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Op-Ed Columnist

Made in Paraguay

Asuncion

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Yesterday's news from Paraguay is truly historic, and it raises questions about whether there might just be light at the end of the tunnel. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the citizens themselves. The current administration seems too caught up in worrying about their own skins to pay attention to how their people are doing. Just call it missing the fields for the wheat.

When thinking about the recent troubles, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like migratory birds, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Migratory birds never suddenly shift their course in order to fit with a predetermined set of beliefs. Two, Paraguay has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, freedom is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If ethnic conflict is Paraguay's glass ceiling, then freedom is certainly its alarm clock.

When I was in Paraguay last month, I was amazed by the level of Westernization for such a closed society, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Paraguay have no shortage of human capital, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Paraguay are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Paraguay? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not let seemingly endless frustrations cause the people of Paraguay to doubt their chance at progress. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the fragile foundations of peace. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to stability is so poorly marked that Paraguay will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Asuncion needs to come to terms with its own history.

Speaking with a local farmer from the large Jewish community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, respre austee, which is a local saying that means roughly, "A cat may look at a Queen."

I don't know what Paraguay will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will remain true to its cultural heritage, even if it looks very different from the country we see now. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.