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Friday, 19 May, 2000, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Analysis: Paraguay's political fault-lines
A rebel tank passes Paraguay's police hq
By Americas Regional Editor Robert Plummer

The latest coup attempt in Paraguay lasted no more than a few hours before the rebels agreed to surrender, but it has once again exposed the fault-lines in the country's fragile democracy.

The Paraguayan authorities took decisive action in rounding up many of the ringleaders and declaring a 30-day nationwide state of emergency.

However, they have so far had no success in tracking down the man who has done most to destabilise the government in recent years - the renegade former army commander, Lino Oviedo.

The latest confrontation, which included the seizure of several radio stations and the use of tanks to attack the parliament building in Asuncion, came just over four years after General Oviedo defied orders to resign his command and staged an unsuccessful coup attempt.

Mass protests

The former general is now on the run from Paraguayan justice, accused of involvement in the assassination of vice-president Luis María Argaña in 1999. He originally went into exile in Argentina, but last December he evaded his police guards and fled.

personnel carrier
Rebel armoured personnel carrier heads towards Congress
Mr Oviedo is now believed to have returned to Paraguay, and last month police embarked on a fruitless search of an apartment block in the country's second city, Ciudad del Este, after reports that he had been visiting his brother there.

The rebels who staged the latest coup attempt said they belonged to a previously unknown movement named after Fulgencio Yegros - an army captain who played a key role in the 19th-century fight for Paraguayan independence - but there is little doubt that they were followers of Mr Oviedo.

Paraguay is frequently gripped by rumours of coup plots, but in this case the outbreak of violence took seasoned observers by surprise.

This latest resort to military force is being seen as a last desperate attempt by Mr Oviedo to seize power in Paraguay, in the wake of recent mass protests by peasants and trade union leaders who oppose the economic policies of President Luis Gonzalez Macchi.

Political uncertainty

Mr Macchi belongs to the Colorado Party, whose grip on the levers of power dates back to the authoritarian rule of General Alfredo Stroessner.

As an attempt to resolve the political crisis that followed Mr Argaña's assassination, Paraguay was supposed to have a government of national unity including members of the opposition, but the Colorados soon quarrelled with the other parties, most of whom have now pulled out.

There is a widespread feeling in Paraguay that the Colorados' offer to share power was a sham from the start. Mr Macchi was never a strong political leader, and his government has been weakened by the defections.

Mr Oviedo appears to have been seeking to exploit the political uncertainty.

He may have thought that the prospect of another military strongman in power would appeal to ordinary Paraguayans - but his gamble has failed to pay off.

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19 May 00 | Americas
Paraguay uprising foiled
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