The 1989 Coup D’état in Paraguay

By Antonio Luis Sapienza

Clockwise: The leader of the coup, Lt. Gen. Andrés Rodriguez; an Army Cavalry EE-9 Cascavel multi-role armoured vehicle; a Stuart light tank; General of the Army Alfredo Stroessner; a Presidential Escort Regiment Sherman Firefly tank; Paraguayan Navy gunboat “Itaipú” with a Esquilo helicopter; a Presidential Escort Regiment M2 Half Track. In the centre, FAP Xavante jets. (Author’s files)

The year 1989 was crucial for Paraguay. After a long period of 35 years of dictatorship, General Alfredo Stroessner was finally overthrown by a violent coup d’état. In a sort of prophetic way, he once said “I came to power by arms and I will only leave by arms” and that came true on 2 February of that year.

Top: A Police Special Force truck after it was attacked by a Marine platoon downtown Asunción (Diario Hoy). Bottom: A Marine observing a military truck of the Presidential Escort Regiment damaged by combat near the Government Palace. (Diario Hoy)

But who was Alfredo Stroessner? In the first chapter of the book, the reader will find his biography and learn how he got to power after a coup in 1954. From then on, with fraudulent elections every five years, he was reelected seven times, and even changed the Constitution to fit his purposes. He basically remained in power with the support of very powerful armed forces and the strong right wing Colorado Party. During the 1950s and ‘60s, he was also supported by the US to stop the expansionism of communism in Latin America. But he also wanted to be a popular president so he started huge projects building roads, a running water and sewage system in the capital Asuncion first, and then in several cities in Paraguay, three big hydro electrical power dams, including the biggest in the world with Brazil, and another one with Argentina, international airports, a huge merchant navy, a national airline – Líneas Aéreas Paraguayas (LAP), and of course, a vital re-equipment of the entire Armed Forces, including gunboats for the Navy, tanks, cannons and a huge arsenal of small arms for the Army, advanced trainers, helicopters and attack jets for the Air Force.

Two Cavalry officers, 1st Lt. Alfredo Florenciañez Gibbons (left) and Sub-Lt. Pablo Quintana (right) posing happily next to a Cascavel the day after. (El Diario Noticias)

The Police forces were not forgotten and it was also very well equipped to suppress anyone who was against the government. As in all dictatorships, human rights were not respected; there were many political prisoners who were tortured and even killed by the regime, thousands went into exile, and there was not freedom of speech. Finally, the organisation of the Paraguayan Armed Forces will be covered.

Cavalry troops the day after. (El Diario Noticias)

 

The decline of Stroessner’s government is the centrepiece in the second chapter as well as the Coup preparations by the Armed Forces, led by General Andres Rodriguez, then Commander of the powerful First Army Corps, with the support of the Cavalry, Infantry and the Navy, and later most officers of the Air Force and Artillery.

A huge statue of Stroessner being removed from a monument on top of Lambaré Hill in Asuncion. (ABC Color)

The Coup itself is in the third chapter, describing the military leaders, the rebellious military forces and the loyal ones, and all the actions that took place on 2 & 3 February 1989, including the final outcome.The final chapter, the Aftermath, will cover the provisional government led by Gen. Andres Rodriguez and the first democratic elections in Paraguay after 35 years.  After 30 years of that memorable event, many things have changed in Paraguay but many other things have remained the same. Stroessner died in his exile in Brazil in 2006, but his legacy is still haunting the country.

‘The 1989 Coup D’état in Paraguay’ is now available to purchase here.

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