Paraguay is a landlocked country in the central part of South America, with Brazil to the east, Argentina to the south and west, and Bolivia to the north. The majority of the population live in the fertile plains east of the Paraguay River. The Grand Chaco region to the west is still inhabited by nomadic Indians and cattle ranchers. The country has the most homogeneous population in South America, with 95 per cent of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry.
In 1811 Paraguay claimed independence from Spain. From independence until recently the country has known little but mismanagement, exploitation and corruption by a long series of military dictators. From 1865 to 1870 the dictator Francisco Lopez waged a war against neighbouring countries in which over half of the male population of Paraguay was killed. From 1932 to 1935 Paraguay fought with Bolivia in the Chaco War.
From the 1950s to the 1980s Paraguay had another dictator, Alfredo Stroessner, who committed massive human rights violations and killed thousands of political opponents. This led to his overthrow in 1989, with multiparty elections held soon after. In 1992 Paraguay instituted a new constitution, although widespread government corruption continued under the leadership of the Colorado Party. In 2000 the Liberal Party came to power, instituting reforms designed to stabilize the country, and beginning the process of bringing to trial those accused of human rights violations and corruption.
Roman Catholicism came to Paraguay with the Spanish. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Jesuits had a number of missions in Paraguay. For many years the Roman Catholic Church was subservient to the government, but wielded much economic and political power. However, since Vatican II, many Roman Catholic leaders have spoken out against violence, immorality and corruption. The Mennonites are the largest Protestant group in Paraguay.
Mennonite refugees from Russia have been working with the Chaco Indians and have received support from the Mennonite Church in the United States.