Indeed Paraguay has never fully recovered from "La Guerra de la Triple Alianza" of 1865-70, but that's not all that went wrong from them. In the space of less than two centuries, Paraguay had the misfortune, to put it mildly, of being governed by the Iron Fists of José Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia ("El Supremo"), a pathological xenophobe and misogynist, followed by Carlos Antonio López and later his megalomaniac son Francisco Solano López, and if that was not enough, the second most durable dictator in South American history, Alfredo Stroessner, whose grip on power lasted 35 years (1954-89).
The 1865-70 war was largely instigated by Solano López, and for those who don't know, it involved the declaration of war on Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay (simultaneously!), at a time when Paraguay was becoming economically strong and prosperous, and subsequently grew too big for their boots in the eyes of their neighbours. The war devastated the adult male population, with estimates ranging from 80-95% of them killed, and by the latter stages, children as young as 12 were going off to fight. The post-war period saw Paraguayan women outnumber their male counterparts by approximately 12:1, a figure which was allegedly still as high as 8:1 in the 1960s, but with time and immigration, the ratio is now probably around 3:1.
The final curse was the wave of Nazis (no one knows how many but there quite a few) who fled to Paraguay after WWII. Now it's hard to tell who is who, as there was also a wave of German Mennonite farmers who had nothing to do with the Nazi régime (and are notoriously pacifist), but if you visit Paraguay, you will most likely meet at least a couple of "Aryan" looking characters whose ancestry you'd rather not question.
As for Paraguay's ties with Spain, as aforementioned, they have been weakened by history and even from the beginning, a combination of Spain's lack of interest in such an inhospitable region and the cultural isolationism of the Guaranís laid the foundations to a rather weak relationship with the "Madre Patría". Paraguayan Spanish is ridden with Guaraní words, and to me is one of the hardest dialects to understand.
Interestingly enough, however, Spanish involvement came largely in the form of the Jesuit missionaries during the 17th century, which is one of the reasons why the Guaraní tribe and their customs survived more intact than those of other indigenous populations. Very few were actually killed-off prior to independence, and to the day, about 80% of Paraguayans speak Guaraní as a first or second language. Incidentally, José de San Martín was born into a Jesuit family not far from Paraguay, in a small town in Corrientes province called Yapeyu, as the Guaranís were not confined to Paraguay's borders.
How does all this relate? Well, simply put, Paraguay is in an appalling state right now, as both Xkorpyoh and I can corroborate. Travel through the country and you will see countless broken-down, abandoned vehicles, derelict factories--total decay. You will also notice pockets of affluence, some of which is due to foreign businessmen settling in Paraguay to take advantage of the rock-bottom cost of living, and others who have enriched themselves through the Mercado Negro. It is not impossible to see BMW Minis or SUVs in Paraguay!
TAM has thrown Paraguay a much-needed lifeline, for sure, as LAPSA was pretty much finished-off by the collapse of the military régime. Their fleet of B707s, L-188s and DC-6s still lie ominously strewn around ASU
, symbols of the nationwide decay. For the distances involved, Paraguay does not merit a separate IB
flight, or for that matter direct flights from AA
is a useful codeshare partner for most carriers, and it simplifies matters for airlines serving GRU
is about 3 hours away from both cities--more bluntly, it's far from everything!
Whether Paraguay's situation will improve is largely up to the Paraguayans. I for one am not particularly optimistic, as many Paraguayans (understandably) see the Mercado Negro as their only hope of surviving or making money, which means that the nation's wealth will remain artificial. The Mercosur arrangement sees that around 85% of Paraguay's energy is supplied by Brazil, and Brazil does offer Paraguay access to a couple of ports. Brazil has the potential to keep Paraguay afloat, so long as it benefits, but I don't see that sort of "fraternity" lasting forever, and sooner or later, Paraguay will need to become more self-sufficient. Whether this will be born of legal or illegal means remains to be seen. More importantly, with half the Paraguayan population having never known a form of government other than the Mano Dura of dictatorship, will Paraguay's tragic history repeat itself?