Rogelio Vallejo gives an insight into Paraguay, his little-known homeland, whose repressive state so often escapes scrutiny, and whose writers have braved much in exposing brutality.

José Saramago, in his book A Jangada de Pedra (The Stone Raft), describes a country, a thinly disguised Portugal, in which saudade (a kind of hiraeth) and the overwhelming cultural dominance of nostalgia for lost times, causes such social dysfunction and isolation – physical and mental – from its time, that the country becomes detached from the mainland of Europe and drifts ever westward into a metaphorical dream. My country of birth, red-earthed Paraguay, has not drifted, at least not in the above sense, but is and has long been as isolated as has the population of the Stone Raft. Surrounded by land, difficult and expensive to access, it has done nothing to attract international attention, save the occasional eccentric draw against a famous team in an international football match, or a sexual scandal on an international scale, which leads to the temporary discomfort of an unwelcome spotlight. Serial repressive governments have rendered its population supine and for the most part compliant; this situation doesn’t make them happy but it certainly makes them feel safer.

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