Dictatorship-era official returns to Paraguay; could face trial for alleged Dirty War crimes

Dictatorship-era official reappears in Paraguay

ASUNCION, Paraguay — A former dictatorship-era official considered a brutal torturer by human rights groups has made a surprise return to Paraguay, where he faces six pending trials for the disappearance and killings of government opponents in the 1970s and 1980s.

Minister Sabino Montanaro, who served as interior minister under ex-dictator Alfredo Stroessner, arrived in Asuncion early Friday after nearly two decades of self-imposed exile in Honduras, his lawyer said.

Attorney Luis Troche did not explain why Montanaro decided to return but painted a picture of an ailing, aged man coming back to his native land.

Montanaro, 86, suffers from a fractured hip, Parkinson’s disease, a form of pneumonia and arteriosclerosis, Troche said Monday.

Officials said Montanaro was being treated in a police hospital, but it was not clear whether he had been taken into custody.

Montanaro was interior minister for two decades under Stroessner. Human rights groups say the dictatorship was part of a regional network of right-wing military governments that abducted, tortured and “disappeared” thousands of suspected leftist dissidents during the so-called Dirty War.

Paraguayan human rights activist Luis Alfonso Resck called Montanaro a “a brutal torturer.”

When a military coup toppled the dictatorship in 1989, Montanaro sought refuge in the Honduran consulate in Asuncion. Days later he arrived in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, where he lived until last week.

His unexpected return could give Paraguay the chance to move forward with the pending prosecutions.

Judge Arnaldo Fleitas said Monday he had “ordered a psychiatric exam to determine (Montanaro’s) mental state — whether he is in condition to appear before the court in the six pending trials against him for the torture, disappearance and death of dissidents.”

The Paraguayan government also expressed irritation at Honduras for not alerting them to Montanaro’s travel plans, and said it was considering lodging a formal protest.

“Montanaro should not have been able to leave Honduras so easily holding a diplomatic passport that expired in 1997,” Foreign Minister Hector Lacognata told reporters Monday.

Paraguay sought for years to question Stroessner about “disappearances” during the dictatorship, but he died in exile in Brazil in 2006 at the age of 93 without facing trial.


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