Paraguay is interesting so far. I guess I’m used to third-world Asia, because this place seems pretty developed, prosperous, clean, and uncrowded; there is constant electricity and water in the capital, Asuncion, and solid wifi and hot water in my hotel room, which is a cheap-and-cheerful place near the old city-center. The roads seem well-maintained, with curb-cuts, street signs, and traffics lights. Of course, I’m only in the capital, but have already been to the slums along the river, where the disenfranchised and drowned live. The problem here, as in most of the world, is that there is a very prosperous upper class, then the rest of the population, who suffer deprivations. In the city, there are basic services (electricity and water) that can be accessed (legally or illegally) by everyone, but in the rural areas this is not the case. Health care is similar to the United States, in that there is no socialized medicine, except that, here, if you cannot pay you don’t get treated—thus, the poor are critically deprived.
The culture is fascinating as most of the population is a mix of European and indigenous Guarani race. That’s because, long ago, when the European colony separated from Spain in 1811, their leader only allowed the remaining colonists to marry locals. He had a vision of breaking the Spanish lineages, and created a homogenized lineage of mestizo population. That was a very progressive concept way back then (even now) and laid the groundwork for a short future of independence and prosperity due to the abundance of natural resources and equitable treatment of locals. Later, as dictators fought for control of the country, and ruled intermittently, the stratification of the population started to solidify along economic lines. But the country continues to be self-sufficient in energy production (hydro power) and food, and is actually a net exporter of electricity, soybeans, meat, wood, and other valuable commodities. If only the profits reached everyone.
(inside the cathedral of asuncion there are wonderful old painting of the stations of the cross. of course they don’t look anything like the actual stations, which i visited in jerusalem earlier this year, but idealized, almost bucolic, natural environments, with a glowing jesus on his way to golgotha.)
More from South America, later.
Site visits to the flood affected areas begin today; and meetings with local organizations involved in poverty reduction and disaster response—mostly faith-based groups. More later.