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  • Paraguay After StroessnerOne Step Away from Democracy
  • Humberto Rubin (bio)

Stroessner is gone. In a historic move that still seems surprising, General Andrés Rodríguez brandished his tanks and expelled him. Yet the legacy of his almost 40 years of rule lives on, and dismantling it will not be easy. Nonetheless, in a country where over two-thirds of the population is under 30, it is not hard to analyze the cultural situation that exists in the wake of the dictator's forced departure. Paraguay is indubitably a different country, with freedom of the press, association, and political activity. The fashion now is training for democracy: civic education in elementary schools, civic education for adults. Perhaps the distinction will not be all that great, since we adults must learn about democracy as if we were children. The past offers no models, for Paraguay never really had a democratic system. Everyone, myself included, naturally talks a lot about creating this system. But do we know or want what a totally independent way of life entails?

The major organized parties, especially the ruling Colorados and their Liberal opposition, now stand rather discredited—the first for their widespread corruption, and the second for reasons having to do with [End Page 59] their history and their highly partisan stance in the current period. Others, like the socialist Febrerista Party and the Christian Democrats, are a long way from seasoned competence, while another half dozen have only recently been created.

But all of Paraguay is bubbling over with an eager mass of people who are ready and willing to take part in politics. Businessmen are furtively searching for a Fujimori or a Collor de Mello. Others wish to gather an entirely new group of candidates in order to capture the support of undecided voters or those without traditional party affiliations, two groups that may total half the electorate. Rodrfguez is struggling almost alone to ensure that all this develops normally. He is trying to distance himself from political interests, and has made his own party feel as though it were in the opposition. This situation is hard to understand unless one realizes that the "officialist" Colorado Party that swept Rodríguez into power with 75 percent of the vote now lies broken in a thousand pieces. The large number of votes he received is misleading: everyone, Stronistas included, bet on a general who would institute the rule of law.

Doubtless we now have a democracy, or at least the closest thing to it. It is actually a military democracy, but it is working.

Rodríguez could not just throw 35 years out the window; to do so would have caused anarchy. Besides, what took place in February 1989 was not a revolution, but a coup. Rodríguez himself had been part and parcel of the previous regime. But he is working every day to chip away at the stubborn residue of Stronismo. Time is his ally, and if circumstances smile on him he should be able to leave office in 1993 as if his administration had been the result of a revolution and not a coup.

Yet uncertainty haunts us. Each change, each new action, widens the gap between President Rodríguez and officialdom. After many months of overlooking signs that Luis María Argaña, his own foreign minister and the interim president of the Colorado Party, was plotting against him, Rodríguez finally dismissed the man. The army, through its high command, never loses an opportunity to support the transition and remind everyone of its "insubornable loyalty" to its commander and the president of the republic. When Argaña made the unfortunate announcement that he would not allow the Colorados to lose the next elections, even if they had to conspire and lead another coup in order to preserve their power, the army itself declared as loudly as possible that "the days of conspirators knocking on the barracks door are finished."

The upcoming municipal elections, set for March 1991, will be clean and democratic, and the winners will govern. But a long road lies ahead. A new voter-registration list is being compiled; only those who have an [End Page 60...


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pp. 59-61
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