They remember President Hayes in Paraguay

I've seen a lot of busts and statues of U.S. presidents in Mexico; Venezuela; and even Cuba, where I was born. There are also many English-language schools named after U.S. presidents south of the border.

You probably don't know a lot of people from Paraguay.  It is a landlocked country in South America surrounded by Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil.

Paraguay has a troubled history with lots of political upheaval and dictators.  Its culture is heavily influenced by Guarani Indians, and many even speak that language in their daily lives.  Despite its natural beauty, the country is not known as a tourist destination.

Even most Latin Americans know little about Paraguay.  It's probably the Spanish version of "flyover country" when you go from Miami to Buenos Aires or from Santiago, Chile to São Paulo.

My parents, like so many of that generation, did dance to "Recuerdos de Ypacaraí," the beautiful romantic song from Paraguay about love on the shores of that famous lake.  It's a song about a young man who meets a girl, and she speaks her native language.  Even Julio Iglesias added that lovely song to his repertoire.

So why do they remember President Rutherford Hayes down in Paraguay?  They even named a city after him.  He may be the only U.S. president to have that honor.  After all, we hardly remember President Hayes up here.  He won the super-controversial presidential election of 1876 and served only one term.  Why do they love President Hayes in Paraguay, a country way down in South America?

Well, here is the rest of the story:

[T]here's one place where Hayes stands as a historical heavyweight: in the tiny South American nation of Paraguay.

In fact, an industrial city on the banks of the Paraguay River is named Villa Hayes — Spanish for "Hayesville" — in his honor.

Here's why: Hayes took office in 1877 in the aftermath of the Triple Alliance War, a conflict that nearly destroyed Paraguay.  The country lost huge chunks of territory to victorious Brazil and Argentina.  Later, Argentina later tried to claim the Chaco, the vast wilderness region of northern Paraguay.

At the time there was no United Nations or World Court.  So the two sides asked the United States to settle the dispute — and President Hayes sided with Paraguay.  The decision gave Paraguay 60 percent of its present territory and helped guarantee its survival as a nation, says Maria Teresa Garozzo, director of the Villa Hayes Museum.

"Hayes is a giant," Garozzo says.  "He is a spectacular, immortal figure for us."

That's the story of President Hayes and Paraguay.

So here is a tip if you are trying to impress some girl from Paraguay: buy some red roses for her birthday, practice your Spanish with "Recuerdos de Ypacaraí," and tell her you remember what President Hayes did for her country.  I cannot guarantee results, but the strategy will win you some points.

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