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.
The Alliance for Progress has only increased the hold of foreign interests. What Alliance money has not been used to maintain Stroessner in power has been invested in the ranches. Paraguay thus has the dubious honour of spending all her foreign aid on non-Paraguayan projects.
Agriculturally, Paraguay is extremely rich and potentially a large exporter of protein foods which could find a ready market in neighbouring countries. But her resources are badly used. Foreign investors have dictated the expansion of grazing and sugar plantations to the detriment of market gardening. Her land is poorly fertilized and subject to erosion. No less than 45 per cent of her productive land is owned by foreign interests. 49 per cent of her total area is foreign owned. 70 per cent of the population live on the land. The size of the average tract is less than five hectares. But 60 per cent of the rural population is landless and, as the ranches expand by a combination of illegal seizures and Stroessner’s strong-arm tactics, the peasants are being pushed into the cities or across the River Paraguay into Argentina. 0.2 per cent of her farms cover 35 per cent of her area. For example, one British company owns a ranch twice the size of the State of Maryland and an Argentinian consortium controls a ranch nearly that size.