Paraguay Experience

Curitiba Travel Blog

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On Wednesday June 21 we ventured into the mystical land of Paraguay. Paraguay is a country unlike any other. First of all, the country suffered a horrible war, the War of the Triple Alliance from 1865-1870, and over half of the male population was killed. This left a country full of women to make the decisions. Their economy is largely based on the selling of cheaper goods to Brazil and Argentina. 60% of their GDP is from commerce with Brazil.

My experience in Paraguay confirmed all of my research on the foreign relations and economics of the country. I’m extremely glad I went, despite the horrible weather, because that was the first time I have had the opportunity to witness a system as corrupt as theirs. First of all, the border was completely unguarded. We could have all been carrying 5 lbs of cocaine and they would not even have noticed. Everything was very chaotic, with people coming in and out from all over. The rain made things difficult to concentrate on the situation, but I definitely walked straight through a group of policemen standing around chatting and they didn’t say a single thing to me. That right there shows the lack of authority into Paraguay. I also thought that it was interesting to see the people walking back from Paraguay into Brazil. It didn’t seem like they were being checked either. All of those big black plastic bags covering their “purchases” make you question the safety between the borders.

The first mall we went into looked very similar to Latin American stores. They are very specialized selling items such as purses, electronics, and kitchenware. I thought everything seemed normal until I stumble upon a store selling nothing but guns. Gun stores in the US are common, especially in places where there is a lot of hunting. But the guns in this particular store were not typical of a common gun store. I don’t know much about guns, but I was with John Winn at the time and he told me that out of the 75 or so guns in the store, about half were illegal to buy, sell, or own in the United States. Let me repeat, illegal to have anywhere around you. Winn said if you are caught with an illegal gun, you would serve jail time. There is no fine or warning, you go straight to jail. And they sell these in strip malls in Paraguay! That threw up a huge red flag for me.

I was amazed at the number of street vendors on a Wednesday. Apparently, there must not be enough store space for these people to sell their goods. More likely, they have no other way to support themselves, so they are forced to “purchase” goods and sell them to foreigners for discounted prices. It’s an easy way to make a living; there is a huge black market that is easy for Paraguayans to get their supplies from. That is much easier than going to school and getting an education. That may be a broad generalization, but I am willing to bet that it is true for the majority of the storeowners. Not to mention, most of these stores and street tents are probably family owned. You grew up in that environment and your family simply expects you to take over when you are old enough. No need for an education since you’ve been doing it your whole childhood and teenage years.

Another interesting experience was in the Mona Lisa. That place really did creep me out. I wasn’t sure if I had come at a bad time or on a bad day, but there was no one in the place. I realize the richer classes shop there and the weather was horrible, but there was literally no one shopping in there on all five floors. This just seemed very odd to me. Not to mention the staff in all of the stores were completely bored out of their minds. Not a one cracked even a hint of a smile to me. Aren’t you salesmen and women? Shouldn’t you be nice to me asking me if I’d like to take a look at what you are selling? It made me think about what was happening behind the scenes. Are these people like this all of the time or is it just because I look and sound blatantly American? Do you get paid to just sit there and keep the counter clean or are you on commission? Now that I look back on the situation, I don’t remember any of the storeowners trying to sell me anything. A group of us walked through about 30 tents and none of them said a word to us. Even if we stopped by to look more closely at a price, they still didn’t try to help us out and throw in a word of encouragement to buy their item. What is going on?

I think most of this odd behavior is from the corrupt informal market system that is happening in this city. An informal market refers to a market income category where most of the income is completely unregulated by the government. People working in the streets selling their goods can price their items at any price they want since they are probably not registered with the government and the government has no control over the “businesses”.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in Paraguay. The people were nice and welcoming, though a little scamming. Even though it was raining and the streets were flooding and the traffic was backed up to China, the people persevered. The street vendors continued to sell their off-brand Pringles, the men in the street were still watching the soccer games, and the young women were still prancing around in their stiletto boots. Everyone was smiling except for us. I finally gave into the rain and the soaking shoes and funny ponchos and attempted to say hello in Portuguese to passersby. They always looked at me with a funny smile and said hello back. Probably mocking me and thinking I’m a silly American girl, but they were still in good spirits. Maybe the Paraguayans have the right idea and America is doing it all wrong. We just need to smile a little more and slow down.

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photo by: joesu