Paraguay Table of Contents
Historically in Paraguay, as in virtually all Latin American republics, no president has been able to remain in power without the support of the armed forces. Between 1936 and 1954, the army was the instrument for every change of government. Stroessner brought the armed forces under control, thereby reinforcing his rule, yet he also skillfully counterbalanced the armed forces with the Colorado Party.
In the late 1980s, the armed forces and the Roman Catholic Church were the only national institutions that had maintained continuity since independence. Because of the violent upheavals that characterized its history, Paraguay had the most uncompromisingly martial history of any country in Latin America. It resisted the Triple Alliance of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay for almost five years and collapsed only when more than one-half of its total population and almost all of its men had been killed (see The War of the Triple Alliance , ch. 1). During the 1932-35 Chaco War, Paraguay took on a country having three times its human resources and many times its economic resources. Paraguay won a resounding military victory but at the cost of 8 percent of its total male population and subsequent economic ruin (see The Chaco War and the February Revolution , ch. 1; The History and Development of the Armed Forces , ch. 5). This violent history hindered the development of a genuine aristocracy, thus allowing the officer corps to emerge as a social and, to a large extent, an economic elite.
In addition to his constitutional role as commander in chief of the armed forces, Stroessner retained his position as commander in chief of the army. A professional soldier recognized for outstanding service during the Chaco War, Stroessner took his duties as armed forces commander particularly seriously. He devoted one day a week exclusively to military matters at the headquarters of the general staff and made frequent visits to military commands throughout the country. Stroessner personally determined all promotions and transfers, from lieutenant to chief of staff. His long and intense involvement with the armed forces, combined with the small size of the country and the armed forces, made it possible for him to know intimately the officer corps.
Stroessner's control was also enhanced by the senior structure of the armed forces. The chief of staff, an army general, formally commanded all the troops in the name of the president and was directly subordinate to Stroessner. In fact, the chief of staff's position was actually that of a liaison officer. The minister of national defense was not in the direct chain of command and dealt mainly with administrative matters, including budgets, supplies, and the military tribunals (see The Armed Forces in the National Life , ch. 5).
Through his domination over the appointment and budgetary processes of the armed forces, Stroessner sought to prevent the emergence of an independent profile within the military. Public pronouncements of the armed forces were generally limited to pledges of unwavering support for the president and commitments to fight international communism. High-ranking officers did express their concerns regarding the divisions that emerged within the Colorado Party in the mid-1980s over the issue of presidential succession; nevertheless, these officers all called on Stroessner to seek another term in 1988.
Adrian J. English, an expert on Latin American militaries, concluded that the organization of the Paraguayan army appeared to be based more on political than military considerations. Stroessner ensured the loyalty of the officer corps by offering them well-paid positions and extensive benefits, such as family allowances, health care, pensions, and loans. Many officers also acquired wealth through control of state enterprises, such as public utilities, ports, transportation, meat packing, and alcohol distribution. Substantial information also linked elements in the military to smuggling and drug trafficking (see The United States , this ch.).
Data as of December 1988
Paraguay Table of Contents