It is one of the least developed of the countries of South America. During recent interviews with the President and Secretary of Foreign Affairs, I have had the present condition and the possible future of the country laid before me. They estimate that Paraguay could easily support ten times its present population. It has now 700,000, but according to them it could easily feed 7,000,000 and still leave much of the country uncultivated and unused. At present not one acre in twenty of the tillable land is under cultivation, and there are vast areas of pasture which are awaiting stock-farmers.
Stock-raising is the chief industry of Paraguay. Much of the country contains natural pasture fitted especially for stock-raising. Upon it the grass is green the year round. There is water everywhere, so that the cattle need but little care except at the round-ups. Every year the marketable stock is picked out and driven to Asuncion for sale. There is a demand for the meat as well as the hides, for although Paraguay has about 2,000,000 cattle, it does not raise enough beef for its own consumption.
The Paraguayans are beef-eaters; they eat the meat fresh, and are especially fond of beef when dried and salted. As you ride through the country you see strips and sheets of beef hanging on poles in front of the houses, swaying to and fro in the breeze. They are thus hung out to dry, for in this region the air is the only evaporator and refrigerator. It is of such a nature that the meat, when properly exposed, becomes as hard as a bullet, and can be laid away for future consumption. When so dried it is in special demand throughout Spanish America and in many markets will bring more than fresh meats. It is used for stews, being cooked with rice, potatoes, and mandioca.
The stock farms of Paraguay do not compare in extent with those of Argentina or Uruguay. The cattle are of a lower grade, and the profits accrue from the excellence of the grass and the mild climate rather than from good management or fine breeding. Nevertheless, the natural increase of the stock is from 25 to 35 per cent annually, and from 80 to 90 per cent of the number of cows. Cattle now sell at about Sr() per head, higher prices being paid for good fat beeves.
Pasture lands, and indeed all lands in Paraguay, are sold by the square league, the square league here containing 5,760 acres, or about 1, 000 acres less than the square league of Argentina. Land sells all the way from $100 gold per league upwards. At $i00 a league would be less than two cents an acre, and of course only the poorest of land can be purchased at that price. Good grazing land has recently been sold, however, at $700 a league, and by watching the auctions fairly good pastures can be purchased for even less. Such lands, however, require fencing to make them usable. It is estimated that a league of pasture should feed 1,500 grown cattle.
I should say, however, that no purchases of Paraguay lands should be made by our people without personal investigation. The would-be American investor should come first and study the conditions. He should not buy land without seeing it, as there are large swamps in some parts of the country, and much of the lowlands are covered with water in the rainy season.
A large part of Paraguay is natural forest. This is especially so on the hills and on the Chaco. The forests are full of fine woods; but the wheels of Dame Fortune’s lumber car in South America are clogged with natural difficulties, which can be understood only by those on the spot. There is a demand for lumber in all South American countries. I found Oregon pine at the ports of the Pacific coast and Maine pine in the Argentines and even at the Strait of Magellan. Our pine is carried more than 6,000 miles by ship to the Buenos Aires markets. Here in Paraguay the forests are right on the river, 1,115 miles from Buenos Aires, with water communication as good as that of the Mississippi between the two points. You would think that all the lumber of the Rio de la Plata basin would come from Paraguay; but it does not. Why ? Because it costs so much to get the lumber out to the river, and to carry it down to market.
The Paraguayan woods are almost all hard. They are as heavy as iron, so that when you put a log on the water it sinks to the bottom. There is no means of getting lumber from the interior to the river except upon the railroad, where freights are high, or on boats on the little streams which are tributaries of the Paraguay. Lumber carriage is paid for by the pound, and the freights take the profit out of the business. Labour is low, as far as daily wages are concerned, but as measured by results it is high. The men are lazy and inefficient. There is no machinery; the logs, therefore, are sawed out by hand, one man standing on top of the log and another under it, and thus working a cross-cut saw. Another drawback is that most of the trees are crooked, and it is almost impossible to get a straight log.
Nevertheless, some kinds of the native wood are wonderfully beautiful. Quebracho Colorado is as red as the dark moss rose. It is used for dye wood and tanning; there is a German firm that is now shipping a large quantity of it to the United States. The best quebracho comes from the west bank of the Paraguay river in the Paraguayan Chaco.
Another very hard wood is the lepacho; it will turn the edge of a steel axe. The lepacho is a very sound wood, not prone to crack, and of great strength. It is of a greenish-yellow colour, and some varieties have a curl in it like bird’s-eye maple. It brings good prices. Lepacho would make very good furniture and so would many of the other hard woods of Paraguay. The black and red palms, for instance, would be valuable for veneering, for they take a high polish and are wonderfully durable. They will last for years underground or in the water, and are exceedingly hard. I should think that an American furniture factory established in Paraguay would pay well. The country now imports its furniture from Germany, Austria, and the United States. Both Uruguay and Paraguay get most of their supplies of this kind from the same sources, and the prices of all such things are remarkably high. I saw Michigan school desks being landed from a ship at one of the towns of lower Paraguay. Our desks and chairs are in demand all over South America, but owing to their high prices are not generally used. Paraguay has a very good cedar, much like that of cigar boxes, which could be used for making furniture. A similar wood is the timbo, found in the southern part of the country. It has a grain much like cedar, and grows to a great height. It is very light, the Indians using it for troughs and canoes.
A curious product of the forests of Paraguay is Yerba Mate, or Paraguayan tea. We do not hear much of it in our part of the hemisphere, but it is the favourite drink of more than 20, 000, 000 people in South America, being consumed in large quantities in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil; in the latter country it is drunk even in the coffee districts. The amount annually exported netted over $1,000,000, and vast quantities are used at home. Yerbe Mate is made from the leaves of a shrub which grows wild in the forests over an area about as great as that of Connecticut. The Yerba woods are called Yerbales. They were once government property, but are now owned and worked by capitalists and stock companies. The leaves are gathered by Indian labourers, dried over fires, and packed in bags of green cowskin for market. It takes about thirty-six hours to prepare the leaves for shipment. When served, the leaves are in a powdered state. They are put in bowl-like gourds, and boiling water is poured upon them. After steeping it a moment the consumer drinks the liquor, sucking it up through a brass or silver tube, which has a strainer at the lower end to prevent the tea leaves coming through. The tea is bitter to the taste, but it is very stimulating and strengthening, quieting the nerves and allaying hunger. Many Paraguayan women drink from fifteen to twenty cups of it daily.
We should sell Paraguay cotton and woollen goods. At present 85 per cent of such articles are furnished by England and Germany. There is no cloth of any kind made in Paraguay. The black woollen shawls worn by the women come from Germany and Belgium, and the calicoes are chiefly from England. It is the same with hardware, most of that which is now sold here being German, although it is made after American patterns, and certain imitated articles are sold under American trade-marks. The impression obtains everywhere in South America that our hardware is the best; for this reason the Germans copy it, even to revolvers, axes, and sewing machines, the German imitations of the American makes being actively pushed. I find the Germans the most active commercial factor in Paraguay. They have several large stores in Asuncion, and they send their travellers to the towns in the interior.
Paraguay has good soil for tobacco and cotton, and plantations for raising these staples might be established were it not that there is no labour to work them. The Paraguayans do not want work; they are poor enough, it is true, but they despise over-exertion. They receive very fair wages for this continent, being paid in Paraguayan dollars, each worth about fifteen cents. Bricklayers get five of these dollars, or seventy-five cents gold per day, carpenters the same, and common workmen about $3, or 45 cents in our money. Trackmen on the railroad are paid about $3.50 Paraguayan; engineers receive $500 per month, and conductors are paid $I20 per month. The apparently high wages of the engineers are due to the fact that they are usually foreigners and have to manage the machinery. Collecting tickets is not skilled labour, and hence the conductors are Paraguayan. As to the wages of the women, house servants receive amounts equal to $3 a month in gold, with board.
I doubt whether there are twenty Americans, all told, in Paraguay. There is our consul, a well-educated coloured man, who appears to have made himself popular with the government; the vice-consul, who is also agent for one of our life insurance companies; two American dentists, a druggist, and a few others..
An important part of the American colony is made up of missionaries of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a denomination which more than any other has done much to establish schools in South American countries. It has taken the continent as one of its chief fields of work, and has stations in Peru, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. Most of its labours are educational, many children of the best native families having through its schools been brought under Christian tuition. Its schools in Asuncion are two, one for boys and the other for girls; both are excellent.