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That said, considering Paraguay's difficult history, there is much to be impressed with, in terms of the country's political evolution and economic growth over the past 20 years.

A recent weekday afternoon stroll I took down Antequera Street in Asuncion serves as a case in point.

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Still, despite Asuncion's vibrant cultural life and the broader economic growth throughout the country, there are signs that all is not well in the capital.

In Asuncion's central Catedral district, I observed beggars in the streets — many who camp out near street corners at night.

It is also the only South American country where more people speak the indigenous language, Guarani, than they do Spanish.

Paraguay's history — from its colonial past through two volatile centuries following independence and into the prosperity and promise of today — is unlike that of any other country on the continent.

It boasts one of only a few South American economies — and the only one of a Mercosur member — that has continued to grow in the face of global economic challenges.

Its economy expanded by 3 percent in 2015, and economists are projecting a growth rate of 3.8 percent for 2016.

And all this comes after Paraguay's economy averaged more than 3.3 percent annual growth over the past two decades.

A variety of factors are responsible for this growth, the most important of which are the government's business- and investment-friendly policies and the country's diversification from a commodity-based system.

After securing its independence from Spain in 1811, Paraguay grew into one of the strongest, most modern states in South America.

One need only look to landmarks throughout the capital — such as the neoclassical Palacio de los Lopez and the richly decorated Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion — to understand the degree of the country's post-independence prominence.

The first half of the 20th century, characterized by short and erratic periods of rule by more than 30 presidents, brought Paraguay no reprieve from political volatility.

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