In the summer of 1966 Allan Young wrote on ‘Paraguay and the Stroessner Régime (nlr 38). At the time, that régime seemed an isolated anomaly. In the euphoria generated by the launching of the Alliance for Progress, the Americans and their Venezuelan allies were willing to sacrifice the leader of one small country to appease world opinion and deflate the Cuban argument that America and the Latin American bourgeoisie ultimately depended upon the support of the military. The American government not only financed opposition parties, coercing them to unite into the Union nacional paraguaya (unp), but launched a virulent press campaign to call attention to the last of the caudillos. The New York Times plunged into the anti-Stroessner campaign with much enthusiasm. They claimed that Stroessner represented ‘the great, traditional evil of Right-wing military tyranny under the caudillos’. The Americans went so far as to foment the unsuccessful rebellions of 1961 and 1962.
But reading about Stroessner’s re-election today, one has the impression that all is forgiven. The same New York Times argues that Stroessner is bringing democracy to Latin America in portions that can be digested. Why this about-face?
First, in their struggle against the Latin American guerrilla movements, the Americans are now willing to take allies where they can find them.
Second, those nations who complained most about Stroessner realize they cannot withstand pressure from the Left without a strong military. The Latin American middle class has become reconciled to an alliance with the army. Third, Stroessner has made concessions to the Americans and his foreign creditors. For home consumption he has allowed an opposition to function. He has allowed two newspapers opposing the régime to publish. He now sends his opponents into exile rather than to prison. More importantly, Stroessner, has liberalized investment laws making it easier to take capital out of the country, increased tax allowances and relaxed the labour code.
The caudillo is largely a myth. It is not Stroessner who rules. He is little more than an estate manager who applies sanctions to a somewhat recalcitrant work force. Paraguay is about equally shared out between British, American and Argentinian interests. Of her total gnp, over 1/5 is sent abroad each year. Of her eight major exports, four, accounting for over 70 per cent of her total exports, are owned exclusively by foreign interests. Argentinian interests have 80m. dollars invested in cattle ranches and quebracho, British interests over 55m. dollars in cattle and railways, and American interests about 46m. dollars in cattle.