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  • Paraguay and the United States: Distant Allies
  • Matthew Hughes
Paraguay and the United States: Distant Allies. By Frank O. MoraJerry W. Cooney. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007. Pp. xiv, 333. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $59.95 cloth; $24.95 paper.

Two broad themes emerge from Frank O. Mora and Jerry W. Cooney’s study of Paraguay’s relationship with the United States. Firstly, for long periods after Paraguay’s formation in the early nineteenth century, the United States had little interest in its affairs or, indeed, diplomatic relations. As a small, land-locked, and isolated country (isolated from the United States, anyway), Paraguay’s relationship with Washington was a distant one. What connections there were pivoted on private U.S. trading interests pushing up the navigable Paraná and Paraguay rivers, which, as with other European empires at this time, depended, from time-to-time, on military and diplomatic help from the metropolitan power. This dragged the United States into clashes with Paraguay, including a riverine gunboat intervention in the 1850s—apparently the largest naval expedition ever to leave the United States up to that time—that succeeded in forging a new treaty of commerce and navigation between the two states in 1859. As with other parts of the globe, the new technology of the ironclad, steam-driven warship extended the frontiers of empire deep into the interior of South America. Mora and Cooney tease out the highs and lows of U.S.-Paraguayan diplomacy in the period before World War I when relations between the two countries were, indeed, ‘distant.’

Most of the book—six of the eight chapters—is taken up with a second strand of analysis that examines the capitalist exploitation of Paraguay in the twentieth century and, especially, Paraguay’s part in the U.S.-directed global war on communism after 1945. This shortened the distance between the two countries, bringing Paraguay firmly into the U.S. orbit of foreign diplomatic interests. In an examination of inter-state relations, the authors skate over the appalling human rights abuses in Paraguay committed by the armed forces that underpinned U.S. acceptance of the need to triumph over communism. If Mora and Cooney are right, this was a case of the tail wagging the dog. Despite its enormous superiority, the United States was unable to force Paraguay to moderate its treatment of dissidents, to liberalize its economy and to democratize its political structure. Paraguay simply re-emphasized its commitment to fight communism and made cosmetic reforms to appease U.S. protests after egregious abuses, while getting away with running one of the worst military dictatorships on a continent with considerable competition in this regard. As with other South American states, there was also a high regard for fascism (and the Nazis) within Paraguay’s army and political elites, reflected in their willingness [End Page 294] to accommodate Nazis escaping justice in Europe after 1945. The strongman in Paraguay throughout this period was General Alfredo Stroessner who seized power in 1954 in a coup and was toppled in another coup in 1989, after which he went into exile in Brazil. His period in charge was marked by torture, repression, national isolation, rampant corruption and cronyism, extra-judicial assassination, and drug trafficking. The United States tried to temper these excesses—especially the trans-shipment of drugs bound for this country—but it had little success in forcing Stroessner to change his ways. For Mora and Cooney, this was largely because the United States was unable to coerce Paraguay. This may be true, but authors that are more critical would stress Washington’s tolerance of authoritarian regimes across the Americas and its unwillingness to exert real pressure on such regimes to effect democratic change. Only with the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1989 was Stroessner finally forced from power and a democracy of sorts established.

Many of Mora and Cooney’s quotations are not sourced and their text is rather dry at times, but their volume succeeds in opening up the history of a country whose story is rarely told. In doing so, the authors detail a patron-client relationship between a powerful United States and a weaker South...


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