Pre-Columbian civilization in the fertile, wooded region that is now
Paraguay consisted of numerous seminomadic, Guarani-speaking tribes, 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;
afterwards, Brazilian troops 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. Gen. 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 anticommunism. 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 Gen. Andres Rodriguez. Rodriguez, as the Colorado Party candidate, easily
won the presidency in elections held that May 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. In May 1993,
Colorado Party 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. 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 Gen. Lino Oviedo to oust President Wasmosy, taking an
important step to strengthen democracy.
Oviedo became the Colorado candidate for 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 remained in confinement.
His former running mate, Raul Cubas Grau, became the Colorado Party's candidate
and was elected in May in elections deemed by international observers to
be free and fair. However, his brief presidency was dominated by conflict
over the status of Oviedo, who had significant influence over the Cubas
government. One of Cubas' first acts after taking office in August was
to commute Oviedo's sentence and release him from confinement. In December
1998, Paraguay's Supreme Court declared these actions unconstitutional.
After delaying for 2 months, Cubas openly defied the Supreme Court in February
1999, refusing to return Oviedo to jail. In this tense atmosphere, the
murder of Vice President and long-time Oviedo rival Luis Maria Argana on
March 23, 1999, led the Chamber of Deputies to impeach Cubas the next day.
The March 26 murder of eight student antigovernment demonstrators, widely
believed to have been carried out by Oviedo supporters, made it clear that
the Senate would vote to remove Cubas on March 29, and Cubas resigned on
March 28. Despite fears that the military would not allow the change of
government, Senate President Luis Gonzalez Macchi, a Cubas opponent, was
peacefully sworn in as president the same day. Cubas left for Brazil the
next day and received asylum. Oviedo fled the same day, first to Argentina,
then to Brazil. In December 2001, Brazil rejected Paraguay's petition to
extradite Oviedo to stand trial for the March 1999 assassination and "marzo
Gonzalez Macchi offered cabinet positions in his government to senior
representatives of all three political parties in an attempt to create
a coalition government. The Liberal Party, however, pulled out of the consensus
government in February 2000 and stands in opposition to the Gonzalez Macchi
administration. Liberal Julio Cesar Franco won the August 2000 election
to fill the vacant vice presidential position, but resigned to pursue the
presidency in October 2002. Gonzalez Macchi was found not guilty in a Senate
impeachment trial involving corruption and mismanagement charges in February