A record for stability in South American politics has just been established, when President Alfredo Stroessner celebrated 25 years in power in Paraguay.
A record for stability in South American politics has just been established, when President Alfredo Stroessner celebrated 25 years in power in Paraguay. President Stroessner has dictatorial powers, but has allowed slightly more scope for opposition since his last massive victory at the polls eighteen months ago. His country has also provided a refuge for exiled dictators -- from Juan Peron of Argentina in 1955 to Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua only last month.
SYNOPSIS: Asuncion, the capital is Paraguay's only major city, with a population approaching half a million. Most of the people are of mixed Spanish and American Indian descent, and speak an Indian tongue, Guarani -- though Spanish is the country's official language. Foreign visitors described them as relaxed and easy going, and for the moot part absorbed in their own affairs and uninterested in what happens abroad. The vast majority are Roman Catholics.
The Pantheon of Heroes commemorates Paraguay's war dead. Its violent past, with two major wars, contrasts sharply with the peace of the past quarter-century under President Stroessner. Alfredo Stroessner, the son of German immigrants, is now 66. He has been re-elected President five times -- after having the constitution changed to make this lawful.
Most of the people are more concerned about the cost of living than about political repression. Government ministers have said that the inflation rate is only about four per cent a year -- the lowest in South America. But opposition politicians say the statistics are totally false, and that people certainly have to work much harder than they did a few years ago to buy the same amount of goods. As in most countries in South America, there is a vast gap between the prosperous few and the low-wages majority.
One trade that is obviously flourishing is smuggling. Contraband watches and calculators are openly on sale on the streets of Asuncion. And there is reported to be an extensive trade in smuggling lawfully imported goods across the frontiers into Brazil and Argentina. The foreign exchange it brings in contributes to keeping Paraguay's currency unusually stable.
Well over half the employed population works on the land. Almost all Paraguay's exports at present come from its agriculture. They include cotton, meat products, tobacco and timber. Most of the farm workers are still desperately poor; but the government is holding out hopes of substantial improvement in the country's economy shortly.
By the mid 1980s, the hydro-electric scheme on the Parana River should be producing power. It will both save oil and give Paraguay more electricity than it needs. The surplus will be exported to Brazil.
This will supplement the trade flowing in and out of Asuncion's river port; and together they have led the government to forecast growing prosperity for the people of Paraguay.