The first official account of the disappearance of hundreds of government opponents during Paraguay’s 1954 to 1989 dictatorship was presented to the Senate on Friday, a key step in the nation’s efforts to reconcile its painful past.
The report outlines the torture and disappearance of some 300 politicians, students and union leaders opposed to the government of General Alfredo Stroessner, who were arrested and tortured by state security forces — and whose remains were never found.
Prepared by a Truth and Justice Commission that was formed in 2003, the report is a historic document with no force of law. But the prosecution of torturers in neighboring Argentina began with similar efforts to document crimes committed by that nation’s 1976 to 1983 military dictatorship.
Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo apologized on behalf of the nation on Thursday, asking forgiveness of victims of what he called “the worst dictatorship, which must never again return to Paraguay.”
Lugo was a boy when the worst of the repression took place — although his uncle, former central bank president Epifanio Mendez Fleitas, was one of about a million Paraguayans forced into political and economic exile under Stroessner.
“I hope that justice punishes the civilians and soldiers involved in acts of torture and the disappearance of people,” Lugo said. “An immense challenge is opening for the justice department, a delicate and profound reckoning.”
About 15 police officers were sentenced to 25 years in prison in the 1990s for their roles repressing Stroessner’s opponents. It was not immediately clear if current officials would now take further steps to prosecute other alleged perpetrators.
Still, some saw Friday’s official accounting as a key first step on that path.
“This final report is important to have as a testimony of the atrocities of Stroessner,” said journalist and Workers’ Party member Eduardo Arce, who said he was jailed for his political beliefs for three years in the 1980s.
Stroessner, who was backed by the Colorado Party, which ruled Paraguay for 61 years, was ousted in a 1989 military coup, dying in exile in Brazil in 2006 at the age of 93.
In 1993, his successors passed a law officially classifying his regime as a dictatorship — and entitling surviving victims to compensation.
It was a decade before the government actually had the cash to make such payments, disbursing them first in 2003.
Also in 2003, then-Paraguayan president Nicanor Duarte became the first Paraguayan leader to apologize for the abuse, saying his Colorado Party had “a historic debt to the country, one it will have a hard time paying and one it will carry as a stigma.”