Alfredo Stroessner's 35-year military dictatorship ended in 1989 and a tentative democracy has emerged, its economy relying on sole traders, street vendors and the re-export of imported goods. Main exports are soybeans and other oil seeds, cotton and timber, and its main industries are sugar, cement and textiles.
A large proportion of Paraguayans work in agriculture, often on a subsistence basis. More than a third of the nation's population live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate for 2003 has been estimated at 18.5%. On a per capita basis, real income has stagnated at 1980 levels.
The South American country's poor economic performance has been attributed to political uncertainty, endemic corruption and the scale of its debt.