• Official name: Teta Paraguay / Republica del Paraguay (Republic of Paraguay)
• Location: South America
• International organisations: Organisation of American States, United Nations, World Trade Organisation
• Borders: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil
• Coastline: None
• Land area: 406,750 Km2
• Population: 6,300,000
• Annual GDP (PPP) per capita: US$4,100 (2009 CIA estimate). World ranking: 125
• Ethnicity: Almost the entire population is of mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European) descent.
• Languages: Guarani (an Amerindian language) and Spanish are official languages. Over 90% speak Guarani as their first language, but Spanish is the language of government, business and the media. There is a German-speaking minority.
• Religion: Over 90% of the population are Catholic Christians. There is a small Protestant minority.
• Form of government: Presidential democratic republic. Paraguay is divided into 17 Departments and the Capital City.
• Capital: Asuncion
• Constitution: The Constitution of the Republic of Paraguay came into effect on 20 June 1992
• Head of state: The President, elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term.
• Head of government: The President, who appoints all ministers.
• Legislature: Paraguay has a bicameral legislature, the National Congress (Congreso Nacional). The Chamber of Deputies (Camara de Diputados) has 80 members, elected for five-year terms by proportional representation. The Chamber of Senators (Camara de Senadores) has 45 members, elected for five-year terms by proportional representation.
• Electoral authority: The Superior Tribunal for Electoral Justice administers national elections.
• Freedom House 2009 rating: Political Rights 3, Civil Liberties 3

Political history

Paraguay came under Spanish rule in the 1530s, and from 1559 it was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. In 1776 it was transferred to the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata, thus becoming a dependency of Buenos Aires. When Argentina declared its independence in 1811, the Paraguayans remained loyal to Spain, but preferred independence to rule from Buenos Aires. Paraguay became independent in May 1811.

Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia ruled Paraguay as a benevolent dictator until 1840. Through the 19th and 20th centuries the country, one of the poorest in the Americas, suffered from chronic instability. Periods of chaos alternated with rule by strongmen, the most notable being Carlos Antonio Lopez and his son, Francisco Solano Lopez. In the 1860s Paraguay fought the War of the Triple Alliance against Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, in which it lost half its population.

In the 20th century Paraguay was dominated by political conflict between the conservative Colorados (Reds) and the liberal Blancos (Whites). The Blancos came to power in 1904, but instability continued - between 1904 and 1922, Paraguay had fifteen presidents. In the 1930s there was another disastrous war, against Bolivia. Higinio Morinigo ruled as a dictator from 1940 to 1948.

After another interlude of instability, General Alfredo Stroessner took power in May 1954. Ruling with the support of the Army and the Colorados, Stroessner held dictatorial power until 1989, when he was overthrown by the army. The coup-leader, General Andres Rodriguez, introduced the 1992 constitution, which established a democratic system of government.

In May 1993, Juan Carlos Wasmosy was elected as Paraguay's first civilian president for 40 years. Despite a failed coup attempt in 1996, the assassination of the Vice-President and the subsequent impeachment of President Raul Cubas Grau in 1999, Paraguay has enjoyed the longest period of democratic government in its history.

Until 2008 Paraguayan politics were dominated by the two traditional parties, the conservative Republican National Alliance (the Colorados), and the liberal Authentic Radical Liberal Party (the Blancos). The Colorados held the presidency from the restoration of democracy until 2008, when a radical former bishop, Fernando Lugo, was elected president as the candidate of the Patriotic Alliance for Change (APC), a coalition of the Blancos and left-wing parties.

Freedom House's 2009 report on Paraguay says: "Paraguay is an electoral democracy. The 2008 national elections were considered to be free and fair... High level corruption cases are a constant in Paraguay's political life... Transparency International ranked Paraguay 138 out of 180 countries surveyed in its 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, below all other countries in the Americas save Ecuador, Venezuela, and Haiti... The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and the press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice... Tthe constitution guarantees rights of association and assembly, and both Presidents Duarte and Lugo have respected these rights in practice... The judiciary, under the influence of the ruling party and the military, is highly corrupt."

Updated June 2010