General Alfredo Stroessner, the former President of Paraguay who died yesterday at 93, was one of the last of Latin America's old-style military dictators.
Stroessner came to power in a coup which toppled the previous president, Federico Chavez, in 1954,and succeeded in being elected and re-elected for eight five-year terms of office after revising the constitution, which had banned him from serving for more than two.
Like General Franco of Spain, Stroessner provided stability after a civil war and near-anarchy; his motto, "Peace, Justice, Democracy," played to the hopes of an isolated society fearful of political instability.
A stocky individual with light-colored hair and blue eyes, Stroessner looked as if he had just emerged from a German bierkeller; in fact, his father had emigrated from Bavaria in the 1890s to start a brewery in the small Paraguayan town of Encarnacion.
Much was made of Stroessner's sympathy for Nazism — he provided a haven for Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz doctor, among other undesirables — yet he was as much a Paraguayan peasant at heart: devious, calculating and shrewd, with little in the way of a political ideology.
In the murky world of Latin American politics, Stroessner was adept in the arts of "guided democracy," tolerating a token opposition that kept the Americans happy while ensuring that any real opposition was snuffed out.
The specialty of his chief torturer, Pastor Coronel, was said to be conducting interviews with the subject immersed in a bath of human excrement. If, after that, they still resisted, he would administer further encouragement with an electric cattle-prod — administered from behind.
But while Stroessner's regime was responsible for gross abuses of human rights, on the whole he used a gloved fist, perpetuating a system that converted his sparsely populated country of 3.8 million people into a vast family enterprise.
He built modern roads and bridges and brought wealth through his agreement with Brazil to build a huge hydroelectric project on the Parana river.
Stroessner developed the country's Colorado Party into an extended patronage machine. Civil servants, the military, teachers, doctors, engineers and anyone working for the public sector were compelled to join the party, and those who accepted Stroessner's ritual re-election every five years were rewarded with a share of the spoils.
And he did manage to achieve a measure of genuine popularity. His portrait hung everywhere. Schools, buildings and roads were named after him — even a town, Puerto Stroessner. His reputation as a ladies' man, with many illegitimate offspring to his credit, added to his general aura of machismo.
Much of the largesse at his disposal derived from the traditional Paraguayan activity of smuggling. Nestling between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, the country had always been well-placed for illegal cross-border operations; under Stroessner Paraguay became the contraband centre of the region, the value of its exports estimated at three times the official figure. Stroessner's cronies took their cut of everything from illegal arms shipments to bootleg cigarettes and illegal drugs; the Scotch whisky concession was a particularly lucrative line.
But the benefits made little difference to the lives of Paraguay's povertystricken peasantry, and Stroessner came into conflict with a Roman Catholic Church that aligned itself with campaigns for social justice and land reform. In the 1980s it was joined by an increasingly critical United States, whose ambassador was threatened with expulsion on several occasions for criticizing press censorship.
By the late 1980s Stroessner's advancing age, and moves towards democracy elsewhere in South America, prompted a growing number of people within his own party to break the taboo on discussing the succession. In February 1989 he was ousted in a violent palace coup and fled into exile in Brazil.
Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda was born on November 3 1912 in Encarnacion. His mother, Heriberta, came from a wealthy Paraguayan family. After leaving school at 16, Stroessner joined the Paraguayan army. He fought with distinction in the Chaco War against Bolivia in 1932, and rose steadily in rank.
Although Paraguay won the Chaco war, the conflict exhausted the country's finances and plunged it into nearly 20 years of political upheaval, with coups and counter-coups following one another in quick succession. In 1948 Stroessner found himself on the wrong side of a failed coup attempt, and had to be driven to the Brazilian embassy in the trunk of a car, earning him the nickname "Colonel Trunk."
In the same year, he helped bring Federico Chavez to the presidency, and was rewarded with the appointment, in 1951, as Commander-in-Chief of Paraguay's armed forces. But in May 1954 Stroessner overthrew Chavez in a bloody coup, and in elections held in July he stood unopposed as the presidential candidate of the dominant Colorado party.
After coming to office he declared a "state of siege," a measure which gave him a free hand in dealing with opposition, and which, except for a brief period in 1959, he renewed every three months for the interior of the country until 1970.
At first Stroessner had every reason to feel insecure. The economy was in poor shape; the Colorado Party riven by factions; and the loyalty of the army was far from assured. He gave a free hand to the military and to the interior ministry to launch a campaign of terror against the regime's foes and their families. Reports of torture were commonplace, and many languished for years in jails and at prison camps in the jungle.
By the early 1960s, American military aid had improved the army's skills in counter-insurgency warfare; a series of purges had removed all serious opposition in the Colorado Party, while Stroessner's economic policies were beginning to produce higher exports and investment, and low inflation. Rightwing military coups in Brazil (in 1964) and Argentina (in 1966) also improved the political climate.
Stroessner's foreign policy rested on a fervent anti-Communism, careful diplomacy to retain independence from Brazil and Argentina, and unwavering support for America. His reward was some $160 million dollars worth of aid between 1954 and 1976. In 1968, he formally visited Washington - the second Paraguayan president to have been officially invited to America.
But relations with the Catholic Church, always rocky, were further strained after the Catholic University of Asuncion was trashed by police in 1972. The Archbishop of Paraguay excommunicated the minister of the interior and the chief of police and prohibited the celebration of mass throughout the country in protest.
Stroessner's relatioship with America faltered with the election of President Carter, whose foreign policy stressed respect for human rights. In 1987, the American ambassador was tear-gassed while attending a reception in his honor sponsored by Women for Democracy, an anti-Stroessner group.In the same year, Reagan suspended Paraguay from taking advantage of preferential tariffs for its exports.
The Pope's visit in 1988, during which he was greeted everywhere by large, enthusiastic crowds, gave new heart to opponents of the regime, and in November a silent protest march attracted an estimated 50,000 participants, making it the largest opposition event of the Stroessner era.
When Chilean voters rejected the bid by General Pinochet to extend military rule into the 1990s, the prospect of a civilian president in Chile served only to isolate Stroessner further from the democratic trend. On February 3 1989, while recovering from prostate surgery, he fell victim to a squabble among his supporters and was ousted in a coup d'etat led by General Andres Rodriguez, his former right-hand man and the father-in-law of his daughter, Marta.
Stroessner was placed under house arrest, and later allowed to go into exile in Brazil, where he was said to enjoy playing chess and fishing. He lived comfortably in Brasilia for the rest of his life.
Alfredo Stroessner married, in 1940, Eligia Delgado, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.