The Paraguayan government announced on Sunday that it will invite international experts to investigate the circumstances of the death of presidential candidate and controversial political figure Lino Oviedo Saturday night when the helicopter transporting him crashed.
“We are going to call international experts. The idea is to ensure total transparency of how everything happened” said Carlos Fugarazzo, head of Paraguayan Civil Aeronautics. Oviedo’s bodyguard and the pilot of the Robinson helicopter also died in the crash.
Earlier in the day the Paraguayan government declared three days of mourning and said that “no hypothesis regarding the possible causes of the accident is discarded, all hypothesis are valid”.
However Fugarazzo admitted that the first versions indicate that weather conditions were not apt for the flight of the chartered Robinson 44, which on Saturday night left the city of Concepción where Ovideo had participated in a political rally, for the capital Asunción, 500 kilometres south.
The death of Oviedo, 69, ends a dramatic political career that included coups and repeated attempts to lead landlocked Paraguay. He was running in April’s elections as leader of Paraguay’s third-largest opposition party, the National Union of Ethical Citizens.
A retired general and former army chief, Oviedo had tried for years to take the helm of his nation, and not always through democratic means.
As a colonel in 1989, Oviedo had been tasked with taking prisoner none other than Alfredo Stroessner, the feared dictator who had ruled Paraguay since 1954. The bloody military coup, (precisely 24 years ago on February 3) sent Stroessner into Brazilian exile, but did little to diminish the hold on Paraguayan politics that his Colorado Party had cemented. Oviedo’s role in the ouster was rewarded with a meteoric rise through the ranks of the army.
A diminutive cavalry officer, only 1.62 meters tall, Oviedo was promoted to brigadier general three months after capturing Stroessner. By 1992, he had become a division general, and then President Juan Carlos Wasmosy named him army chief.
Membership in the Colorado Party had been a requirement for any officer during the dictatorship, but Oviedo’s constant involvement in party politics generated frictions with the president.
In April 1996, a short-lived coup in which Oviedo participated and other maneuverings led to his firing and forced retirement. He ran as a candidate to succeed Wasmosy, winning the Colorado Party primary ahead of the May 1998 presidential elections, but was then convicted in a military court for his role in the coup, ending his candidacy.
His would-be vice president, Raul Cubas, instead won the election and immediately ordered the release of Oviedo, despite the judiciary’s rulings. Oviedo quickly became known as the power behind Cubas, angering other political leaders.
Cubas’ vice president, Luis Maria Argana, was assassinated in 1999, and the slain man’s relatives and followers accused Oviedo of being the mastermind. Cubas resigned in the resulting turmoil and Oviedo fled the country and renounced his Colorado Party membership, founding the UNACE party.
In 2004 he returned to Paraguay, where he was convicted over his 1996 insubordination. The conviction was overturned in 2007, allowing him to run in the 2008 election, which he lost.
Seen as a populist, he often switched between Spanish and the indigenous Guarani during his speeches.
This time he was running against Horacio Cartes from the opposition Colorado party and Efraín Alegre, whose Liberal party belongs to the ruling coalition.