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The Paraguay Reader by Peter Lambert, Andrew Nickson (review)

From: Journal of Latin American Geography
Volume 12, Number 2, 2013
pp. 277-279 | 10.1353/lag.2013.0023

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In this volume, an addition to the Latin America reader series published by Duke University Press, the editors have collected texts that treat a Latin American country often forgotten by geographers and academics. The extracts are divided into approximately seven sections that treat topics ranging from politics to culture to society. The theme that pervades so many of these texts is one of isolation, primarily geographical, as Paraguay is a landlocked nation with convoluted access to the sea—or to the commercial center that very much controls Paraguay’s economic fortunes, Buenos Aires. To this major theme is added a lesser, albeit significant, one: transition. Paraguayans are best known as a bilingual people who speak two official languages, español and guaraní. Their past and present are united in most obvious ways, as colonial ruins stand next to modern skyscrapers. Lambert and Nickson press the case for viewing Paraguay as a nation that continues to evolve, having grown its economy by fourteen percent in 2010, “the second fastest in the world” (p. 3). Among the many fascinating plates and illustrations is a map documenting the disappearance of much of the subtropical Atlantic forest in eastern Paraguay, a consequence of the rapidly emerging commercial agriculture in recent decades.

At the conclusion of the editorial introduction, the criteria according to which writings were reviewed and included in the anthology are emphasized. Six sections are arranged in a chronological order embracing the history of Paraguay and an analysis of its rich and diverse politics and culture. In the sources themselves an emphasis is placed on accounts that are rooted in the specific historical period being discussed (colonial, nationalist, civil war) and that are taken from the perspective of ordinary people. As is so often the case in such anthologies, translation poses an array of problems, especially since many of the marginalized voices so important to the history of Paraguay express themselves in Guaraní, a language largely oral in nature. Many of the accounts are being made accessible in English for the first time and thus provide an invaluable resource on the subjects treated, one that has no parallel in the current literature. All of the accounts are preceded by introductions that prepare the reader for the historical significance of the piece.

In the section on “The Nationalist Experiment,” an engrossing analysis of the comuneros revolts is provided by Adalberto López. These revolts, which occurred roughly during the years 1721–1735, and the accounts of López offer plenty of supporting evidence for the value of exploring Paraguayan history through a multifaceted lens. On the one hand, the revolts seem to be an inchoate attempt by Paraguayans to challenge Spanish rule generally and to affirm national sovereignty specifically. On the other, these revolts point up the importance of the land and the dignity of indigenous labor to the resident Hispanics. According to a third view, the conflicts themselves are merely evidence of the divisions and disputes among elite factions of the population. Significantly, the revolts help to align the region with other proto-nations of the Spanish Empire and with other manifestations of unrest among landowners and peasants. In an accompanying map, the significance of Asunción is established within the scope of colonial Spanish settlements in the southern regions of South America.

In the segment “From the Chaco War to the Civil War,” a selection from Walter Quiring’s “The Mennonites Arrive in the Chaco,” is presented, the focus centered on the impressive agricultural and economic advances made by Mennonite immigrants across a period of roughly twenty years. Of the various groups of non-Latin American immigrants that have settled in Paraguay since its liberation from Spanish rule in 1811, the Mennonites have established themselves as the most successful and prosperous. According to the editors, “The Mennonites are the only people to have founded successful large-scale agricultural and cattle-ranching communities in the Chaco, which are based on cooperative principles (p. 168). Focusing on the health risks brought upon the immigrants, Quiring examines previous research to establish support for his thesis that the Mennonites virtually conquered and transformed largely un-inhabited regions of the Chaco. First Mennonite children and then the...



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