General who ousted Paraguayan dictator Stroessner is dead at 73
ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) _ Former President Gen. Andres Rodriguez, who toppled dictator Alfredo Stroessner in a 1989 coup, died today in a New York hospital where he was being treated for cancer. He was 73.
Rodriguez, a stocky career cavalry officer with a populist touch, won widespread support for leading the Feb. 3 coup that ended Stroessner’s 34-year, iron-fisted rule over landlocked Paraguay.
Rodriguez named himself acting president and led a campaign to restore democracy, stressing human rights and press freedom. He patched up relations with the Roman Catholic church and legalized eight parties banned by Stroessner.
He won elections, held three months after the coup, by a landslide.
The night of the coup, Rodriguez, backed by his 3,000-man First Army Corps, Paraguay’s strongest military unit, tried but failed to grab Stroessner at his mistress’ house in Asuncion.
He then sent tanks against the presidential guard regiment, where Stroessner had holed up as well as the pro-Stroessner police headquarters.
Before dawn, Stroessner surrendered and was arrested. Three days later he was sent into exile in Brazil, where he still lives at the age of 84.
Stroessner’s once staunchly loyal army quickly lined up behind Rodriguez. As many as 500 soldiers from both sides are believed to have died in night-long fighting.
During his campaign as a candidate for the Colorado Party, in power since 1947, and during his subsequent term in office, Rodriguez tried to distance himself from the Stroessner regime.
But rivals pointed out that he served from 1961 to 1989 as head of the First Army Corps, making him the military’s second-in-command, behind Stroessner.
Rodriguez’ daughter Martha was married to Stroessner’s youngest son Alfredo.
Former U.S. Ambassador Timothy Towell once likened Rodriguez’s performance in office to that of a chef.
``He has to turn up the heat on some things, turn it down on others and watch the soufle to keep it from falling,″ Towell once said.
Rodriguez, one of Paraguay’s wealthiest men, vehemently denied international press reports that he may have been involved in drug trafficking.
Born into a rural farm family, Rodriguez entered the army as a cadet at age 18 and worked his way up through the ranks.
His daughter Dolly said in a radio interview today in Asuncion that she considered Rodriguez ``the father of Paraguayan democracy.″
``Thanks to his resoluteness and effort and the support of his comrades, we are free,″ she said, adding that in recent weeks her father had managed to tour part of New York in a wheelchair. She said he fell into a coma early today.
Rodriguez, who died at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital, is survived by his wife, Nelly Reig Castellano, and three daughters.