When hunters and collectors from surrounding regions first immigrated is unclear. In southern Paraguay, hunting for guanaco dominated from about 3500 BC. until after the arrival of the Europeans in the early 16th century; settlements before that were usually semi-permanent. Ceramic manufacturing was introduced about 500 BC. through contacts with eastern Brazil.
The first Spanish expeditions arrived in Paraguay in the 1520s, and the conquest of the country began in the latter part of the 1530s based on Asunción, founded in 1537. Paraguay was a relatively poor and distant colony. The only important export product was the so-called Paraguayte which is consumed almost everywhere in South America. Paraguay was characterized by extensive mastering, and the Indian Guarani language gained a prominent position as the area’s second language alongside the Spanish. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Paraguay. The Jesuits started missionary activities among the Guarani Indians in 1609, which over time developed into a large network of village communities, which included tens of thousands of Indians. This activity was constantly attacked by Brazilian Indian hunters, so-called gangirantes, and also gave rise to growing tensions within Paraguay. A major uprising against the Jesuits and the Spanish crown ravaged Paraguay in 1721–35. Missionary activities ended in 1767 in connection with the expulsion of the Jesuits from America.
In 1811, Paraguay broke with Spain and at the same time freed itself from Buenos Aires, the old colonial capital of the La Plata area. José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, an ascetic intellectual who ran an extremely isolationist policy, ruled the country unequivocally in 1814–40. Carlos Antonio López, who was Paraguay’s president in 1844–62, set in motion major development plans and built up a strong armed force. His son and successor, General Francisco Solano López, operated an aggressive foreign policy, which led Paraguay to collision course with Brazil and Argentina. At the end of 1864, wars between Paraguay and Brazil erupted, 1865 extended to the so-called Triple Alliance war, where Paraguay was crushed by Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. The country’s population decreased by about 70 percent, and by the end of the war in 1870, the adult male population remained no more than 10 percent.
After the war, Paraguay was ruled until 1904 by the conservative Colorado Party with support in Brazil and then until 1936 by the liberal PLRA with support from Argentine interests. An old border dispute with Bolivia over the Chaco area led to the Chaco War (1932–35), which ended with a devastating Paraguayan victory. An unstable period followed the war. In 1940 General Higinio Morínigo (1897–1983) seized power and ruled the country hard until 1948. A civil war in 1947 and a series of coups following Morínigo’s fall led the country into a new period of instability, ending with General Alfredo Stroessners. power takeover in 1954. Stroessner then ruled Paraguay dictatorially until 1989, supported by the Colorado Party and the Armed Forces. Under his long power holdings, Paraguay’s economic modernization began, strongly linked to the world’s largest water energy project at Itaipú and a massive inflow of Brazilian capital. Economic growth in 1970–81 was almost 9 percent per year, but growth also gave rise to strong social tensions. Dissatisfaction grew during the 1980s, and in 1989 Stroessner was deposed by one of his own, General Andrés Rodríguez (1923–97), who, with the support of the Colorado Party, was elected president. A period of slow democratization began, but without any significant changes in the country’s social and economic structure.
The Colorado Party and the military continued to share their long-established power monopoly even during the 1990s. However, democratization also led to corruption in the state authorities as well as deep cracks in both the military and the Colorado Party in the open. During the 1990s, the battle for the land in Paraguay also intensified with the actions of several militant peasant movements. In 1996, for example, retired General Lino Oviedo (1943–2013) conducted a coup attempt against President Juan Carlos Wasmosy, and in 1999 Vice President Luís María Argaña (1932–99) was murdered on the open street, which led to the then President Raúl Cubas (born 1943) departed and together with Oviedo fled abroad. All involved belonged to the Colorado Party. Oviedo later returned and was charged with numerous crimes against the state.
Only in 2008 was the Colorado Party’s long dominance of the country broken when Fernando Lugo, candidate for the left alliance Alianza Patriótica para el Cambio(APC), won the presidential election. Initially, the expectations of the former Bishop Lugo were very high and he promised basic reforms of the state, including the introduction of personal income tax, the fight against poverty and corruption. Lugo, however, found it difficult to fulfill his promises, his alliance lacked his own majority in parliament and many reforms were halted by the Supreme Court, which was ruled by members appointed by the Colorado Party under previous government holdings. The lack of progress combined with personal problems caused dissatisfaction with his rule. In June 2012, the opposition won a vote of no confidence against the President of Parliament, which forced Lugo to resign.
The sale of Fernando Lugo created a political crisis in Paraguay and the region. The neighboring countries called the coup d’état and Paraguay was suspended from the Mercosur regional cooperation organization until the democratic order was restored. In April 2013, the Colorado Party returned to power when their candidate Horacio Cartes was elected president. Cartes is one of the richest people in the country and runs a number of companies but gave up all leading positions in their companies after the election. He won with 46 percent of the vote against 37 percent for the closest challenger Efraín Alegre (born 1963), candidate for the Liberal Party PLRA. At the same time, the Colorado Party strengthened its position in the National Congress and gained its own majority in the Chamber of Deputies.
The power of the Colorado Party was consolidated in the 2018 presidential election when the party’s candidate Mario Abdo Benítez won by about 46 percent of the vote.