Since Paraguay won its independence from Spain in 1811, it has moved from one dictator to the next, and each has ransacked the nation. The famous low points of this kleptocratic history include Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia in the 19th century and Alfredo Stroessner in the 20th. The latest example is Gen. Lino Oviedo, who is said to have greased his way to power by turning the country into a smuggler’s haven.
The political conflict that pitted Oviedo and other old-style caudillos against reformers was edging toward a civil war last week and all seemed lost. But intense diplomacy narrowly averted that prospect, and with a new president installed, Paraguayans have taken to the streets to rejoice instead of fight.
Now begins the hard and long road to democracy, which has proven to be an elusive goal in Paraguay, a small country sandwiched between two giants, Brazil and Argentina. It is a shame that seven people had to die in political violence before the country’s leaders came to their senses. But those deaths should add a sense of urgency to the task of inaugurating stable and democratic rule.
First and foremost, as newly installed President Luis Gonzalez Macchi, formerly the head of the Senate, said in his swearing-in ceremony, the nation should engage in a head-on fight against corruption. Corruption, as everyone in Paraguay knows, has seduced and outlived one leader after another.
If there is hope for democracy in Paraguay, it will come from the young people. It is they who demonstrated against undemocratic rule and, in the end, were a force in sending Oviedo and his puppet president into exile.