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LATIN AMERICA | 20-02-2024 16:02

Paraguay policeman gets 30-year sentence for dictatorship torture

A Paraguayan court has sentenced an 87-year-old former policeman to 30 years in jail for brutal torture carried out during the country's military dictatorship.

A Paraguayan court has sentenced an 87-year-old former policeman to 30 years in jail for brutal torture carried out during the country's military dictatorship, according to the ruling released on Tuesday.

However, due to his advanced age, Eusebio Torres will serve his sentence under house arrest and not in prison.

Torres was a feared policeman nicknamed "the Whip" during the 1954-1989 rule of strongman Alfredo Stroessner – South America's longest dictatorship.

His sentencing came after an eight-day trial in the capital Asuncion, in which some 20 witnesses testified, giving a rare window into crimes committed during Stroessner's rule.

"All those who were considered opponents of the dictatorial regime were tortured throughout the country," said Judge Manuel Aguirre in his ruling.

He said that Torres led prisoner interrogations and had subjected the plaintiffs – two brothers, and one of their wives – to "all kinds of torture."

The plaintiffs burst into scenes of joy at the ruling.

"The truth is that we did not expect this exemplary sentence. Justice was done," said Carlos Casco, one of the brothers who was tortured in 1976.

That year saw a spate of mass arrests at the height of "Operation Condor" that saw South America's military dictatorships club together to hunt down and eliminate left-wing dissidents across national borders.

 

Plaintiffs 'confused'

Torres, who attended his trial virtually, insisted he was innocent and that the plaintiffs had "confused me with others" five decades after the events took place.

Other witnesses who were not part of the lawsuit detailed grisly incidents of torture.

Guillermina Kanonnikoff, 70, said Torres had "tortured me with whips while I protected my eight-month-old child with my body."

Constantino Coronel, 92, told the court how he was made to drink blood from his own wounds, had his head dunked in a toilet bowl with faeces, and was given repeated electric shocks.

The Stroessner dictatorship left a tally of 59 extra-judicial executions, 336 people disappeared, nearly 20,000 illegal detentions, and almost 19,000 cases of torture. 

On the scale of small Paraguay, it affected "one in 133 inhabitants," according to a Truth and Justice Commission report from 2008.

Prosecutions have been rare, however, with about a dozen police officers held for torture and Stroessner himself, sentenced in absentia, dying in 2006 at the age of 93, never having been extradited from retirement in Brazil.

The right-wing Colorado Party that was in power in Paraguay at the time continues to dominate politics today, and Torres was honoured by the state in 2014 for a half-century career – an event that sparked much anger.

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by Hugo Olazar, AFP

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