Brazilian court order to dig up dark chapter of Paraguay’s past

. Jul 22, 2020
alfredo stroessner paraguay dictator Paraguay Dictator Alfredo Stroessner. Photo: Archive

For 35 years, Alfredo Stroessner was the most powerful man in Paraguay. His government, between 1954 and 1989, was marked by relentless repression, state-sponsored murder, widespread corruption, and even rumors of a pedophile ring working under his auspices. Mr. Stroessner also turned his country into a safe haven for exiled Nazis, being a late-in-life home Dr. Josef Mengele, nicknamed the “Angel of Death” due to his experiments on children in Auschwitz. He would eventually drown on a Brazilian beach in 1979.

However, decades after Mr. Stroessner’s ouster, the dictator’s figure still haunts Paraguay — and a decision by a Brazilian court means that this past literally refuses to stay buried.

</p> <p>After being pushed out of the presidency, Mr. Stroessner sought refuge in Brazil — where he lived until expiring in 2006 due to complications following a hernia operation, at 93 years old. He left an estate rumored at over USD 20 million, including properties such as a house in a luxurious neighborhood in Brasília, a ranch outside of Belo Horizonte, and six secret bank accounts in Switzerland. Until today, that estate is being fought over in courts —&nbsp;and a Brasília judge has recently ordered the dictator&#8217;s body be exhumed to carry out a DNA test and determine whether one Paraguayan man is entitled to a piece of the pie, as he claims to be the dictator&#8217;s son.</p> <p>The process is sealed, but sources told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that family judge Daniel Machado accepted a request by Paraguayan-born Enrique Alfredo Fleitas, who claims to be one of the three children fathered by Mr. Stroessner with one of his mistresses, Michele Fleitas — once dubbed <a href="">Paraguay&#8217;s Brigitte Bardot</a>. The alleged relationship started back in the 1970s and continued until his death, in a Brasília hospital.</p> <p>In his ruling, the judge said there is no reason not to comply with the request for exhumation, as the dictator&#8217;s only remaining heir, 74-year-old Graciela Concepción Stroessner Mora, agreed with the measure. Judge Machado has requested that Brasília&#8217;s Campo da Esperança Cemetery inform the precise location of Mr. Stroessner&#8217;s grave for the procedure to be carried out.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="660" height="400" src="" alt="Stroessner and Michele Fleitas" class="wp-image-44981" srcset=" 660w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 660px) 100vw, 660px" /><figcaption>Stroessner and Michele Fleitas</figcaption></figure> <h2>Praised by Bolsonaro … </h2> <p>Last year, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro created discomfort during a meeting with <a href="">President Mario Abdo Benítez</a>, of Paraguay, for praising the infamous dictator. Speaking about the bi-national hydroelectric power plant Itaipu, Mr. Bolsonaro called Mr. Stroessner &#8220;a man of vision, a statesman who knew perfectly well that his country could only progress with <a href="">energy</a>.&#8221;</p> <h2>… condemned by history</h2> <p>A member of the most reactionary wing of the Colorado Party, Alfredo Stroessner took power in 1954 and led an era marked by a cult of personality. His birthday, November 3, was celebrated for decades as <em>fecha feliz </em>—&nbsp;the &#8220;happy date.&#8221; But his 35 years in office were anything but happy for Paraguayans.</p> <p>Alfredo Stroessner&#8217;s <a href="">reign of terror</a> was marked by constant state of emergency and a brutal regime poorly disguised as a democracy. There were elections, parliament, and an opposition (at least in name), but the regime enforced severe censorship, arbitrary arrests, and state-sponsored terrorism. Elections were rigged, with the dictator never receiving less than 90 percent of votes in eight races.</p> <p>Moreover, he was complicit to the Armed Forces&#8217; involvement in drug trafficking and smuggling — which he called a price to pay to &#8220;sustain peace.&#8221;</p> <p>He continues to be under investigation for human rights violations by the country&#8217;s Justice Ministry&#8217;s Department of Historic Memory and Reparation. According to a truth commission, his government was responsible for disappearing and killing at least 459 people, while another 18,722 were tortured and 19,862 were arrested for political reasons.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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