Between 1954 and 1989, Paraguay was ruled by
South America's most resilient dictator, Alfredo
Stroessner. The country gained a reputation for being a
safe hiding place for old Nazis. Since Stroessner's
overthrow, the country has been democratized and opened
up to the outside world, but a conservative elite
consisting of military and landlords has largely
retained its grip on power. The Conservative Colorado
Party has continued to rule the country with the
exception of a mandate period 2008 - 2013.
The Colorado Party ruled Paraguay after the Civil War
in 1947 (see Older History), but despite the party's
dominance, the country remained politically unstable.
Various party factions fought for power and a number of
coups were the result.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Paraguay. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
In a 1954 military coup, Commander Alfredo Stroessner
Mattiauda took power. Stroessner, who had a German
father and a Paraguayan mother, was then allowed to be
nominated by the Colorado Party as the only presidential
candidate and won the election that year. Thereafter,
President Stroessner was re-elected every five years
between 1958 and 1988.
As president, Stroessner gained far-reaching powers
and built up a cult of personality around himself.
Opponents who did not go into exile were killed or
imprisoned, including in concentration camps in the
jungle. Stroessner also regularly carried out purges
within his own party. Other political parties were
allowed from 1962, but they had no real influence.
The Colorado Party was Stroessner's foremost
instrument of power. On all important posts in the
military, business and administration sat party
representatives. All government services required
membership. Stroessner also became known for offering
drug dealers, ex-dictators and old Nazi offenders a
sanctuary. Those who were protected included Nicaragua's
deposed dictator Anastasio Somoza and the "death angel
from Auschwitz", Doctor Joseph Mengele.
The United States changes page
Guerrilla groups with support from Argentina,
Venezuela and Cuba tried to stand up to the regime, but
with the help of extensive military assistance,
including from the US, the armed forces were able to
keep them under control. The peasant unions (league
agrarias), where small farmers organized themselves
with the support of the Catholic Church, began in the
1970s to be considered a threat, and in 1976 government
forces made violent efforts against the unions.
During the 1980s, the opposition grew, fueled by the
unemployment that followed when the Itaipú hydroelectric
dam was completed in 1982 (see Natural Resources, Energy
and the Environment). The return to civilian government
elsewhere in Latin America became a source of
inspiration. The end of the Cold War caused the United
States to move from supporting anti-communist regimes to
attaching greater importance to democratic freedoms and
rights in other countries. The dictatorship lost much of
its foreign and domestic support.
In February 1989 Stroessner was deposited with the
good memory of the United States in a coup, led by
Deputy Commander Andrés Rodríguez. A key figure in the
coup was also General Lino Oviedo, who thereby gained
popular popularity. Stroessner was allowed to go into
exile in Brazil.
Rodríguez encouraged fugitives to return home and
arrested several leading people from Stroessner's
regime. He won the presidential election a few months
after the military coup and promised to surrender power
to a civilian president in 1993. In the congressional
election, the Colorado Party won big.
Problems on the road
But the new government had strong ties to the old
one. Only small progress was made in the investigations
of torture, murder and disappearance during the
dictatorship. Crime increased, not least drug smuggling.
Rodríguez also failed to overcome the corruption: many
of his employees plundered the Treasury on their own
behalf. The economic and social divisions remained
large. A neoliberal economic policy, which gave
companies great leeway at the expense of employees, led
to government-critical trade unions and farmer
organizations growing stronger. Landless families began
to occupy land but were driven away, often with brutal
A new democratic constitution was adopted in 1992. In
the presidential election the following year, the
candidate of the Colorado Party, the construction
millionaire Juan Carlos Wasmosy, won "only" 42 percent
of the vote. Also in the congressional elections,
opposition parties were strengthened and Wasmosy found
it difficult to cooperate with the newly elected
congress. The Colorado party was divided into different
phalanges and most of the party members allied with the
Wasmosy's neo-liberal politics and his opposition to
land reform created dissatisfaction among landless
peasants. In 1994, a farmer's march to Asuncion was
carried out and in the same year a general strike broke
out. From 1995 to 1996, the country was shaken by
protests, demonstrations and banking crises.
The vice president is murdered
The president's hardest opponent was the army chief
and party mate Lino Oviedo. Oviedo led a coup attempt
against Wasmosy in 1996, but the coup was intercepted
with the aid of the Air Force. Oviedo was then arrested,
but soon released and went underground in 1997.
Oviedo was sentenced to ten years in prison for the
coup attempt and banned from running in the 1998
presidential election. Instead, the candidate for the
Colorado Party became Raúl Cubas Grau, a close ally of
Oviedo. Luis María Argaña, who led another party
faction, became the vice presidential candidate.
Cuba's Grau won in the presidential election, thanks
in large part to his being perceived as Oviedo's deputy.
Oviedo, who had roots in the countryside and spoke
Guarani fluently, had many followers among poor
peasants. He also had strong support in the military and
in the political elite. In the congressional elections,
the Colorado Party gained a majority in both chambers.
In 1999, Vice President Luis María Argaña was
assassinated. The suspicions were soon directed at
supporters of Oviedo and Cubas Grau. The murder
triggered demonstrations in Asuncion demanding the
departure of the president. Police and military tried in
vain to disperse the protesters for several days. Eight
people were killed and around 150 injured when
supporters of Oviedo shot sharply straight into the
The president flies the country
The event prompted Congress to decide to put Cuba's
Grau before state law and thus dismiss him. The
president then chose to resign himself and flee to
Brazil. At the same time, Oviedo fled to Argentina, and
later on to Brazil.
President of the National Congress, Colorado Partyist
Luis González Macchi, took over as president in March
1999. He formed a unifying government between the
Colorado Party and the opposition, and dismissed senior
officers who sympathized with Oviedo. The following
year, soldiers loyal to Oviedo made a coup attempt,
which was defeated. In the same year, Julio César Franco
was elected Vice President of the True Liberal Radical
Party (PLRA). It was the first time someone outside the
Colorado party got that job.
Parallel to the political turmoil, Paraguay
experienced a severe economic crisis. Violent protests
erupted in 1997 against the government's economic policy
and a state of emergency was introduced for a few days.
General Oviedo was suspected of being behind the unrest
from his exile.
The Oviedo-friendly faction within the Colorado Party
formed in 2002 the breaker party National League for
Ethical Citizens (Unace), whose goal was to make the
coup general president. But Oviedo was banned from
running in the 2003 presidential election, in which
Colorado Party's Nicanor Duarte Frutos won 37 percent of
the vote. In the congressional elections, the Colorado
Party was once again the largest, but the opposition
parties together could achieve a majority of the votes.
President Duarte Frutos sought to fight corruption
and crime and improve the state's finances. He dismissed
six of the Supreme Court's nine judges in December 2003.
The same year, ex-President Macchi was indicted for
fraud and sentenced in 2006 to eight years in prison for
corruption and imprisonment.
The occupation of land
In 2004 Oviedo returned to Paraguay. He was
immediately placed in jail, suspected of involvement in
the assassination of Vice President Argaña. In addition,
the prison sentence against him remained for the
attempted coup in 1996.
In 2004 and 2005, farmer organizations carried out a
number of land occupations and demanded land
redistribution. Several occupants are shot to death by
landowners' private militias.
Cecilia Cubas, daughter of ex-president Cubas Grau,
was kidnapped in 2004 and found dead the following year.
Popular outrage over the murder led to President Duarte
Frutos dismissing his Interior Minister and some 50
police officers. Left-wing activists with ties to the
Colombian guerrilla Farc were believed to be behind the
kidnapping and murder.
In 2007, General Oviedo was released conditionally
after having his sentence shortened. He was then allowed
to run for office in the 2008 presidential election as a
candidate for Unace.
The Colorado Party presented Blanca Ovelar, the first
woman to run for president. Her main opponent was former
Bishop Fernando Lugo, who led the newly formed Alliance
Patriotic Alliance for Change (APC). The alliance
included a number of middle and left parties as well as
several trade union and social movements.
Historical shift in power
The election resulted in the Colorado party's
61-year-old power being broken, and Paraguay experienced
its first peaceful shift of power. Fernando Lugo, who
went to elections with promises to deal with corruption,
poverty and the deep social divisions, won with 41
percent of the vote. Ovelar received 31 percent and
Oviedo 22 percent. Independent election observers did
not criticize the election.
In the congressional elections, the Colorado Party
returned but still remained the largest party. President
Lugo formed a unity government with members from both
the Colorado Party and the central parties and the left.
In the congress, PLRA signed a pact with Oviedos Unace.
Together, the two parties got a clear majority.
The Colorado Party had thus lost both government
power and control of Congress, but the party still
controlled large parts of the state apparatus and the
badly corrupt judiciary. President Lugo therefore
challenged strong interests in his election promise to
fight corruption. The old guard in the Colorado Party
began to compare him with the radical left-wing
presidents of Venezuela (Hugo Chávez) and Bolivia (Evo
Morales). Lugo himself described himself as independent
and did not use radical socialist rhetoric in his
Some time after the election, rumors began to
circulate about a new military coup. President Lugo
therefore replaced the country's chief of police, the
chiefs of the defense and a long line of commanders. In
the coming years, several remodels were carried out
within the military command.
Land reform came to shame
One of Lugo's most important election promises was a
land reform that would redistribute land from the big
landlords to hundreds of thousands of poor peasants and
landless people. After his entry, peasants began to
invade more goods by force, thus pushing Lugo to
accelerate land reform. The landowners responded by
blocking off roads to prevent the farmers from accessing
The conflict between the peasants and the landowners
became a dilemma for President Lugo, not least because
agriculture is the backbone of the country's economy. He
ruled out confiscation of landowners' land and stressed
that he respected private ownership. Lugo had to proceed
cautiously in his attempts to carry out the land
President Lugo's popularity dwindled, mainly because
land reform was not implemented and more jobs were not
created. In addition, a conflict between Lugo and Vice
President Federico Franco led Franco's party PLRA to
leave the APC alliance. However, the party remained in
government. APC's weakened position in Congress made it
difficult to get through some legislative proposals. The
president's reform program was slow.
Lugo's situation was made worse by the fact that
several women came forward and claimed that Lugo during
his time as bishop made them pregnant. The president
eventually acknowledged paternity of two children, and
apologized to the Catholic Church and the nation. The
opposition was not late to seize the opportunity and
coined the phrase "Lugo - the father of all
In May 2009, parts of the opposition tried to
initiate a civil procedure against Lugo, but they did
not receive enough support in Congress. Shortly
thereafter, the president lost, at least temporarily,
the struggle to introduce an individual income tax when
the Senate voted against the proposal. However, Lugo
reaped success in July 2009 when he agreed with his
Brazilian colleague Luiz "Lula" Inácio da Silva that
Brazil should start paying three times as much as before
for the electricity it receives from the Itaipu dam in
the Paraná River (see Natural Resources, Energy and
Record fast national law
In the summer of 2011, supporters of Lugo made an
attempt to get Congress to pass an amendment to the
Constitution so that the president could stand for
re-election, but the plan failed. Instead, Lugo was
deposed a year later by a swift judicial procedure. The
background was a bloodbath that occurred in connection
with the military evacuating land occupants in the
province of Canindeyú. At least eleven farm workers and
six police officers were killed, and the army was then
sent to the scene to restore order.
President Lugo dismissed both the interior minister
and the police chief because of the violence. But the
opposition felt that the president himself would be held
accountable. The prosecution was brought against Lugo in
congress in June 2012. The main reason was the eviction,
although accusations were made against the president
also for lack of security and nepotism. It took less
than a day from the issue being raised in Parliament
until the president was dismissed by a vote in the
Senate. Vice President Federico Franco took power and
set up a PLRA government with Unace as a support party.
Lugo called it a parliamentary coup, and government
officials in neighboring countries such as Brazil,
Argentina and Uruguay talked about a coup d'etat. They
were strongly critical of the management and called
their ambassadors home for consultation. The criticism
was mainly that Lugo was only given a couple of hours to
prepare his defense. The regional free trade
organizations Mercosur and Unasur shut down Paraguay
until the 2013 presidential election.
Back to power
In the election, former coup general Lino Oviedo was
a new candidate for Unace. But in February 2013, two
months before the election, Oviedo died when his
helicopter crashed on its way from an election meeting.
The crash occurred in severe weather. Speculation about
an attack occurred, not least as the accident occurred
on the day 24 years after the dictator Alfredo
The accident created uncertainty before the election,
although Oviedo had relatively weak support in opinion
polls. It was generally assumed that Unace's voters
would now support PLRA's candidate, Efraín Alegre. A
couple of weeks before the election, Alegre also
announced that a valiant alliance had been formally
concluded between PLRA and Unace.
Despite the alliance, however, the Colorado Party
candidate Horacio Cartes won in the presidential
election, by a good margin (see Calendar). One
contributing reason may have been that the outgoing PLRA
government was not considered to have been very much
done. International observers from, among others, Unasur
and Mercosur as well as the EU found that the elections
were held according to democratic rules. The Colorado
Party also strengthened its position in Congress and
gained its own majority in the lower house, the Chamber
of Deputies. Cartes, one of Paraguay's richest men, took
office as president in August 2013.