Third party intervenes to support Domingo Laino’s return to Paraguay, 1986

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Time Period:  
24 June
24 June
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
To ensure the safe return of Domingo Laino to Paraguay

After taking the Paraguayan presidency through a military coup, General Alfredo Stroessner served as president from 15 August 1954 to 3 February 1989. Shortly after taking power, he declared a state of siege, which enabled him to suspend civil liberties every ninety days until 1987. He has been accused of human rights violations for his actions during these years in office. During his uninterrupted 35-year long regime, it is estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 people were murdered, 400 to 500 disappeared, thousands were held as political prisoners, and over one million people were living in exile.

Stroessner maintained close ties with the United States, which trained Paraguayan military officers and provided material support. Though opposition parties existed, they rarely won more than 20% of the vote during the elections throughout Stroessner’s rule.

Domingo Laino emerged as an opposition figure in 1956, when he denounced in a public speech the arrest of fellow university students who had been critical of Stroessner. He has led the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA) in opposition to Stroessner’s Colorado Party. In December 1982, Laino was arrested and deported for having painted political slogans on walls in the streets of Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. He had also written a book critical of Anastasio Somozo Debayle, a former Nicaraguan dictator and friend of Stroessner, who had been killed in a rocket attack in Asunción in 1980.

On 23 March 1983, Laino attempted to return on a scheduled flight from Argentina but was forced to return in the same plane. On 29 April 1984, he made another attempt to return but the aircraft was again forced to return. He made subsequent attempts in March 1985 and December 1985 but was blocked each time.

For his next attempt Laino decided to try protective accompaniment by assembling a group of eminent people to join him. Because of U.S. support for dictator Stroessner, the most notable in this group was U.S. Ambassador Robert E. White.

White served as U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay and later to El Salvador among other countries. In 1981, the Reagan administration dismissed him after he opposed the use of lethal military aid and criticized a military solution for El Salvador’s civil war. After his dismissal from the State Department, he joined the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and spoke out against Reagan’s policies in Central America. He believed diplomacy to be a means of making change but he was critical of military power as foreign policy. During his service with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, White decided to accompany Laino on his sixth attempt to return to Paraguay.

On 24 June 1986, the assembled team joined Laino on the plane headed for Paraguay. Three television crews joined the accompaniment group, which included two Uruguayan Congress members -- Roberto Asian and Oscar Lopez Ballestra -- and Argentine congressmen. U.S. members of the team along with Ambassador White included retired Admiral John Lee, Alvin Rosenbauma (a member of the Democratic National Committee), and Melinda Rorick of the Commission on U.S.-Central American Relations.

As soon as the group deplaned, the police approached them and beat them. They hit White in the groin and beat Laino to the ground and continued to kick him in the ribs. They left his face untouched and concentrated on the torso. Uruguayan Congress members Asian and Ballestra were also beaten. Laino, White, and the others were forced to return to Uruguay where they received medical attention.

As other countries in Latin America, such as Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, entered democratization processes, the United States stopped such strong support for military dictators in the region. But they continued to provide millions of dollars in international loans to Paraguay.

Less than a year after Laino’s last attempt to fly into Paraguay with protective accompaniment, Laino applied again. This time he gained the government’s permission to enter, which he did on April 1987. It is likely that the government did not want a repeat of the embarrassing incident previously when Laino brought an accompaniment team.

Having now returned after a four-year exile, Laino resumed his opposition to Stroessner and was arrested several times. In 1989, Andrés Rodríguez, a close confidant of Stroessner, overthrew the regime in a coup and cancelled many of the repressive policies of the former regime. Laino ran for president against Rodríguez but lost. He ran in the two following elections but came up second each time.

Research Notes
Associated Press. “Paraguay Lets and Exile Return.” The New York Times. 26. April 1987. Web. <>

“Historical Context.” Cuchillo de Palo. <>

Nelson, Anne. “Latin America’s Democratic Wind Stirs Stroessner’s Foes in Paraguay.” Los Angeles Times. 23 July 1986. Web. <>

“Paraguayan Cops Beat Opposition Leader.” Philadelphia Daily News. 25 June 1986. Web. <>

Resolution N 3/84 Case 4563. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 17 May 1984. Web. <>

Sieferheld, Alfredo. “Exile Beaten in Paraguay, Ex-envoy Says.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 25 June 1986. Web. <>

Steinfels, Margaret O’Brien “Death & Lies in El Salvador: The Ambassador’s Tale.” Commonweal Magazine. 26 October 2001. Web. <>

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Nick Palazzolo, 01/04/2013