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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="https://www.hoy.com.py/nacionales/tras-pedido-de-la-familia-secreta-de-stroessner-justicia-brasilena-aprueba-exhumar-restos-del-exdictador">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 src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/coronavirus-vaccine-brazil-2.jpg" alt="Stroessner and Michele Fleitas" class="wp-image-44981" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/coronavirus-vaccine-brazil-2.jpg 660w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/coronavirus-vaccine-brazil-2-300x182.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/coronavirus-vaccine-brazil-2-610x370.jpg 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="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/08/15/itaipu-paraguay-brazil-tension-mario-benitez-impeachment/">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="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2019/10/05/involvement-bolsonaro-party-paraguay-dam-scandal/">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="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1866517.stm">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.

 
Renato Alves

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

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