Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dictators in History: Alfredo Stroessner

Let's start the year with an interesting bit of history from Tim Taylor!

Hello, Maggie, lovely to visit you again.

My novel Revolution Day follows a year in the life of Latin American dictator Carlos Almanzor. Carlos is a fictional figure and is not based upon any particular individual. Nevertheless, his life and career share many elements with those of real dictators and in some cases I consciously drew on historical events in writing the novel.

I thought it would be interesting to explore, in a series of blog posts, the lives of some real-life dictators, and to look for similarities and differences between their careers and characters and those of my own fictional dictator. Today I am discussing Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay.

Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda was born in Encarnacion, Paraguay in 1913, the son of a German
immigrant and the daughter of a prominent local family. He joined the army in 1929 and enjoyed a successful military career, distinguishing himself in the Chacos war with Bolivia in the early 1930s and subsequently in the Paraguayan civil war in 1947, where he supported President Higinio Moríñigo. He became a brigadier in 1948 and Chief of Staff of the army in 1951.

In May 1954 Stroessner led a coup to overthrow President Federico Chaves. He was then the only candidate in a presidential election which duly elected him in July. He was elected seven more times, but in one election he was the only candidate and in others his overwhelming share of the vote does not suggest a fair contest. For much of his time in power, his own right wing Colorado party was the only one permitted, and membership of the party was effectively a prerequisite for high office.

Positive achievements of Stroessner’s regime major infrastructure projects such as the founding of Ciudad del Este, now the second largest city in Paraguay, stability and economic growth. These were at the cost of high levels of corruption and a very poor record on human rights. Stroessner declared a ‘state of siege’ which allowed him to suspend public liberties; this remained in force until 1987. Public works projects too often had a heavy human cost: for example, the building of the Itaipu dam displaced 80,000 people. As a staunch anti-communist, Stroessner at first enjoyed good relations with the United States, though this changed in the 1970’s when the Carter presidency baulked at his regime’s human rights abuses.

Stroessner’s long reign finally came to an end in much the same way it had begun, when his relations with certain generals deteriorated, precipitating the coup that deposed him in February 1989. He spent the last seventeen years of his life in exile in Brazil.

Stroessner and Carlos

I chose to write about Stroessner because of some striking similarities to my protagonist, Carlos Almanzor. This is not to say that Carlos was inspired by him (although some aspects of his life and career were inspired by other historical dictators) – but writing the novel prompted me to do a bit of research, and when I came across Stroessner I was struck by the parallels.

Politically, the two are at opposite ends of the spectrum, at least to begin with ­– Stroessner on the right, Carlos on the left (though he moves to the right as his regime progresses). In other respects, however, they have much in common. One parallel is longevity: Stroessner was in power for thirty-five years; Revolution Day begins on the thirty-seventh anniversary of the revolution that brought Carlos to power. A second is the measures both men resort to in order to remain in power. Both men desire the legitimacy conveyed by democratic elections; both subvert the democratic process to ensure the desired result. Both also rely on an oppressive security apparatus, subjecting dissidents to torture, imprisonment, execution and ‘disappearance’.

The third and most striking similarity is that both men faced their greatest threat from someone who appeared to be their staunchest ally. In Stroessner’s case, it was General Andres Rodriguez, his son-in-law, friend and confidant for many years, who led the coup that deposed him. The threat to Carlos comes from Manuel Jimenez, his long-standing Vice-President and Minister for Information and Security, who is dissatisfied with his subordinate role. The main storyline of the novel follows the progress of Manuel’s plan to overthrow Carlos. Lacking a military power base, he must proceed not by force but through intrigue, misinformation, manipulation and blackmail. As to whether he succeeds, I will leave that for readers to find out!

Information about the book and excerpts can be found on the Revolution Day page on my website: http://www.tetaylor.co.uk/#!revday/cwpf.

Connect with Tim E. Taylor

Who is this Tim E. Taylor, Anyway?

Tim was born in 1960 in Stoke-on-Trent. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford (and later Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London). After a couple of years playing in a rock band, he joined the Civil Service, eventually leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing.

Tim now lives in Yorkshire with his wife and daughter and divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.

Tim’s first novel, Zeus of Ithome, a historical novel about the struggle of the ancient Messenians to free themselves from Sparta, was published by Crooked Cat in November 2013; his second, Revolution Day in June 2015. Tim also writes poetry and the occasional short story; he plays guitar, and likes to walk up hills.

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