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Paraguay: The Armed Forces In the National Life
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > The Armed Forces in the National Life


The ideal of an apolitical military force that is shielded from domestic political debates, kept out of domestic decision making, and kept under firm civilian control has not been relevant to the Paraguayan experience. The nation's military, particularly the army as the dominant service, traditionally has been the most powerful institution in the nation, exercising an heroic military role in times of external threat and exerting a strong political and economic presence in peacetime. Many military officers have aspired to national political leadership, and several have achieved it.

In turn, political leaders -- whether in power or in the opposition -- historically have sought to exert their personal influence over the internal operations of the armed forces and to use the military as an instrument of their own regimes. Such efforts have fallen squarely within the Paraguayan cultural tradition, which stresses the importance of personal ties and personal loyalty over abstract ideology or institutionalism. In such a small country, military, economic, social, and political elites frequently shared ties of kinship or personal affinity. Therefore, institutional barriers have not been strong enough to prevent the intrusion of political or other considerations into purely military matters. On one level, the lack of separation between political and military affairs has resulted in decisions on such matters as promotions and assignments being based on considerations other than merit or satisfaction of qualifying factors.

On another level, this lack of separation has had grave consequences for national stability. It is true that under the strong and efficient management of Francia, the Lópezes, and Stroessner, the military remained internally unified and acted as the main instrument of authoritarian rule. For most of the rest of the nation's history, however, political turmoil in the national leadership was reflected in divisiveness within the armed forces. The resulting factionalism frequently erupted into violence that itself threatened public order and political stability. Supporters of the Stroessner regime have justified his authoritarian rule in part by noting the correlation between periods of national stability and the presence of strong rulers able to exert control over the military and the political process.

In late 1988, the military's most significant role in the national life was its apparently unified backing for the Stroessner regime. Such backing resulted from Stroessner's efforts first to achieve and then to maintain military support. By 1959 he had completely purged the officer corps of all persons who were not members of the pro-Stroessner wing of the Colorado Party. Thereafter, candidates for service were screened for loyalty to the party. Factionalism within the Colorado Party persisted, however, and also surfaced in the 1980s in the officer corps. In 1986, for instance, the head of the army's First Cavalry Division was reported to have been replaced on political grounds by an officer closely identified with the "traditionalist" faction of the Colorado Party -- the faction also favored by the army's powerful First Corps commander, Major General Andrés Rodríguez. In late 1988, it was unclear how deeply the party factionalism had affected officer morale or how this factionalism had affected relations between the military and the Colorado Party leadership, which was taken over by the "militant" faction in late 1987.

Despite its influence in national political affairs, the Colorado Party did not control the military, and the armed forces had no political officers serving alongside military officers. Instead, party loyalty served as a litmus test of trustworthiness and loyalty to the regime. The Colorado Party, which was highly organized, block by block in town and cities, also served as a channel of information on military matters and the actions of military personnel. In addition, the party was a potential check on the power of the armed forces.

Stroessner played an active role in overseeing military affairs. The president chaired the promotion boards held twice a year and oversaw all important assignments. He devoted one day each week to military matters and attended numerous ceremonies and parades. He took time to cultivate junior officers, especially those in direct command of troops, and made sure that conditions of service were good enough to keep the military content. In addition to relying on personal loyalty and oversight, Stroessner relied on the structure of the military establishment to maintain control over the armed forces. He held command personally through the armed forces general staff, dividing command and support duties between the general staff and the Ministry of National Defense. Stroessner also maintained his own well-armed and well-trained security force, the Presidential Escort Regiment.

Data as of December 1988

Last Updated: December 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Paraguay was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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