Paraguay, usually far from the front pages of American and European newspapers, has been featured in a spate of articles in the New York Times recently. Reporter Simon Romero has been in the country covering the presidential election, recently won by tobacco magnate Horacio Cartes. Paraguay's economy is growing, Romero reports, but more than 30% of the citizens still live in poverty. Andrew Nickson, co-editor of the new book The Paraguay Reader, is quoted in the article. “Nearly all of the growth is driven by highly mechanized agriculture,
which generates few jobs for the population,” he says. “With a government that finances itself largely
through value-added taxes and taxes on imports, you have a situation
rather like a low-income African country.”
Romero also investigates the history of Paraguay in a fascinating article about one of the many immigration schemes in Paraguay in the nineteenth century. He reports on Nueva Germania, a consciously racist community founded by German immigrants in 1887. He mentions in passing other colonies of the period: Nueva Australia; Colonia Villa Alborada, founded by Finnish vegetarians; and Victorious Holy Place, set up by Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church. If reading these articles about Paraguay's fascinating history has left you wanting to dig deeper, check out The Paraguay Reader. In it you can read an excerpt from the account of Annie Elizabeth Kennett, one of the "Lincolnshire Farmers" who emigrated to Paraguay from London in 1872. Andrew Nickson and his co-editor Peter Lambert find the tale of the Lincolnshire farmers to be one of the most bizarre in Paraguayan history. Here is their introduction to Kennett's account:
The first postwar government tried to raise funds for reconstruction by launching a bond issue on the London market. But the Paraguayan consul in London, Máximo Terrero, and the brokers Robinson, Fleming and Co. diverted part of the proceeds from the sale of bonds to finance an emigration scheme to Paraguay in the hope that publicity about the scheme—by suggesting that Paraguay was an excellent place for British colonization—would keep up the price of the bonds. Stories were planted in the London press suggesting that the colonists were farmers from Lincolnshire, at the time one of the most prosperous agricultural regions of England. In fact they were mainly impoverished families from London and northern Germany. The scheme was a shocking indictment of how the urban poor were used as pawns by international financiers during the Victorian period. Three ships left England in October–November 1872 carrying a total of 888 emigrants to Paraguay, of whom 336 were children.
On arrival in Asunción, they were disowned by the Paraguayan government, as well as by Robinson, Fleming and Co. Eventually over 700 colonists were sent to the village of Itapé, and 140 others to the village of Itá. Mr. Seymour, the representative of Robinson, Fleming and Co., described them as “paupers, mostly from large cities, and totally incapable of living in the countryside—tailors, shoemakers, watchmakers, cane-makers and from all kinds of trades except farming.” Housed in tents located in “a low place partially underwater when it rained,” they suffered so much from fever that by the time the Italian consul visited them in June 1873 “the number of graves was equal to the number of those alive.” In the end, the British colony in Buenos Aires collected £1,800 for a “rescue fund” and at the end of 1873, the survivors were brought down from Paraguay by ship. (p. 138)