Paraguay Table of Contents

Although the vast majority of Paraguayans were mestizos and the population was largely homogeneous, minorities became an increasingly significant force during the 1970s and 1980s. Paraguay's population historically had included small numbers of immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. During the 1970s, however, thousands of Brazilian settlers crossed the border into Paraguay's eastern departments, dramatically affecting life there. During the same period, thousands of Koreans and ethnic Chinese settled in urban Paraguay. Finally, there were the remnants of the country's original Indian population who continued to follow an indigenous way of life.


A trickle of European and Middle Eastern immigrants began making their way to Paraguay in the decades following the War of the Triple Alliance. The government pursued a pro-immigration policy in an effort to increase population. Government records indicated that approximately 12,000 immigrants entered the port of Asunción between 1882 and 1907, of that total, almost 9,000 came from the Italy, Germany, France, and Spain. Migrants also arrived from neighboring Latin American countries, especially Argentina.

Most migrants--even many who began their lives in Paraguay's agricultural settlements--typically found their way into urban trades and commerce and became the backbone of the country's small middle class. Middle Easterners tended to remain culturally and socially distinct even after several generations. European and Latin American immigrants were more readily assimilated. Nonetheless, in small towns non-Paraguayan family origins were noted for generations after the original migrant's arrival.

Although most minority groups tended to prefer urban life, Japanese immigrants founded and remained in agricultural colonies. Until the twentieth century, Japanese immigration was limited by Paraguay's unwillingness to accept Asian colonists; Japanese themselves preferred the more lucrative opportunities offered by the expanding Brazilian economy. When Brazil set quotas on Asian immigration in the 1930s, however, a Japanese land company set up an agricultural settlement southeast of Asunción. Two more colonies near Encarnación followed in the 1950s. A 1959 bilateral agreement between the Japanese and Paraguayan governments encouraged further immigration. By the 1980s there were about 8,000 Japanese settlers in agricultural colonies. The colonists made a concerted effort to preserve Japanese language and culture with varying degrees of success. Until the end of World War II, the earliest settlement supported a parallel educational system with subjects taught entirely in Japanese; the colonists eventually limited this to supplemental Japanese language classes. By the late 1960s, many Japanese children could speak in Japanese, Guaraní, and Spanish. But there was strong bias against Japanese-Paraguayan intermarriage.

Like the Japanese, most German--speaking Mennonite immigrants remained in agricultural colonies. The bulk of the Mennonite population came between the 1920s and the 1940s and established three colonies in the central Chaco. In 1926 approximately 2,000 persons left Canada after the passage of legislation requiring English to be the language of instruction in Mennonite schools. The Paraguayan government, eager to develop the Chaco, readily allowed Mennonites to conduct their own schools in German and exempted the immigrants from military service.

The original Menno Colony was followed by the establishment of the Fernheim Colony in 1930 and the Neuland Colony in 1947. These latter two groups of colonists, also German--speaking, fled religious persecution in the Soviet Union. The Fernheimers, who had higher levels of education and more exposure to urban life than did the Mennos, also founded the town of Filadelfia, which eventually became an important agricultural supply center for the central Chaco. Some Fernheimers and Neulands left the Chaco to establish small colonies in Eastern Paraguay. In the early 1980s, there were approximately 15,000 Mennonites in Paraguay; two-thirds lived in the Chaco, with the remainder in Caaguazú, San Pedro, and Itapúa departments and in Asunción.

Until the 1970s, the Brazilian presence in Paraguay was relatively minor and was confined primarily to privately organized agricultural colonies along the easter border. In 1943 there were fewer than 500 Brazilian farmers in all of Paraguay; throughout the 1950s and 1960s the proportion of Brazilians in the eastern border region held constant at between 3 and 4 percent of the total population of the area.

In the early 1970s, however, Brazilian immigrants, persuaded by a variety of factors, began streaming into the region from the neighboring Brazilian state of Paraná. In 1967 the Paraguayan government repealed a statute that had prohibited foreigners from purchasing land within 150 kilometers of the country's borders. During the same era, increased mechanization of soybean production in Paraná generated a growing concentration of landholdings in that area. Brazilian farmers whose holdings were too small to support increased production costs sold their land in Brazil and bought cheap land in Paraguay. In the late 1970s, land along Paraguay's eastern frontier was seven to eight times cheaper than comparable land in Brazil. The disparity in prices drew large investors who cleared the land of saleable timber, then subdivided it and sold it to Brazilian immigrants.

Official records gave only an imprecise sense of the number of Brazilians who had come to the country. According to the 1982 census, there were 99,000 Brazilians residing in Paraguay. Most analysts discounted this figure, however, and contended that between 300,000 and 350,000 Brazilians lived in the eastern border region. Along the border, the Brazilian cruzeiro was more commonly used than the guaraní, and Portuguese was heard more often than Spanish or Guaraní. Many Paraguayan peasants and Indians were evicted from lands purchased by immigrants. The pace of land sales increased to such a point that undercapitalized Paraguayan farmers who had settled in the region as part of IBR's colonization programs were selling their lands to Brazilian farmers and financial groups.

Analysts also rejected government figures on the number of immigrants from the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The 1982 census reported that there were 2,700 Koreans in Paraguay, along with another 1,100 non-Korean or non-Japanese Asian immigrants. The actual number of Koreans and ethnic Chinese, however, was believed to be between 30,000 and 50,000. Virtually all Koreans and ethnic Chinese lived in Puerto Presidente Stroessner or Asunción and played a major role in the importation and sale of electronic goods manufactured in Asia.


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Source: U.S. Library of Congress