Paraguay, formally the Republic of Paraguay (Spanish: Repblica del Paraguay; Guarani: Tet Paraguái), is a landlocked nation in central South America. It is bounded on the south and southwest by Argentina, on the east and northeast by Brazil, and on the northwest by Bolivia. Paraguay is located on both sides of the Paraguay River, which flows north to south across the nation. Due to its central position in South America, it is sometimes referred to as the South American Heart (“Heart of South America”). Paraguay is one of two landlocked nations outside of Afro-Eurasia (the other being Bolivia). Paraguay is the Americas’ smallest landlocked nation.
The indigenous Guaran had inhabited Paraguay for at least a millennium prior to the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Christianity and Spanish culture were brought to the area through Spanish immigrants and Jesuit missions. Paraguay was a Spanish Empire territory on the outside, with few metropolitan centers and inhabitants. Following its independence from Spain in 1811, Paraguay was governed by a succession of dictators that mostly pursued isolationist and protectionist policies.
Following the catastrophic Paraguayan Conflict (1864–1870), the nation lost between 60% and 70% of its people to war and illness, as well as about 140,000 square kilometers (54,054 square miles), or almost one-quarter of its land, to Argentina and Brazil.
Throughout the twentieth century, Paraguay endured a series of authoritarian regimes, culminating in Alfredo Stroessner’s 1954–1989 military dictatorship. He was deposed in an internal military coup, and for the first time in 1993, open multi-party elections were arranged and conducted. A year later, Paraguay co-founded Mercosur with Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.
As of 2009, Paraguay’s population was projected to be about 6.5 million, with the majority residing in the country’s southeast area. Asunción, the capital and biggest city, is home to almost a third of Paraguay’s population. In contrast to the majority of Latin American countries, Paraguay’s indigenous language and culture, Guaran, continue to be very prominent. Residents identify primarily as mestizo in each census, indicating years of intermarriage between the various ethnic groups. Guaran, along with Spanish, is recognized as an official language in the nation, and both are extensively spoken.