Paraguay and the United States: Distant Allies

Paraguay and the United States: Distant Allies

Paraguay and the United States: Distant Allies

Paraguay and the United States: Distant Allies


Ranging from the 1840s through the early twenty-first century, this study of shared political, economic, and cultural histories fills significant gaps in our understanding of Paraguayan-U.S. relations. Frank O. Mora and Jerry W. Cooney tell how an initially rocky beginning between the two countries, marked by diplomatic posturing, shows of military force, and failed business schemes, gave way to a calmer period during which the United States backed Paraguay's territorial claims against its neighbors, prospects grew brighter for American entrepreneurs, and Paraguay embraced Pan-Americanism.

It was not until the 1930s that the two countries engaged in earnest as the United States attempted to mediate the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia. Then, as the authors write, "hemispheric solidarity in World War II, the cold war in Latin America, the 'balance of power' among states in the Río de la Plata, and the question of U.S. support for, or aid to, Latin American dictators" became matters of mutual interest.

The dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-89) spanned much of this era, and a shared attitude of realpolitik typified U.S.-Paraguayan relations during his rule. Post-Stroessner, the United States has stood by Paraguay during its transition to democracy, despite lingering concerns about such issues as drug trafficking and intellectual piracy. The countries should grow closer with time, the authors conclude, if Paraguay resists the continent's leftward political shift and remains a solid partner in U.S. antiterror initiatives in South America.


In a conversation with Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941, author John Gunther surprised the president by stating that he had visited Paraguay as well as the other Latin American countries he investigated. That surprise was understandable. Although Paraguay had gained its independence in 1813, had maintained relations with the United States since the 1850s, and was an original member of the Pan American Union, few Americans knew anything about this republic situated in the heart of South America. More often than not, they would have confused it with another South American republic, Uruguay.

Even today Paraguay rarely enters the consciousness of North Americans. If they know anything about it, they picture a jumble of dictators, fanciful notions of refugee Nazis dreaming of the Fourth Reich, or, at most, peasants sipping yerba mate—a tea native to this region. Paraguay has likewise received little attention from most North American specialists in Latin America. This lack of attention is understandable. Until the mid-twentieth century, this republic did not play a significant role in any assessment of United States national interest. North Americans had few investments in, or commerce with, that isolated area, and unlike the circum-Caribbean, there was no compelling geopolitical reason to pay it much attention. And until the 1940s, a visit to Paraguay usually required a journey by ship to Buenos Aires and then a thousand miles upriver by steamer to Asunción. Few North American tourists, commercial travelers, or government functionaries visited this republic. Much changed with the advent of the air age, World War II, and then the North American hegemony over the Western Hemisphere. Yet even today Paraguay ranks low in U.S. economic, political, or strategic interests.

Although Paraguay has never loomed large in North American consciousness, the converse is definitely not true. Over the past seventy years, the international policies of the United States have had a vital . . .

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