La Nación/Paraguay attracts investment, but shows significant inequality gaps

With 7.2 million inhabitants, Paraguay is a major agricultural producer and is promoted as a safe destination for foreign investment. However, the country shows significant inequality gaps. According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), financial poverty was 26.9% in 2021, comparable to 2020 and higher than in 2019, when it was 23.5%. At the same time, unemployment rose from 5.7% in 2019 to 10.4% in 2021.

In Asunción and other cities such as Encarnación (370 km southeast of the capital) and Ciudad del Este (350 km east) new gated communities and luxury buildings have flourished alongside marginal neighborhoods whose populations survive in precarious conditions. On the banks of the Paraguay River, in Asuncion’s Banado Sur neighborhood, hundreds of sheet metal houses have been built over the years by people living in extreme poverty; An image that contrasts with the good numbers of the country’s economy is attractive to investors.

These small and modest houses were built by their own settlers on the banks of the river, on unstable land. Whenever there is a flood its mud streets are flooded and on many occasions its residents have to evacuate and take refuge in the upper parks and squares until the water recedes.

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According to statistics, about 30% of Paraguayans live in extreme poverty. Photo: AFP.

“When the river rises, extreme poverty floats,” said Spanish priest Pedro Velasco, parish priest of San Felipe y Santiago, outside Asuncion where Banado Sur sits. “Official statistics on poverty bear little resemblance to reality. It depends on the criteria by which it is made. The population has increased quite a bit. We see it when the flood comes,” the priest told AFP.

Banado Sur was chosen by Cardinal Adalberto Martínez to hold his first reception there after Pope Francis’ investiture in August. Before some 5,000 parishioners, the cardinal called on those in positions of responsibility in public and private institutions to take a look at the marginalized “unless the lives of the poor are truly harmed. It is urgent and necessary to address the structural causes of poverty”, he said to the applause of the residents of Banado Sur.

The president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Mauricio Clever-Caron, recently defined Paraguay as “one of the most attractive countries to invest in”, with the “most open and dynamic” economy in the region. According to the central bank, gross domestic product is expected to grow by 4.2% in 2021.

“It is time to put Paraguay at the center of the regional and global economy. “Paraguay is distinguished by its economic stability and favorable business conditions, including renewable energy, a large workforce, geographic proximity to major South American markets and attractive investment promotion laws,” Claver-Carron said at an investor forum held in Asuncion.

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A homeless man sits on the street in Asuncion; Many Paraguayans cannot cover their basic daily food basket. Photo: AFP.

In contrast, “the poorest 20% of the population receives 5% of accumulated income, while the richest 20% receives 51% of accumulated income,” Senator Esperanza Martínez told AFP. Due to the epidemic, 26 out of 100 people were affected by food insecurity, the former minister said. Later, popular pots were institutionalized and parish leaders were in charge of delivering aid to the poorest.

“Poverty and employment figures do not reflect the reality at all. Work is a secure income, with rights, with conditions. Not a job to sell empanadas. We work a lot with recycling. It’s the scariest thing out there. It doesn’t work. Father Velasco lamented that going out to scavenge is not a job, it is to survive. “A woman who sells uyos (medicinal herbs) on the corner is not like another who owns a store that gives her money to support her family. Poverty isn’t just in the swamps.”

Source: AFP.

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