The eastern part of the country, between the Paraguay and Paraná rivers, where most of the population lives, is a lowland, rising in the east and north to a plateau region. The region was once heavily forested, but forest land has been steadily depleted. The Paraná, south of the Iguaçu River (with its magnificent falls), separates Paraguay from Argentina. The Paraguay River also forms part of the border with Argentina, from its confluence with the Paraná north to the Pilcomayo River. The section west of the Paraguay River is a dry plain, part of the Chaco (see Gran Chaco). Cattle are raised and quebracho is found in the woodlands of the Chaco Boreal. All the important cities are in the east. Besides Asunción, they are Villarrica, Concepción, and Encarnación.
The population is largely mestizo, of mixed Spanish and Guaraní descent. Spanish and Guaraní, which is spoken by most of the population, are the official languages. The Jesuit missions (the reductions, active from the late 16th to the 18th cent.) were instrumental in the blending of Spanish and Guaraní cultures. Later immigrants—German, Italian, and French, and most recently Brazilian and Japanese—added new elements to the distinctive civilization of Paraguay. The country's arts and handicrafts reflect the various strains. A notable musical contribution is the guaranía, a form developed from native melodies by José Asunción Flores during the Chaco War. Nanduti (spider web) lace is the most famous Paraguayan handicraft. The isolated indigenous groups that live in the Chaco and elsewhere have little part in the national life. Roman Catholicism is the established religion; most of the small number of Protestants are Mennonites.
About half of Paraguay's workers are engaged in agriculture and forestry; a much smaller percentage are employed in industry and mining, and many work outside the formal economy. The principal crops are cotton, sugarcane, soybeans, corn, wheat, tobacco, cassava, fruits, and vegetables; cattle and other livestock raising is also important. Orange groves furnish petitgrain, used in perfumes and flavorings. In addition to quebracho, hardwoods and cedars are commercially exploited. Meatpacking, sugar processing, textile and wood-products manufacturing, and the production of steel and consumer goods are the main industries. The country also has a large underground economy that encompasses smuggling, money laundering, and trafficking Andean cocaine.
Paraguay has minimal road and rail systems, and river transportation is the primary means of moving goods. Hydrovía, a proposed waterway to straighten and deepen the Paraná, was approved by Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in 1994, but environmental concerns have slowed implementation of the plan. The Itaipú Dam on the Paraná River, completed in 1991, is one of the world's largest, and the electricity it generates is economically vital to Paraguay as a source of export income and nearly all the nation's electricity. The Yacyretá hydroelectric project, also on the Paraná, was inaugurated in 1998.
The leading exports are soybeans, feed, cotton, meat, edible oils, electricity, wood, and leather. The leading imports are vehicles, consumer goods, tobacco, petroleum products, and electrical machinery. Paraguay is a member of Mercosur; its main trading partners are Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and China. Customs duties furnish an important part of the country's revenues, but are significantly undercollected due to smuggling.
Paraguay is governed under the 1992 constitution. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is popularly elected to a five-year term and cannot be reelected. The legislature has two houses, the 45-seat Chamber of Senators and the 80-seat Chamber of Deputies. Members of both are popularly elected for five-year terms. The two main parties, both conservative, are the Colorado party, which has governed almost exclusively since 1947, and the Authentic Radical Liberal party. Administratively, the country is divided into 17 departments and the capital city.
European influence in Paraguay began with the early explorations of the Río de la Plata. Juan Díaz de Solís was the first to come (1516), and Sebastian Cabot followed him (1527) to the Paraguay River, which was thought to offer access to Peru. One of the main reasons for the voyages (c.1535) of Juan de Ayolas and Domingo Martínez de Irala was to seek a way across the continent. A colony grew up, as Asunción became the nucleus of the La Plata region. Irala dominated the colony until his death (1556 or 1557) and clashed with Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.
At the end of the 16th cent. Hernando Arias de Saavedra, called Hernandarias, became governor of Río de la Plata prov., of which Paraguay was a part; it was through his efforts that the administrations of present Argentina and Paraguay were separated (1617). The Jesuit missions were founded in the days of Hernandarias (most of them in the trans-Paraná area, now in Argentina). Real independence from Spain was asserted when in 1721 José de Antequera led the comuneros of Asunción in a successful revolt and governed independently for some 10 years. In 1776 the region was made part of the viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.Independent Paraguay
Manuel Belgrano was unsuccessful in carrying the Argentinean revolution against Spain into Paraguay in 1810, but the next year the colonial officials there were quietly overthrown. In 1814 the first of the three great dictators who were to mold Paraguay came to power. He was José Gaspar Rodríguez Francia, the incorruptible, harsh, and autocratic dictator known as El Supremo, who kept Paraguay in the palm of his hand until his death in 1840. He was succeeded by another dictator, Carlos Antonio López, who held absolute power from 1844 to 1862. His son, Francisco Solano López, succeeded him and brought on disaster by involving Paraguay in war with Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay (1865-70; see Triple Alliance, War of the). The Paraguayans fought heroically and sustained the loss of more than half the population.
Recovery from the catastrophic war was slow, and the desperate state of the economy was matched by political confusion, as warring caudillos established short-lived dictatorships. Nevertheless, in the late 19th and early 20th cent. conditions improved. Trade increased as Paraguayan products found markets, immigration was encouraged, and farming and modest little industries prospered fitfully. The unsettled boundary with Bolivia, however, turned from an irritation into a threat, and in 1932 Paraguay plunged into another major war—the Chaco War (see under Gran Chaco), which lasted until 1935. From it the little country emerged victorious but exhausted.
The rapid succession of governments afterward was broken by the years when Higinio Morínigo was in power (1940-48). Signs of recovery from the Chaco War appeared in improvements in education, public health, and roads, but the oppressive dictatorship of Morínigo was challenged by numerous uprisings. He was overthrown in 1948, and the country was again subjected to a series of short-lived governments.The Stroessner Regime and Its Aftermath
Gen. Alfredo Stroessner engineered a successful coup in 1954 and stayed in power by repeatedly suppressing opposition. He was elected president in 1958 and 1963; the 1967 constitution permitted him to be reelected numerous times. Under his rule the national economy improved and financial relationships with other countries were strengthened. Although Stroessner was elected in 1988 for an eighth term, Paraguayans wearied of his domineering administrative style. He was overthrown in a coup in Feb., 1989. The coup leader, Gen. Andres Rodríguez, was elected president, and he gradually began moving the country away from its authoritarian past.
In 1993, Juan Carlos Wasmosy of the governing Colorado party won the presidency, but his power was weakened by a divided legislature, labor strikes, and the demands of farmers for more equitable land distribution. In Apr., 1996, an apparent military coup by the army chief, Lino Oviedo, was averted. When Oviedo became the presidential candidate of the Colorado party in 1997, however, Wasmosy had him arrested on charges of insubordination in the 1996 dispute. Oviedo was sentenced to 10 years in prison; his running mate, Raúl Cubas Grau, replaced him and won the 1998 election. Wasmosy was later (2002) convicted of corruption because of his role in a bank scandal during his presidency.
Shortly after taking office Cubas freed Oviedo, and later ignored a supreme court order to return the former general to prison. A bitter power struggle developed between Cubas and his vice president, Luis María Argaña, who was killed in a street ambush in Mar., 1999. Following several days of rioting, Cubas was impeached on charges of misuse of public office; he resigned and fled to Brazil, returning in 2002 to face charges arising from the assassination. Oviedo fled to Argentina but disappeared in December, claiming to have returned to Paraguay. The president of the senate, Luis González Macchi, became president, heading a government of national unity.
An attempted coup by supporters of Oviedo failed in May, 2000, and Oviedo was arrested the following month in Brazil. A special vice presidential election in August was narrowly won by the Liberal party candidate, Julio César Franco; it was the first national election lost by the Colorado party since it came to power in 1947. Franco benefited from the split within the Colorado party and had the de facto support of Oviedo.
González Macchi's coalition subsequently disintegrated as his opponents within the Colorado party and Franco's supporters sought to undermine the president. In 2001, Paraguay's request to extradite Oviedo from Brazil was rejected by the latter country's supreme court. Opposition to the president culminated in 2003 in an impeachment trial for corruption that González Macchi denounced as politically motivated; the president survived when his opponents fell short of the two thirds majority needed to convict him in the Paraguayan senate. In the Apr., 2003, presidential election, Óscar Nicanor Duarte Frutos, the Colorado party candidate, won; Franco placed second. Oviedo returned to Paraguay in June, 2004, and was promptly arrested and jailed, but he was released on parole in Sept., 2007, and his conviction was overturned the next month.
In 2006 former president Macchi was convicted of involvement in the illegal transfer in 2000 of Paraguayan central bank funds to the United States. He denied any involvement and blamed the central bank officials who had been convicted in 2004; his conviction was overturned on appeal. He was later convicted (2006) of fraud and embezzlement. Fernando Lugo Méndez, the former Roman Catholic bishop of San Pedro and a moderate leftist who was the candidate of an opposition coalition, was elected president in Apr., 2008, with about 41% of the vote. His victory ended more than six decades of Colorado party rule, but the Congress remained dominated by conservative parties. In September, Lugo accused his predecessor and former General Oviedo of being involved in a plot to overthrow him; they denied the accusation. In Apr., 2009, Lugo's reputation was damaged when he was forced to acknowledge that he had fathered a child while a bishop; there were accusations that he had additional children with other women.
See T. E. Weil et al., Area Handbook for Paraguay (1972); C. J. Kolinski, Independence or Death: The Story of the Paraguayan War (1965) and Historical Dictionary of Paraguay (1973); C. A. Washburn, The History of Paraguay (1871, repr. 1973); P. H. Lewis, Paraguay Under Stroessner (1980) and Socialism, Liberalism, and Dictatorship in Paraguay (1982); R. A. Nickson, Paraguay (1987).
Silver vessel for the preparation and serving of maté; in a private collection.
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The literal translation from Guaraní is Para=great river or sea; Gua = from or belonging to or place; Y = water or river or lake. This could lead to:
The fourth version states that it could be a corruption from Payaguá-y, "river of the Payaguás", a tribe that inhabited the banks and navigated its course.
Paraguay's history has been characterized by long periods of authoritarian governments, political instability and infighting, and devastating wars with its neighbors. Its post-colonial history can be divided into several distinct periods:
In addition to the Declaration of Independence, the War of the Triple Alliance and the Chaco War are milestones in Paraguay's history. Paraguay fought the War of the Triple Alliance against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, and was defeated in 1870 after five years of the bloodiest war in South America. Paraguay suffered extensive territorial losses to Brazil and Argentina. The Chaco War was fought with Bolivia in the 1930s and Bolivia was defeated. Paraguay re-established sovereignty over the region called the Chaco, and forfeited additional territorial gains as a price of peace.
The history of Paraguay is fraught with disputes among historians, educators and politicians. The official version of historical events, wars in particular, varies depending on whether you read a history book written in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil or Bolivia, and even European and North American authors have been unable to avoid bias. Paraguay's history also has been a matter of dispute among Paraguay's main political parties, and there is a Colorado Party and Liberal Party official version of Paraguayan history. Certain historical events from the Colonial and early national era have been difficult to investigate due to the fact that during the pillaging of Asuncion Saqueo de Asunción, the Brazilian Imperial army ransacked and relocated the Paraguayan National archives to Rio de Janeiro. The majority of the archives have been mostly under secret seal since then, in effect, precluding any historical investigation.
Leftist former bishop Fernando Lugo achieved a historic victory in Paraguay's presidential election in April 2008, defeating the ruling party candidate and ending 61 years of conservative rule. Lugo won with nearly 41 percent of the vote compared to almost 31 percent for Blanca Ovelar of the Colorado party.
The splits in the Colorado Party in the 1980s and the conditions that led to this — Stroessner's age, the character of the regime, the economic downturn, and international isolation — provided an opportunity for demonstrations and statements by the opposition prior to the 1988 general elections.
The PLRA leader Domingo Laíno served as the focal point of the opposition in the second half of the 1980s. The government's effort to isolate Laíno by exiling him in 1982 had backfired. On his fifth attempt, in 1986, Laíno returned with three television crews from the U.S., a former United States ambassador to Paraguay, and a group of Uruguayan and Argentine congressmen. Despite the international contingent, the police violently barred Laíno's return. However, the Stroessner regime relented in April 1987 and permitted Laíno to arrive in Asunción. Laíno took the lead in organizing demonstrations and diminishing somewhat the normal opposition party infighting. The opposition was unable to reach agreement on a common strategy regarding the elections, with some parties advocating abstention and others calling for blank voting. Nonetheless, the parties did cooperate in holding numerous lightning demonstrations (mítines relámpagos), especially in rural areas. Such demonstrations were held and disbanded quickly before the arrival of the police.
Obviously stung by the upsurge in opposition activities, Stroessner condemned the Accord for advocating "sabotage of the general elections and disrespect of the law" and used the national police and civilian vigilantes of the Colorado Party to break up demonstrations. A number of opposition leaders were imprisoned or otherwise harassed. Hermes Rafael Saguier, another key leader of the PRLA, was imprisoned for four months in 1987 on charges of sedition. In early February 1988, police arrested 200 people attending a National Coordinating Committee meeting in Coronel Oviedo. Forty-eight hours before the elections, Laíno and several other National Accord members were placed under house arrest.
Although contending that these results reflected the Colorados' virtual monopoly of the mass media, opposition politicians also saw several encouraging developments. Some 53% of those polled indicated that there was an "uneasiness" in Paraguayan society. Furthermore, 74% believed that the political situation needed changes, including 45% who wanted a substantial or total change. Finally, 31% stated that they planned to abstain from voting in the February elections.
Relations between militants and traditionalists deteriorated seriously in the months following the elections. Although Chaves and his followers had not opposed Stroessner's re-election bid, Montanaro denounced them as "legionnaires" (a reference to those Paraguayan expatriates who fought against Francisco Solano López and who were regarded as traitors by the original Colorados). By late 1988 the only major agencies still headed by traditionalists were the IBR and the National Cement Industry (Industria Nacional de Cemento). In September 1988, traditionalists responded to these attacks by accusing the militants of pursuing "a deceitful populism in order to distract attention from their inability to resolve the serious problems that afflict the nation." Traditionalists also called for an end to personalism and corruption.
Paraguay's legal system is based on Roman law, Argentine codes, and French codes. In recent years, Paraguay has made important progress toward greater fiscal transparency. The fairly comprehensive financial administration law (1999) has been complemented by recent legal reforms that eliminated most tax exemptions, revamped revenue administration procedures and introduced standardized transparency requirements for public procurement, all of which reduce the scope for corruption.
The departments are further divided into districts (distritos).
Largest cities 2002 (from www.citypopulation.de)
Projected, estimate 2027
Paraguay is divided by the Rio Paraguay into the eastern region —officially called Eastern Paraguay (Paraguay Oriental) and known as the Paraneña region — and the western region — officially Western Paraguay (Paraguay Occidental) and also known as the Chaco. The southeastern border is formed by the Paraná River, containing the Itaipu dam shared with Brazil. It is currently the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world, generating all the electricity required by Paraguay. Because Paraguay co-owns Itaipu Dam, they have the right to use 50% of electricity generated. Because they use less than 10% of that electricity produced, they sell the rest back to Brazil. Another large hydroelectric power plant on the Paraná River is Yacyretá, shared by Paraguay and Argentina. Paraguay is currently the world's largest exporter of hydroelectric power.
The terrain is made up of grassy plains and wooded hills to the east. To the west, there are mostly low, marshy plains.
Paraguay is a developing country with a 2005 Human Development Index score of 0.755. It ranks as the second poorest country in South America with a 2007 GDP per capita of US$4,000. Approximately 2.1 million, or 35%, of its total population is poor and approximately 1 million, or 15.9%, are unemployed. However, Asuncion in Paraguay is ranked as the world's least expensive city to live in for the fifth year running.
Paraguay has a market economy marked by a large informal sector that features both re-export of imported consumer goods to neighboring countries, and thousands of small business enterprises. Paraguay's largest economic activity is based on agriculture, agribusiness and cattle ranching. Paraguay is ranked as the world's third largest exporter of soybeans, and its beef exports are substantial for a country of its size. A 23.Aug.2008 Financial Times article about Paraguay states “Take record commodities prices, add a subtropical climate that gives farmers five harvests every 24 months and vast tracts of virgin arable land and it is no surprise that tiny Paraguay has emerged as one of the big beneficiaries of the global food crisis” Such perception may put Paraguay into the focus of international agro producers. Reuters India reports that "Some of India's top vegetable oil firms plan to lease or buy land in Paraguay.
A large percentage of the population derive their living from agricultural activity, often on a subsistence basis. Despite difficulties arising from political instability, corruption and slow structural reforms, Paraguay has been a member of the free trade bloc Mercosur, participating since 1991 as one of the founding members.
Paraguay's economic potential has been historically constrained by its landlocked geography, but it does enjoy access to the Atlantic Ocean via the Paraná River. Because it is landlocked, Paraguay's economy is very dependent on Brazil and Argentina, its neighbors and major trade partners. Roughly 38% of the GDP derives from trade and exports to Brazil and Argentina.
Through various treaties, Paraguay has been granted free ports in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil through which it sends its exports. The most important of these free ports is on the Brazilian Atlantic coast at Paranaguá. The Friendship Bridge that now spans the Paraná River between Ciudad del Este and the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu permits about forty thousand travelers to commute daily between both cities, and allows Paraguay land access to Paranaguá. A vibrant economy has developed in Ciudad del Este and Foz do Iguaçu mostly based on international commerce and shopping trips by Brazilian buyers colloquially called sacoleiros.
Bilateral EU-Paraguay trade in goods amounts to €437 million in 2005; the EU importing around €269 million and exporting roughly €168 million. In 2005, trade with EU represented 8.9% of total Paraguay’s trade. The EU market represents 13.7% of Paraguay exports and 6.1% of its imports.
While the country’s external debt remains satisfactory (40% of GDP), Paraguay’s economy is still driven by agricultural production (27% of GDP and 84% of exports). It is a structure which is very vulnerable to climatic factors and price volatility. In 2004 its main exports were soybeans (35%) and meat (10%). Because of the regional crisis, very limited economic growth (2.7% in 2005) and a population increase, GDP per capita has fallen considerably in the long term, standing at USD 1 155 in 2005. Combined with inequality, the aforementioned factors explain why poverty currently affects 40% of the population.
Although only ranked 112th out of 175 countries in the 2006 World Bank Doing Business ranking, Paraguay has ranked particularly well in the "Protecting Investors" sub-category within that index. The indexes vary between 0 and 10, with higher values indicating greater disclosure, greater liability of directors, greater powers of shareholders to challenge the transaction, and better investor protection, respectively.
The "Disclosure Index" for Paraguay is 6, whereas the Latin American region ranked only 4.3 (OECD countries ranked 6.3 on average). The country ranked 5 in "Director Liability Index", the same as OECD countries and better than the 5.1 attributed to its neighbors. In the "Shareholder Suits Index" category, Paraguay obtained 6 points, in contrast with 5.8 for its neighbors and 6.6 for OECD countries. The comprehensive "Investor Protection Index" attributed 5.7 to Paraguay, 5.1 to its neighbors and 6.0 to OECD countries on average.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Paraguay has a population of 6,669,086; 95% of which are mestizo (mixed Spanish and Amerindian) and 5% are "other". Ethnically, culturally, and socially, Paraguay has one of the most homogeneous populations in Latin America with 95% of the people mestizos of mixed Spanish and Amerindian, mostly Guaraní Indian, descent. One trace of the original Guaraní culture that has endured is the Guaraní language, spoken by up to 90% of the population in the country. Small groups of ethnic Italians, Germans, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Arabs, Ukrainians, Brazilians, and Argentines settled in Paraguay and they have to an extent retained their respective languages and culture, particularly the Brazilians who represent the largest number. There are also an estimated 63,000 Afro-Paraguayans, or 1% of the population.
About 75% of all Paraguayans can speak Spanish. Guaraní and Spanish are both official languages.
Paraguay's population is distributed unevenly throughout the country. About 56% of Paraguayans live in urban areas. The vast majority of the people live in the eastern region near the capital and largest city, Asunción, that accounts for 10% of the country's population. The Gran Chaco region, which includes the Alto Paraguay, Boquerón and Presidente Hayes Department, and which accounts for about 60% of the territory, is home to less than 2% of the population.
According to the 2002 census, 89.6% of the population is Roman Catholic, 6.2% is evangelical Christian, 1.1% is other Christian, 0.6% practise indigenous religions and 0.3 profess non-Christian religions.
A US State Department report on Religious Freedom names Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Jewish (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), and Baha'i as prominent religious groups and also mentions a large Muslim community in Alto Paraná as a result of middle-eastern immigration, especially from Lebanon and also the Mennonite community in Boquerón.
In addition, official records gave an imprecise sense of the number of Brazilians who had come to the country. According to the 1982 census, there were 99,000 Brazilians residing in Paraguay. Most analysts discounted this figure, however, and contended that between 300,000 and 350,000 Brazilians lived in the eastern border region. Analysts also rejected government figures on the number of immigrants from South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The 1982 census reported that there were 2,700 Koreans in Paraguay, along with another 1,100 non-Japanese or non-Korean Asian immigrants. The actual number of Koreans and ethnic Chinese, however, was believed to be between 30,000 and 50,000. Virtually all Koreans and ethnic Chinese lived in Ciudad del Este or Asunción and played a major role in the importation and sale of electronic goods manufactured in Asia.
This cultural fusion is expressed in arts such as embroidery (ao po'í) and lace making (ñandutí). The music, which consists of lilting polkas, bouncy galopas, and languid guaranías is played on the native harp. Paraguay's culinary heritage is also deeply influenced by this cultural fusion. Several popular dishes contain mandioca, a local staple crop similar to the yuca root found in the Southwestern United States and Mexico, and other indigenous ingredients. A popular dish is sopa paraguaya, similar to a thick corn bread. Another notable food is chipa, a bagel-like bread made from cornmeal, mandioca and cheese. Many other dishes consists of different kinds of cheeses, onions, bell peppers, cottage cheese, yellow cornmeal, milk, seasonings, butter, eggs and fresh corn kernels. In addition to food, Paraguayan culture also centers around social drinks called en:Mate and en:Terere. Mate is the hot version of the beverage, and Terere is the cold version. Both drinks are made with yerba mate.
Social life revolves largely around an extended family of parents, children and blood relations as well as godparents. The Paraguayans' chief loyalty is to their family, and it, in turn, is their haven and support. Family interests determine to a large extent which political party they will join, to whom they will marry, what sort of job they will get, whether they will win a lawsuit, and—in some cases—whether they would be wise to emigrate for a time. Even so, they are very heart warming and open to tourists and foreigners.
Inside the family, conservative values predominate. In lower classes, godparents have a special relationship to the family, since usually they are chosen because of their favorable social position, in order to provide extra security for the children. Particular respect is owed them, in return for which the family can expect protection and patronage. In higher classes, however, godparents are usually family members or family friends, thus being chosen is more of an honor than a serious commitment.
The 1950s and 1960s saw the flowering of a new generation of Paraguayan novelists and poets such as José Ricardo Mazó, Roque Vallejos, and Nobel Prize nominee Augusto Roa Bastos. Several Paraguayan films have been made.
The World Bank has helped the Paraguayan government in tackling overall reduction of Paraguay's maternal and infant mortality. The Mother and Child Basic Health Insurance Project aimed at contributing to reducing mortality by increasing the use of selected life-saving services included in the country's Mother and Child Basic Health Insurance Program (MCBI) by women of child-bearing age, and children under age six in selected areas. To this end, the project also targeted at improving the quality and efficiency of the health service network within certain areas, in addition to increasing the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare's (MSPBS) management.
|Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal||Index of Economic Freedom, 2007||99 out of 157|
|The Economist||Worldwide Quality of Life Index, 2005||???|
|The Economist||Democracy Index, 2006||71 out of 167|
|Reporters Without Borders||Worldwide Press Freedom Index, 2006||82 out of 168|
|Transparency International||Corruption Perceptions Index, 2006||111 out of 163|
|United Nations Development Programme||Human Development Index||95 out of 177|