The first half of the twentieth century proved to be a time of great upheaval in Paraguay. During 1900–1954 the country had thirty-four different presidents. Although there were fleeting experiments in democracy in the late 1930s, during 1940–1947 General Higino Morínigo's one-man rule prevailed. Challenging his autocratic rule, the Colorado Party drove him from power in 1947. The Colorados then split into three factions, with the populist Federico Chaves finally prevailing in September 1949. Faced with a plethora of economic and political problems, he tried to strengthen his position by building up the police force to counterbalance a restive army. This controversial move alienated many, and in May 1954 General Alfredo Stroessner, with the backing of the military and Paraguayan elites, toppled the Chaves government.
Stroessner had long been preparing for his coup. He proved his loyalty, temporarily at least, by thwarting a coup attempt in September 1949. By October 1951 he commanded the armed forces. The Stroessner dictatorship lasted until February 1989, the longest-lasting government in Paraguayan history and one of the longest-running regimes of the Cold War. By restructuring the Colorado Party to make it an instrument of his rule, Stroessner effectively controlled all aspects of civil society. He also maintained good relations with his powerful neighbors, Argentina and Brazil.
Stroessner enjoyed warm relations with the United States. A year before taking power, he toured the U.S. Pentagon and major military installations in the United States and the Panama Canal Zone. Not surprisingly, Washington quickly granted recognition to his regime in 1954. As a reward for his staunch anticommunism, a few months after his rise to power the United States granted his government a 50 percent increase in development assistance. During 1961–1963, at the beginning of President John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, Stroessner received $27.9 million in aid. He used foreign assistance to co-opt segments of the population with colonization programs and government jobs. Although there was virtually no threat of internal subversion, between 1947 and the mid-1970s U.S. military assistance averaged about $750,000 annually.
American assistance helped ensure that Stroessner remained a loyal U.S. Cold War ally, and Paraguay under his regime consistently supported Washington's position in international institutions. During the latter part of the 1970s Paraguay also participated in Operation condor, an alliance of South American intelligence agencies developed to fight communist subversion in the region.
Until the late 1970s, Stroessner's popularity had risen along with Paraguay's economy, but his support waned as economic problems began to plague the small nation in the 1980s. The military became disenchanted with his rule, and the Colorado Party broke into squabbling factions. As democratization swept Latin America in the 1980s, Paraguay also got caught up in the wave. General Andres Rodríguez ousted the aging Stroessner in a coup on 3 February 1989, becoming the standard-bearer of the Colorado Party and handily winning the 1 May 1989 elections. Since then, Paraguay has moved toward full democracy, and a multiparty system has replaced Stroessner's one-man rule. After the Cold War, U.S. policy toward Paraguay focused on democracy and stemming the flow of illicit drugs and pirated (counterfeited) items to the United States.
James F. Siekmeier
Dinges, John. The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. New York: New Press, 2004.; Lambert, Peter, and Andrew Nickson, eds. The Transition to Democracy in Paraguay. New York: St. Martin's, 1997.; Roett, Riordan. "Paraguay without Stroessner." Pp. 285–306 in Friendly Tyrants: An American Dilemma, edited by David Pipes and Adam Garfinkel. New York: St. Martin's, 1990.