Obituary: General Andres Rodrguez

Nick Caistor
Sunday 27 April 1997 23:02

In February 1989, when General Andres Rodrguez toppled Alfredo Stroessner from office after his 35 years as president of the impoverished republic of Paraguay, few people saw it as more than a power struggle between the two men. But Rodrguez proved the unlikely architect of a democratic civilian regime which is now attempting to bring the small landlocked country out of decades of isolation.

Like many upper-class Latin Americans, Rodrguez, who was born in the small town of Borja in 1923, chose an army career as a way to get on in society. He graduated from the military academy in 1946, and soon after, as a cavalry officer, was involved in the 1947 civil war which led to the banning of the Communist Party and the beginning of the ascendancy of the authoritarian Colorado Party.

After Stroessner became president in 1954, the rule of the Colorado Party became increasingly dictatorial. Rodrguez was busy rising through the officer ranks, and became closely identified with the Stroessner regime. By 1968 he was the man who annually pledged the armed forces' allegiance to the president; their relationship was cemented on a personal level when one of his daughters married Stroessner's son.

But the short, stocky general was also alleged to be one of the main beneficiaries of the corruption which also characterised the Stroessner years. Rodrguez was said to have amassed a fortune from smuggling - anything from Scotch whisky to drugs in more recent years - as well as from foreign currency dealings. He lived in a replica French palace, and used his position as a confidant of the Paraguayan strong man to gain further influence and wealth.

Personalised regimes of this kind are seldom without bitter rivalries. At the start of February 1989, Rodrguez, by then commander-in-chief of the First Army Corps, led a coup against the old dictator. Many people saw this as a pre-emptive strike by the younger man, who had got wind of the fact that Stroessner was attempting to get rid of him.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Rodrguez's coup was successful, and he confirmed his position in presidential elections on 1 May 1989. Stroessner was despatched to exile in Brazil, and most of the Colorado Party faithful thought that life could simply go on as before, with a younger, more energetic strong man running the country.

It was at this point that the script began to acquire unexpected twists and turns. Rodrguez lifted the ban on most of the other political parties - though not the Communist Party. These parties finally got him to accept a new constitution, which debarred him from standing for office again. The general even took steps to end Paraguay's isolation, by making sure it was involved from the start with Mercosur, the common market linking Paraguay to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

In 1993, Rodrguez helped oversee the elections for his successor, and accepted the election to president of the first civilian in more than 50 years with good grace. At the same time, he was careful to preserve his own position by getting himself named a senator for life - thus ensuring parliamentary immunity from anyone rash enough to try to prove any of the corruption allegations against him.

In 1996, Rodrguez was instrumental in helping resolve a military challenge to the new president, Juan Carlos Wasmosy. By then, however, he was already suffering from the cancer which resulted in his death.

Nick Caistor

Andres Rodrguez Pedotti, politician: born Borja, Paraguay 19 June 1923; President of Paraguay 1989-93; married 1948 Nelida Reig (three daughters); died New York 21 April 1997.

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