History in Paraguay

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Pre-Colombian civilization in the fertile wooded region that is now Paraguay consisted of numerous semi-nomadic Guarani-speaking tribes of Indians who were recognized for their fierce warrior traditions. They practiced a mythical 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; Brazilian troops subsequently 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.

General 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 34-year reign political freedoms were severely limited and opponents of the regime were systematically harassed and persecuted in the name of national security and anti-communism. 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 General Andres Rodriguez. Presidential and congressional elections were held on May 1 1989. Rodriguez as the Colorado Party candidate easily won the presidency 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.

On May 9 1993 Colorado Party presidential 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. Wasmosy worked to consolidate Paraguay's democratic transition reform the economy and the state and improve respect for human rights. His major accomplishments were exerting civilian control over the armed forces and undertaking fundamental reform of the judicial and electoral systems.

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 General Lino Oviedo to oust President Wasmosy taking an important step to strengthen democracy.

Oviedo sought to become 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 his former running mate Raul Cubas Grau became the Colorado Party's candidate. Cubas was elected on May 10 in elections deemed by international observers to be free and fair and he took office on August 15. One of his first acts in office was to commute Oviedo's sentence to time served and release him from confinement. On December 2 1998 Paraguay's Supreme Court declared these actions unconstitutional.

Cubas has cited as priorities for his administration addressing Paraguay's economic crisis and its growing budget deficit reducing military spending fighting corruption and narcotics trafficking and improving protection of intellectual property rights.

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