Given the rumours that were starting to circulate by word of mouth, how to avoid a personal contact with President Alfredo Stroessner and any move on his part that would deactivate the planned military conspiracy to topple him?
When the dictator summoned the then commander of the First Army Corps, General Andrés Rodrguez, to appear at a conference at the Command in Chief on Thursday, January 26, 1989, a week before the planned coup, he faced a problem.
The Supreme Court’s directives were not disregarded at the time, but the risk of attending was high. Stroessner was said to be planning to retire Rodrguez and relieve him of command.
The rebel general’s counsel instructed him to act as if he had been in a car accident.
“I fell down the stairs and broke my leg, so I won’t be able to go to the meeting. Please send my apologies to the Commander in Chief,” Rodríguez told the Chief of Staff, Alejandro Fretes Dávalos, by phone.
Fretes Dávalos, distrustful, dispatched spies to the Cavalry barracks in Campo Grande on the morning of February 2, taking advantage of a cymephorists’ drill. Indeed, the emissaries could observe Rodrguez was paralysed in a chair by a large cast on one of his legs, which had been meticulously applied by a military doctor acquaintance.
The same doctor had to cut him and remove the cast again hours later, allowing the Cavalry General to regain full mobility and take command of the raging insurrection.
On Thursday, February 2, about 5:00 p.m., General Alfredo Stroessner was enjoying a game of cards at the home of Colonel Feliciano Manito Duarte, president of Antelco, when he received a phone call from his son Gustavo. The dictator, irritated at being stopped, heard his son’s worried voice on the other side of the tube:
–It seems that it is true that Rodríguez is preparing the coup…! Everyone says it will happen tonight…!
The old monarch made a sign that it wasn’t important to his pals, who were seated at the table with the cards in their hands, waiting to hear what he had to say.
“Let’s put that nonsense aside…!” I already spoke with Rodríguez and everything is fine…! Stroessner exclaimed, hanging up and returning to his seat at the table, ready to play again.
The city of Itá celebrated its patron saint festival on February 2 with two concerts by the city’s prominent social and sporting clubs, which rivalled the performances of major worldwide singers. Luis Miguel, a Mexican singer, sang at the Olimpia de Itá, while Sergio Denis, an Argentine, performed at the Sportivo Iteo.
Denis told H that he learned of the coup in Asunción before departing for Itá when he heard the first shots fired from the Hotel Guaran, where he was staying, about 10:00 p.m.
Still, he decided to go acting. “Both the club that had brought me and the one that brought Luis Miguel had involved about ten thousand people each. The businessman who hired me said: ‘People have been waiting for you since nine at night, they don’t know anything about what’s going on, you have to go sing,’” he recalls.
Despite the tale that they were forced to spend the night in Itá, Sergio claims that they were allowed to return to Asunción the next morning. “We left in a bus, we went to the other Club (Sportivo Iteño) to look for the one who brought Luis Miguel and we advanced along the route, escorted by two military motorcyclists, who were from the group loyal to Stroessner. About two kilometers away we found a military barrier, where inquiries were made and the two motorcyclists who were escorting us were arrested. They were the soldiers of the revolutionary army, who, in order for us to continue on our way, put two other motorcyclists on us, but already on the winning side,” said the singer.
Only Radio Caritas, a Catholic radio station, was able to send its correspondents out on the streets and broadcast live portions of the battle, complete with gunshots and explosions.
Celso Velázquez, a journalist, was the first to report on the tanks’ approach from the Caballera region in Campo Grande, as well as live coverage of several skirmishes in the downtown area. Juan Pastoriza afterwards went to the Escort Battalion, where Stroessner’s surrender was sought, with a cell phone on which they tied a white flag.
“We were able to avoid the tanks and, unbelievably, the soldiers stationed behind them, or lying on the ground shooting, did not give us importance and we passed. Going up 25 de Mayo Street and passing General Santos, there was not a single light. The darkness was frightening,” Pastoriza retold the story. She may use a walkie-talkie to report seeing soldiers running nude from the Escort or that a nearby structure had been blown to bits.
“When we raised our heads, we saw a Xavante plane pass practically above us, with its war lights on, like a sinister bird. Instinctively, we threw ourselves to the ground, because we sensed the deadly bursts”, narrated the journalist.
There was a loud explosion and then there was a long silence.
-Hello hello…? Do you hear me…? asked the voice from central studios.
Yes, here we are…” –Pastoriza replied.
– Is the transmission equipment damaged, or is it okay? the voice found out.
-Yes, the equipment is in good condition -Pastoriza replied, and then he said to himself: “Us too, thank you”.
-Ah well! Then, we can continue the transmission -he said, with relief, the voice from studies.