Democracy in Paraguay

May 12, 1993

When Andres Rodriguez hands the sash of office to Juan Carlos Wasmosy on Aug. 15, it will be the first time in Paraguay's 182 years of independence that an elected president succeeded an elected president.

The winner of a more-or-less fair, three-way election with nearly 40 percent of the vote, Mr. Wasmosy was indistinguishable from his opponents as a free-market conservative. The real distinction is that he and not they carried the banner of the Colorado Party. This was the vehicle through which the dictator Alfredo Stroessner ruled from 1954 to 1989. After General Rodriguez overthrew Mr. Stroessner, the new strong man had himself elected, and ruled through the Colorado Party. The army had made noises this time it might not accept any other winner.

So Mr. Wasmosy represents the most continuity with the old dictatorship that the voters could choose. As a contractor who became one of the richest Paraguayans from Stroessner contracts, he has argued against prosecutions of human rights abuses and corruption in that era. He has said the 80-year-old deposed dictator is free to come home from exile in Brazil.

The victory of Mr. Wasmosy is, therefore, somewhat like those of crypto-Communists in Eastern European elections. He won a democratic victory. He represents continuity with dictatorship in a poor little country of 4.5 million people who may have been too timid to vote for greater change.

The real breakthrough for democracy came when President Rodriguez declined to seek re-election and promised to hand over power to the winner. Mr. Wasmosy, a neophyte politician, is a champion of democracy in spite of himself.

Paraguay has moved another step into the modern world.

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