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Joy is Short-Lived for Paraguayans Hoping to See End of Oviedo

April 24, 1996

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) _ Paraguayans celebrated in the streets when they learned that the civilian president had finally stood up to army commander Gen. Lino Oviedo, whom they considered a threat to democracy.

But the joy turned sour Tuesday when President Juan Carlos Wasmosy announced that the diminutive general he had stripped of power would instead be appointed defense minister.

Andres Rivarola, a 38-year-old civil engineer, sat with his head in his hands outside congress as thousands of people who had gathered earlier in the day walked away.

``We really believed today marked a major change,″ he said, ``but it seems we have been conned by the politicians again.″

Wasmosy said in a brief televised speech that Paraguayan democracy would emerge ``strengthened″ from the standoff, which began Monday when Wasmosy asked Oviedo to resign for violating a constitutional ban on military personnel participating in politics.

Oviedo refused, and Wasmosy fired him for insubordination. Many Paraguayans had feared the standoff would end in a military coup. Wasmosy described his decision to name Oviedo defense minister as ``the fruit of a peaceful solution we have reached.″

Guillermo Caballero Vargas, leader of the opposition National Encounter Party, said the post was offered to Oviedo as part of a ``negotiation.″

Since independence from Spain in 1811, this landlocked South American country has been ruled almost exclusively by dictators and generals who seized power by force.

Strongman Gen. Alfredo Stroessner held power for almost 35 years until he was ousted in a 1989 coup in which Oviedo played a pivotal role.

Stroessner was re-elected seven times by margins of 9-to-1.

Ballots were rigged. Opposition candidates could not campaign and some people voted more than once while others were banned from voting at all.

Governors, mayors and judges were appointed, not elected.

When Wasmosy, the country’s first civilian president since World War II, announced that he had fired Oviedo, many people thought they were seeing the end of an era in which the military had called the shots.

Television reports said there had not been as large a gathering in Asuncion’s streets since Stroessner was ousted.

On Tuesday night there was a different gathering when several hundred high school students gathered in front of the presidential palace to wave black flags and light candles they said were symbols of ``the death of democracy.″

Oviedo, a flamboyant general who has said he will run for president in 1998, said in 1993 that the military and the ruling Colorado Party would govern Paraguay ``for centuries and centuries.″

On other occasions he has described his involvement in politics as a ``divine mission.″

``Wasmosy had such a wonderful chance to make a great change,″ said Jose Monti, a 52-year-old architect, standing outside the presidential palace. ``But he is scared, even terrified of Oviedo’s power.″

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