- The Dictator Dilemma: The United States and Paraguay in the Cold War by Kirk Tyvela
US-Paraguayan relations during the Cold War have garnered very little recent academic attention. Two possible reasons stand out. Paraguay did not occupy a key place in American strategic interests. The country lacked both a critical resource and proximity to a vulnerable location in the Western Hemisphere. Second, and perhaps equally important, for most of the late twentieth century, Paraguay existed in the relentless grip of one of Latin America’s most ruthless modern dictators, Alfredo Stroessner. Under his brutal tutelage, the small South American nation was a quiet corner of the Cold War.
Tyvela’s book is an attempt to lend more nuance to this often overlooked part of modern Latin American history. The author’s basic thesis is that the Stroessner regime (1954–89) was essentially a receptacle for US foreign interests, both theoretical and practical. American policy-makers provided the Paraguayan dictator agency and relevance by [End Page 503] virtue of Cold War contingencies. What defined these was in turn part of a policy debate that stretched over the course of an era.
The author divides the US policy community into two basic camps: pragmatists and idealists. John Foster Dulles embodied the former when he bluntly declared in 1955: “Do nothing to offend the dictators. They are the only people we can depend on” (6). Pragmatists essentially constructed a transactional relationship with Stroessner, exchanging foreign aid and a blind eye to human rights abuses for loyalty, stability, and anti-Communism. In contrast were the idealists, men like Alliance for Progress Coordinator Teodoro Moscoso or, later, Jimmy Carter, who believed dictatorships were anathema to American political principles and advocated US policy to transform dictatorships like that of Stroessner (or Somoza, Trujillo, Duvalier, Pinochet, and others) into working democracies. Tyvela rather adeptly demonstrates that most idealist crusades were short-lived, overcome by an overarching American desire for security and the sense of realpolitik that cultivated it.
Paraguay is an interesting choice to illustrate this rather lopsided narrative. Alfredo Stroesser built his dictatorship by outmaneuvering the traditional political structure and co-opting the Paraguayan military. Through a combination of state terror and legal manipulation of the constitution, he was able to prolong his control of the country for decades. In another sense, the Stroesser regime is also a good choice because it was not a passive client state during the Cold War. Stroessner was very cognizant of the potential of Cold War tensions for overt manipulation, what Eduardo Crawley once described as “playing the American card.” This was clear when Paraguay offered Richard Nixon sanctuary during his disastrous 1958 tour of Latin America. The same was true when Uruguay provided troops for the 1965 Dominican intervention and repeated the offer later in the Vietnam War.
The author touches on the subtleties of bilateral relations at certain points in the narrative. Tyvela illustrates the failed Paraguayan gambit in 1958 to leverage its loyalty for additional economic aid, threatening neutrality if greater assistance was not forthcoming. Perhaps the most fascinating story regards the clash between Washington and Asunción over drug-trafficking and the prolonged struggle to extradite Auguste Ricord in 1971. Tyvela rather effectively argues that the intersection of domestic and foreign policy priorities proved to be a clear wedge between the two traditional allies, one that Cold War imperatives could not overcome.
It is in these exchanges that the book shines and the reader is left to wonder why there were not more opportunities to do so. One possibility is that the book suffers from the same limitation as many works on US-Latin American foreign relations: an imbalance of sources. Tyvela is forensic in his examination of American diplomatic documents, treading a well-worn path through presidential libraries and the National Archives and Records Administration. Unfortunately, the only Uruguayan archive of note is the Supreme Court’s Centro de Documentacioón y Archivo. Tyvela does augment his [End Page...