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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)

For much of the 1970s, Paraguay reportedly had one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America. This was largely based on the planned $16 billion Itaipu dam on the border with Brazil, which fostered a boomtown atmosphere. Favored Colorado Party officials made millions of dollars on the contracts associated with the dam's construction, but few average Paraguayans benefited from the dam, which opened in 1985.

By this time, the Carter and Reagan administrations' more outspoken condemnation of Gen. Stroessner's excesses and the Catholic Church's social justice movement turned Paraguay into a pariah state. Apartheid South Africa was among the few countries that remained friendly.

A low point between Paraguay and its old ally, the United States, was the 1987 tear-gassing of an event to honor U.S. Ambassador Clyde D. Taylor, held by the group Women for Democracy.

Gen. Stroessner was overthrown while recuperating from prostate surgery, amid grumblings in the military about a succession plan. His top aide, Gen. Andres Rodriguez, whose daughter had married one of the dictator's sons, led the coup.

Rodriguez tried to arrest Gen. Stroessner at his mistress's home, but Gen. Stroessner discovered the plan and took to his palace in AsunciĆ³n. About 500 soldiers died before Gen. Stroessner was captured. He was allowed to leave the country soon after, but in more recent years, Paraguayan courts called for his extradition.

Rodriguez, who had once lived in a replica of the palace at Versailles on his $500-a-month salary, surprised many with his reforms over the next several years. Until his death of cancer in 1997, he freed political prisoners, reached rapprochement with the Church, lifted bans on political opposition and allowed more media freedoms.

Eduardo A. Gamarra, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University, said Gen. Stroessner's legacy has continued to influence Paraguayan society.

"It is still evident in terms of the structures he established, the absence of political institutions," Gamarra said. "Constructing stable democratic institutions has been a real challenge. The armed forces have undergone internal disarray, between factions that still see Stroessner as their leader and new ones open to fundamental change."

The human cost of Gen. Stroessner's legacy was captured in secret police records, dubbed "the archives of terror," unearthed in the post-dictatorship years.

Meanwhile, Gen. Stroessner settled at a lakeside home in Brasilia, where he liked to fish.

His wife, a former schoolteacher, Eligia Mora, died early this year. They had three children. He reportedly had 15 other children with assorted mistresses.

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