When some Canadian Mennonites moved to Paraguay in the 1920s, several corporations were formed to help dispose of their land and equipment in Canada and to secure land for them in the Paraguayan Chaco. The Intercontinental Company, Limited, was organized to handle the Canadian transactions, and the Corporación Paraguaya was organized to handle the Paraguayan transactions. Incorporated in Asunción in April 1926, with a capitalization of $750,000, Corporación Paraguaya specifically was to arrange for the purchase of Chaco land from the Carlos Casado Company, which owned three million acres between the Paraguay River and the Bolivian border west of Puerto Casado. The corporation was then to sell the lands to the Mennonites from Canada and to help manage the details of actual settlement of the Canadians on their lands. The leading spirit in this organization, as well as in the Intercontinental Company, Limited, was General (retired) Samuel McRoberts, a prominent financier who was president of the Chatham-Phoenix National Bank of New York and vice-president of the National City Bank.
Already in 1919 a delegation of Old Colony Mennonites from Canada had made contact with McRoberts through Fred Engen and asked him to help them find a new home. On board ship en route to Argentina in 1920, McRoberts met Manuel Gondra, president-elect of Paraguay, and Eusebio Ayala, his foreign minister, later the president of Paraguay and also of the newly organized Corporación Paraguaya. These men persuaded McRoberts to investigate Paraguay as a possible future home for Mennonites. McRoberts hired Fred Engen, experienced and once wealthy land agent, to help explore the possibilities of the Paraguayan Chaco. Though the group of Canadian Mennonites that was originally interested in Paraguay decided to settle in Mexico, another Mennonite group from Canada took advantage of the aid extended by McRoberts and established Menno Colony in the Chaco. Since the sums involved in buying the Canadian lands of the Mennonites and selling them to others, and in buying and selling the Chaco lands to the Mennonites, were quite large, McRoberts took on a partner in the operations, Edward B. Robinette, head of the investment banking firm of Stroud and Company in Philadelphia.
Corporación Paraguaya purchased from the Casado Company 100 square leagues of land, over 100 miles west of the Paraguay River, for $733,950, in American gold. This was approximately 720 square miles, or 463,387 ½ acres. Of this amount the Canadian Mennonites purchased 30 square leagues, or 138,990 acres. Smaller additional amounts were purchased later. Buying the land at $1.50 per acre from Casado, Corporación Paraguaya sold it at $5.00 per acre to the Mennonites.
The corporation also helped with the arrangements for housing the Canadians in Puerto Casado in wooden barracks and tents, until they could settle on their lands. Repeated delays in the land surveys which the corporation had agreed to undertake caused a great deal of discontent among the Mennonites, 16 months elapsing after the arrival of the first colonists before they were able to make the first settlements. After Menno Colony was organized, the Corporation lent a helping hand to the needy in the colony by lending over $10,000 for an indefinite period without interest, and by extending credit in the two stores it established in and near the colony. At its Chaco headquarters at Hoffnungsfeld, near Menno Colony, the corporation operated, in addition to a store, a sawmill, a workshop, and an agricultural experiment station. After a few years, however, these were abandoned, and the corporation gradually withdrew from the enterprise, leaving the colony on its own. In 1937 the Mennonite Central Committee purchased Corporación Paraguaya for $57,500 and thus inherited its financial arrangements with Menno Colony, as well as with the more recently established Fernheim, a colony of Mennonites from Russia. It liquidated the remaining assets of the corporation in 1952. Though the corporation was the subject of much complaint, and though those in the enterprise did not have the qualifications of skill which such an undertaking required, it appears that the mistakes made were those of inexperience and ignorance, and not necessarily fraud and sharp practice. The complete records of the C.P. are in the Archives of the Mennonite Church at Goshen, Indiana.
Mennonite Central Committee files include hard copy files starting in 1927.
Smith, Willard H. “Corporacion Paraguaya.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web 28 Jan 2021