Populist general threatening Paraguayan democracy

For Paraguayans, it was like the old days: a general telling a civilian politician to step aside. And all of South America, still honeymooning with democracy after a history of military rulers, was following the drama out of more than curiosity.

South America's youngest democracy appeared under serious threat yesterday as Paraguay's army commander, Lino Oviedo, challenged the leadership of President Juan Carlos Wasmosy. Gen Oviedo, a populist with a strong following among the nation's poverty-stricken peasants, was barricaded with 4,000 men in a barracks on the edge of the capital, Asuncion.

He was refusing to accept his forced retirement, ostensibly for meddling in politics, and in turn demanding the President's resignation.

According to one report last night, Gen. Oviedo predicted President Wasmosy would appoint him Defence Minister today to end the impasse. But there was no confirmation from the president and any such move appeared certain to bring heavy criticism of Mr Wasmosy for "selling out" in the face of force.

Yesterday evening there was no sign of military activity by either side but tension was high. Gen Oviedo has not threatened a coup, but has called on Mr Wasmosy to step down in favour of the Senate speaker, Rafael Milciades Casabianca. The general, who helped lead the 1989 coup which ended the 34-year dictatorship of Alfred Stroessner, now in exile in Brazil, rejected approaches to the barracks by a string of envoys.

The crisis has aroused concern in South America because many nations in the hemisphere are going through similar socio-economic upheaval while generals loiter in the wings.

The showdown came after a year of speculation that the military might try to oust Mr Wasmosy, elected in 1993, to protect their power and financial base, notably a suspected hand in drug trafficking..

However, the conflict between Mr Wasmosy and Gen Oviedo may simply be personal.

The general was widely perceived to have helped Mr Wasmosy win the nomination as presidential candidate for the Colorado Party in 1993.

In turn, the new president promoted the general from commander of the First Army Corps to overall army commander. A 1993 statement by the general, saying the armed forces would "co-govern Paraguay for centuries and centuries", suggested to most Paraguayans that Mr Wasmosy would have to rule largely in the military's shadow.

Last month, after tens of thousands of peasants marched through Asuncion to protest against Mr Wasmosy's free-market economic policies, Gen Oviedo left no doubt he hoped to run for president as Colorado Party candidate in 1998.

It was after the general sought to postpone a party convention due next weekend that Mr Wasmosy ordered him on Monday to retire.

The general's supporters believe the President had an ulterior motive. Just last week, pro-Oviedo legislators blocked the government's attempts to award two lucrative toll-bridge contracts to companies in which Mr Wasmosy is believed to have major financial interests.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?