A master-dispenser of illegal spoils

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The Economist has an obituary of the ex dictator of Paraguay Alfredo Stroessner;

“For 35 years, from 1954 to 1989, Alfredo Stroessner ruled there. Under him, although he brought electrification, asphalt roads and friendship with America, the place became yet more isolated and benighted. The economy was based on contraband: whisky, cigarettes, passports, coffee, cocaine, luxury cars, rare bird skins, anything, until the unofficial value of Paraguay's exports was said to be three times the official figure. The style of government was a spoils system, underpinned by terror of a vicious network of spies and secret police. Foreign policy was a buddies' brigade with other dictators—Videla of Argentina, Pinochet of Chile—to co-ordinate counter-terrorism and assassinations. And the most famous tourist was Josef Mengele, the fugitive doctor of Auschwitz, riding into a village in the Paraguayan wilderness to be welcomed and protected….

His main machine of power was not the army. Although he was a distinguished soldier, rising to brigadier-general by the age of 36, and indeed had done nothing else in life since he was 17, he did not trust military men. He himself had skilfully ridden the divisions in the army to seize power from a civilian president in 1954. His policy was to keep the officers sweet with a cut from the smuggling revenues or a share of the contracts for his grandest project, the Itaipu hydroelectric plant built with Brazil on the Paraná. Some cronies amassed fortunes. General Andrés Rodríguez, who eventually overthrew him in what he contemptuously called a cuartelazo, or barracks revolt, built himself a replica of the Palace of Versailles…

Paraguayans as a whole, however, were much slower to be disillusioned. It was true that he treated the country as his fief, to the point of picking out teenage girls for himself when he presented school diplomas; but he paid for the girls, set them up in houses, and gave their relatives money. You could argue that the Itaipu project left Paraguay with only 2% of the energy and 15% of the contracts; but that 15% had given the country, for eight years in the 1970s, the highest rate of growth in Latin America. General Stroessner was a master-dispenser of illegal spoils. Yet the dark truth of his Paraguay was that he co-opted even his opponents into that system with him.”

Eric Rasmusen offers an interesting anecdote;

“One former American ambassador to Paraguay, Robert E. White, remembered General Stroessner as darkly brilliant at profiting from others’ mistakes. Once, Mr. White recalled, the Paraguayan ambassador to Argentina had gambled away the embassy’s entire budget. The ambassador was immediately summoned to Asunción and was handed a confession to sign. General Stroessner then promoted him to foreign minister. “He could never have an independent thought or deed after that,” Mr. White explained.”

The above is a common denominator of all dictators. The sad story is how otherwise decent people remain silent in the face of such corruption and abuse of human rights and let people corrupt to their bones sit in the offices of government and parliament.

Related;
Ex-Paraguayan ruler dies in exile
Alfredo Stroessner: revisiting the general
Timeline: Paraguay
Even Angels Ask! Corruption of Public Discourse in Islamic Countries
Development as Accountability
Corruption of Legitimacy

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This page contains a single entry by Paul published on August 24, 2006 11:30 PM.

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