Paraguay's president fires armed forces chief, 12 other top officers
President Nicanor Duarte unexpectedly fired Paraguay's armed forces chief and 12 other top officers Sunday, his largest purge of military and police ranks since taking office in August 2003.
Duarte gave little explanation for what he called a routine reshuffling of the high command, in which he replaced armed forces chief Gen. Key Kanazawa with Gen. Bernardino Soto. He also forced 12 army and naval chief officers to resign and fired 46 police officers in the shake up. "I've undertaken these changes in the armed forces command in accordance with the sovereign powers granted to me as commander in chief under the constitution," Duarte said at a news conference at his official residence.
The changes of command are perfectly "normal in the institutional life of the military and are not the result of political factors," Duarte added.
Defense Minister Roberto Gonzalez read the new military appointments at Sunday's news conference. He refused to elaborate on reasons behind the changes when questioned by reporters.
He said National Police Chief Fidel Isasa would remain in his post, but that the assistant chief, Simon Bogado, had been forced out. Government officials later said 45 other top police officers had been fired along with Bogado.
Opposition lawmakers have been clamoring for Kanazawa's ouster. In December 2005, senators strongly criticized Kanazawa for releasing a signed communique criticizing legislators for failing to promote some 300 military officers to the next highest rank. At the time, lawmakers argued that the military had no right to intervene in the affairs of lawmakers because the armed forces are subject to civilian rule.
Duarte dismissed 32 top police officers in March 2005, a month after authorities found the body of Cecilia Cubas, the kidnapped daughter of former President Raul Cubas.
Cecilia Cubas was abducted in September 2004 in a case that rocked this small South American country amid accusations police investigators had not done enough to find the woman in time to bring her home alive.
Military-civilian relations have been a sensitive issue since Paraguay's 35-year dictatorship ended in 1989 with the ouster of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner. The rightwing dictator ruled died Aug. 16 at his exile home in Brazil.