Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, Paraguay's unshakable dictator for a third of a century, flew into exile Sunday from the airport that bears his name, two days after he tumbled from power in a military coup staged by his right-hand man.
Hundreds of people cheered and chanted "Long live free Paraguay!" as Stroessner, showing little emotion, boarded a Paraguayan Airlines Boeing 707 for Brazil.
His departure at 3:49 p.m. was the culmination of three tumultuous days for this nation of 3.1 million people. Paraguay, long parodied as a classic backwater dictatorship and a vestige of an earlier era, was transformed into a country that suddenly can at least envision a democratic future.
Gen. Andres Rodriguez, who led the uprising against Stroessner, watched the 76-year-old general's plane depart but apparently did not personally see off the man he deposed in six hours of combat, which killed an estimated 300 soldiers and police.
Chatting for a moment with a few reporters and waving to cheering well-wishers, Rodriguez affirmed plans to hold open presidential and congressional elections within 90 days.
Later, he attended a memorial service for the victims of the fighting, mingling with the nation's principal Roman Catholic bishops. Prayers for peace, reconciliation and a democratic Paraguay underscored the symbolic importance of the gathering. Rodriguez had promised Friday to restore the government's tattered relations with the church, which had constantly attacked Stroessner for repression, corruption and violations of human rights.
Showed No Bitterness
Brazilian Ambassador Orlando Souza Carbonar, who brought Stroessner to the airport, said the former president displayed neither bitterness nor sadness during his departure.
"I was impressed by his lucidity. He was very lucid and very clear in his mind," said Carbonar.
Although the plane's idling engines drowned out the anti-Stroessner chants from those watching from a terrace of the main airport building about 500 yards away, Stroessner did see their celebrations as he emerged from the separate presidential VIP building and climbed the steps to the plane, Carbonar said. The ex-president appeared healthy, despite recent medical problems.
Stroessner left his homeland with his son, Gustavo, and Gustavo's wife, Maria Eugenia, but without his wife, with whom he had a distant relationship. It was unclear whether she was still in the country. Stroessner's other son, Alfredo Jr., who is married to Rodriguez's daughter, and Stroessner's own daughter, Graciela, bid the former ruler farewell but stayed behind.
The Brazilian Embassy's deputy chief of mission joined the flight along with six security men and Stroessner's friend and former foreign minister, Rodney Eltidio Acevedo, who was expected to return to Paraguay after helping Stroessner resettle.
Stroessner landed late Sunday in Campinas, 290 miles southwest of Rio de Janeiro, then left on another aircraft for the small town of Itumbiara in the central Brazilian state of Goias, Brazilian sources said.
Stroessner was believed to be headed for Guaratuba, on Brazil's Atlantic Coast, where he owns a summer home.
Brazil and Argentina, Paraguay's far larger neighbors, both recognized the new government while urging Rodriguez to fulfill his promises to guarantee human rights and free expression, and construct the first truly democratic government in Paraguay's 178 years of independence.
The request to grant Stroessner asylum in Brazil came both from the new government and from the Stroessner family, Carbonar said. The request was approved quickly, in part because of Stroessner's age and health problems, but also because of the historically close ties between the two countries. Another factor was the sense that getting Stroessner out of Paraguay would allow the new government to focus on carrying out its pledges.
Carbonar said Stroessner was expected to move on to a third country, but no deadline was set for him to leave Brazil.
Stroessner had been in detention at the 1st Army Corps garrison near the airport since he surrendered Friday morning.
There was some horn-honking on city streets after Stroessner's plane took off, but hardly an outpouring of glee. Paraguayans, accustomed to autocratic rulers who promise civil liberties but then concentrate on their own power and well-being, appeared to prefer to wait and see how Rodriguez proceeds.