The body of Paraguay’s longtime former dictator was laid to rest in Brazil, Thursday, August 17, in the foreign soil where he spent his quiet exile, while back home some of those nostalgic for his rule paid tribute and others complained that Alfredo Stroessner never had to answer for his many heinous crimes.
The funeral, which took place at just before 5 pm at a cemetery on the south side of Brazilian capital Brasília, was closed to all but Stroessner’s relatives and a few friends.
The casket was covered with both a Paraguayan flag and the flag of the country’s ruling Colorado Party, and it was loaded into the funeral cart by the dictator’s sons and nephews.
Along with the deceased ex-strongman’s grandson, Alfredo "Goli" Stroessner, were his two surviving legitimate children, Gustavo and Graciela, as well as all his nephews, nieces and their offspring.
Goli, a leading figure in the Colorado Party seen as the inheritor of Stroessner’s political mantle, predicted earlier Thursday that someday his forebear’s remains would be repatriated to the poor, landlocked nation he ruled with an iron hand for 35 years.
Stroessner died Wednesday at the age of 93 from complications from pneumonia in a hospital in Brasília, where he had spent his last 17 years after being ousted in a coup.
Goli told reporters the decision to lay his grandfather to rest in Brasília has nothing to do with Asuncion’s refusal to bury the ex-dictator with military honors.
Noting the high value Stroessner placed on family, Goli said the general’s crypt in Brazil will eventually hold "all his children, all his grandchildren and all his great-grandchildren."
In Asuncion, the news of Stroessner’s death dominated Thursday’s front pages, with major dailies agreeing that the former autocrat’s passing should signal the consolidation of democracy in Paraguay.
"While Stroessner lived, one had the impression that the threat of a return to the shadowy past had not completely dissipated.
Without him, it is time to renew faith in democracy and work with greater determination for its consolidation," Ultima Hora said in an editorial.
During the 1954-1989 "Stronista" regime, Paraguay’s media was subjected to intense harassment. Several outlets, including Ultima Hora, newspaper Abc Color and radio station Ñanduti, were closed down for extended periods.
"Stroessner violated freedom of the press and persecuted those Paraguayan media that were not demonstrably subservient to him. This daily was, perhaps, the outlet that received his harshest reprisal: closure for five years," Abc Color said Thursday.
The same newspaper lamented that Stroessner was never hauled into court to answer for the crimes of his regime, and that collaborators who grew wealthy under his despotic rule have likewise escaped justice.
The general was indicted in Paraguay for human rights abuses, but his extradition from Brazil was never a serious prospect.
In Congress, Colorado lawmakers observed a minute of silence for Stroessner in the face of unanimous disapproval from opposition members.
At the beginning of Thursday’s session of the lower house, lawmaker Lorenzo Ramirez proposed honoring the country’s former ruler. Legislators from the other parties objected vociferously and then stormed out of the chamber – along with Colorado member Miguel Angel Rojas – in order to deny a quorum and so prevent a vote on the motion.
But the rest of the Colorados remained in the chamber and observed the minute of silence.
Prior to the opposition walkout, legislator Rafael Filizzola said that he and other lawmakers were acting "in the name of the thousands persecuted, tortured and murdered" by Stroessner’s government.
"He was a corrupt ruler and it’s a disgrace that in this chamber someone proposes to render tribute to a criminal who should have died in prison," Filizzola said, adding that Stroessner "didn’t even have the courage to show his face in court."
Efrain Alegre, of the main opposition Liberal Party, said before leaving the chamber that he wished to register a protest on behalf of "the thousands of compatriots who were persecuted, tortured and murdered by Stroessner."
Paraguay’s Truth and Justice Commission said that more than 300 political opponents "disappeared" under Stroessner’s rule, but human rights groups put the number of deaths closer to 1,000.
During its early and harshest phase, according to activists, the Stroessner regime was holding at least 10,000 political prisoners.
Paraguay’s total population in the 1950s was in the neighborhood of 2 million.