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New Paraguay Leaders Pledge Early Open Vote

February 05, 1989|JAMES F. SMITH | Times Staff Writer

ASUNCION, Paraguay — A day after Gen. Alfredo Stroessner's fall in a violent coup, Paraguay's new leaders agreed Saturday to hold elections within 90 days open to all parties--including those that were banned during Stroessner's reign, the president of the ruling party said.

Juan Ramon Chaves, named leader of the Colorado Party on Friday, told The Times that the new Cabinet and the party leadership both had approved the plan to hold quick elections after the coup. He said that the decision would be announced formally on Monday or Tuesday.

A foreign diplomat said that an estimated 300 soldiers and police were killed in the coup led by Gen. Andres Rodriguez, Stroessner's second in command. Rodriguez, 64, was sworn in as president hours later and promised to make democracy and human rights a reality.

Capital Calm

The capital, Asuncion, was strikingly normal a day after the coup. There were neither police nor soldiers in the streets, and people shopped and strolled casually around the city, sometimes pausing to inspect the bullet holes in the walls of buildings in areas where the fighting raged from late Thursday night until nearly dawn Friday.

While most people appeared to welcome Stroessner's downfall after 34 1/2 years in power, there were no public demonstrations over the demise of the world's second-longest-serving ruler, after North Korea's Kim Il Sung. The lack of euphoria appeared to reflect not only lack of practice--any unauthorized rally was quickly quashed by Stroessner's police--but also feelings of doubt that Rodriguez would prove different from his predecessors.

Since its independence from Spain in 1811, Paraguay has never known effective democracy. Dictators and autocrats have succeeded one another with the might of the armed forces.

Yet Chaves, who was named a minister without portfolio in the Rodriguez Cabinet, said in an interview that the changes would be profound and that all parties would be permitted to organize and take part in the elections.

"For this goal we carried out this coup, to democratize this country and not have to depend on the will of our president," he said.

Speculation on Vote

There had been much speculation about whether Rodriguez would choose speedy elections or perhaps wait for up to a year--or even serve out all of Stroessner's eighth five-year term following his customary reelection last February in balloting widely dismissed as fraudulent.

An election in 90 days would leave the main opposition party, the long-banned Authentic Liberal Radical Party, hard pressed to build a national organization. In such circumstances, the Colorado Party would have a good chance of winning an open, clean vote, according to Paraguayan analysts.

Domingo Laino, probably Stroessner's most ardent and visible foe as president of the Authentic Liberal Radicals, said he saw several signs that the new government is genuinely committed to moving toward democracy.

Laino, detained more than 100 times since 1956 and often beaten up in the process, was carried to the podium Friday evening during a meeting at the Colorado Party headquarters and delivered an impromptu address to a cheering crowd. Nearly overcome by emotion, he noted that such an address by an opposition leader to the Colorado Party would have been unthinkable in the past.

In an interview Saturday, Laino said that a period of five to 12 months would be preferable before elections are held, to allow his party, as well as three other banned opposition parties, time to organize.

Wants Conditions Met

He said that the government would need to ensure equal media time, permit public gatherings and guarantee other rights for the vote to be free and fair. If those conditions are met, he said, "we would accept the electoral challenge even if it is within three months."

Humberto Rubin, who was busy preparing the reopening of his all-news station, Radio Nanduti, which Stroessner had forced to close, said that Paraguayans must be aware that they will have to work ceaselessly to force the new government to live up to its promise of restoring civil rights.

"Nobody gives anything for free, not bread nor democracy," he said. "We are still going to have to win our freedom."

Chaves, who was deposed as Colorado Party president by Stroessner supporters in August, 1987, said that the new government will not demand that public servants and soldiers be members of the party, as in the past. Such requirements have given the Colorados enormous control over Paraguayan society for decades.

"Any person who is capable is entitled to seek whatever work he wants," said Chaves, an 87-year-old lawyer.

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