|46th President of Paraguay|
15 August 1954 – 3 February 1989
|Preceded by||Tomás Romero |
|Succeeded by||Andrés Rodríguez|
|Born||Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda|
3 November 1912
|Died||16 August 2006 (aged 93)|
|Political party||Colorado Party|
Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda (also Strössner or Strößner; November 3, 1912 – August 16, 2006), was a Paraguayan military officer who served as President of Paraguay from 1954 to 1989. He ascended to the position after leading an army coup in 1954. His 35-year long rule, marked by an uninterrupted period of repression in his country, was the longest unbroken rule by one individual in the history of South America. His rule is ranked 14th-longest among other non-royal national leaders since 1870, and made him one of the world's longest-serving non-Communist heads of state.
General Stroessner was born in Encarnación, Paraguay. He entered the national military school at the age of 16 and received his commission in 1932. By 1940, he had risen to the rank of major and joined the general staff in 1946. When civil war broke out in 1947, he initially remained loyal to President Higinio Moríñigo, then backed Felipe Molas López in a successful coup against Morínago. He then backed Federico Chávez against Lopez and by 1951 he was army chief of staff. In 1954, he ousted Chávez, becoming president after winning an election in which he was the sole candidate. An arch anti-communist, Stroessner had the backing of the United States. His supporters packed the legislature and ran the courts, and he ruthlessly suppressed all political opposition. He kept his country in what he called a constant "state of siege" that overruled his democratic constitution, enforced a cult of personality, and used torture against political opposition. Membership in his Colorado Party was a prerequisite for job promotion, free medical care and other services. The constitution had to be modified in 1967 and 1977 to legitimize his six consecutive elections to the presidency. In 1988, he won an unprecedented eighth term on a majority, according to official figures, of between 90 and 98 percent of the registered vote. During Stroessner's rule, Paraguay became a sanctuary for smugglers in arms, drugs and everyday goods such as whisky and car parts. Stroessner provided refuge for French-born international heroin dealer Auguste Ricord; strongmen such as Argentina's Juan Perón and Nicaragua's Anastasio Somoza Debayle (later assassinated in Paraguay); and war criminals, including Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor known as the "Angel of Death" who performed genetic experiments on children. Stroessner was forced from power in 1989 in a military coup led by strongman General Andrés Rodríguez. Stroessner was forced into exile in Brazil, where he spent the last 17 years of his life. Following a bout of pneumonia, he tried to return to his homeland to die, but was rejected by the government. He died in Brasília on 16 August 2006 of complications from a hernia operation.
Early life[edit | edit source]
Stroessner's parents were Hugo Strößner, who emigrated from Hof, Bavaria, Germany, and worked as an accountant for a brewery, and Heriberta Matiauda, who grew up in a wealthy Paraguayan family of Criollo Spanish descent. He joined the Paraguayan army in 1929, becoming a lieutenant in 1931. During the Chaco War against Bolivia (1932–1935) he enlisted as an artillery cadet and fought in the Battle of Boquerón. After the war he rose steadily in rank. In the Paraguayan Civil War he commanded the artillery division at Paraguarí that ensured President Moríñigo won by staying loyal and destroying a working-class rebel area of Asunción. He eventually became a brigadier and the youngest general officer in South America in 1948.
Presidency[edit | edit source]
Stroessner objected to President Federico Chávez's plans to arm the national police and threw him out of office in a coup d'état on May 4, 1954. After a brief interim presidency by Tomás Romero, Stroessner was the only candidate in a special election on July 11 to complete Chávez' term. He was reelected seven times—in 1958, 1963, 1968, 1973, 1978, 1983, and 1988. He appeared alone on the ballot in 1958. In his other elections, he won by implausibly high margins; the opposition was lucky to get over 20 percent of the vote. He served for 35 years, with only Fidel Castro having a longer tenure among 20th-century Latin American leaders.
Soon after taking office, Stroessner declared a state of siege, which allowed him to suspend civil liberties and rule by decree. It was renewed every 90 days until 1987. Although the state of siege was technically restricted to the capital after 1970, the courts ruled that anyone charged with security offenses could be brought to the capital and indicted under the state-of-siege provisions. Thus, for all intents and purposes, Stroessner ruled under what amounted to martial law for virtually his entire tenure. A devoted anti-communist, he justified this action as a necessary tool to protect the country.
Paraguay enjoyed close military and economic ties with the United States and supported the US invasion of Dominican Republic. The Stroessner regime even offered to send troops to Vietnam alongside the Americans. Between 1962 and 1975 the United States provided $146 million to Paraguay's military government and Paraguayan officers were trained at the US Army School of the Americas. Although the military and security forces under Stroessner received less material support from the United States than other South American countries, strong inter-military connections existed through military advisors and military training. Between 1962 and 1966, nearly 400 Paraguayan military personnel were trained by the United States in the Panama Canal Zone and on US soil. Strong Paraguayan-U.S. relations continued until the Carter Administration emphasized a foreign policy that recognized human rights abuses. The Reagan Administration boycotted the country as well. As leader of the Colorado Party, Stroessner exercised nearly complete control over the nation's political scene. Although opposition parties were nominally permitted after 1962 (the Colorado Party had been the only legal party in the country since 1947), Paraguay remained for all intents and purposes a one-party state. Elections were so heavily rigged in favor of the Colorados that the opposition had no realistic chance of winning, and opposition figures were subjected to varying degrees of harassment.
While Stroessner's rule saw more stability than any living Paraguayan had known, it came at a high cost; corruption was rampant (Stroessner himself did not dispute charges of corruption at some levels in his government) and the Stroessner government's human rights record was considered one of the poorest in South America. During Stroessner's regime, an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people were murdered, and 400 to 500 more were "disappeared."
Operation Condor[edit | edit source]
Paraguay was a leading participant in Operation Condor, a campaign of state-terror and security operations officially implemented in 1975 which were jointly conducted by the right-wing military governments of six Latin American countries (Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil). Human rights violations characteristic of those in other Latin American countries such as kidnapping, torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial killing, were routine and systematic during the Stroessner regime. Following executions, many of the bodies of those killed by the regime were dumped in the Chaco or the Rio Paraguay. The discovery of the "Archives of Terror" in 1992 in the Lambaré suburb of Asunción, confirmed allegations of widespread human rights violations. Pastor Coronel was the chief of the pyragüés (hairy-footed in Guaraní) or secret police. He would interview people in a pileta, a bath of human excrement or ram electric cattle prods up their rectums. The Secretary of the Paraguayan Communist Party was dismembered alive with a chainsaw while Stroessner listened on the phone.
Under Stroessner, egregious human rights violations were committed against the Aché Indian population of Paraguay's eastern districts. The Aché Indians resided on land that was coveted and had resisted relocation attempts by the Paraguayan army. The government retaliated with massacres and forced many Aché into slavery. In 1974 the UN accused Paraguay of slavery and genocide.
Stroessner was careful not to show off or draw attention from jealous generals or foreign journalists. He avoided rallies and took simple holidays in Patagonia. He did become more tolerant of opposition as the years passed, but there was no change in the regime's basic character.
Stroessner made many state visits, including to Emperor Hirohito of Japan, President Lyndon Johnson of the United States, President Charles de Gaulle of France, to South Africa] and several visits to West Germany, although over the years his relations with West Germany deteriorated. Since he had always been known as pro-German, this worsening of relations, combined with his feeling that the U.S. had abandoned him, were regarded as personal blows to Stroessner.
It is assumed that the Roman Catholic Church is the only reason Stroessner did not have absolute control over the country. After the destruction of Asunción University in 1972 by police, the Archbishop of Paraguay Ismael Rolón Silvero excommunicated the minister of the interior and the chief of police, and proscribed the celebration of Holy Mass in a sign of protest against the Stroessner regime. When Pope John Paul II visited Paraguay in 1988, his visit bolstered what was already a robust anti-Stroessner movement within the country.
Stroessner gave a written television interview to Alan Whicker as part of a documentary The Last Dictator (UK: 7 April 1970) for the television series Whicker's World. The programme was released in a Region 2 DVD boxset by the UK's Network imprint.
Economics[edit | edit source]
Stroessner was known for several positive economic policies, including the building of the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world in Itaipu Dam, developing Paraguay's economy: although Paraguay received only 15% of the contracts, it was a major factor allowing the country to have the highest rate of growth in Latin America for most of the 1970s.
Stroessner also dedicated large proportions of the Paraguayan national budget to the military and police apparatus, both fundamental to the maintenance of the regime. According to a 1963 article from Time magazine magazine, Stroessner spent 33% of the 1962 annual budget on army and police, 15% for education, and 2% for public works. There was no income tax and public spending was the smallest percentage of GDP in Latin America.
Furthermore the construction of the Itaipu Dam, as well as the subsequently built Yacyretá Dam on the Paraguay-Argentina Border, displaced thousands of Paraguayans, pushing them from their homes, often without any restitution. The Itaipu Dam displaced at least 80,000 Paraguayans, and the Yacyretá will have displaced at least that many by December 2008. 160 workers died building the Itaipu Dam.
Stroessner was also known for many projects that improved the country's infrastructure. Amongst these were the improvement of highways and the issuing of 15-20 hectare land grants to military personnel upon completion of their service, provided that the land would be used for farming purposes. Over 10,000 soldiers took up this offer.
Most impressive was that by the end of the Stronato, the second biggest city was Puerto Flor de Lis (renamed "Puerto Presidente Stroessner," then "Ciudad del Este"), founded just 32 years before.
Downfall[edit | edit source]
In April 1987, Stroessner lifted the state of siege as part of the run-up to elections the following spring. However, several draconian security laws remained in effect, meaning that the substance (if not the form) of the state of siege was still in place. As had been the case for over three decades, opposition leaders continued to be arbitrarily arrested and opposition meetings and demonstrations were broken up (often brutally). Stroessner was nominated by the Colorados once again, and was the only candidate who was allowed to campaign completely unmolested. Under these circumstances, the February 1988 election was no different from past elections, with Stroessner officially registering 89 percent of the vote—a margin that his rivals contended could only have been obtained through massive fraud.
On February 3, 1989, only six months after being sworn in for his eighth full term, Stroessner was ousted in a bloody coup d'état led by General Andrés Rodríguez. One reason for the coup was that the generals feared one of Stroessner's offspring would succeed him. Of the two, Freddie was a cocaine addict and Gustavo, a pilot, was loathed for being homosexual. A more outlandish rumour was that Lino Oviedo threatened Rodríguez with a grenade if he did not launch the coup. The two generals, Rodríguez and Oviedo, fought a brief artillery duel over Asunción.
After the coup, Stroessner fled to Brazil, where he lived in exile for the next seventeen and a half years.
The eastern city Puerto Flor de Lis, which had been renamed Puerto Presidente Stroessner in his honor, in 1989 was again renamed Ciudad del Este. Asunción's airport had been named after him during his regime, but was later renamed Silvio Pettirossi International Airport.
Stroessner died on August 16, 2006, in Brasília, at the age of 93. The immediate cause of death was a stroke. He had been suffering from pneumonia after undergoing a hernia operation. The Paraguayan government preemptively dismissed any suggestions for honoring the late president within Paraguay. He tried to return to Paraguay before his death, to die in his homeland, but he was rebuked and threatened with arrest by the government.
Family[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- The Guardian: "General Alfredo Stroessner – Dictator who mastered the fixing of elections and made Paraguay a smugglers' paradise"
- Paraguay: A Country Study, "International Factors and the Economy"
- Washington Post Obituary: "Alfredo Stroessner; Paraguayan Dictator"
- Cooper, 2000; pg. 167
- Mora and Cooney, 2007; pg. 169
- Paraguay: A Country Study, "The United States"
- Servihoo.com: "Stroessner, among South America's longest-serving dictators, dies"
- At the tomb of the inflatable pig, page 12
- Paraguay: A Country Study, "Foreign Relations"
- "General South African History Timelines" 1970s sahistory.orgza Accessed on June 13, 2008.
- Paraguay: A Country Study, "Interest Groups: The Roman Catholic Church"
- New York Sun Obituaries: "Alfredo Stroessner, 93, Old-Style Military Dictator of Paraguay"
- The Economist Obituary: Alfredo Stroessner
- Dictator by Popular Request, Time, February 22, 1963
- At the tomb of the inflatable pig, page 277
- Thomas C. Bruneau. "Government and Politics". Paraguay: A country study (Dannin M. Hanratty and Sandra W. Meditz, eds.). Library of Congress Federal Research Division (December 1988). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Country profile: Paraguay. Library of Congress Federal Research Division (October 2005). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- At the tomb of the inflatable pig, page 29
- MSNBC.com: "Ex-Paraguayan dictator Stroessner dies at 93"
- BBC: "Ex-Paraguayan ruler dies in exile"
Further reading[edit | edit source]
- Lewis, Paul H. (1980). Paraguay Under Stroessner. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-1437-7.
- Miranda, Carlos R. (1990). Stroessner Era: Authoritarian Rule in Paraguay. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-0995-6.
[edit | edit source]
- Obituary BBC News
- Paraguay's archive of terror
- The Presidential Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower Official letter to President Stroessner (1959)
- Paraguay seeks Stroessner return
- ObituaryThe Guardian
- Alfredo Stroessner, 93, Old-Style Military Dictator of Paraguay
- Obituary The Economist
- Stroessner, Paraguay’s Enduring Dictator, Dies New York Times
- Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, Colorful Dictator of Paraguay for 35 Years, Dies in Exile at 93
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