Paraguay After Stroessner

Courtesy Reuters

Contrary to most predictions, General Alfredo Stroessner's 35-year rule as dictator of land-locked Paraguay ended abruptly in a violent coup d'état. The world had become so accustomed to the taciturn and repressive ruler that it was generally assumed he would escape the fate of his fellow despots in the western hemisphere-Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Augusto Pinochet in Chile-and leave office at a moment of his own choosing or die in bed with his boots on. Instead, early on February 3, 1989, he fell victim to a squabble among the thieves without honor who dominate Paraguay. With the fall of Stroessner, the hemisphere's most durable remaining dictator is the more charismatic but no less authoritarian Fidel Castro.

In contrast to his fellow dictators, Stroessner did not fall before the inexorable force of social revolution as did Somoza; nor did he die at the hands of disaffected members of his own security apparatus as was the fate of Trujillo. And unlike Pinochet, who has apparently if reluctantly bowed to the outcome of an honest plebiscite, Stroessner never dreamed of participating in a transition to democracy. There is a strong sense of continuity in the transfer of power that has occurred in Asunción; little is going to change in the short run.

Stroessner's replacement, General Andrés Rodríguez, is cut from the same cloth. Sixty-five years old, he served as second-in-command of the army after Stroessner and had close ties to the dictator and his family. After a split among Stroessner's supporters, Rodríguez responded to a threat to his own power by leading the coup against the dictator. There is no evidence that the two men differed on either ideology or specific government goals. Rodríguez had survived, very comfortably, throughout the dictatorship as one of its chief beneficiaries and as one of Stroessner's principal sources of support. Upon assuming power, however, Rodríguez quickly attempted to refurbish his public image with promises of democracy and

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