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Ex-Prisoners Destroy Swimming Pool Where They Were Tortured

March 19, 1989

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) _ Former political prisoners and a Roman Catholic bishop used sledgehammers to demolish a swimming pool where the prisoners said they had been tortured by being forced underwater for long periods.

In another development two opposition parties that had indicated they might boycott national elections set for May 1 opened conventions Saturday to select candidates.

The public swimming pool, located in a city formerly named after deposed President Stroessner, was destroyed Friday on orders of the provisional president, Gen. Andres Rodriguez. The city, 235 miles east of the capital of Asuncion, has been renamed the City of the East.

″A black era in which human rights and respect for human and Christian dignity were gravely wounded is ending,″ said the Rev. Agustin Van Aaken, the bishop of Upper Parana who struck the second blow to shatter the pool.

Charles Casco, president of the city’s appeals court, said ″they are giving the final blows to something that symbolized the weeping and pain of many people - the torture pool.″

Rodriguez came to power in a Feb. 3 coup, ousting Gen. Alfredo Stroessner who ruled Paraguay for nearly 35 years. Stroessner fled to Brazil.

Rodriguez has promised to respect human rights. His interior minister, Orlando Machuca Vargas, pledged to abolish police torture facilities and to prosecute officials accused of participating in human rights abuses.

Reporters were invited to the city to watch the demolition of the pool.

A local government official, Juan Flores Gonzalez, lifted a hammer to deliver the first strike.″The practice of torture has ended forever,″ he said.

Stroessner ruled this South America nation of about 4 million people by relying on the military, militants in the governing Colorado Party and police to crush dissent. Many political opponents were harassed, jailed, tortured and exiled.

Last week two police officers charged with torturing prisoners were suspended and three municipal magistrates were arrested.

In an anti-corruption campaign, five former Cabinet ministers and seven people who served as aides to Stroessner have been charged with crimes including fraud, bribery and embezzlement.

The Revolutionary Febrerista and Christian Democratic parties opened two- day nominating conventions Saturday.

Fernando Vera, a possible presidential nominee for the Febreristas, said his party ″could hardly expect to win″ but felt it should challenge the Colorado Party, in power since 1947.

Vera, 69, directed the Geneva, Switzerland, office of the International Monetary Fund until his retirement in 1982.

Christian Democrats are expected to nominate Secundino Numez as their presidential candidate. Numez is a former Catholic priest and a professor of theology and anthropology at the Catholic University.

The Christian Democrats, Febreristas, Authentic Radical Liberal Party and Popular Colorado Movement had formed the National Accord coalition that opposed Stroessner’s government.

Gen. Rodriguez is the Colorado Party’s presidential candidate and is expected to win the election with the party retaining control of Congress.

The Authentic Radical Liberal Party is the largest single opposition group and is to decide at a March 25-26 convention if it will participate in the elections. Party President Domingo Laino has indicated it probably will not.

Laino has asked that the election be delayed for at least two months, that voter registration be expanded and that coalitions such as the National Accord be allowed to endorse candidates. The government rejected or ignored those demands.

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