The indigenous Guaraní had been living in Paraguay for at least a millennium before the Spanish conquered the territory in the 16th century. Spanish settlers and Jesuit missions introduced Christianity and Spanish culture to the region. Paraguay was on the periphery of Spain's colonial empire, with few urban centers and a sparse population. Following independence from Spain in 1811, Paraguay was ruled by a series of dictators who implemented isolationist and protectionist policies.
This development was truncated by the disastrous Paraguayan War, in which the country lost 60 to 70 percent of its population through war and disease, and about 140,000 square kilometers of territory to Argentina and Brazil.
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