Thursday, August 17, 2006

Alfredo Stroessner

Finally! Some dictator news that doesn't involve Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez.

Yesterday, the exiled former dictator of Paraguay Generalissimo Alfredo Stroessner, died of pneumonia at age 93 in Brasilia, Brazil.

Stroessner had been out of the political picture since his ouster in a 1989 military coup, but managed to control Paraguay with an iron fist for 35 years. After fighting in Paraguay's disastrous Chaco War, Stroessner rose metorically through the ranks of the Paraguayan military, attaining the rank of Brigadier General by the very young age of 36.

In 1954, Stroessner knocked out the president of Paraguay in a military coup, and proceeded to hold onto power for the next 35 years, a record only Fidel Castro has broken in the Americas. A dedicated anti-communist, Stroessner never attempted to explain his own political philosophy in very much depth, but the political style of his autocratic rule leaned towards state nationalism and fascism, which certainly may have explained his prediliction for offering political asylum in Paraguay to fugitive Nazi war criminals, including the Angel of Death himself, Josef Menegele.

On the foreign stage, Stroessner leaned towards isolationism. His anti-communist stance put him in America's good graces starting with the Eisenhower administration, but he found himself abandoned by the United States after presidents Carter and Reagan cut political ties with him over Paraguay's abysmal human rights record. On the domestic front, Stroessner has been grudgingly credited with making tangible improvements to Paraguay's infrastructure and economy, including greenlighting and financing Paraguayan participation in the massive Itaipu dam project that turned his impoverished nation into an energy exporter.

With Stroessner's passing, the age of the right wing South American generalissimo is quickly drawing to a close. Only Jorge Videla of Argentina and Augusto Pinochet of Chile remain alive (if deposed), and both are elderly and frail. Clearly, the era of strutting banana republic brasshats has ended. The new breed of dictators, epitomized by the likes of the like of Hugo Chavez, have changed the political and personal style, but the substance remains more or less the same.