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Alfredo Stroessner; Paraguayan Dictator

Stroessner, with his wife, Eligia Mora, in 1954, ruled Paraguay for 35 years before being exiled to Brazil in 1989. The couple had three children.
Stroessner, with his wife, Eligia Mora, in 1954, ruled Paraguay for 35 years before being exiled to Brazil in 1989. The couple had three children. (Associated Press)

Gen. Stroessner, an anti-Communist, provided reliable Cold War support to the United States. He offered to contribute troops to the Vietnam War and the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965. He also actively supported "Operation Condor," the effort among other right-wing Latin American regimes to eliminate alleged leftist political threats. Operation Condor was aided by U.S. intelligence agencies.

At times, U.S. officials spoke out against Gen. Stroessner's more blatant acts of violence against his people -- particularly the indigenous population, which suffered amid land reform policies that favored presidential cronies. But little was done openly to discourage him beyond a drop in financial support.

By the 1980s, former dictatorships such as Chile, Argentina and Brazil began to embrace democratic principles and shed military control. But an aging Gen. Stroessner was unable to change with the region. This accelerated his downfall amid the end of the Cold War, ruinous inflation and a visit by Pope John Paul II that encouraged dissenters and the church to speak out more boldly.

Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda was born Nov. 3, 1912, in EncarnaciĆ³n, a town on Paraguay's southeastern border with Argentina, where his Bavarian-born father started a brewery. His mother came from a wealthy Paraguayan family.

After military school in AsunciĆ³n, he fought bravely in the Chaco War of the early 1930s. The war, which cost 100,000 Paraguayan lives, was over the arid Chaco region that was erroneously thought to be oil-rich.

Alfredo Stroessner, a husky star of the artillery, finished the war as an officer and was promoted quickly over the next decade. He showed a flair for self-preservation amid the country's wildly unstable politics.

At the time of the Paraguayan civil war of 1947, he was commandant of the country's best artillery regiment.

During a power struggle, he eventually sided with the victorious Federico Chaves of the Colorado Party and was rewarded with the post of commander of the armed forces.

As the economy struggled -- few had drinkable water -- and the military splintered, Gen. Stroessner led a coup against Chaves in May 1954. That August, he ran for the presidency without opposition.

At first, Gen. Stroessner seemed a force for the better. He made economic ties with other countries, paid off his country's debt with international lending institutions and began major infrastructure projects, such as highways, bridges and oil pipelines.

He was pressured by the U.S. government to allow some opposition in the early 1960s, but this was done mostly for show. He also backed away from some early experiments with democratization after student protests over higher trolley fares.

His anti-Communist stance, however, was appreciated by the United States during the rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba. He earned a state visit to the United States in 1968.

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