The military overthrow this week of Paraguay's strongman, 76-year-old Alfredo Stroessner, brings down Latin America's longest-ruling dictator, and one of the region's most stable regimes, But there are few tears to be shed for its passing.
Stroessner seized power himself in a 1954 military coup and ruled in an iron-fisted fashion. Paraguay has long been criticized for human rights abuses, though it has been considered a U.S. ally.Paraguay is one of the few Latin nations without some kind of a guerrilla violence. Opponents and criminals have simply been shot.
Drug running or smuggling is generally handled by the government. Contraband or stolen goods such as cars, coffee, cigarettes, computers, perfumes, watches and whisky, are smuggled to and from Paraguay on a massive scale. In fact, smuggling is a major force in the economy.
There is widespread graft, but instead of business bribing government workers, it is the other way around - the government has bribed business.
At least Stroessner used the profits from smuggling to improve the life of his countrymen. The landlocked nation of 3.8 million people has good roads, hospitals, and schools. It also has a reputation as being a haven for Nazi criminals after World War II.
The coup to topple Stroessner was led by one of Paraguay's foremost generals, Andres Rodriguez, who incidentally is a son-in-law of Stroessner, having married one of his daughters.
Though Rodriguez has promised greater democracy for Paraguay, military coups do not have a good track record in this regard.
In any case, Rodriguez probably was less concerned about democracy than his own ambition. He had been asked to resign his military post to make room for a Stroessner son, Gustavo, who apparently was being groomed to succeed his father as dictator. In addition, Rodriguez has been mentioned in many stories published in the U.S. recent years as a major figure in drug smuggling.
Little of this is cause for rejoicing. Paraguay may remain a stable, if tightly controlled, country, or it may crumble into the kind of chaos that existed when Stroessner first seized power after seeing 22 presidents come and go in 27 years.
Right now, the U.S. has little choice but to go along with Rodriguez and hope for the best.