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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Obituary: Alfredo Stroessner
Alfredo Stroessner in 1958
Alfredo Stroessner's rule was marked by political repression

Alfredo Stroessner was Paraguay's military leader for 35 years, from 1954 to 1989.

Under his rule the country became a haven for Nazi war criminals, peaceful opposition was crushed and the indigenous population was persecuted.

Stroessner was one of the great strongmen of South American politics. Indeed, during the 20th Century, only Cuba's Fidel Castro served as head of state in the continent for a longer period of time.

A violent dictator to many, others - most notably in the United States - saw him as a bulwark against communism.


Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda was born in Encarnacion in southern Paraguay in November 1912. The son of a German brewer, he joined the army at the age of 17, becoming a junior officer two years later.

Between 1932 and 1935 he saw action in the Chaco War, a conflict between Paraguay and Bolivia over an area incorrectly believed to contain vast oil reserves.

Gen Stroessner's rule was marked by political repression... opponents were forced to flee into exile... Those who remained were harassed or imprisoned, and the media was heavily censored
Paraguay's victory was also Gen Stroessner's, and he progressed easily through the army's ranks.

During the 1940s Paraguay became increasingly unstable, descending into civil war in 1947. Alfredo Stroessner was a key player through all this tumult.

By 1948 he was a brigadier general, the youngest general in the whole of South America. Three years later he was named commander in chief of the country's armed forces, becoming a hugely powerful figure.

And on 4 May 1954, General Stroessner led a military coup which toppled the government of Federico Chavez, before becoming president a few months later.

This continued the Paraguayan tradition, under which no president was elected democratically between its independence from Spain in 1811 and free elections in May 1993.

War criminals

Gen Stroessner's rule was marked by political repression. Many of his opponents were forced to flee into exile. Those who remained were harassed or imprisoned, and the media was heavily censored.

A personality cult sprung up around the general and his portrait became a regular sight throughout the country.

Josef Mengele
Josef Mengele was given shelter in Paraguay
He also sought to forcibly assimilate Paraguay's indigenous Ache population, a policy which ended in bloodshed, sexual slavery and servitude.

And Paraguay became a bolt-hole for Nazi war criminals, including for a time the former SS doctor at Auschwitz, Josef Mengele.

For a time, Paraguay was highly favoured by the United States. Indeed, in 1965, Asuncion sent troops to fight with US Marines in the Dominican Republic in 1965 in what the US later said was a move to prevent a communist takeover.

But, later in his rule, Washington became increasingly unsettled about Paraguay's poor human rights record, gradually withdrawing its support as the years went by.

Gen Stroessner's achievements were limited. Together with the Brazilian government, he oversaw the building of the Itaipu dam on the Parana River.

This project, which also included the construction of the world's largest hydroelectric plant, vastly increased Paraguay's export revenues through the sale of electricity.

Stroessner was "re-elected" eight consecutive times before being himself overthrown in a military coup in February 1989 and going into exile in Brazil.

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