The death of Paraguayan presidential candidate, Lino Oviedo, marks a turning point in that nation’s transition to democratic governance which carries important historical lessons.
Oviedo, the one-time general of Paraguay’s First Division, was instrumental in the overthrow of General Alfredo Stroessner, the military ruler and staunch anti-Communist, who beat that small agrarian nation into submission for over 40 years. Some say it was actually Oviedo who held the gun to the Stroessner’s head and told him that his reign of terror was over in 1987.
Ironically, it was Lino Oviedo, who was chief of the army and part of a reformist military group that helped move his country from dictatorship to democracy that also had some of the same leanings as his former leader. In 1996, after being asked to step down from his military post, he was charged with plotting a coup against a democratically elected President, Juan Wasmosy.
Oviedo actually served four years in prison for his role in this crime, another demonstration that the democratic system he helped set in place was actually capable of punishing this treason.
When he was pardoned and released from prison and pardoned by President Raul Cuba, a former Oviedo running mate from an earlier presidential bid, he headed to Brazil. There he and his cronies strategized on his political transformation–from putschist to populist. This year he was a presidential candidate, running on a ticket with a party he created in 2002, the National Union of Ethnical Citizens. He was able to run because in 2007 the Paraguayan Supreme Court overturned his conviction of treason.
That Lino Oviedo’s death in a helicopter crash occurred on the eve of the 21st anniversary of Stroessner’s overthrow has raised questions among his supporters that his demise was no accident. But until there is an investigation, the stormy late summer weather of the Southern Cone seems more likely to be a plausible explanation of what happened last Saturday night. In Paraguay, however, rumors are the stuff of political divisions, so don’t expect this story to go away soon.