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Friday, 19 May, 2000, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Oviedo: General with thirst for power
Lino Oviedo flanked by two soldiers
Lino Oviedo left Paraguay for Argentina
Americas Regional Editor Robert Plummer profiles the man whose supporters launched Paraguay's latest attempted coup:

Ironic as it may now seem, Lino Oviedo originally rose to prominence in Paraguay as an upholder of democratic values.

As an army officer in February 1989, he played a prominent part in the uprising that overthrew the regime of General Alfredo Stroessner and set the country on the path back to civilian government.

However, he went on to jeopardise that fragile democracy in April 1996, when he disobeyed a presidential order to step down as commander of the army.

The order was issued by Juan Carlos Wasmosy, the country's first elected leader since the 1950s, and General Oviedo's defiance seemed like the prelude to a full-scale army revolt.

Popular Colorado Party figure

The rebellion was only defused when President Wasmosy promised General Oviedo the defence ministry post if he resigned his command, which he did.

Mr Wasmosy then promptly changed his mind, leaving the now ex-general out in the cold -- or so he thought.

Mr Oviedo set up his own faction within the governing Colorado Party and rapidly became its most popular politician.

Even then, many people were tempted to have fun at Mr Oviedo's expense.

His short stature had earned him the nickname of "the bonsai horseman", and during political rallies, he would speak in a mixture of Paraguay's two official languages, Spanish and Guarani, plus a generous helping of German.

Public revulsion

Cynical observers said he made little sense in any of them, but the Paraguayan people clearly thought otherwise, and Mr Oviedo easily won the right to become the Colorados' candidate for last year's presidential elections.

As the ex-general's poll ratings soared, Mr Wasmosy intensified efforts to bring him to justice in connection with the coup attempt, and he ended up serving a 10-year jail sentence.

Since the electorate could not vote for Mr Oviedo, they did the next best thing and chose his close ally, Raul Cubas, who assumed the presidency in August and immediately issued a decree freeing the ex-general.

The resulting political power struggle culminated in the murder of Luis Maria Argana, who was a bitter political rival of the Cubas-Oviedo faction despite being vice-president.

Asylum

In the wake of public revulsion at that dramatic event, both Mr Oviedo and Mr Cubas sought asylum outside the country - Mr Cubas in Brazil, and Mr Oviedo in Argentina.

Mr Oviedo remained at a secluded ranch on the southern island of Tierra del Fuego for eight months before disappearing in December.

His departure coincided with a change of president in Argentina. The new president, Fernando de la Rua, had warned that, unlike his predecessor Carlos Menem, he would expel Mr Oviedo in order to heal a diplomatic rift with Paraguay.

Ambitions

The general soon began giving media interviews from a location that he claimed was somewhere inside Paraguay.

In at least one of the interviews he said he wanted to claim the Paraguayan presidency.

The government of President Luis Gonzalez Macchi wants to try Mr Oviedo in connection with Vice-President Argana's assassination, and to send him back to jail to serve out the sentence he received for the events of 1996.

The country's current Defence Minister, Nelson Argana, is the son of the late Vice-President.

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See also:

29 Mar 99 | Americas
Paraguay army chief held
28 Mar 99 | Americas
Hundreds mourn Paraguay's dead
25 Mar 99 | Americas
Paraguay president to face Senate
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