This Country Will Steal Your Heart
Paraguay’s biggest problem is a lack of marketing. If Madison Avenue were on this, Paraguay would steal Americans’ hearts. This country’s story’s got everything—heroes, rogues, dictators, and true villains… cowboys, damsels, poets, and philosophers… intrigue, treachery, legend, hubris, and love affairs.
Paraguay is a country with a twisting, turning, complicated past that, at one time in its history, almost ceased to be at all. The Triple Alliance War, which pitted Paraguay against Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, cost this country 90% of its male population, 60% of its total population, and 25% of its land mass.
What was all the fuss about?
Like everything in Paraguay, it’s hard to pin down an answer to that question. Locals blame the whole disastrous experience on the British and their tea. At the time (1864), Paraguay was a middling regional power with a booming economy based largely on agriculture… including tea. Paraguayan farmers produced high-grade tea at less cost than tea from Great Britain and decided to try to expand the market for it from the Americas to Europe. When Paraguay offered their cut-rate tea leaves to Germany and France, Britain responded with a vengeance.
Could tea be that important, even to the British? Paraguayans sure think so, though historians don’t always agree and suggest other factors behind the conflict. Regardless, one thing is for sure: This country has only very recently even begun to recover from those six years of holocaust. In the end, women and children were fighting naked to try to defend what was left of their country.
Outside Paraguay and the region, few have ever heard of the Triple Alliance War. I share the story with you because I think it gives insights into what’s going on in Paraguay today.
More than 90% of the country’s male population gone and much of the total remaining population sick and wounded following the war, Paraguay did something very smart. It sent out a call, far and wide. Come, settle our fertile land, Paraguay offered the world, and we’ll give you a small piece of it. You can farm and develop as a Paraguayan.
The global homesteading offer attracted adventurers, opportunists, and carpet-baggers, a mixed lot, for sure, whose descendants make up this country’s eclectic modern-day population. It also explains the country’s open-minded policies to do with residency and citizenship. This is the easiest place in the world to establish residency and to get a second passport. Paraguayans we’ve met with speak of it often and openly.
“You should become Paraguayan,” one told us. “It’s easy.”
Of historic necessity and also, I think, genuine good-heartedness, these are very welcoming people who are trying, for the first time in their history, to make a go of democracy. Young Paraguayans we’ve spoken with are naively, innocently embracing the idea. Their enthusiasm for what the future could hold for their now democratic nation reminds us how worn and weary we’ve become. One young lady, an attorney, spoke with such pride of her country’s past and such commitment to its future that I was inspired.
“Paraguay was rich before, and we will be rich again…”
We’ve heard that refrain from many.
“When I was a child, we imported everything, even toilet paper and toothpicks, mostly from Argentina,” explained one Paraguayan gentleman we spent time with last week. “Today this is changing. Now we make more and more things ourselves. We’re even exporting some things to Argentina…”
One specific opportunity that has my attention isn’t to do with manufacturing but property, in the old town, where a riverfront revitalization project is under way. Just back from the river stand grand colonial structures, the kind that get my romantic imagination whirring… and that might just be available for a song. I’m working to pin down figures.
Reminds me of the first time I saw Granada, Nicaragua (28 years ago), and Casco Viejo, Panama (almost 20 years ago), with one important exception. Paraguay’s old town is much larger than either of those two colonial zones. Larger, too, than the colonial neighborhoods of Montevideo or Quito…