakaray contains a lot of minerals and metals. Ipakaray contains a lot of minerals and is curative. That is why it attracts not only a large number of locals but also visitors of Paraguay.
These are not all the amazing places of the country, which can give incredible emotions and unforgettable vacation. There are many other attractions that have conquered the hearts of tourists with different interests.
Cantera, Lake Ipacaray, Paraguay. The author of the photo is Laura Coutier.